The kids are alright

A friend and his wife are the happy parents of two brand spanking new twin boys, born premature (but otherwise healthy, it seems) this week. Their quest for parenthood was taken up despite some very long odds, and it brought with it a great deal of effort, expense, risk and loss along the way.

These are not what I would call very close friends, but I am friendly enough to be engaged in their lives and care about what happens to them. I’ve had several friends who’ve had kids against very tough odds. This time was different, though. I found myself experiencing a rush of relief and happiness upon hearing the news that the boys had made it safely into the world. I honestly hadn’t expected this well of emotion on their behalf, having not felt it for other people to whom I’m a lot closer. I can only think that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to be a better friend, meaning being happy for my friends on their terms, not my own.

I don’t have kids, and have never wanted them. That’s an odd stance to take (if the absence of an action can even be considered a “stance”) for a woman in any western culture, but America’s baby-crazed culture in particular. Nor am I married, or eager to be, which is another socio-cultural kettle of fish. Since 44 is mere weeks away, this “decision” (or lack thereof) to not reproduce is irrevocable. More irrevocable than the numerous other decisions I’ve failed to make, such as becoming a lawyer, learning Spanish, or taking up carpentry.

While it’s not quite accurate to say that I’ve struggled with this (I really haven’t), the disconnect between how I want to live my life and how my friends (and the majority of women in this country) want to live theirs has always been present, like quiet, if slightly irritating, background music. Sometimes my status pops up in conversations with friends or family, although I’m grateful to have family — both my own and my partner’s — who’ve never expected or assumed that we would eventually become parents.

These conversations used to be awkward, marked by a combination of helpful eagerness on their parts and smiling defensiveness on mine. I never felt proselytized, just misunderstood. Sentiments like these…

“But you’d make such a great parent!”

“I was worried about what it would be like too, but now I love being a mom.”

“You really can’t know what love is until you’ve had the experience of loving your own child.”

…reflect a failure to grasp the fundamental position of someone who doesn’t want children. I should also add that I don’t dislike children, although I don’t particularly like them either. They are, after all, people and my misanthropy does not age discriminate.

These days, the conversations (when they come up, which is now rare) aren’t awkward anymore. Having turned the corner on 40, my eggs are close to expiring, and any attempts at procreation would likely require scientific intervention. If I haven’t bothered to pursue parenthood the old fashioned way, when it was easy and fun, how likely am I to go the difficult, dreary route? So no one asks anymore. And if they did, I wouldn’t feel weird about it as I used to, having to answer for some implied failure of femininity or maturational development or any other assortment of biases and baggage. In the past few years, I’ve become remarkably unconcerned about what people think — something a few other women I know in this age range have also reported.

It’s hard to capture the experience of being contentedly childfree among the masses of the childed. I like this essay, especially the enumeration of “bingo” questions the childfree are forced to endure from parents. And this one is also particularly good. The author uses arguments for or against horse ownership as a way of framing the subject. Were I to write such an essay, the natural comparitive for me would be marathon racing. There is a particular kind of gratification achieved in training for and racing the marathon well that can’t be fathomed by someone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves. Yet, engaging in this pursuit requires a lot of time, effort, sacrifice and pain while at the same time offering the potential for numerous forms of pleasure, discovery and — yes, pride — along the way. Sort of like having kids. But I wouldn’t try to convince anyone to run a marathon if it wasn’t their cup of tea.

Anyway, I’m just musing as warm thoughts go out to the two new kids on the block, where they are clearing their last hurdles in an infant ICU. How fortunate they are to be so loved and so wanted by two good people.

It’s a fat, fat, fat, fat world

Jonathan ordered some new clothes from an outfit called Back Country. Nothing elaborate: a couple of tee shirts, some corduroy trousers and a fleece top. He ordered everything in size Small.

Now, while this isn’t Holland, where the people are large (and I don’t mean fat — just large), this is still America, where our milk fed population tends to run pretty big. On the male end, I think the average height is around 5’10″ (although I’m too lazy to look it up; besides, I’m a blogger, so this doesn’t have to be accurate). Jonathan is 5’6″ and around 120 lbs. So when clothes are labelled Small, he expects (and hopes) that they really are.

But let’s set aside fuzzier terms like “small” for a moment and discuss hard numbers. What’s always driven me crazy about women’s clothes (aside from the fact that they are poorly made and rarely have enough pockets) is that sizes have never meant anything. One brand’s 12 is another brand’s 10. I’ve envied men because they can buy a 30 x 30 pair of pants, and they know they will get pants with a 30 inch waist and 30 inch inseam. As we’ll see, even that only goes so far these days.

His clothes arrived yesterday and we eagerly unpacked the box. The tee shirts were a little big, but basically fit okay. The shoulders were in the right place and they fit close enough to his chest and midsection that they looked normal. The fleece, however, was another story. I can only imagine that this this thing was designed for Burt Young. The sleeves were the right length, but everything else was blown out to size Fat. He had enough room in there for triplets and the sleeves were diaphanous enough for shoplifting canned goods.

But the best part were the pants. Who were these pants made for? Yes, the waist and legs were indeed 30 inches, but the rest of the proportions were Incredible Bulk. The crotch and ass area bulged outward, perhaps meant for a particularly well-endowed customer (or one with a glandular disorder) with a huge ass. The legs had enough material for a family-sized tent.

What gives?

For the past 10 or so years, I’ve noted the artificial inflation of women’s clothes. When I was at my pre-running trimmest at age 22, I wore a 10. Now, at roughly the same dimensions over 20 years on, I wear a 6 and I’m verging on a 4. This is just wrong, but it’s taken hold everywhere, so now an overweight woman can go shopping, happily deluded into thinking she hasn’t actually gained 40 pounds in the last 10-15 years after all. Because, lookie right here at the tag, she’s still a size 10!

I guess makers of clothing for men have it tougher. You can’t sell pants with a 36 waist as size 30 (although I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before they start trying). So maybe fat men buy these pants and just lift their stomachs over the waistband (driving the crotch even further down toward their knees). Either that, or they have them “taken out” at the tailor, or get an elastic waistband inserted.

Either way, Jonathan still needs trousers for his lithe runner’s frame, and we’re stumped as to where to find any.

Spring Race Training: Week 5

09spr-training-051

I originally wrote a beautifully worded and utterly fascinating post for this week. But then WordPress failed to autosave it and it’s gone forever. So the clumsy, awkward presentation that follows will have to suffice.

I ran a shade under 90 miles this week and it feels quite natural to do so. To be fair, this was my average mileage over the summer, so it’s not a new experience. However, what is different this time around is that I’m not completely flat-on-my-back exhausted all the time. I’m doing three days of doubles per week now (and that’s set to go up to four days soon). Over the summer, I was doubling at least six days a week, sometimes seven, and I think that was way too much. I also didn’t have as much variation in the mileage from day to day as I do now, which I believe also contributed to an inability to truly recover.

Previous posts already talked about the bad run on Tuesday followed by the good one on Friday. I was thinking about these two runs and what made one bad and the other good and remembered a subject I’ve meant to write about but haven’t gotten around to. So I may as well do so now. The topic is hormonal fluctuations and how they can affect athletic performance in some women.

As I’ve tracked my training over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern of performance degradation or enhancement depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle. To put it in simple terms, I run with all the speed and grace of an arthritic platypus in the days before and during my period (luteal phase), after which I gradually, but quite dramatically, evolve into a gazelle hopped up on speedballs in the four days or so before ovulation (follicular phase). If you find that you mysteriously run better or worse at certain times in the month, you might try tracking where you are in your cycle to see if there’s a predictable relationship. On a related note, some studies have shown that women taking oral contraceptives may also experience lower VO2 max during the luteal phase and/or elevated body temperatures (which can affect hot weather running), so there’s a double or triple whammy for some of us.

So you know all about Tuesday and Friday already. To bring this full circle: If you look at the four days that are outlined in red, that’s my period. Tuesday fell on the first day, which is often my nadir in terms of running performance. After that, things start to look up. I hope this means that I’ll be at my apex come the weekend.

Apologies if this is way too much information, and more than you wanted to know. It took me awhile to figure out that there was a connection between cycles and performance. I wish I’d read something similar much earlier so I could have cleared up some mysteries (and timed my races a bit better).

What’s left is a few recovery days during which I was pretty tired. But that’s what they’re there for. Today’s long run was a blast, actually. I woke up after 9.5 hours of sleep feeling great. The predicted inch of snow didn’t materialize overnight and we instead had a day of light rain, but never heavy enough to soak me through. I felt so good on my run that I threw in an extra mile, and picked up the pace in the second half, running several at 7:50 or well under. I’d like to be doing my garden variety long runs at a slightly faster pace than I’ve been doing them thus far (a flatter course on a clear path with no wind certainly helped today), so I’m going to be trying to get my average down closer to the 8:00 and below range over the coming weeks.

Week 6 bumps things up to 95 but removes the tempo running on Tuesday, adds a speed session of 300m repeats (for which I may break out the shiny new spikes), and ends with a 25K race/training run on Sunday.

Better

Tuesday’s run sucked. Today’s was much better. Despite terrible wind for half of each lap, I did my planned 8 x 800m intervals and even — yes, this is nearly impossible to believe — enjoyed them in some odd, sick way. They were hard, and they were anywhere from 1-15 seconds slower than planned. But they were run with the full commitment of heart and mind. I left the track feeling invigorated, filled with a renewed optimism, and pleasantly tired. And very hungry.

I’m amending this post: The last two interval sessions have coincided with Jonathan’s dates with the track, so we’ve gone together. We’re doing totally different sessions and paces, of course, so we don’t run them together. But it’s been useful to have someone else there, both for support and to observe. Both of us assume we look terrible when running uncomfortably fast — I guess it’s natural to think that you look as bad as you feel. It turns out that we’re both smooth runners at high speeds (unless one of us is lying).

Tomorrow I go visit my stepmother, who’s laid up in a hospital in Manhattan with a very screwed up foot. It’s a long story, but she was run over by a car several decades ago and in the intervening years began to favor one foot, an action that was imperceptible but very damaging over the long term. Four operations later, she’s dealing with a bad infection, which now seems to be under control thanks to super antibiotics. The next step (ha ha) is recovery from the infection and then some physical therapy.

With two perfectly good, fully functional feet at my disposal, I am grateful that I can walk. Running is a bonus.

A special kind of awful

No matter how often I remind myself that tempo runs are supposed to be uncomfortable and challenging, I am always struck by the same particular brand of awfulness that defines every tempo effort.

Today I had a 4.5 mile tempo run tacked onto the end of a 9.5 general aerobic run. My legs were tired today and all day I had tinitus in the form of a little, whiny voice muttering less-than-encouraging warnings: “You’re too tired. You’re too slow. You won’t be able to do it. Wait until tomorrow…”

The fact is, it’s never the right time for a tempo run, just as there’s never the right time for getting a mammogram. It’s extremely unpleasant, but if you want to become a faster runner (or obtain a reasonable sense of certainty that your breasts aren’t diseased), you’ve gotta schedule that sucker.

Long story short: I ran my 9.5 at a respectable 8:30ish pace, got to the track and tried to get my head in order. I ran 2 miles at 10-12 seconds slower than assigned pace and went through what I’d been trying to avoid — a litany of internal recriminations and the temptation to call this one a failure and stop. I took 30 seconds to collect myself, then ran another mile — even worse at 15 seconds off pace. Then another minute of pep talk, followed by a commitment to run the last 1.5 without stopping and putting up with any of my own shit, with the added bargain that I would work as hard as I could and accept whatever that yielded. In other words, don’t look at pace. Just run.

In the end, I was an average of 13 seconds per mile off pace. I need to remember that running a new, faster pace is hard and takes some people (or at least me) a few tries to adapt to it. I will eventually be able to run at 6:53 for 4.5 (and more) miles. Just not today.

Spring Race Training: Week 4

09spr-training-04
This was a good week.

I’m going to try to make this short because:

  • I’m enjoying some red wine and it’s apt to take a toll on my writing and typing ability shortly
  • I’m roasting a chicken, which requires frequent attention, and — when combined with the wine — one major responsibility is about all I can handle
  • I’m waiting to watch my DVR’d Tyson Invitational (no relation to the chicken) and this post is the only thing holding me up

So here’s the Morse Code version, taken straight from the training diary:

Mon
Feel quite fatigued today, almost fluish.

Tue
Felt right again this morning. Did the run on the road and all the strides on the track. Did two extra since I felt so good. Leg issue is very mild, almost gone.

Wed
RHR back down to 45. Good run. Legs felt fresh and groin issue is very minor, almost gone. 1.5 fast miles were hard but not awful.

Thu
Leg sore at 5:30AM, but okay after some ibuprofen. Windy, cool run outside AM — very relaxed pace. Nice afternoon run, still very windy.

Fri
“Leg is still bugging me, so put off run until the afternoon. Used heat and Nabumetone in AM, which seems to be helping.

V. windy with headwinds of 17mph. Avg windspeed was 11mph. Felt like I had dead legs for the first one, then loosened up and the others felt better. I didn’t try to hold to the pace since the wind was ridiculous for half of each lap.”

Sat
Tired today and pace shows it. Fell down and bashed my hand and knee. Taking ibuprofen for the leg, which was back with a vengeance this morning.

Sun
Good run — had lots of energy and running the fast bit at the end wasn’t too hard. Windy in spots, mostly on the way out. Stomach a bit screwed up afterwards. Leg okay during run.

People, if you’re not keeping even a basic training diary, it’s high time you started. I can’t tell you how many times having even this sort of shorthand record has helped me pinpoint an issue, whether it be exhaustion, impending injury or run-of-the-mill training “staleness.”

This week was a real confidence booster because, I nailed all of my key workouts. The highlight was this morning’s 17 miler with the last two at 7:00 pace. At this point, running this fast tends to frighten other people on the running path. While I don’t do this deliberately, there is something satisfying about watching people do a double take and then leap out of the way as I pass. Jonathan’s passing them at 6:00 pace, and he says the effect is even more dramatic at that speed.

It was also a great week because I ran all but one session outside. At last! The snow is gone. Good riddance.

I’m playing it by ear with the groin thing. It doesn’t hurt a bit while running, and heat/ice/anti-inflammatories seems to keep it at bay. I’ve got a 90 mile week coming up with lots of faster running. I’ll see if it gets worse as a result and, if it does, go get it looked at. If it doesn’t get worse, though, I’ll live with it. I’ve trained with worse problems.

Also — this is totally unrelated — I want to sing the praises of an excellent shoe: Pearl Izumi’s Streak. I started wearing this for races and have been interested to see if it can hold up for the full marathon distance. I wore it for the 17 miler this morning and it was great for that. I’ll wear it for next week’s 20 miler. It’s probably the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn — it’s almost like running in a pair of slippers. I still love the Fastwitch 3 from Saucony, but it’s not quite enough shoe for 26 miles. This one may be the ticket. If you decide to try it, though, be forewarned: it runs very small. I have to wear a full size larger.

Week 5 features a longer tempo run, an 800m intervals session and a 20 miler, all totaling up to 90 quality miles.

Ibuprofen, how I love thee

My groin/leg thing is still an issue, which is sort of amazing. Or maybe not so amazing, since I give it a rest for a day or two and then whale on it again with a race or hard workout.

I’m reminded of when I was training for my very first marathon, a five month period in which I had nonstop shinsplints (or, rather, a wandering shinsplint) for four of those months. I just took ibuprofen constantly, sometimes ran in mild to moderate pain, and the problem went away.

In a way, this is not as bad because it doesn’t actually hurt while I run. It just hurts first thing in the morning after a hard run the day before, and only when I do certain things (like go up or down stairs, lift my leg over the side of the tub, etc.)

I could be an alarmist and take some days off, but I’m not inclined to. I just have a feeling it will go away on its own eventually, as every other quasi-injury has. Damned annoying, though.

I love to eat and run

If you feel like eating, eat. Let your body tell you what it wants.
– Joan Benoit Samuelson

Or rather, run and eat.

A little over a year ago, when I started training in earnest for my third marathon, I began to notice a shift in my relationship to food. Namely, I became aware of wanting specific kinds of foods at specific times. I would know when I was low on carbohydrate stores because I’d find myself wanting raisins, or bread with jam, or juice. A need for protein and iron asserted itself in the form of knowing that I wanted nothing more than a steak for dinner, preferably with a side of spinach.

Not only do I crave certain foods based on their nutritional makeup, but it’s the intensity of the desire for those foods — and specificity of the individual food items — that I find so striking. I don’t just want a bagel; I want a salt bagel. I don’t just want meat; I want roasted chicken. When I don’t have those things around, my disappointment seems out of proportion. But is it? Or are our brains just very good at determining those nutritional elements that are lacking and driving us toward the foods that can replenish them?

I’ve learned to make a mental note of a craving and plan for it. After a recent hard run, I had a strong desire for an everything bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. I had none of those things in the house, but I made sure that I would next time around. After some long, windy intervals this afternoon, that’s exactly what I wanted. And it’s exactly what I had.

I can’t wait to have some tenderloin and sweet potato fries later on this evening…

A run down memory lane

My dad’s in town for the next week or so and last night we went in and met up for dinner. Over a meal and a nice bottle of wine, after discussing the stimulous package, the Madoff ponzi scheme and our upcoming trip to Oregon, the conversation turned to running (as so often happens). More specifically, my father’s previous life as a marathon runner.

Like me, my dad was a latecomer to running and ever later to the marathon party. In fact, our timelines are strikingly similar, with a few years of fitness jogging, followed by an experimental half marathon, then a full blown plunge into training for and racing marathons. We even ran our first full marathon at nearly the same age — he a few weeks before his 41st birthday, and I a few days before my 42nd.

When asked why he started running in the first place, my dad told us that he started right after he and my mother had separated (circa 1973). He’d moved across the bay into an apartment in San Francisco (an extremely spartan arrangement on Van Ness Avenue, right over the Silver Platter deli, and on the corner of a Muni bus line which was perpetually — and noisily — breaking down). Describing this two year period as the worst of his life, he recalled how he was working too hard and, in his words, “needed to do something.” With little disposable income, and this being years before there were such things as “gyms,” he turned to the relatively cheap (and infinitely portable) sport of distance running.

San Francisco is a great running city, and ran it he did. After a couple of years, he moved to Rome for awhile and ran there. Then he moved to New York, where he continued to run. By this time, a few years had gone by and running had become some combination of habit, addiction and outlet. These were still relatively early days (a time vividly chronicled in the documentary about Fred Lebow, Run For Your Life) and despite the presence of Rodgers, Shorter and other Olympic luminaries, everyday runners were still viewed as oddballs. In fact, he told us that when he first moved to New York (around 1976), he’d run around Central Park’s reservoir and would typically not see another soul.

Like so many of us who gravitate toward the marathon distance, he loved running long. We talked about the calming effect that such runs produce and how after awhile they become as essential as any other daily act, like eating and sleeping. As he talked, I remembered a few of the “running stories” he’d shared over the years, such as the one about a crazed hawk in Golden Gate Park that would dive bomb him every day. He must have run too close to its nest, and was as a result on its permanent shit list. The bird was so determined to scalp him that he took to running with a crowbar for awhile, and he’d bat at the bird whenever it attacked.

The other great story I recalled was his experience of running around the Circus Maximus in Rome. Ever the boy from the midwest, he was amazed at how many incredibly friendly young men would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, every morning. My dad’s a good looking guy (and had great runner’s legs). It took him a little while to figure out that he was being cruised.

His first half was the Hispanic Half Marathon (yes, it was really called that) in Central Park. He says he ran it and thought, “Well, huh, this is okay…” and immediately set his sights on running the New York Marathon. His first was 1978 — also Grete Waitz’s famous debut — although he finished about 45 minutes behind the pigtailed Norwegian.

He recalled how the network he was working for actually did a news story about him — the wacky newsman who runs! ha ha! — and he said he interviewed Fred Lebow several times over the years. He was right on the cusp of “jogging”s explosion in popularity and in fact proposed a book to his agent with the theme of “running around the world” — a collection of essays about his experiences of running in weird places (why am I thinking of Haruki Murakami right now?) — a sneakered travelogue of sorts. He was told no one would ever buy it as there was no market for it. If he’d only waited about four or five years…

Like me, my dad loved the training and the slow-build of excitement while doing all that preparation for one event on one day just once or twice a year. But, as a traveling journalist, he eventually found wearing the sometimes impossible reconciliation of rigorous marathon training with the long, unpredictable hours and constant travel required by his job. Somehow, once he was reduced to getting up at 4AM to run 55 laps around a Holiday Inn somewhere in Kansas, what had made it pleasurable (or even sustainable) had started to seriously ebb.

He would run a total of five marathons, with a personal best time of 3:14. While training for his sixth, the Marine Corps Marathon, he stepped in a pothole and tore his meniscus, necessitating total removal of the torn cartilage (knee surgery hadn’t quite evolved yet). With no shock absorber remaining, he never ran again.

I think of my dad when I run sometimes, how similar our paths have been, as are the particular aspects of running that motivate and gratify us. His interest in my running is genuine, never just polite. I thank him for that, as well as for the marathon-friendly genetics he seems to have passed along to me.

USA Track & Field: Extreme Makeover Edition

Doug Logan and Carl Lewis make waves in the wake of the numerous 2008 Olympic disasters.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers