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.

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.

“Skinny” Olympians at the Mini 10K: An Open Letter to NYRR

The following was written by my New York Harriers teammate Brigid Duffy and emailed to New York Road Runners (and subsequently posted to the team’s message boards). With her permission I’m sharing it here.

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Dear NYRR:

I was one of the 6,122 finishers who was fortunate enough to be part of the Mini 10k this past Saturday. Over the past several years I have run over 30 races with NYRR, including four NYC Marathons. While all of NYRR’s races are special and honor a multitude of wonderful causes, for me, the Mini always stands out as the most meaningful NYRR event. I’ve always thought of the Mini as less of a competition and more of a communal victory lap, where women of all ages can reflect, together, on how far we’ve come, not only within the running community, but within sports, the military, the workplace, and host of other social arenas. The Mini is the one race in the year when women are the athletes, and the men are on the sidelines cheering us on. It is with this in mind that I feel the need to voice a complaint concerning some of the pre-race announcements on Saturday.

While I was picking up my number and hanging around the baggage area on Saturday, the MC on the podium introduced some of the elite women athletes who would be competing in this year’s Mini. After introducing Edna Kiplagat, Hilda Kibet and a handful of other elite runners, the MC concluded: “They’re skinny, they’re fast, they’re Olympians!” Frankly, I was shocked that the first adjective used to describe the remarkable athletes in attendance was, “skinny.” In one sentence, the MC undermined exactly what makes this event empowering to women.

Women like Edna Kiplagat are remarkable and should be admired not because they are “skinny,” but because they are incredibly determined athletes who hopefully show other women that our bodies are capable of amazing feats. The MC’s comment implies that the chief accomplishment of our elite female runners is their slender frames and small waists. (Who cares about a sub 2:20 marathon if you’re a size zero?!) Moreover, the comment glosses over the fact that there is an extraordinary difference between “skinny” and “fit.” Glorifying our female athletes for their “skinniness” only reinforces the idea that a woman’s purpose, first and foremost, is to be objectified.

Everyday women are confronted with products, advertisements and airbrushed images that contain the same message: You are not skinny enough. Even perfectly healthy and fit women, when bombarded with these messages day after day, can begin to lament that their bodies do not live up to what is truly an impossible and unhealthy ideal. I have always maintained that sporting events, like NYRR’s races, give women the opportunity to value what their bodies can do over how their bodies appear. It is during races when women might start to realize, “I might not be 5’11” and 100 pounds, but I can run a damn good 10k.” Or, “I might not be a size 2, but I’m tough.” But these realizations can only endure if NYRR provides an environment where women feel comfortable in their own skin. Glorifying “skinny” female athletes because they are “skinny” creates a hostile space for all participants involved.

While I still enjoyed the race and the post-race festivities on Saturday, the MC’s comment was a major letdown. What is supposed to be a celebratory and esteem-boosting event for women was tainted by an insensitive and borderline sexist comment. I urge NYRR to be more responsible when it comes to the issue of women and body image within the running community, especially during the pre-race announcements.

– Brigid Duffy

Important People: Grete Waitz

I’m posting this piece from Modern Stories due to its crossover potential. Enjoy.

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.

And now for my next disaster…

Four years ago I watched the women’s 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials race on television and, noting that a few of them were over the age of 40, thought maybe. Maybe. About six months later, when I ran a 3:19, I again thought maybe. Maybe. I embarked on the pursuit of a 2:46 marathon time, believing there was some outside chance I could run that fast one day, despite all evidence to the contrary. I went through two coaches, about 9,000 miles, lots of shoes, and bouts of overtraining and injury. I finally gave up in May.

Over the years this pursuit turned into a chronicling of expectations that have gradually lowered over time. Scratch one race, target another one in six months. Hope I come back from injury. Okay, so I wouldn’t run a qualifying time at all. But maybe I could get the first masters award in the 5K race in Houston that weekend. At least I could go interview some professional elites. But I got turned down for a media pass. Okay, so maybe I’ll just interview some of the amateur elite runners I know who will be there. Or at least meet them for dinner. Drinks? Anything? Okay, if not, I’ll just go watch the Trials then.

In the meantime, my partner in running, travel and life was beset by his own injuries and setbacks. A rock placed in his path by some mischievous running valkyrie on a 20 miler resulted in a sprained ankle mid-training cycle, then a compensatory injury in his quad. This was on top of years of injuries. So rather than running the stellar comeback marathon he’d planned, his sights were on just running a halfway decent pace and finishing in one piece.

We got to Houston on Thursday the 12th. Had dinner. Slept. Got up. Had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Went out to buy groceries, $92 worth of food and drink for a long racing weekend. We even bought extra beer to host people with, just in case. Entering our hotel room, I saw the red message light blinking on the room phone. I figured it was hotel management pushing room service or something, but it was a terse message from my sister to call her as soon as possible. I put down the phone and said to Jonathan, “Something terrible has happened. I am about to get some bad news. You need to prepare yourself.”

And I did indeed get bad news, on Friday the 13th. My father had been killed in a car accident near his home on Long Island while we were out buying $92 worth of groceries.

I won’t go into all of that here.

We left immediately to come back east and spend the long weekend closer to home, with family and family friends. On Tuesday afternoon we got back to our house in Yonkers. That evening, in a daze, I watched the Marathon Trials coverage, dutifully recorded for us by Tivo. I looked for my Houston Hopefuls, the runners whom I’d interviewed (or just meant to interview),  the handful of women who had both carried and achieved the dream. I didn’t see them, but that didn’t surprise me because they wouldn’t be in the front of the pack. Then I looked at Jaymee Marty’s blog post about the Trials. Jaymee (whom I had so hoped to meet up with in Houston) finished last, and she ran most of the way with Susan Loken, who had also been hobbled by injuries. Both started the race with Ruth Perkins, who was running with a sacral stress fracture, the same injury I had in 2010. Perkins would drop out early.

Marty, Loken and Perkins

These two women, Loken and Marty, bookended my experience as a Trials wannabe. Susan was the first masters runner whom I followed, as the face of the now-defunct More Marathon, the late-starter masters runner, someone who took up jogging in her thirties to get in shape, who went on to run in the 2004 Trials (at the age of 40) and 2008 Trials and win multiple masters championship titles. Jaymee was the second masters runner I followed and my first Houston Hopefuls interview — the woman who inspired the series, really. I have followed Jaymee’s running career for at least three years and was elated when she qualified for the trials in Chicago in 2010, the third-oldest first time qualifier in history (sorry, Jaymee; that’s not a backhanded compliment, just a fact). Not only did both of these women make the Trials, but they are also both phenomenal runners when they are running well. But now, here they both had been, struggling just to finish.

And, you know, I’m really proud of them both for running and finishing. But at the same time the whole thing — marathoning, the Trials, setting goals — it just seems like such a giant cosmic joke. You can make all the plans you want, but in the end life is going to happen. And just when you thought you’d lowered your expectations as much as you possibly could — “I’ll just race the 5K and watch the Trials…” — you end up having to lower them even more.

Why do we strive? Why do we set goals? Fate laughs at them sometimes, reminds us of how temporary we all are, and renders our grand plans totally trivial. But what else are we to do?

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