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.

When running in circles is a joyous act

Today I ran outside on the actual running path. Not in the street. Not in a race. Just a normal, everday recovery run on a running path. And it was good.

The path is still dotted with some extended stretches of solid ice, so I had to stop and slide robotically over those sections every half mile or so. But with temps forecasted in the mid-50s tomorrow, that should be gone by Thursday.

I ran down to the Bronxville track, which was also more or less clear. I went there to do my assigned six strides, but it was such a relief to run unobstructed that I ended up not only tacking on an extra couple of strides but also doing five miles on the track. Round and round. Didn’t matter. I just enjoyed the air, the wind, the freedom of really running, meaning propelling myself forward rather than  having my feet pulled backward and out from under me endlessly, endlessly.

I’ve got a fast finish 12 mile aerobic run tomorrow, which I’m almost certain I’ll do inside since the path is still fairly treacherous. That’s okay, though. I got my fix today and I’m sure I’ll get to do the rest of my runs outside this week.

Spring Race Training: Week 3

09spr-training-03Week three was marked by two things: a continuation of my nagging right groin issue and a really good 20K race/training run on Sunday. I also unexpectedly reached, after five long weeks, my treadmill tolerance saturation point in dramatic fashion, stopping a 14 mile aerobic run at 13.3 miles, simply unable to take another minute in that room, on that contraption.

I hesitate to even call this a high mileage week since in just a matter of weeks my recovery week mileage will resemble what I ran and I’ll be hitting triple digit weeks again for the first time since the summer. But last week I ran a lot of miles, with all except the race run inside on the treadmill again.

Since my leg was still bothering me, I did almost all of my recovery runs at a ridiculously leisurely pace, skipping the strides as usual. I also skipped the 400m intervals in favor of giving my leg further opportunity to heal. I did feel quite good on Thursday, something that’s reflected in the pace at which I did my easy run.

I’m guessing that the extra helping of R&R offered by skipping the speedwork contributed to my good effort on Sunday, which I would characterize as something falling in between a training and a race effort. I raced about 75% of the course.

The good news is that we’re finally getting a spell of warmer weather. I can see our lawn for the first time since December. I’ve got a set of 1200m intervals scheduled for Friday and, unless we get colder temps plus precip again, it’s looking like I may actually be able to run them outside, on a snow- and ice-free track.

The next Mpace training run is in three weeks — the Boston Buildup 25K. I ran that one last year and, unlike the roller coaster course for the 20K, the 25K course is easy to get your head around, if not run: go uphill for sevenish miles, then go downhill for eightish miles. Total climb: +2,456; total descent: -2,600.

Week 4 is a recovery week, with just a little tempo running on Tuesday, one doubles session on Thursday, the aforementioned intervals on Friday and a fast finish 17 miler on Sunday.

Race Report: Boston Buildup 20K

Just a quickie report, since this was a training run and not really an all-out race effort.

This race starts at the Southport, CT railroad station and goes inland. And, let me tell you, it is hilly! With the exception of the Boston Blowout 30K (not technically part of the Buildup series), all of these Boston-prep races are very hilly. As I was struggling up my fourth extreme hill today, I found myself wondering if I really do want to ever run Boston. It never looks that bad on television, but, then again, neither does eating worms or climbing Mt. Everest.

It was actually a perfect day for racing in terms of temperature. I did a two mile warmup in tights, long sleeve, hat and gloves and was hot within half a mile. So I changed into shorts and a tech tee and that turned out to be perfect. Unfortunately, it was very windy, with a wind coming primarily from the west/northwest, although it was a swirling wind and would sometimes blast from the south too, usually at the most inopportune time.

I had a pacing plan of 7:05 or so for the first 3 miles, then 7:15 for the next 3, then try to run around 7:00 or better for the rest. That all went to hell pretty quickly given the hills and wind. I don’t know my exact time, since I again forgot to turn off my watch, but it was somewhere in the area of 1:31:15, or around 7:22 pace average. I don’t know the details of my run beyond mile 9.26 since my watch lost contact with the satellites for the remainder of the race. That coincided with a 10 minute downpour from miles 9.0-10+. So that certainly slowed everyone down, although I must say I’m getting better at ignoring horrendous weather conditions, at least from a mental standpoint.

I was running with guys for all of the way. I didn’t spot one other woman, so the ones who beat me must have been quite a ways ahead, and I didn’t look back to see who was behind me. I was told at the 10K water stop that I was woman #7, and no one passed me, so I guess I was seventh overall. I managed to pass a few guys in the last three miles, though, improving my overall field placement.

I’m fairly certain I could have run this faster without the wind, hills and 70 miles on my legs already for the week. But it’s hard to know how much faster as it truly is a difficult course, with a few monster hills that go on for a good half mile or so. At least I had the experience of passing a few people on those uphills, and I flew on the downhills. My time was good for first in my age group, which was a pleasant surprise. My reward was a hot pink Asics long sleeve technical shirt. Good base layer, or shirt for wearing hiking so I can be easily spotted at the foot of a deep ravine.

I like these races because they are small, congenial and you can just turn up, find parking and race hassle free. Yet, they’re pretty competitive, too, I suspect because not only are lots of the participants actually using them to train for spring marathons (Boston or otherwise), but the pickings are slim for winter racing outside of the NYRR offerings, so serious runners take advantage of what’s there.

The letdown was that “the bagel guy didn’t come through” (RD Jim Gerweck’s words). The 25K Buildup race I ran (and will run in about a month) had the best salt bagels last year. We’ve been promised two bagels each next time around. Fortunately we brought bananas and PowerBars, which turned out to be especially lucky since we got caught in a horrible traffic jam on 95 on the way home, turning a 45 minute drive into a 2 hour slog home.

I napped for an hour and a half on the couch. Now I’m, uh, “rehydrating” with Yeungling and watching DVR’d English Premier Football, to be followed by semi-drunken viewings of the Reebok track meet (I’ve already had a few spoilers, unfortunately…but no matter) and Tropic Thunder. Thank goodness next week is a recovery week and I only have to run 3 miles tomorrow…

Referrals I have garnered. Part of an ongoing series.

Yesterday this blog got a web hit from this search string:

fuck girl in jangl

What does it all mean?

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