Other running stuff (not deep thoughts)

It’s Twofer Tuesday on RLaG. You get TWO posts!

Here’s other stuff that’s going on.

I was tempted to do the Randall’s Island Zombie Run, but at $60 it’s expensive. Plus, as I wanted to go as a zombie, I’ll be all overachieving and need to get plastic gashes and such. It’s coming at the end of a huge month in terms of personal and professional commitments. So I’m going to skip it.

Our household NYRR membership lapses in November. I truly don’t give a shit. I’ve barely run any NYRR races and have been soured on them as an organization for various reasons lately. Their races have just gotten too crowded. When I get back into racing I’ll probably return to CT, NJ and Rockland/Orange counties where there are wide open spaces, fast ladies and cheap trophies aplenty.

Yesterday I took JS on a tour of Van Cortlandt Park. We ran a bit along the South County Trail, which is actually a paved path, and then parted ways so I could go back and hit the XC course for some tempo miles. JS continued going north and eventually his Tuckahoe Road. The path continues north and becomes the North County Trail around Elsmford. I wish I’d known about this path when I was training for CIM, as it has a mile+ gradual hill. In any case, we’ll return, I think often. I’m sick of the running path I’ve been using for close to 14 (eep) years.

The dirt cheap gym I joined is in Yonkers at the Cross County Mall. Blink Fitness is a wildly expanding NY-area gym. It’s $15 a month. You get treadmills, ellipticals, sort of shitty stationary bikes (not spin bikes), FormFitness strength machines and a smattering of free weights. That’s about it. You have to bring your own towels. But it’s $15, people. That’s, like, three beers at one happy hour.

Tammy Lifka, whom I interviewed for my Houston Hopefuls project, just ran a 2:49:02 in Chicago. She has been struggling with her running for quite awhile, but she changed her regimen (and her coach) and now seems to be on a tremendous upswing. I am incredibly happy for her.

Lize Brittin, whom I also interviewed for a Runners Round Table podcast close to two years ago (again, eep), has just self-published her memoir of anorexia, Training on Empty. I read a very early draft of this book and gave some feedback. It’s compelling stuff. The foreword is written by the author of my all-time favorite running memoir, Lorraine Moller. Here’s a review from Kevin Beck.

And finally. Shoe companies are clearing out their 2012 models to make way for new editions. So if you want to stock up on the shoes that are working for you, now’s a good time to pick up “last year’s models” at closeout prices.

In which running moves up a few slots

I sat down this morning with plans to compose a detailed, entertaining and photo-strewn record of my time in London and Edinburgh touring with ENDURE: A Run Woman Show. But I won’t. Or, rather, I can’t. Sorry. Think of one of the most intense experiences you’ve had in your life. Then imagine it going on for roughly three weeks. How can you then do any justice to it with a blog post? Especially when you’re still trying to process everything you saw, felt, learned, gained, lost, did, appreciated, regretted, succeeded at, failed at, and otherwise experienced.

So I’ll write about what else is going on.

I am on a creative tear lately. I have ideas for half a dozen stories. I just published one this week. I have a novella-length story that I’m trying to finish but can’t publish for various reasons of privacy, so that’s a big problem to solve this year. I am looking at getting back into live storytelling regularly again. I am taking two performance-oriented classes starting next month: one is a vocal training class and the other is in standup comedy. I have been writing standup material for about six months and wondering what to do with it, missing the obvious answer to that question (just get up and perform it, dummy) until quite recently. I am trying to figure out how to get myself back to Edinburgh for an extended stay because I loved that place so much. I would like to at the very least be there for next year’s Edinburgh Fringe Fest in August, in some capacity but of what sort I don’t know yet. If it’s possible to spend the entire summer there, then, yes, that’s an affirmative and a no brainer.

Finally, there’s running. I wasn’t running much in the UK but I was hardly idle. I estimate that I did around 5-9 miles of walking a day (and a little running as part of the show I was crewing for). I did a few harder runs while there and was surprised that I hadn’t lost that much basic fitness. The best discovery upon returning home was that my hamstring and Achilles issues cleared up during my time away. My plantar fasciitis, while not gone, is extremely mild and responds to babying enough that I can train on it.

I’ve got no racing plans to speak of. Missed Percy Sutton, I’m skipping the Tuckahoe and Fifth Avenue Miles. What’s the point? I’m out of racing shape and not trained for any distance. I probably won’t run any races through the rest of 2012. But 2013? That’s another story. Here we go again.

The plan: a return to Fair Lawn, NJ for the First Day 5K on New Year’s Day with a goal to get as close to 19:59 as possible. This means 8 weeks base building + 10 weeks 5K-specific training. I’ve joined a gym again — one that isn’t a half hour away — so I can get back into regular strength training. I’m getting sports massages for as long as I can afford to. Barring horrendous weather, injury or other personal disasters, I think I have a shot. Hey, Weather? Guess what? If it’s cold, icy or windy, I have indoor options. Injury? Bring it on. I’m used to you and I am totally willing to work on your schedule, use the stupid elliptical and drop race plans. And, Fate? Fuck you. My dad can’t die twice.

Getting it done in the UK

I had grand plans to keep a frequent diary of this trip — one that would be coherent. That’s not going to happen; neither the frequency nor the coherence.

I arrived and met up with the rest of Team Endure roughly a week ago. Since then I’ve been doing doing doing doing doing. I’ve had a few breaks of some hours, but it’s never been truly leisurely because I’ve been aware of needing to do do do do do again for the evening performance, starting at around 4:30 and wrapping up around midnight (we have a post-show chat, drink and chew with audience members, typically).

For the first few days I was occupied with squaring away some of our marketing details, such as making sure print materials were getting to the right parties and then getting distributed. I also had a great deal of shopping to do, as well as photocopying forms, media kits, etc. Plus — oh, right — there was learning how to crew the show and rehearsals. I’d seen the show several times. But I’d never crewed it. Yoiks.

Tuesday I was off on my own running around Hammersmith doing doing doing. Then on Wednesday I was able to join the rest of the team and work on the show in earnest. That was good because we opened on Thursday. First we had a morning performance for the Alberta Minister of Culture (who gave the show a boatload of money). Although it was challenging to be ready by 9:30am, it was also a great way to get acclimated to the park and crewing. That show, which was a dress rehearsal of sorts, went very well. Then we had our premiere that evening at 7:00pm, and for that I had family in the audience (my brothers in law — it’s complicated). After that we had three more performances, the last of which was last night.

Some highlights of the past few days:

Mary has dealt with two insane, belligerent elderly people now, one of them drunk. The encounters were back to back, and I got to witness them from a slight distance. I’ll just say that if you want to see grace under pressure (in this case, a stream of verbal abuse, all of it nonsensical), Mary Cavett is your model.

The London Lady Cops are the real deal. They are in your face if you’re a young man misbehaving, such as kicking over trash bins. The Lady Park Police ride around on huge horses and wear helmets, jodhpurs and knee-high leather boots. They are badass.

There are parrots in Ravenscourt Park, where we performed.

We saw Eddie Izzard (also in Ravenscourt, where he used the loo and then bought a popsicle). We invited him (he runs marathons), but he didn’t take us up on it.

Executive Producer Jess Baker saw Kathrine Switzer walking by the theatre, looking at our poster, with husband Roger Robinson in tow. We also invited them. They did not show. Damn, these celebrities.

Endure’s composer, Christine Owman, came into town to see the show — with her parents, who have not seen it and were nice people. I got to hang out with a musical genius for awhile. I also got an autographed copy of her Throwing Knives CD.

The timing of our post-show sips and bites worked out perfectly so that I arrived in the bar just minutes before both the women’s and men’s 10,000m finals. I also got to watch the men’s 3000m steeplechase and the 100m final.

But that was just on television. I got to see the women’s marathon too. Live. On the street. I went alone because others on the team were either too busy or too tired (although Mary headed out a bit after me and ended up talking to a fascinating lady marathoner who is in her 60s).

So I went alone to St. Paul’s/Cheapside area and put up my flag and waited. The women came through about 10 minutes later. I cheered for all of them and was surprised by who I saw in the field, having had no time beforehand to read up on the race participants. I waited as they came through the loop another two times and then ran down to mile 24 to watch them go by one last time.

Watching the marathon was a very moving experience. I don’t know how many times I’ll get to see an Olympic marathon. But it’s not just that. It’s that the marathon has so dominated so many aspects of my life over the past 5 years. But it’s also not just that. The marathon is not only a metaphor used in the show I’m involved with — it’s a thread that’s connected everything I’ve being doing recently: getting over my social anxiety; pursuing  journalism work; expanding my pool of friends; learning to face reality and modify goals in response; appreciating the value of small successes and big failures; taking my own creative work seriously; and embracing other new challenges and adventures — basically, moving toward the things that scare the living daylights out of me. This trip is the culmination and amalgamation of all of those things. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when, walking through St. Paul’s afterwards, having listened to both towers’ pealing bells for several hours, I burst into tears.

Follow your heart, wherever it leads you

This post is about listening to that little, insistent voice that tells you where you should go. And also one other thing.

Last summer I was pulling out of a year-long tailspin that included (not necessarily in order of importance): race failures, a horrible running injury, my coach moving away, a bad bout of major depression and a truly alarming series of medical crises in my family. It sucked. It really, really sucked.

Things had started to look up in June and, as part of my “let’s get back to life” strategy I was forcing myself to go do things. If a social or cultural opportunity came my way, I told myself, I was going to take it. So when an invitation to see the world premiere of this show landed in my inbox in early July, I was open to it. But then immediately I closed myself off to it.

I almost didn’t go for a variety of reasons: I would have to drive all the way to Brooklyn; it was going to be hot that day; and I didn’t even like theatre all that much (at the time). But mostly it was because the words “one person show” strike fear into my heart. When it goes wrong, it goes terribly wrong. I didn’t want to spend an entire afternoon pretending to like someone else’s navel-gazing piece of garbage and, empathetic person that I tend to be, also suffering the vicarious sadness of watching her creative dream go down in flames.

I almost didn’t go. But something told me I should go. So I went.

I loved the show. I hung around afterwards. Then I asked the creator and star out to lunch about a week later. We became good friends. She gave me a ton of encouragement. Over the coming months, I changed. I got interested in doing something with my own writing. Then I got interested in performing. That led to a storytelling class and, now, an acting class. In the meantime, I helped out with the one woman show’s fall run, helping to promote the thing and get other people to go see it. For many months I existed in a kind of weird limbo: half fan and half unofficial team member. I didn’t have any idea where any of this was going. It didn’t matter. I just went with it.

Now it’s nearly a year later and I’m fully in the vortex that is ENDURE: A Run Woman Show. And, you know, I still have no idea where this is going. But it doesn’t matter. I’m still feeling like I should go. So I’m going.

Where am I going? Well, actually, I’m going to London and Scotland. With this show. This summer. I have a title (Associate Producer), which I am totally unqualified to hold, probably, except that I seem to be pretty good at what I’ve been asked to do so far. I’m project managing the tour. I’ll be doing other things at the actual shows, all of them unglamorous. I can’t wait.

The tour is almost paid for. But not quite. The point of this post wasn’t to ask you for money. It was to tell you to pay attention to your instincts and honor the things that engage you, no matter how foreign, nebulous or terrifying.

But as long as I have your attention, I may as well ask you for money. Can we please have some money?

This show is the real deal. Please support it, so we can bring it to you, wherever you are, eventually.

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.

Modern Stories

I now officially have too many websites.

Last night I launched Modern Stories, the home of the storytelling me (not me).

I’ve also created a Facebook page for this new venture, although right now it’s a little sparse.

Long-time readers of this blog will recognize some pieces that have appeared here over the years. But, going forward, I’ll author most of those kinds of personal pieces over at Modern Stories rather than on this site. After the life hiccups of the past few months I’m getting back to the performing end of things too. If the next six months turn out to be as interesting as I’m hoping they’ll be then I should have lots to write about.

A eulogy for my father

Today you’ll hear about what my father was like as a brother, colleague, friend and husband. I thought I’d start things off by talking about what he was like as a dad.

What I remember most about him as a kid was that he was always trying to entertain us. For example, he sang in the car constantly, and we spent a lot of time in the car with him over the years, driving to various vacations: camping in Yosemite, rafting on the Colorado river, taking the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. He sang upbeat songs, novelty and pop numbers from the early 20th century, like “Mairzy Doats” and “Button Up Your Overcoat.” No one born in the sixties should know the lyrics to Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” but my sister, Susan, and I do.

He apparently liked to entertain himself too. He told me recently that sometimes when he drove through the toll booth on the Golden Gate Bridge he’d pay for the car behind him just to watch the driver’s reaction in his rear view mirror. “Some people looked so angry,” he’d said, incredulously.

My dad was no stranger to anger himself. From him, I learned how to swear properly. He could swear a blue streak and he had an incredible temper, which I unfortunately inherited. But I never saw him direct it at anyone. Instead, he trained it on inanimate objects, assembly instructions and maps. Especially maps. About a year after he and my mother separated, when I was 9 and Susan 13, he took us kids on a long road trip down to Baja, California. He was looking for a particular beach. Susan remembers him driving around, totally lost, swearing up a storm and finally concluding, while looking at the map with absolute bewilderment, “Jesus fucking Christ! You can’t fucking get there from here.”

Yet he nevertheless made his way around the world. There were so many times over the years, when he was in various far flung places, that I worried about him. When I was 10 years old I watched the fall of Saigon, knowing he was there. I remember going right up to the television and watching the people clambering to board the last helicopters out, trying to pick him out of the crowd. I watched, worrying for his safety, as riots broke out in West Oakland during a free grocery distribution program that the Symbionese Liberation Army had demanded from Randolph Hearst. I worried about him when he was in Lebanon. I worried about him when he was in Iraq. One night I turned on the television to find him underwater, floating in the center of a giant cage, cavorting with sharks in a most worrisome way. It’s one of life’s little ironies that a man who lived such an extraordinarily adventurous and dangerous life would end that life in such a mundane way.

And he worried about us, probably more than he needed to. My dad had a huge heart, but he played his emotional cards very close to his chest. He could be very cerebral and in general preferred the concrete to the abstract. For example, he never read fiction or poetry; I don’t think he saw the point of it. But he was a big reader and devoured thick political biographies and books about history. When Susan or I had a problem he was apt to respond with an anecdote about Eleanor Roosevelt or Mamie Eisenhower.

My dad also had a great sense of humor, one that tended toward the absurd. One night in December my better half, Jonathan, and I met up with Dad and Betsy at their apartment before going out to dinner. As we sat with our glasses of wine, their dog, Max, began to frantically mate with the couch. “I don’t care if Max humps the couch,” my dad said. “Just as long as he doesn’t get it pregnant.”

It’s difficult to boil down the essence of a person into a few words, but in thinking about him over these past few weeks a series of declarative sentences emerged that I feel capture his life philosophy, as it were:

Work hard.
Stay curious.
Take risks.
Be generous.

And I’d add to that, as a coda of sorts, Let your work speak for itself. My dad won lots of awards for his work, and I’m glad he was recognized throughout his career by his peers, many of whom are here today. But even though he was distinguished as a television reporter, he was fundamentally a writer. He was such a natural, creative and intelligent writer. His writing was spare and unadorned, yet remarkable for its elegance, clarity and wit. It read well on paper and out loud. I try to write like he did, using those qualities as my guideposts.

One of my best memories of my dad is from that trip down to Baja in 1974. On a beach, warmed by the sand, I sat with him, this man who never read poetry, and watched the sun setting over the ocean. As it got smaller and smaller we spun metaphors.

Now it’s a mountain.
Now it’s a Volkswagen Beetle.
Now it’s a surfboard.
Now it’s a piece of paper.
Now the sun is gone.
Now it is night.

Questions

How long is a month?

It’s a long time. But it’s also not long at all.

What’s the difference between grief and depression?

I can’t actually tell the difference right now.

Is there anything good about death?

Nope.

Really?

Okay, maybe it’s not all bad. I found this interesting quote from from Ann Lamott’s memoir Traveling Mercies:

Don’t get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible. You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession. Martyrdom can’t be beat. While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn’t work for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering.

But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won’t hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination.

And here is what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose name is practically synonymous with death, has to say:

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.

These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep, loving concern.

Beautiful people do not just happen.

That sounds great. What’s wrong with that idea?

Because I’ve already been through plenty of defeat, suffering and loss. I get it, okay? I’m trying to be as beautiful as I can be, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job. You can give it a fucking rest now.

At least I’m not this woman. There’s always someone else with a greater burden to bear, equipped with more strength and grace than you with which to handle it. And that’s pretty inspiring, somewhat comforting, and not a little intimidating.

My dad’s memorial service is in two weeks. I keep thinking something magical is going to happen after that, like it’s some sort of grief threshold I’ll cross and then everything will start getting better instantly. But I know better than that.

So you’re sad right now. That sucks. What else are you up to?

I’m working, but not too much and thankfully it’s from home where I’m free to have the unexpected emotional meltdown. I’m trying to decide if I want to pursue a lead I got on a freelance gig with a VERY BIG NAME (rhymes with “schmoogle”), but I don’t know if I have the energy right now.

I’m running, although I don’t really have a plan other than to try to run at least five days a week and do two decent workouts in there somewhere. Most of it’s unstructured. I’ll go run around on the XC course at Van Cortlandt Park. Today I went into Central Park and did 25 minutes of fartlek running, chopped up into 3-7 minute segments over a full park loop. I passed a lot of people and felt like a badass for 45 minutes. I mostly just go run and do whatever. I have a race next weekend, the Cherry Tree 10 Miler Relay, with two of my favorite people. That’s for fun, although I’m hoping I can do something with the 5K fitness I spent months working on building and did not get to use in Houston last month except for running through airports.

I don’t sleep very much. I am plowing through my generic Ambien at an alarming rate. My neck and back are a holy mess — I basically go for the same massage every 10 days or so. My massage therapist is a funny woman, about my age, who has lots of stories about death. We’re going for drinks some night soon, since I’m usually lying face down when we converse and I’d like to change that.

I have neglected fruits and vegetables. I need to get back to those. Also: flossing.

I drink to excess some nights, but that was something I did in the best of times, so don’t worry.

I’m writing up an absolute storm these days.

I am hoping to hit some open mics this month, although that’s been a lot of work since I have to have very short pieces for those and everything I write is about 8 minutes too long. But I have one new piece that’s short and will be working on others. I’ve been going to a few to listen (and mostly rule them out). But I do appreciate living just north of NYC, where if you can’t find an open mic at least four nights a week then you are either blind or not very resourceful.

A few months ago I signed up for a beginner’s acting class that started a week after my dad died. I deferred that and will instead be taking that in about two months. I’m nervous about it, because I’m a terrible actor, but that’s why I’m taking a class, isn’t it? (I don’t want to be an actor, by the way. I just want to learn to be less self-conscious when I’m up on stage telling a story.)

The truth is, I feel awful much of the time. I’m not fun to live with. I get brief waves of levity and then I ride those waves (usually in the form of making amusing Facebook posts, seeing friends, or getting my shopping done) for all they’re worth. I don’t think I’m wallowing in self pity. I believe it’s good to acknowledge and feel pain for the reasons Lamott states above. It would be helpful to have some sense of when it will lessen. But I know things don’t work that way. I have Kleenex boxes in every room of the house. My entire house looks like a psychoanalyst’s office. It’s actually sort of funny, when you think about it.

I’ve developed a theory that the periods of reprieve we get from the soul-crushing sadness are some kind of evolutionary mechanism; they keep us from shutting down completely in order for us to survive. That theory is extending into the idea that maybe death as a physical and psychic experience is also not that bad, or perhaps even fantastically pleasurable. We can only hope.

Thanks for the kind comments on the previous blog post, as well as the various notes and other condolences. I hope that I can be as generous, wise and buoyant a presence for others when I hear the call.

Everything is going to be okay.

2011: a look back

This year was not about racing, training, injury or mileage. It was about survival, observation, change, trust and taking risks.

I ended 2010 with some resolutions. I didn’t do half bad at sticking to them. With the exception of Facebook.

January

I started the year by attempting to let go of all plans and expectations. Considering how the next few months panned out, that was probably a good call.

The year started with baby steps back into running after 2010 ended with roughly four months of no running at all due to a stress fracture. For weeks and weeks after I started back again, I had adductor pain. Since I was turning into a whale I started working with a nutritionist to try to lose weight. That turned out to be a total waste of money and time.

The depression that had been knocking at my door in the fall managed to knock the door off its hinges and come stomping into my mental foyer wearing muddy boots. It was competing with some projects I did: a podcast on eating disorders in which, perhaps ironically, depression was a hot topic, as well as what would turn out to be my final interview for the Houston Hopefuls project.

The depression won. But at least I was running again.

I also discovered some fateful podcasts.

February

On February 1st I registered for the Chicago Marathon. Because I was still thinking there was an outside chance that I might actually have a hope of eventually running an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier for 2012. Oh, the folly.

I dipped my toe back into racing, mostly to see if my sacrum would crack again. I was slow. But not ridiculously so. My body parts remained intact.

I published my third piece for Running Times. That would also be my last one of the year. I closed my business’ books today and noted that I made a grand total of $450 writing for Running Times and Runner’s World in 2011. I have not enthusiastically sought more work from Rodale since then.

I was picking up from square one of the plan (former) Coach Sandra had given me way back in July.  I got back up to 50 mpw and did some hard workouts. We were working long distance at this point and would fall out of touch soon after. That was actually okay with me. It removed some pressure.

I still kept hold of the Trials dream. But it was slipping away. While February allowed some progress on the running front finally, it was my low point mentally. The running was kind of the only thing that was working as I otherwise held on by my fingernails.

March

In early March the bear got me again. I had a dental crisis. I was in a bad, bad way. But I was taking steps in my non-running life to right my little dingy. It was hard work, involving facing a lot of very unpleasant stuff and giving it the credit it was due. By month’s end, however, I was seeing progress.

A few days later I ran Coogan’s and it was alright, perhaps even pretty good. I started to reacquaint myself with the human race too. Another good call.

Then Sally Meyerhoff died. That really affected me. I paid tribute to her at the tail end of our little podcast. I thought a lot about time’s value and what a crime it is to squander it.

During March the work I was doing on myself started to pay dividends. I emerged from the mud, escaped the clutches of the bear. But I would only get a short reprieve. Life would rear its head again soon enough.

But, still, I was running and running pretty well again at that, despite lots of little setbacks and frustrations. That was worth a lot.

April

I regained fitness, slowly but surely.

We saw one of the most exciting Boston races in years. We also lost another great.

I also decided to not go to Chicago and instead eat the registration fee and go closer to home in Syracuse. Yeah, I still believed. Dream not dead. Yet.

At the tail end of the month my stepmother nearly died of complications from heart surgery. This was an ordeal that went on for weeks and weeks. My running dropped off tremendously in April and May. I took 14 days off in May alone. Something had to go.

May

I ran one of the worst races in my short competitive career, out on Long Island. Some of life’s greatest gifts come in the form of being kicked in the teeth, and this was no exception. During this race I had the epiphany that I needed to have: I wasn’t ever going to run an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Moreover, maybe long distance wasn’t for me at all.

By this time Sandra was no longer coaching me, which was fine since I would have been wasting her time given all the changes and interruptions. I found a 10K training plan online and just followed that for awhile.

I also realized that my cat is a lot better at meditating than I am.

I started a crazy freelance gig that required a three hour commute every day and had wildly unpredictable hours (I was there until 10pm with no prior warning some nights). Nevertheless, I committed to getting up at 5am to do training. I also decided to spend the next few months trying to shed extra weight through aggressive calorie restriction.

June

By June my stepmother was better and out of the hospital. But I was full bore freelancing this crazy gig. Which had me rushing through pre-dawn workouts, and it’s never good to rush a warmup because — you guessed it — I got injured! Fuck. Again! Bad calf pull.

That had me out of the Mini 10K, which I’d really wanted to run. But, okay, whatever. Things were basically on the upswing.

July

This month would represent a turning point in many respects.

My June injury healed up. My running would start to improve in a dramatic way.

On July 4 I committed to training to run the fastest road mile I could (this year): the Fifth Avenue Mile. I finally got smart about my training, keeping the mileage low and cutting workouts from three a week to two (with any races substituting for a workout). I would remain uninjured for the remainder of the year. And I’d get faster. Good job, Julie! You can still learn things through observation.

A few days later an outstanding person from Canada Googled “marathon” and “Brooklyn,” got me in the results, and then invited me to the world premier of her show, which I almost didn’t go to because the words “one woman show” strike fear in my jaded heart. But I followed my instinct and went. And I loved it. Then I somehow managed to trick her into becoming a good friend for the absurdly low entry cost of a sandwich. Then getting to know a real performer put some crazy ideas into my head that would start to take root in the fall.

Then I had more lunch with some far flung blogger friends (and some who are closer to home). That was fun.

Despite all the lunches, I was 15 pounds lighter by month’s end.

August

My nightmarish freelance gig concluded and had a couple of weeks recovery before beginning another that was much, much saner, one that allowed me to sleep past 7am most days. My training was, I dare say, going well.

Then I capped off the month with an exciting hurricane weekend in the Poconos with two runner lady friends.

September

I had a kind of spectacular track workout.

I waxed rhapsodic about social media.

I started taking baby steps, with a small group of strangers, toward realizing a long-festering dream of performing, disguised as an attempt to get over my terror of public speaking. But I really just wanted an excuse to talk about myself and try to be funny.

I had a couple of good tuneup races (in Tuckahoe and in Riverside Park) while keeping my eye on the prize: the run down Fifth Avenue late in the month.

I had the race I’d waited three years for. I broke six minutes. Then the day just got better. It was a happy day. And you know what? I fucking deserved it.

October

I lamented the backward slide of track and field policy. I may have even changed (or at least opened) a mind or two in the process.

I considered that perhaps my running a sub-20 minute 5K is not a patently absurd idea after all.

Also, my recently listless, skinny and perpetually thirsty Zen cat was given a diabetic death sentence.

November

I got up on a stage and told a story. People laughed. Or were horrified. But in more or less the right places.

I also won a big-ass trophy.

December

I nabbed a new 5K PR in Bethpage, Long Island.

And here we are. Next stop: 2012.

What are my goals for this year? They are huge, for one thing. Mightily ambitious. They are the kinds of goals you think about setting for yourself when you read about a woman in her twenties getting hit by a truck.

Some of these goals have to do with running and some not with running.

I am not sharing them ahead of time because that’s never worked out well for me. But also because many of them are more qualitative than quantitative in nature. As such, they are harder to measure — and maybe harder to reach. Many of them are not limited to this year. I’m starting them this year, is all. I’ll see where they go and how long it takes to get there.

I will, however, let you know when I reach them. And I do intend to reach them.

Also, Zen cat is still alive, and once again broad-shouldered, energetic and no longer thirsty. Anything’s possible when you throw enough expensive cat food at the problem.

Happy New Year!

Training: Dec 18 – 24

This week I focused on just keeping mileage up and recovering from Saturday’s race. The weather was also not great this week, with rain and/or wind. I had a track workout scheduled for Wednesday but it was pouring all day so I ended up modifying plans and relying on the treadmill. I originally planned to do combinations of 400s/800s at 5K race pace/tempo (no rests). But I don’t like running speed sessions on the treadmill for several reasons. For one, you are forced to maintain a certain speed which, I believe, increases the chance of injury at higher speeds. For another, treadmills are inaccurate, so it’s difficult to know how fast (or slow) you’re actually running.

So I decided to do tempo repeats instead. That way I could just wear a heart rate monitor and do the run by effort. In this case, high tempo effort. It wasn’t bad. I’ve only been relegated to the treadmill a few times so far this season. We’ve been lucky to have had (with the exception of October 30th) no snow this year. This is sort of amazing, considering that this time last year we’d already had several snow storms. It’s also been fairly mild. Considering that I’m training for a winter goal race, I’ve felt incredibly lucky. I just need my luck to hold for three more weeks — I have several track sessions that I do want to do on the track.

It’s Christmas today. This training recap concludes with Christmas eve (yesterday), but I’ll write about today’s workout anyway as I’m likely to forget the details over the coming week. I did a big workout, not assigned by Daniels. A few months back Running Times had a set of workouts that various high school and collegiate coaches use. One of them (I can’t remember who and I’m too lazy to go upstairs and look it up) goes like this: 3 miles at 5K+30 seconds per mile; 2 miles 5K pace; 1 mile all out; 5 minutes standing rests in between each.

I liked the look of this workout. But, since I’m not a 16-year-old boy, I cut it back a bit. For the base 5K pace I chose something that’s a little faster than what I can run now. So the first segment (2 miles, not 3) was like a very high tempo effort. The second segment (1.5, not 2) was like a slightly harder than 5K pace (4K pace, if that’s possible?). The third turned out to not be possible for me today. I knew I’d end up dying, slowing down, feeling like the crappiest runner in the world. So instead I ran 4 x 400m as fast as I could manage, which was 90-94 per. One minute rests. I was happy with that considering the 3.5 miles of hard running that came right before that.

I did this run in Van Cortlandt Park, not on the XC course (I’m crazy, but not that crazy) but along the path that surrounds the fairgrounds. That path is about 1.25 miles and almost completely flat, so it’s good for this kind of work. While I was resting for five minutes before the 400m segments a guy ran past me and commented that I wasn’t dressed warmly enough (he was right — I was wearing tights and tee shirt in sub-freezing weather). I said I’d get warm again soon enough and we struck up a conversation.

His name is Henry and he’s 73 years old. He said he’d been a runner for 50 years until a few months ago when he had heart valve replacement surgery. “They split me open like a Christmas turkey!”

I mentioned that my stepmother just went through that, with major complications, and that he was very lucky to be running again. He agreed (although he said he’s limited to speed walking for now) and then, pulling out his wallet, showed me a small laminated card featuring a simple line drawing of the human heart and connecting arteries that he carries that shows exactly the valve that was replaced plus an artery called The Widowmaker, both of them colored in bright red. “For EMTs,” he said. “In case I keel over.” The latter was 80% blocked when he went in for surgery.

Henry was funny. His new valve was bovine supplied. I asked him if he’d had any problems post-surgery and he said, “No, but I sometimes feel tempted to get down on all fours and eat grass.”

He asked me my name and I said it was Julie. “Julie!” he exclaimed. “I used to run with a Julie!” Pointing over my shoulder he said, “Julie Gaines! She lived right over there. She was a psychologist. I used to always say, ‘No pain, no Gaines!’”

I laughed and said, “Well, I’m not done with my pain yet. I still have some repeats to do.”

And with that we wished each other a happy holiday and healthy New Year.

Runners are just so fucking great.

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