Sunday, July 25, 2010

What do running and riding a motorcycle have in common?

Well, I finished week 4 of training today. Can't say it was a great week for me. My husband left for 6 weeks last Saturday, so I've got no choice but to do my weekday runs with the stroller now and get a sitter for the long run on the weekends. And it's much harder to find the motivation I need to get out of bed extra early when I'm mopey and even more tired than usual. But I find that weighing myself every morning seems to do the trick. Nothing motivates me to run like that horrific number. I shudder just thinking about it. Anyway, today's long run was supposed to be a repeat of the 5 miles from last week, but I was feeling so skippy I ran 5.67 instead. I'm a little worried that I may actually be getting SLOWER, if that's even possible, but my sister, who has finished 2 half marathons using the same plan I am and is training for her 3rd, said it's normal to get slower as my mileage increases, so I'm going to believe her. I'd hate to think it's just me because if I get too much slower I'll be getting passed up by walkers during the race, and that would be a serious blow to my ego. Plus she's in med school so she's got to know something about, well, something, right?

During my run this morning, I passed quite a few fellow runners. I know a few of them, but most of them are just random people sweating it out just like me. Now, I am not, in general, a social runner. I like putting on my headphones and running until my muscles stop complaining about how bad it hurts and my mind stops going a million miles a minute. I like getting to the point where my body has settled in to the movement without me having to think about it, which leaves my mind free to wander. I do some of my best thinking and brain-clearing at this point. Running helps me clear away the mental junk that tends to accumulate with a husband, 2 kids, 2 dogs, a house, and a life, and it helps me focus on the things that really need my mental attention. Which is why I usually run alone (well, as alone as I can be while pushing a 3 year old and 8 month old in the double jogger). But that's not to say that running, even running solo, isn't a social activity. In my opinion, the exact opposite is true. Running is one of the most social activities I have ever done. In a lot of ways, I think it's like riding motorcycles.

If you've ever ridden a motorcycle, then you probably know that there is a whole culture that goes along with it. One part is what I call "the motorcycle wave." When one motorcyclist passes another-regardless of age, motorcycle type, or personal style-they acknowledge each other with a simple lift of the hand. This uncomplicated gesture is a way to recognize that they share a common interest and, therefore, are members of a club that is exclusive to them. I've found that runners do the same thing. Not all of them, mind you. There are some I pass on a regular basis who are either so in to their run or themselves that they don't spare as much as a glance for anyone else. I've even been guilty of it...I'm having a bad run, it's hot, kids are screaming in the stroller, I'm sweating wine from the night before, and I just want to grit my teeth, avoid eye contact, and get it over with as quickly as possible. But for the most part, people who run like to acknowledge that other runners are experiencing the same things they are with a wave of their hand. A quick, straightforward, "I'm right there with you" kind of recognition that we are part of something bigger. And that is what makes running a social activity for me. No matter what your physical condition is, your running level, anything, other runners have been there.

Running is also social for me in that it has become such a common interest among my friends. We encourage each other, celebrate the victories together, and support each other through the rough patches that go along with running, such as injuries. I've made new friends because we start with the common topic of running and build on it. I've found wonderful pages online that have forums for discussing everything from elite training to how to get off the couch for the very first time and run. And no matter what level or how new a person may be to running, the other runners are so eager to share their knowledge and experiences about doing the thing they love that it doesn't matter at all. I totally get that. Running has become such a huge part of my life that I want EVERYONE to experience it too. This camaraderie among runners has added another bullet to my long list of reasons I'm doing this. So while I may not join in group runs or seek out a running partner anytime in the near future, I am definitely enjoying being a new member in the club of running.

On an entirely different note, I believe I may have found my sports bra of choice, although I still have 2 more I want to try. I have run several times now in the CW-X Ultra support, and (trumpet sounds please)-NO CHAFFING!!!!!! If you read my previous blog, you will know this is a BIG deal to me. I still need to try the Enell once I get the smaller size, and I have also been told to try one called the Ta-Ta Tamer, but for now, the girls and I are very happy campers...I mean runners :)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

No, that sound isn't a dying cat...

I'm not sure what it is about long runs that makes me enjoy them so much more than my shorter runs, but that seems to be the going trend for me at the moment. Well, I enjoy the run itself, the post-run issues, not so much. Because the hubs is leaving today for 6 weeks (which is so much better than a 7 month deployment, so I'm not complaining, just moping), I had to do a little juggling with my training schedule this week in order to ensure that I got my long run in without the stroller, which is why I did it yesterday morning instead of today. I was actually quite proud of myself, since I got out of bed at 5:45am and hit the pavement at 6:30. Generally, I'm rolling over and hitting the snooze button at 6:30, but it's been getting hot early and I melt. I was fairly nervous starting out though, even more than my usual pre-run nerves. I had thought it was a 4.5 mile run, but it actually jumped from 4 miles to 5 miles this week. Plus, I decided to try out my new Amphipod hydration belt for the first time.

Ok, so I know I'm running for myself, and it shouldn't matter what other people think when they see me running. And for the most part, I've gotten over my fears that people are laughing at me as they drive by and see me-red, sweaty, and panting-slowly shuffling my way along the road. Hell, when I first started running I used to joke that I was the newest tourist attraction on Ford Island, because I know there are Japanese tourists who have pictures of me running into the wind while pushing the double stroller and struggling to keep up with my two big dogs. I would glare at them as they snapped photos from the cool comfort of their passing tour busses. Jerks. However, the more I ran, the less attention I paid to people passing by in their cars or flying past me like gazelles. Now, the only time I even think about it is when I actually PASS some active duty guy running during their morning PT, and then it's only to chuckle about how bad it must feel to get passed by a fat girl pushing a double stroller. But that's just because I'm mean.

In any event, the point is that while I'm over being self-conscious when I run, I was a little more anxious starting out yesterday because of the belt. I looked like I was setting out for an all day, cross-island trek. I had my ipod shuffle clipped to my shirt, my giant Garmin strapped to my wrist, and my new hydration belt slung around my hips. It has 2 neon green water bottles that I positioned on each side of my lower back and a pouch at the front. I little ridiculous. But I know that eventually I'm going to get to the point where I need water on my long runs, and I hate carrying anything in my hands, so I got the belt. I wanted to test it on a slightly shorter long run. And it worked. I was able to get the water bottles off the belt, drink, and put them back without falling on my face. Success! What I was not able to ignore though, was the painful and familiar feeling of chaffing that started around mile 3.

Now, I'm sure everyone who runs has danced with this irritating partner at some point, regardless of body type. But for us, um, bustier women, this seems to be a particularly nasty running companion. Some of it I can control. I don't run in shorts so I avoid the inevitable chub-rub on my thighs, and I avoid any kind of top that has seams or tags in places I know will chaff. That being said, sports bras are the bane of my running existence, especially on longer runs. First, I have to double up and layer 2 at a time just to avoid giving myself a black eye while I run. Then, even wearing two, I have to buy them so tight just to keep the girls in check that I can barely breath. And after the run....well, my husband has laughed almost to the point of tears watching me try to get the damn things off when I'm sweaty and sticky. I'll spare you the description, but it is NOT pretty. And after yesterday's 5 miles, it was even worse than usual. I didn't even realize how bad I had chaffed until I stepped into the shower and let out a screeching howl as the water hit my raw skin. It sounded like someone stepped on a cat and totally freaked out my dogs. I'm now sporting a scabby, raw, red ring of skin the entire way around my ribcage where my bras were. Such a downer after such a great run too. To add insult to injury, the ring sits exactly where my regular bra sits as well, so I can be reminded all day of how running gear is not generally designed for my body type.

But this latest tango with chaffing has inspired me to go on a quest for the perfect high-impact sports bra for well-endowed women. Wait, did you hear that? It was the sound of my husband and our bank account cringing. Because there are companies that do, in fact, make sports bras designed for larger women. But I may have to sell a kidney to pay for them. And the shipping to get them to Hawaii, because, for the most part, they can only be purchased online. I ordered three from Amazon-an Enell, a Moving Comfort Juno, and a CW-X Ultra Support (which, upon seeing the picture online, my husband said looked like it could not only stop bullets, but could jump off and smack someone in the face if they got in my way. Nice). I already received the Enell and the Moving Comfort. The Enell is actually too big, which is a pleasant change from the issue I usually have with clothes, so I'm sending it back for a smaller size even though I'm unsure about the fabric. The Moving Comfort arrived today, and after trying it on, I cannot WAIT to try it tomorrow. It is actually adjustable and seems fairly comfortable. Whether or not it can tame the ta-tas during a run remains to be seen though. My hope is that at least one of these bras will, if not altogether solve, then at least minimize the issue of chaffing and the inevitable post-run bra-removal wrestling match and painful howling from the shower. My husband may be disappointed to lose such an amusing spectacle, but it will certainly make my post-run life a lot more pelasant.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mental strength and the fungibility of running

Let me just start out by saying that my run this morning was not nearly as inspiring as my long run Sunday night. Not even close. In fact, the only inspiring thing about it was that I managed to drag my sorry butt out and do it at all. Today was the first of my week 3 training runs, which bump my "short run" distance slightly from 3 miles to 3.5 miles (for those who are curious, I'm following Hal Higdon's novice half-marathon training plan, with some minor tweaking). However, since my usual route is 3.2 miles, it wasn't that big of a jump. Well, it shouldn't have been, anyway. But circumstances and my own laziness conspired against me to make it a generally unpleasant run.

First, I did not sleep well last night. I am not a morning person to begin with (my husband is actually afraid to wake me up for fear of bodily harm), and I'm REALLY grumpy when I wake up tired. So, instead of getting up relatively early, getting the girls ready, and being out the door by 7:15, I didn't even start until 8am. So it was hot. And sunny. And did I mention hot? I felt like what I imagine a mastiff running in the Sahara would feel like. Probably looked like it too. Secondly, I was pushing the girls in the double stroller, which automatically makes it slightly less pleasant than when I run alone. Admittedly, I should be used to pushing the stroller at this point. I have done more miles with the stroller than without it by a long shot, but I'm not sure I will ever get used to rounding a corner and feeling like I ran straight into a brick wall as the wind catches the stroller and practically stops me dead in my tracks like it did this morning.

The third reason my run hurt this morning was purely mental. I have run the same route 2-3 times a week for almost 6 months now, and apparently, my mind was not on board with changing it. It wasn't even a big change. I just added a small extra loop in the middle of my run to make up the .3 mile difference, then continued on the same route as usual. But it felt different in my mind, which made me feel even more sluggish. I guess I've gotten used to feeling a certain way at a certain point, which equates to a certain distance, and the change just threw that off. But even though it was rough this morning, I'm going to take that as a good thing. I mean, isn't running a half-marathon all about getting out of my comfort zone? And it's not as if this will be the last change in my route for the duration. Eventually, I'll even run off Ford Island (scary!). However, for this morning, it was a bit of a shock to my system.

On the other hand, the general negative vibe of my run this morning got me thinking about something...the fungibility of running. Now, to understand why I find this amusing, I guess I should explain what the word fungible is, and why I like it so much. I first came across the word "fungible" in my college Intelligence Studies classes, mainly in government documents. Actually, the only place I've seen it is in government documents, but that's neither here nor there. It's a fun word and one that I feel is sadly under-utilized in modern society. That being said, the first time I read it, I had to look it up on Wikipedia to find it's meaning, so I will turn to that source again to define it now. According to Wikipedia, "Fungibility is the property of a good or commodity whose individual units are capable of mutual substitution." Think money or oil. A $20 bill is worth the same in Hawaii as it is in Ohio (although it won't get you nearly as much, damn expensive tropical island). A barrel of oil from Texas can be exactly exchanged for a barrel of the same grade of oil from Saudi Arabia. Diamonds, though, are not fungible. Their value is based on cut, clarity, and other stuff I know nothing about. So now, back to my thoughts on the fungibility of running, or is running a fungible commodity?

The reason I was thinking about this, other than to take my mind off how miserable I was this morning, was that I started wondering if I should skip runs on mornings when I wake up tired and late and grumpy, and run instead when I'm in a better position to get as much out of my runs as possible. This lead me to wonder whether running a mile, no matter where, when, or how fast, was always equally valuable. Were the miles I put in this morning as valuable to my training as the ones I put in 2 weeks ago when I set my best 5K time ever? My first thought was a resounding NO. My pace was slower, I burned less calories, and I probably didn't get as much of a cardio workout as I have before. Obviously, a mile run on hills is going to be "worth more" than a mile run on a flat, easy route. Which means that running is not a fungible commodity for me.

This revelation made me a little sad. If I'm not running at the peak of my abilities every single mile, what's the point? Then I stopped being whiney and realized that maybe this would matter if I were a professional athlete, but realistically, who can run their best mile, every mile? Um...not me. For me, every mile I run, be it slow or fast, joyous or insanely torturous, is one more mile toward my goal of not just finishing the half-marathon, but of leading a healthier, happier, more active life. I may not have worked out my body as hard as I could have this morning, but I did work out my ability to push past the mental barriers that have glued my butt to the couch for so long. I got out and there did something. Was it slow and hot and painful? Absolutely. But I ran the 3.5 miles, logged it in my training log, and gained some valuable perspective into my mental strength and my ability to stick to the training even when I would rather have sat on my couch and watched my DVR'd episode of The Bachelorette. Me 1 Couch 0. Now I just hope Friday's run is a little better.

*As a side note, my hubby just came in from his first run in his new Vibram FiveFingers, and the first words out of his sweaty, panting mouth were "These things are AWESOME!!" Someday, after this race, I really want to try a pair!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


It is the end of week 2 of my 12 weeks training plan, and I just finished my "long" run of the week-4 miles. And it was INCREDIBLE. Not fast-it was actually slower than my long run of the same distance last week-but it was the way I felt during the run. I have never felt so strong, so free, or so in tune with myself as I did tonight. I'm not sure what combination of factors led to this, but there were several things that were different than my usual runs. This is the first time I've run in the evening. My first run in my new shoes. I tired a couple of Clif Shots Blocks before my run. Whatever it was, I want it to feel like this every time I run, because generally, I feel like crap during a run. I'm hot, sweating, it hurts, I'm gasping for air, and I probably flop around when I run like a fish out of water being chased by sea gulls.

So during my amazing run tonight, I thought mostly about why I'm doing this. Why am I training for my first half-marathon now, at this point in my life. To answer that, I guess I need to explain why I started running in the first place. Even though there have been periods in my life when I've done some running before, for the purpose of this blog, I consider the time I started running to be after my daughter (A) was born in October 2009. Initially, I honestly only started running because most of my friends were doing it, and I need to lose a lot of weight. I started when A was about 3 weeks old. Probably a little too early, but I think I was still riding the intense sense of accomplishment and empowerment I got from having a completely natural delivery and an amazingly quick and easy recovery. I started out walking with short bursts of "running" scattered in. Oh, keep in mind, I did all of this while pushing a double jogging stroller and often with my two large dogs in tow. At first, I could barely manage to run 30 seconds. But I gradually pushed myself to run a little farther, a little longer each time out, and before I knew it, I was running 2 miles without stopping for the first time in many, MANY years.

At first, I dreaded running. To be honest, I still get nervous before every run. I think a part of me will always be afraid that I just won't be able to do it. But I found myself pushing my body and mind farther than I thought, and I started to accept that I'm stronger than I ever give myself credit for. I'll never forget the first time I ran Ford Island Bridge-WITH that damn granite desk of a stroller. I felt like I might die, but I also felt so strong, so capable. Then I did my first 5K race. I finished dead last. No joke. They were picking up the course cones behind me as I passed. But I finished. I ran the whole thing while pushing my girls in the stroller, and I EARNED that t-shirt. After that, I was hooked. I have done 2 10K races since then. My first was the Kapiolani Women's 10K, and I ran it with 3 of the best friends a girl could ask for. It was another amazing experience.

This is all part of why I run. It's something my friends and I all have in common, even though we don't run together because they are all faster than me. I'm slowly becoming ok with that. I'm starting to understand that my runs are for me, and me alone. While my husband was deployed and I was struggling to handle a newborn, a 2.5 year old, 2 dogs, and a house, I ran for my mental health as well as my physical health. Running helps me clear my mind and focus. I've gone from hating it but doing it because I felt like I had to, to doing it because I want to. I'm starting to look forward to my longer runs. When I'm not running, I find myself thinking about running, and when I pass people running when I'm in the car, I wish I were out there too. It's a weird transition, but I'm enjoying it. And I am DEFINITELY looking forward to more incredible runs like tonight!