Injury. Patience. Optimism.

In my last post I laid out my ambitious plans to run 3 miles a day for the upcoming week. I managed to run four days, totaling 17 miles for that week. Then I headed into the next week with high hopes and promptly fucked up my back. Still, I traveled 28.5 miles that week, 8 of them walking. I also gave up my office chair and converted my desk into a standing desk (because I couldn’t sit for 5 minutes without sending my back into spasm).

By the end of the week my back issue had abated. Then I went out of town to a rental cabin where I Did Nothing. I didn’t run at all for 5 days. I did nothing for 5 days except lie around sleeping, reading and writing (in a bad office chair at the rental). Came home. Went out for a run. Suffered shooting sciatic pain on one side after 1.5 miles. Hobbled home. Took the next day off. Marveled at how fat I’ve gotten.

So the grand total for last week was 1.5 miles.

Here we go again.

This week I’m committed to running on whatever days I can. Much as I hate to, I will run on the treadmill until my injuries subside. I can’t stand heading out for a run and wondering at what point something will stop working, and I’m stranded miles out and have to do the walk of shame back home. Plus I’m too fat to be seen in public.

I’m really not that fat. Not nearly as fat as I used to be. I haven’t weighed myself in a few weeks, but the last time I did I was about 8 pounds up from what I’ve held at for the past 18 months. That has got to go.

I eat salad every day. I snack on apples. I don’t drink beer. Or anything. Except when I go out, which is rare. Okay, I had a beer on Saturday, the day of my 1.5 miler. But I was being social. Tomorrow I’ll go back to the gym and lift wimpy weights after a month-long absence.

So let’s talk about optimism. With the exception of a brief window in late 2011 and early 2012, when I ran a couple of PRs and was not injured, the last four years of running have been THE SUCK. I have usually been injured with something, on and off. I’ve been injured non-stop for over a year now. I’ve got PF in my right foot — which I’ve had since a year ago February — plus intermittent achilles issues on both sides. This makes it hard to run, impossible on some days.

I’ve also been, uh, challenged in my personal life for 1-2 years, depending on which personal debacle you use to start the clock. I don’t write about everything here because it’s personal and also involves people close to me. But trust me — I’ve been clawing my way through an Irwin Allen-scale shit storm for many moons. And, you know, it has not been all bad by any means. Some great things have happened in that time too. But the bad has usually outweighed the good by a significant margin and the nature of the bad has been just, well, relentless. I had a stretch of very bad luck, which is how math works sometimes. Bad luck comes in double digits. The sorry state of my running just fit right in. After awhile it was just, Eh, whatever. Why not pile on bad running too? Whereas in the past I have looked to running to help me deal with other issues in my life, to provide me with a physical and emotional outlet plus a source of focus and accomplishment, I didn’t have that this time around. It was just another thing that wasn’t going well.

So now the clouds are parting. My personal life seems to have finally achieved some badly needed equilibrium. Some very good stuff is happening on almost all fronts. This is emerging, oddly, in conjunction with having thrown up my hands and decided to back off and stop trying so hard and expecting anything at all except more calamity. I had started bracing myself for more water landings, treating the future as a fist poised to fly. Truly. There is a kind of liberation that comes from having a bunch of really terrible stuff happen and coming through it dented, scratched and with parts missing, but more or less intact as a human unit, ready for more assault. Facing the future after a couple of years like this feels like a kind of dare I’m presenting to Fate and Fortune: Go ahead, you two. Keep throwing garbage at me. Your arms are going to get tired eventually and I’ll still be here, fuckers.

I’m working my ass off right now to get a foothold in several areas. Again, where is personal. But I want to not give the impression that I’ve become complacent or hopeless. I was pretty hopeless for a while. I’m not anymore, and that includes in the realm of running.

I would like to be able to train for and race the 2013 Fifth Avenue Mile — and by that I mean train for it consistently and race it well. Not limp through the thing. That’s what I want. I may not get what I want this year. Or ever again. Maybe my days as a competitive runner are over; I’ll be injured forever. Wouldn’t that be awful? Yes, it would. But I don’t think that’s the case, any more than I think terrible things will continue to happen to me and people close to me every single month of the year, forever. If I did then I would have stopped running months ago. To Say The Least.

Maybe I should stop running now. But why would I choose to stop running if there’s a chance I can run well again? I could spend brain cycles thinking about the worst that could happen or I could spend them on the opposite. It takes the same amount of time and the same outlay of electricity. But here’s the thing: thinking about the worst thing seems like a way to ward if off. But it doesn’t. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. And you’ll be no more prepared for it if and when it does. You’ll just already be in a terrible mood. So why not spend that time and energy considering a positive outcome instead?

If I can run on the treadmill tomorrow then I will. That’s what I say every day now. That’s all I can do. I’ll wait this thing out. If I’m still alive, then I’m winning. It’s a strategy that’s worked out in other areas. I’m optimistic that it will work here too.

Running is important but…

It’s not the most important thing right now.

Jonathan said to me the other day, “You seem fairly content with your running.” I thought this was funny since I’m sort of injured at the moment. I’m still trying to get my left hamstring and my right Achilles to calm down. Fortunately, I can run through these issues, although I’m not daring to do anything fast, or anything on hills. I just plod along for 5 or 7 miles most days. Yesterday I did 10. I was running slower last week because I hurt with each step. But now I’m back down to 8:15-8:45 pace.

I don’t really care. I wasn’t that motivated to train for anything in particular this spring anyway, so the timing for this is good. I want to do well in the Fifth Avenue Mile and that’s about my only running goal for this year. That and avoiding serious injury. I will skip the Scotland Run in a couple of weeks if anything still hurts.

In other news, I spent Friday afternoon and evening over at Hilary Lorenz’s (aka Adventure Artist) home printing studio, learning how to make my first linoleum print. Hilary is professional artist as well as a printmaking educator (she is currently chair of her department at Long Island University in Brooklyn). Every few weeks she opens her home and schedule for something called PrintSocial.

This was, quite honestly, the most fun I’ve had in quite awhile. What happens when you combine four runners, wine, sharp objects and a printing press? You get some pretty impressive prints. And some pretty impressive bleeding. I managed to stab myself twice with some expensive Czech carving tools. So did my equally inexperienced cohort, Melanie Jones. Jonathan, who (aside from having no online presence) actually listens when someone tells him to cut away from himself and keep his non-cutting hand behind the one doing the cutting, did not shed any blood.

Hilary is a good teacher. She has nice dogs. She fed us about two pounds of chocolate-covered acai berries. If you are brave and not afraid of sharp objects, look into doing a PrintSocial. Hilary showed us some amazing prints produced in previous socials by artists and non-artists alike.

We ended up with some kickass prints. I am not showing Jonathan’s because he is shy. But I’ll show mine and Melanie’s. Mine has a misspelling. Can you spot it?

Melanie's flockage.

Continuing the bird theme, Julie's entertaining bird (brid).

Here’s the whole album of photographic evidence showing our fun afternoon.

Training: Dec 4 – 10

This was actually kind of a tough week. It started out with a race that went very well. Then a zippy recovery run on Monday (my pace is averaging right around 8:30 on most recovery runs these days). Then a very late night owing to going to see Sleep No More, a piece of immersive theatre in Manhattan. I enjoyed it, for the most part, but it’s long — about 3 hours — and requires a lot of mental energy. We got home and to sleep at around 1am.

The weather was horrible for the first part of the week — pouring rain, for the most part. So I was relegated to the treadmill for a couple of runs. I have no idea how I used to do 22 mile runs on that thing, since now I can barely handle 6 mile runs without losing my mind. Fortunately the weather cleared up overnight on Thursday and I could move back outside again, although it was muddy or flooded in spots.

On Friday I headed back to Edgemont High School’s track for another session of 1K repeats. It went extremely well. Even dodging people and running gingerly around the slippery turn for home I was able to easily hit 4:00 (6:25 pace) for every single one. When I was done I chatted with a gentleman who’d been jogging around. I’ve seen him a few times there. He is 80 years old and was the captain of his collegiate track team in India, where he ran the 100m and 200m sprints. He jog-walks 2 miles a day there. I asked him if he missed sprinting and he said, “No! I don’t want to run that fast. This is good for me now.”

On Saturday I felt that I needed a break from the muddy path so I headed to Van Cortlandt Park for 8 miles of recovery running. I spent about 5 of those miles on the flats (and discovered that the dirt path there is a mudbog after it rains). But the cinder path was good to run on and I measured it at a smidgen over 1.25 miles. So it’s a good place for doing tempo runs or mile repeats.

I got bored with that too, though, so I headed into the hills, running 1.5 miles out and back on their legendarily brutal cross-country course, which is marked with signs featuring a tortoise and a hare. I took it easy, but still worked harder than I should have. But I was having fun, which is what I went there for. 24 hours later those hills would be full of racers running the Pete McArdle Cross-Country Classic, a 15K effort. Among them were friends Hilary (who took first place in our age group) and Amy, with a 7th place AG finish, although more important than that was her return to successful racing after a period of injury and rehab. I like knowing all these fasties.

And speaking of good times, the week concluded with a trip in to the annual New York Harriers holiday party. I got to drink Newcastle and eat cake and talk to nice people and I also won something. Hoorah!

Up next: a bizarre workout from Jack Daniels and a 5K race on Long Island, where I hope to put all those 1K track repeats to use.

 

Sunset & Suds 5K

Free beer. A lovely view. And running. What’s not to like?

If you’re looking for a fast, flat and accurately measured 5K, consider running September 15th’s Sunset & Suds. That’s a Thursday evening. The race starts at 7 pm. This race is a fundraiser for my team, the New York Harriers, and for your registration fee you’ll get the alcoholic version of the Olive Garden’s Neverending Pasta Bowl: a free beer mug and unlimited refills (or at least that’s what I’m told). I’m thinking it will be a lot less revolting than what Olive Garden gives you. That’s a good thing.

Here are details. You can register in person (or by mail, although you’re cutting it a little close at this point) at Urban Athletics’ uptown store or on race evening near the start at Hudson Beach Cafe on 105th and Riverside. Here’s the flyer (PDF).

So come on down, run with me, and then get totally ripped on a school night.

How to lose weight when you’re 46 years old and genetically disadvantaged

I promised my sister I’d post about my recent weight loss when I hit 125. I’m a little over 126, but I have a day off from all responsibilities today, so I’ll go right ahead since I expect to be down to 125 within a few days anyway.

When we got back from a visit with Jonathan’s family in England in May I weighed a whopping 141 pounds. I’ve been struggling with weight since late 2009. I’m still not sure why I put on roughly 10 pounds over the course of about 8 months. Nearly half of that piled on within about two months of starting a new birth control pill (Loestrin 24). Then the next 6 arrived very slowly over time. It may have been hormonal. My metabolism may have simply ground to a halt that year. Dunno.

Over the past 18 months of so of trying to shed the extra poundage, I could not get rid of it by eating sensibly, nor did heavy mileage help. I sought the help of a nutritionist and an endocrinologist late last year, also to no avail.

No wonder I'm so slow. I've been running carrying the equivalent of this box of cat litter for the past several years.

When I weighed myself on May 18, seeing a number over 140 — a weight that was flirting with what I weighed before I started running 12 years ago (an endeavor started because I’d gotten so fucking fat) — the same sense of shame and outrage that overtook me in 1999 reemerged. It galvanized me, inspiring a steely resolve: I was going to lose this fat even if people had to die.

In roughly two months, I’ve lost about 15 pounds. Fortunately, no one has died. It’s been a pretty simple process, but it has not been easy. Here’s how I did it, along with some observations and tips. I should note that I’m no medical expert and this has been an experiment on myself, not unlike the one William Hurt performed in Altered States. Although I have not yet broken into a zoo and eaten an antelope [2:20]. But, believe me, I’ve been close a few times.

Here’s what didn’t work

Going to an endocrinologist in search of a hormonal or other chemical explanation. I got tested for various things and got the all clear. I also got this annoyingly generic piece of medical insight: “Most women gain weight in middle age, especially around the waist.” Yeah, well, I’m not most women.

Going to a sports nutritionist. This was another useless exercise. For four months I followed a supposed expert’s advice, tolerated her insinuations that I was not being honest about what I was eating, and grew increasingly frustrated.

Going off the pill. Actually, that may have sort of worked, but it’s taken forever. Here’s something else I’ve observed: every gynecologist and article will tell you that the hormones in the pill are gone from your system in a week or two. I don’t believe this is true, based on several things. For one, I’ve had friends who were on the pill and went off it in an effort to get pregnant. Some of them took as long as six months to get knocked up. For another, the whole reason I went on the thing (beyond the obvious) was to regulate my wild cycles. I could swing 10 days in either direction. Yet for four months after I stopped taking it in January, I could predict my cycle’s start by not only the day, but also by the hour. In the last month I’ve started to go all wacky and unpredictable again. My weight loss rate has also picked up slightly. Coincidence? Again, dunno.

So what did work?

The nutritionist told me that my resting metabolic rate plus non-running movements resulted in a need for around 1850 calories a day. This was just to function. We based everything on that. I was told not to ever cut more than 500 calories a day from base + exercise output total (I don’t know what awful thing would happen if I did; maybe I’d actually lose weight?). Plus I was given elaborate formulas for how many grams of carbohydrate and protein to take in before a workout and in the hours after a workout in order to recover properly.

I’m sorry, but it was all bollocks. I lost no weight on this plan.

So you know what I did? I took the base calorie intake she had me on — roughly 1650 a day — and chopped it in half. That’s right: my new caloric ceiling was around 850. If I did any exercise, I’d add those calories back in. Here’s an example:

Base calorie intake: 850
Run 6 miles easy: 500
Total allowed: 1350

Following this rather parsimonious formula, I lost a little over 2 pounds the first week, then another 1.5 the following week. It’s varied from week to week, but it’s basically been around 1.5 pounds per week. During a PMS week, I usually stagnate, although I don’t gain water weight like I used to, so I think I’m still “stealth losing.”

There’s no secret to this

The laws of thermodynamics are absolute. Unless you’ve got a thyroid or other issue, if your body is deprived of external sources of fuel, it will start burning its own.

But it’s really hard to do

Aside from the behavioral challenges, I’ve got a few other things working against me. For one, I’m way over 40. If you think you can eat the way you did in your 20s and 30s, just wait. You can’t. For another, my physique lies somewhere along the body type spectrum between mesomorph and endomorph. I blame my Viking genes: you need a lot of muscle for hefting swords and engaging in extended bouts of raping and pillaging, plus you need fat to keep you from becoming too cold in Spitzbergen or wherever the hell my ancestors were from. I build muscle very easily, which is great if I want to be a power lifter, but useless for distance running. So I actually have to be careful about doing too much weight or other resistance work. For another, I hold onto fat like it’s going out of style. I gain it easily and then have a bastard of a time getting rid of it.

What does it all mean?

It means that while it’s possible for me to lose fat, it’s difficult and takes a huge effort and commitment. Have you ever tried living on 850 calories a day? It takes planning. It’s tedious. You’re hungry often. But seeing a pretty much constant weight loss of around 1-2 pounds a week is a great motivator. As I said to someone recently, I can deal with eating 850 calories a day for three months more easily than I can deal with eating 1200 calories a day for six months.

Are you ready to suffer? Here are some handy tips!

Use a calorie tracking program. There is no other way to know what you’re taking in and using up. I like Tap and Track for the iPhone.

Plan ahead. If you have a job that you travel to (as I have since I started this venture), pack your food. Apportion your calories among various food items and stick those items in your bag. If you eat all your food too early in the day, tough luck. You’ll only do this a few times.

Stop drinking. I shouldn’t have to explain this one. With only 850 calories to play with, there is no room for extravagances like liquor. Bonus: you’ll avoid embarrassing Ambien episodes.

Eat “big food.” These are foods that have a high density and volume relative to their caloric content. Examples are: fruits, vegetables, and lean animal proteins. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of grapes, cherries, nectarines, corn on the cob, steak and chicken.

Eat small amounts of fat throughout the day. For example, while nuts are very calorie dense, they will keep you full because they take forever to digest. Also, a cup of coffee with half and half will stave off hunger for a good hour or two.

When the hunger pangs get too bad, just close your eyes and think of England. Failing that, eat your own hand — preferably the one you don’t favor. It’s low in calories and you have another one if you need to make a phone call or something.

A special note for runners

Bear in mind that I’ve only been running 30-40 miles per week during this process and doing 2 hard sessions tops. I don’t know that I’d attempt this during a heavier training schedule. Also note that I’ve been careful to make sure I take in at least 200 grams of carbohydrates and 75 grams of protein a day. On days after a hard run or race, I’ll up the calorie intake a bit because I’m usually starving and to me that’s a signal that I need more food in order to recover properly.

Why am I doing this?

Because I not only looked a lot better when I weighed somewhere in the low 120s, but I ran better too. I am now running a lot faster, despite the heat and humidity. But more on that soon.

In which bloggers sing “Kumbaya” on the Upper West Side

For years, social scientists have pondered the question: Can Americans and Australians ever have brunch together? The answer is yes. Yes, we can.

Today Jonathan and I met up with a load of people, most of whom we’d never met. At least not in the flesh. With the exception of our friend (and my fellow podcast host) Joe of RunWestchester. But I’ve been following the exploits of Ewen (of About a Ewen) and Flo (of Girl in Motion) for several years. Ewen is here with his friends Joy and Mal on an epic tour of the U.S. (can’t imagine why they’d want to come to this 2,600 mile wide dump) and, fortunately for us, it includes an extended swing through New York City. Flo drove her ass all the way up from Philadelphia just to have lunch with us! But it gets better: also there was Flo’s friend, Heather, a newly minted masters runner who lives in New York and who had not seen Flo in sixteen years!! But, wait. There’s more: Heather had a stress fracture in her pelvis earlier this year in almost the exact same place I did!!!

It doesn’t get any weirder than that. Especially when this crew is involved.

In a symbol of the historically peaceful relations between our two nations, we exchanged cultural gifts. Ewen gave us Australia-themed drink coolers and fragrant soaps. We gave Ewen race t-shirts (he made out like a “bandit,” scoring shirts for the New York Marathon, Healthy Kidney, Scotland Run and yesterday’s Run for Central Park). Mimosas were consumed. Checks were split. Hugs were freely given.

Mal and Joy, who are non-runners, were extremely tolerant of all the running talk. Which is good, since we’re meeting up again on Friday evening for drinks and there will be even more runners there!!!! Joe and I will also see Ewen in Van Cortlandt for a 5K on Thursday evening, his first international race (not counting Tasmania)!!!!!

Ewen, Joy and Mal

Heather, Flo and Ewen

Me, Joe, Heather, Flo and Ewen

Jonathan threatens to usurp actual stuff from another continent

Race Report or whatever: the Brooklyn Half

A three hour tour. A THREE HOUR TOUR!!!

No, it didn’t take me three hours to run a half marathon (I came in a shade under two hours), but it did take me three hours to get home. And that was too damned long.

The actual race was the least interesting part of today. So let’s start with the pre-race goings on. I stayed overnight at my dad’s place on the Upper West Side and, as I usually do before any race, even those I don’t give a shit about, I could not sleep properly. Fake Ambien let me down and at 3:30 a car alarm woke me up for good, well in advance of my 4:30 alarm. I was running on around five hours of sleep.

Fortified by strong coffee and Mini Wheats, I dashed down to where a van the New York Harriers had rented was stationed on 85th and Broadway. There, I met up with a few people I knew already, but most whom I didn’t. The highlight of that standing around experience was when a drunk young man stumbled upon our group, with a seemingly sober woman in tow, and declared, swaying, heavy-lidded and rubbery-lipped, “My wife is pregnant!” The woman he was with looked a little horrified and said, “I’m not pregnant!”

Then, looking at our shirts, Drunk Guy said, “What are the New York Harriers?”

Since no one answered him I jumped in and said, “We are a cult!” That got me a few laughs and a few odd looks, and in this fashion I was able to quickly and efficiently determine who I should talk to post-race. Just kidding. Sort of.

At 5:45 sharp we clambered into the van and wended our way down to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. A bunch of Harriers dashed out and started running…somewhere. When I see people running fast before a race, and I have no idea where baggage or the start are, I tend to get panicky and just follow them. So I was tearing along and it was at that point that I got a sense of how humid it was. It was 96% humidity this morning, according to NYRR. That’s pretty fucking humid. I am a terrible hot weather runner, especially early in the summer season, and the wisdom of my plan to run a slowish long run today was becoming more and more evident by the minute.

Even though I had a red bib I lined up a corral back, at the very back of the yellow-bibbed group. That turned out to be perfect as I was running 8:30 or so to start and would run in that range for the next 9 miles or so. Prospect Park is very pretty and I liked the nature of its hills. Unlike Central Park’s they are very long and gradual. With two loops of the park making up slightly more than half the race, I got very familiar with those hills and had fun running them. I was also glad for the 7:00 am start because the sun was still low and as such the run was, up until the last 2.5 miles or so, almost completely shaded. That helped on a day like today, in which we had horrible humidity and full sun.

A virtual friend from LetsRun.com (and now Facebook) who goes by the moniker Humbled (and who lives in Detroit, but visits Brooklyn often to visit her significant other) had noted that she’d be in town spectating the race today. I looked for her along Ocean Parkway, but didn’t spot her. Much as I would like to meet her eventually, I was sort of glad about that because in the last few miles I was getting pretty cranky and I’m sure I smelled like a barn.

I had no goal for the race going in other than to just do a regular long run. But as I trundled along I decided that I’d try to come in under two hours. I gave up some time in the last few miles due to stopping and taking lots of water. But my average pace was 9:04 and I came in a shade under 1:59. Numbers are stupid on days like today. But I still care about them.

In the last couple of miles people were struggling with the weather. I saw a few runners down along the side of the road, and a few wobbling along the boardwalk. The med tent at the finish was very busy. Had I actually raced today, I’m pretty sure I would have been among its visitors given how I felt in the last few miles.

The post-race meetup was the best part of the day, although the effect of the weather, dehydration and beer took me by surprise. After a week of hardening myself in England with concoctions like Twickenham Naked Ladies, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale and Bertie’s Snuff Film Lager (okay, I made that one up), I’d thought I’d be fine having a drink at 9:30 in the morning. We met up at something called Beer Island, which made me think of the song “Beer Picnic,” written by my friend Carolyn (Lengel) Enright for her 1980’s band Bad Tuna Experience. Just about any title that starts with “beer” is bound to sound festive.

Schmaltz Brewery's Human Blockhead: delicious but also dangerous. It's 10% alcohol -- more drunk for your buck!

Anyway, at Beer Island I became enamored of their Coney Island Human Blockhead, the label of which features Coney Island Sideshow master of ceremonies (and person who can hammer a nail into his nose, among other fantastic talents) Donny Vomit. Unfortunately, Human Blockhead only comes in 650ml bottles, or slightly less than twice the amount of beer you’ll typically get in a bottle.

Dehydrated and on a more or less empty stomach, even sipping the stuff I was wobbly myself after half a bottle. At noon I realized I would have trouble walking without embarrassing myself. So I hung out for awhile longer, finished it up and, at 1:30 realized that I could put off the ordeal of making my way home no longer. Walking was still a slight challenge, especially on sand, but whatever. I wanted to make it home before The Rapture, which was scheduled for 6:00 pm.

I said my goodbyes to all the nice Harriers (I know many more of them now, and none of them are assholes) and headed over to Nathan’s because I had to put something in my stomach. I have no idea why, but I went with the softshell crab sandwich, of which I could only eat the crab. After wolfing that down I was ready for the subway, which would take at least 90 minutes, plus I had to stop off at my dad’s place first before making my way up to where my car was parked on 108th Street. I’d have plenty of time to sober up!

Did you know that there are 381 stops in Brooklyn on the Q train from Stillwell Avenue? I slept through them all, waking up at Canal Street in Manhattan. Then the Q driver announced we were local. So I snoozed up to 42nd Street, where I hoped to transfer to the 2/3 express. But those were not running, so I had another tedious set of local stops up to 96th Street on the 1.

Anyway, it took me three hours to get from Beer Island to my house. That’s too long. I’m not running Brooklyn again. It’s far easier to get wasted post-race in Manhattan.

Lights! Camera! Travel!

Two weeks without a post. Dearie me.

It’s been one heck of a spring so far, primarily consisting of familial highs and lows, and mostly just lows for running. First, my stepmother nearly died after surgery complications. That was three weeks ago. She’s still in the ICU, clawing her way back to normality. So that’s completely sucked. But I did learn a lot about my family and myself in terms of our personal strengths and weaknesses and how we all cope with disaster. That was interesting and useful.

Then I blew up in the Long Island Half and declared that marathons were dead to me. My feelings have not changed.

This photo needs no caption.

I spent the last week in England with Jonathan’s family, and that was a great time, although, like all travel and concentrated social time, kind of exhausting too. J.’s brother and his husband live in southwest London, while his mother and her husband live in the western cape of South Africa. We try to convene in one of our locales at least every 18-36 months. I hadn’t been to the UK since 2006. It’s changed in some ways but not in others. For example, while cars (and people) are getting bigger, their streets and parking spaces are not. This makes riding in a car a harrowing experience. I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, worrying about my inlaws’ paint job and side mirrors.

Out and about...

We are active tourists. I think it’s really stupid to travel to a place and sit around inside, which is part of why I don’t care where I stay, usually, as long as it’s not diseased or dangerous. Fortunately, J.’s family is also up for lots of walking, tube-riding and ticket-buying, so our days and evenings were filled with interesting things to do. Highlights include:

A guided walk with London Walks, which has become a kind of tradition when we go there. This time around we did a square mile tour of the city’s center, getting a history of, among other things, Roman London, the Black Death, the births of the Stock Exchange and Lloyd’s of London, and too many buildings designed by Christopher Wren (the Michael Caine of historical London architecture) to count.

A memorial to victims of the plague.

War Horse, which has been playing in London for quite awhile but just opened in Lincoln Center and has gotten a shitload of Tony nominations. As previously noted, I’m not a theatre person, but I appreciate a creatively conceived and executed production in any media, and this delivered. Skilled puppeteers steered giant horses (and a tank) around a stage for two hours. The play’s a little long and overly sentimental (but that’s par for the course in almost any English treatment of WW1 and WW2 — that’s my sweeping, culturally insensitive opinion; go ahead and flame away!), but it was nevertheless impressive. The casting director gets Most Creative Casting award for putting a black man into the role of an embittered SS Captain. Not since seeing Charlton Heston playing a Mexican narc in Touch of Evil have I had to work so hard to suspend my disbelief.

Also, I noted that at play intermissions, English people rush out to the lobby to buy tiny containers of ice cream, which they bring back to their seatmates in huge stacks. Then they all sit there and eat it together, looking supremely happy and satisfied. This was a spectacle so utterly charming and weird that I was beside myself.

In one of a dozen pubs visited.

A massive Joan Miro retrospective at the Tate Modern, which I dragged J.’s family to, although I did not hear complaints. But they were probably being polite. There were 13 rooms of works spanning his career, organized chronologically and placed within the context of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s Spain, which I admit to having known absolutely nothing about. Now I know almost nothing about those periods of history.

Sadly, I did not get to drink Piddle while there.

A long weekend in County Dorset, to the southwest of London, which is on the southern coast. J. spent most of his childhood and his early teens in this area and it’s incredibly beautiful. Friends of his brother’s have an apartment right on the beach in Sandbanks that they let us use. We had two memorable lunches: the first to reconnect with Jonathan’s stepfather, who we’d last seen circa 1993; the second to celebrate a major milestone birthday for his mother. We visited too many pubs to recall.

Saw lots of these...

The cultural highlight of that last venue was viewing the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual televised music competition that drew 125 million viewers this year. Each European nation puts forth its “best” song and performer(s) in a bid to win the votes of its peers (you can’t vote for your own country, nor are larger nations allowed to skew the numbers — everyone gets the same number of votes). If you have never seen Eurovision, it’s difficult grasp its level of sheer gaudy absurdity. The event goes on for hours, and it’s kind of like Star Search meets Top of the Pops meets Solid Gold. Fortunately, we have YouTube (see below).

...and lots of these.

Singers from nation after nation take the stage, usually with lots of non-singing dancers in tow, against a backdrop of often stunning visual effects. Then the voting begins and at that point you’re glad you’ve been drinking because it goes on for about an hour and half, with each nation’s vote doler outer (usually a tarted up woman, probably a local television personality) struggling to chatter coyly in broken English (Ha! Ha! Foreigners are so funny when they try to speak proper English!). The winning nation gets the dubious prize of hosting next year’s Eurovision, which is presumably a massively expensive proposition, so we found ourselves wondering if Portugal, Iceland and Greece might be sandbagging. Winning performers rarely go on to stardom, the exception being Abba, who won in 1974 with “Waterloo.”

I think my favorite part of watching Eurovision is the spontaneous reactions we all have. We can’t stop ourselves from saying things like:

“God, is everyone in Iceland that fat?”

“Wait a minute. Her name’s Kati? But that’s a man!”

“What is wrong with the French?”

You also get a real sense of what people in the various countries find sexy and stylish. It’s rarely what I find sexy and stylish.

I have never correctly guessed who will win. I’m never even close. This year’s winners were Azerbaijan’s Ell/Nikki, with an anemic, schmaltzy duet called “Running Scared.” I was banking on either Ireland, with its bizarre, poppy entry from twin brothers (and big fans of epaulets, hair gel and Devo) Jedward. Or Serbia’s Nina, who rocked the final with a stylish sixties vibe and, as a chunky-legged girl from peasant stock like myself, proved exteme bravery in wearing white tights on international television. But, no, all the bands I hated made the top 10. Special mention goes to Moldova, for its entry, “So Lucky,” which embodies the sort of demented eye- and ear-raping that you expect of Eurovision.

Azerbaijan: Cream-colored bland FTW.

Ireland: We don’t care if we win. We’ll charge it!

Serbia: Don’t worry, if we don’t win we can always get jobs at Target.

Moldova: Coneheads and unicycles! Thank you!

Jonathan procures pork pies at Borough Market.

Clearly, given the length of my Eurovision report, this was my favorite part of the trip. But I sampled a lot of English culinary staples this time around: black pudding, Scotch eggs, pork pies and my ritual fish and chips/mushy peas, this time from a decades-old childhood chippy that Jonathan was amazed to find still bustling despite everything around it having changed.

Fifty years later, while entire streets and buildings are gone, the humble chip shop still stands.

Unfortunately, since J. got the bright idea that we should all drink absinthe during this musical ordeal, I had a mild hangover the next morning and, while stumbling out for a walk along the beach, managed to bash my left foot on a gate. I’ve done something to it because after an eight mile run the next day my left hip flexor and adductor were iffy. My foot still hurts when I flex it. Kids, don’t drink and run.

Branksome Chine, where we did part of a longish run.

With the foot issue, travel stress and terrible nutrition (and almost no running) of the past week, I plan to jog rather than race the Brooklyn Half this weekend, mostly to collect my 10 points for internal New York Harrier scoring. I’m hoping I can redeem them for pistachio nuts or bobby pins or something at the end of the year.

What’s been going on, as presented in Warren Zevon song titles

I’ve been rediscovering Warren Zevon lately. If you have no idea who he is, then look him up and discover for yourself his uniquely sardonic yet humane — and always highly literate — musical take on things. He’s dead, by the way. Before succumbing to lung cancer in 2003, he produced one of my favorite quotes: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

So here’s a Zevonesque take on what’s happening in my life, running and otherwise.

Although we’ve had bits of snow and sleet lately, it is officially spring, even if the weather hasn’t gotten with the program yet. We’ve been able to run Backs Turned Looking Down the Path now that it’s clear of snow, although on many days we’ve also had to Hasten Down the Wind. For the most part I’ve been running in Splendid Isolation because, as I’ve said to Jonathan, “I’ll Slow You Down.”

We traded one lost hour for longer days last weekend. And one night last week They Moved the Moon. Or at least they claimed it was bigger than it would be in another 18 years. Does that mean it was closer? I’ve seen “bigger” harvest moons in the summer, so I was not impressed.

My workouts have spanned the spectrum from lousy to great. Maybe it’s Bad Karma, or just the usual training Turbulence, but I don’t quite feel like I’m training with the consistency I’d like. On the other hand, I can usually come up with reasons for why a workout Ain’t That Pretty At All. For example, I had a scheduled 13 miler in Central Park on Sunday that was, in hindsight, Trouble Waiting to Happen. After a ridiculously hard speed session Thursday, followed by ridiculous weight work and spinning the following day, my legs were dead. I was also at my hormonal low point, and always run like shit on that day. Not surprisingly, my planned 8:00s were rapidly turning into 9:00s. Then my right hamstring and adductor had tandem hissy fits. Poor, Poor Pitiful Me. I cut the run short at 11 and told myself, “You’re a Whole Different Person When You’re Scared. So stop it. You no longer need to let one workout define things. It doesn’t mean you’re headed for a Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School. Don’t worry about it.”

So sure, My Shit’s Fucked Up on some days, but not always. On Wednesday, two days ago, I had a mysteriously great track session. We got up to find it sleeting. I packed my spikes. The Bronxville track was devoid of people and the sleet/drizzle/shizzle stopped. It was cold, but not too. And there was almost no wind to speak of. All I needed for a good session was the right attitude, because everything else was in place.

Attitude was important because I was assigned 1K repeats. Seven of them. How was I going to do seven when I couldn’t even do four of them two weeks ago? One thing I like about working with Coach Sandra is that she doesn’t assign paces. She trusts that I know the right effort to run and that my splits will just reflect where I am on that day. I may be “slower” or “faster” than expected. I may be running supernaturally well or running like dog shit. What matters isn’t the splits in one workout; what matters is doing the work every week and getting faster relative to effort over the course of an entire training cycle. And if that isn’t happening, figure out why and make immediate adjustments. Maybe that’s obvious already, but I think it’s pure Genius.

I ran the first conservatively, as I always do, to see how I was feeling. 4:15. But I knew I could do a little harder. The next six were: 4:11, 4:10, 4:12, 4:11, 4:11, 4:10. Rests were 1:28-1:50. I attacked those repeats like Boom Boom Mancini. This gives me some confidence that I’ll be able to fly over the Central Park hills like An Angel Dressed in Black in a couple of weeks at the Scotland 10K. If I can’t do that, I’ll be Looking for the Next Best Thing, which is just to put in an effort that I can be proud of.

Jonathan did the workout with me (although his splits were more in 3:30 territory) and had an equally good set. This made him into an Excitable Boy indeed.

It’s hard to know if my perceived gains in speed and endurance are Real or Not, but I’m trying to Roll with the Punches (like I did after my night spent hugging the Porcelain Monkey) and not be too much of a Basket Case about adhering perfectly to the schedule.

Later that evening we attended a A Certain Girl‘s birthday celebration in Manhattan and neither of us was too tired out to enjoy ourselves. It was a late night, but I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. My own birthday is in a couple of weeks. Will 46 be a Wild Age for me, or will I evolve into a Model Citizen? I think I’d like to remain a Renegade and work on turning Jonathan into more of a Mr. Bad Example and less of a Worrier King. We’ll be celebrating at home because MacGillicuddy’s Reeks.

Our home has become something of a Detox Mansion (“I’ve been raking leaves with Liza! Me and Liz clean up the yard!”). We’ve finished up all of our wine and booze, which I’m not planning to replace, and when the beer dwindles I restock with only a sixpack or two, which takes us forever to get through. This means I’m a total lightweight, something I shall have to be careful about when we head off to search for the Werewolves of London in May, shortly after we run the Long Island Half (please, Don’t Let Us Get Sick). I won’t be bringing Lord Byron’s Luggage; the fees are too outrageous. My Mama Couldn’t Be Persuaded to visit us in April, so they’ll be here in June. That means we have to do something about the Disorder in the House before then.

Whoops. Laissez-Moi Tranquille. I Have to Leave. My Ride’s Here.

Training: Mar 13-19

This was a week that started out rough and then got progressively better as the days wore on. I made a lot of adjustments this week.

After a bout of food poisoning on Sunday, I was in no shape to run on Monday. In fact, I was barely in shape to get out of bed, so poorly did I feel. I had hoped to do a the scheduled harder run on Tuesday early in the day, but my stomach was still not right. Plus I had to spend much of the day on a trip into Manhattan to meet with a client.

By the afternoon things were a little less iffy, although I was still not feeling great. But I went out and did that run, since it only called for a few fast minutes at the end, and now that we’re back on daylight savings time (or off it…whatever), I had no excuse not to go running. I did not bother timing anything since the whole thing was slow. Between being sick and then not having eaten much, I was not at my best. But I did my best.

Thursday featured a brand new speed workout. I won’t go into details, but I will say that it consisted of interval combinations, a longer one followed by a very short recovery jog, followed by a shorter one at all out effort, then a little longer recovery. I did four of these. Jonathan came to the track and did them too. Our legs were so trashed afterwards that we could barely run the 1.6 miles home. The PM run that day was actually funny: 11+ minute miles and lots of walking.

Legs were still trashed on Friday, so much so that I had to cut the planned 5 miles short. I went to the gym and whaled on my legs again with weight work and a short but intense spin.

While my legs were better yesterday, it was insanely windy again, plus I had not dressed warmly enough, which made the recovery run feel like hard work. I have a 13 miler in Central Park later today, so I figured it wasn’t going to help me today if I ran too hard yesterday. I again cut the run short.

Some news: I have cut The Nutrionist loose. I had told myself that I’d give her 3-4 months and if no progress had been made, I’d stop. I’ve really not made much progress in that time, which has been incredibly frustrating. I just haven’t felt that she has acknowledged the lack of progress, nor has she offered any real explanations or remedies. I’ve tracked calories in/out during the time, obviously, as well as micronutrients and timing. I have spent hours analyzing it (which I felt was something she should be doing, but didn’t seem to be) and have a theory that going extremely low fat may be one thing to experiment with, based on subtle patterns. But, Jesus Christ, this is like reading tea leaves.

Anyway, I can be mystified on my own for free. After a year+ of injuries, weird weight stuff, mood disorder reemergence, and other unsolved mysteries, I’m completely burnt out on (and feeling burned by) the entire world of “experts” at the moment. As a result, I won’t be sitting in waiting rooms and writing any more large checks for now. I cannot say the same for Jonathan as he continues to struggle with his foot and another annoying (non-running) problem that has thus far involved several specialists, lots of tests — and no answers. As for me, aside from the occasional shard of generic Ambien, I’m off all medications. I’ve stopped drinking — meaning drinking drinking — save for about 2-3 beers a week. We’re saving a fortune in booze/wine and CVS prescriptions! I’m reading books. I’m taking vitamins and so-called natural supplements. It’s self-help or bust. Let’s see what happens.

In other news: blogger reunions or blogger first dates are kicking into high gear. First there’s a Green Mountain Relay reunion to look forward to. And then a few virtual blogger friends, Flo from Philly and Ewen from Down Under, are coming into town in July. I hope we don’t all hate each other. I don’t think we will.

Also, I’m getting excited about the Scotland 10K race. Probably more than I should allow myself to be, since it’s only three weeks away and I don’t feel at all prepared. But with my new lowered expectations approach to racing, I am anticipating at least putting in a good effort and having a good time. If I can get a good finishing time in the process, that’s a plus. But it’s not the primary goal. I’m not even thinking about the Long Island Half on May 1, as that’s just too scary.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers