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.

Training is Priority #17

This is a running blog. So you’ve probably come to expect posts about running. Here, instead, is a post about perspective and priorities.

My running has been touch and go lately, so I haven’t had much to post. I seem to be chronically injured with one problem or another. I’ve had plantar and achilles issues on my right side since March. Then I screwed my back up last month and couldn’t run at all for over a week. Now I’ve pulled something in my right hamstring.

So, basically, I’m unable to train consistently because I’m always injured. I’m doing about one serious workout every 10-14 days. That’s not going to help me do much at all from a competitive standpoint. Still, I try. But I’m also realistic. Between these ongoing setbacks and a three week trip to the UK during which training is going to be about 17th on the priority list, I’m no longer taking the Fifth Avenue Mile all that seriously. It may not be the year to do so.

And that is okay.

Really. It’s okay.

That race isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.

My body is simply not cooperating, or when it is it’s doing so only grudgingly. I have to respect that. For whatever reason, serious training isn’t happening right now. So I’ll let it not happen for awhile.

I leave for London/Edinburgh in under three weeks. I will try to run most days, and I will endeavor to not advance from the mildly injured state I’m in right now to a seriously injured one. I hope to do some scenic runs while in Edinburgh. If I can do some harder runs, that’ll be great. But if I can’t, I can’t. I just want to have fun. I want to enjoy my time there. I want to watch the Women’s Olympic Marathon in London. I want to work hard, see a lot of shows, hang out with my cohorts and drink good beer.

Fun: Priority 1. Working Hard: Priority 2. Training: Priority 17. And that’s fine. Seriously.

“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.

In which I engage in something resembling training

In the three or so weeks since my last post I’ve started to “train” somewhat more consistently. I’m not ready to get rid of those qualifying quotations just yet, but I’m ready to start saying I’m “training” because some things happened in the last week especially that make me feel more comfortable with the term.

For one thing, I’ve finally moved from doing one workout every week to two workouts every week. Well, heck, that’s something right there. I’ve also done two track sessions: sets of 800s and 600s at something around current 5K race pace. I also ran a 5K race last weekend, which would probably have you thinking that I would know what my 5K race pace is. But you’d be wrong! Because I’ve apparently forgotten how to race 5Ks. I ambled through that race and retardedly thought I’d missed my 5K PR by three seconds only to realize that I’d missed it by a minute and three seconds. Big difference, Jule. No wonder I felt so great and it didn’t seem painful. I wasn’t running hard enough.

Summer’s here and I’ve been struggling to acclimate. I did a very humid run in Van Cortlandt Park on Thursday morning (where I spotted a fast Kenyan — they’re all fast — running on Vault Hill). Today I headed to Bronxville HS track for my 600 repeats. I was scheduled to do 10 but bailed after 7 when I could feel that I was verging on the kind of Metabolic Fry Pan Workout that’s screwed me for weeks in the past. I need to (finally) get smart about these things this year.

My “training” “plan” — such as it is — is not complicated. For now I’m just doing two hard runs a week: one hilly run (for strength) either in Central or Van Cortlandt Park and one track workout (for speed), always at 5K effort (if I can eventually remember what that is). I’m running between 30-40 mpw. I will throw in some races for fun, as alternatives to the workouts and to see how things are going. Possibilities include Tuesday Icahn races on June 12 and 26, and July 10 and 24; the Van Cortlandt Park 2×2 Relay on July 5 (which I hope to run with Amy Cooper so that I am guaranteed baked goods, or at least to have someone to make fun of other people with), and the Women’s Distance Festival 5K at Rockland Lake (where I ran my “I forgot how to run a 5K race” race last weekend).

I will probably skip the Mini 10K because it doesn’t work with my schedule. I won’t have time to go interview the elites this year either, which is too bad.

Sometime around July 29 I’ll go from quasi-5K basebuilding into mile-specific training. This is, coincidentally, the day I leave for three weeks to do my Ian Faith impression in London and Edinburgh. Flexibility will be the order of the day over these weeks. I’m not expecting to get any real training done in London, such will be the jet lag and chaos. Edinburgh might be a little more stable, and I have three days “off” (more qualifier quotes). Nevertheless, I’ve located tracks within running distance in both locations, plus I was watching an Edinburgh episode of “House Hunters” recently and that somebitch looks hilly. So I can always put together a hill workout in a pinch.

I will pack my spikes. Because you never know where a little race might pop up.

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.

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