Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Talking myself back down...

I so nearly signed up yesterday to do the Chicago Rock'n'Roll Half-Marathon in August. I had even pulled up training schedules and started taking notes to compare them. But the reality of trying to pull off the kind of training schedule I would need to establish (since I'm starting, if not from ground zero, then from ground 2), convinced even me that it wouldn't be a very satisfying attempt this year.

As in, if I managed to maintain the schedule my daily life and my sleep would suffer (I don't think it's possible for me to function on any less sleep than I already do), if I didn't maintain the schedule yet tried to run the race anyway, my body would suffer, if I ended up giving up on the schedule and the race my pride would suffer, and I'd be out a bunch of money to boot. Bah.

But my desire to train more intensively made me look again at my current schedule and think about how I might increase the number of runs I do each week. In particular I've started looking at how I might do some runs once I'm already downtown in the morning, and I think I've found a way. It will involve schlepping even more stuff with me on my commute, but oh well.

And then next year, once I've built up a better foundation, and Buster is in a different daycare... Chicago Rock'n'Roll Half-Marathon 2010, here I come.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wrigley Start Early 5K - April 18, 2009

So, I started off the day by running... late.

Man, if this had been my first race I would have been panicking. Thankfully by now I've run enough races to know the usual drill, plus I knew where to go because I ran this race in 2007, though they have changed the course since then. I did insist that we go ahead and park in the zoo lot, despite the hefty fee - normally The Dude is a stickler for finding the best deal on parking and other matters. Good thing we stayed in the lot, though, since part of the new course involved running on the streets we'd planned to find parking on.

I got dropped off and waved a kiss to Buster and The Dude, got my race number and t-shirt, dropped off my jacket and juice, figured out how to attach the disposable time chip to my shoe, used the facilities, then joined the other people streaming over to the actual start post. I had barely time to stretch... and we were off! The big thing for me at the start of races is not to go too fast - I thought that would be easy this time since I hadn't gotten much sleep in the days before, plus was not warmed up. Mostly my body just hurt and complained as I tried to settle in to a steady pace and watched great streams of people move past me. That's my usual start to races - watching great streams of people move past me, that is, not feeling achy.

This was one race where at first I regretted not running with music. When I do my weekly runs I almost always listen to music - it helps with the run and also gives me a chance to listen more carefully to new music or music I love, since I don't get enough opportunity to do so otherwise. But on race days I feel it's important for me to be fully present for the experience - completely aware of my surroundings and what is going on with me. But that means I don't have it to fall back on when the running is harder.

So at the beginning, to keep my focus off of how hard it was, once the crowds thinned out a bit, I looked for who was near me and likely to stay there. Just behind me there was a mother-daughter couple - it was the daughter's first race. The mom was clearly an experienced runner, trying to coach her daughter as they ran (although her daughter kept saying, "Don't ask me questions! Don't talk to me!"). Her daughter had the right instinct, since one of the first things I heard the mom say was, "If you run a 10-minute mile, then this will only take a little over half an hour. Ten-minute miles, pretty good for a 9-year-old." Meanwhile I was thinking, "Lady, while I can run a 10-minute mile, I'm certainly not doing it now. And you're staying steady with me, so you aren't either. Don't set your daughter up to fail - let her first race be a success." And in fact, over the first 2K, they needed to take more and more walking breaks, until finally I lost them behind me.

The same thing happened for another group near me. A woman in her early 30s caught my eye - she had on a black visor, black running shorts and top just cut to cover her bra, but then white arm sleeves covering her forearms, white racing socks that went up to her knees, plus a tattoo of her kid's feet in the small of her back. Quite noticeable, to say the least. Then I realized she must be a pace-setter for a group, and sure enough, there they were, two frathouse-gone-to-seed guys, both dressed in black t-shirts and shorts, just behind her. I came up behind them just as they were starting a walking break and could hear her giving advice to them about pacing. As I passed them one of the guys said something friendly to me, I don't remember what, and I smiled and nodded, and said "See you at the finish line." I could tell by the way he looked at me that he wasn't expecting me to finish or not anywhere near him, at least. And soon after I stopped for my first walking break, a little after mile 1, and they passed me. But again, they started taking more and more walking breaks, I could hear their pacer talking to them about steady breathing, and then they were behind me and gone.

That's one of the things I love about racing, even a short distance. You can't be stupid about it - it's important to run a smart race. To think about your distance, and your pace setting out, and the weather conditions, and your condition particular to that day, and when you'll take your breaks if you are, and when you'll take water or food if you're going to, and the people around you, and the terrain... all of that goes into figuring out how you can run the best race possible for you on that day.

And even then there's plenty of room for surprises. I did take off too fast after all, and knew that I would be struggling over the distance, but I found I couldn't go slower - the adrenaline of racing makes that hard to do sometimes. So while I hadn't been taking walking breaks in my training runs, I knew I would need to in this race, and just hoped (through sheer determination) to keep them to once a mile.

I got to the first mile marker and saw that I had done it in just over 12 minutes, which was much faster than I had expected. (I hadn't been keeping careful track of pace in my training runs, but I knew it was somewhere between 13-14 minutes a mile, possibly even more. Back when I had been running more regularly my race pace was usually about 11 1/2 minutes a mile, and I knew I wasn't anywhere near that condition). At that moment, despite how difficult the first mile had been, I thought, "Huh, maybe I can maintain that pace. I'd certainly like to."

During the 2nd mile, enthusiasm and a water break kept me going at that pace. At the beginning of the 3rd mile, however, I realized I was going to need something extra, I was going to have to find a way mentally to keep going, and going strong. I slowed down a bit to give myself a break, and thought about what I could do to inspire myself.

At the beginning of the race, when I was surprised by how hard I was finding it, I thought about why I was doing this particular race in the first place (to raise money for child abuse prevention), and I thought about all the people who were supporting me, through donations and through their thoughts and prayers. That helped me while I was warming up, until some of the aches eased up. At this point in the race, however, I knew that thinking about things was not going to carry me through - I needed to find something inspiring that was beyond thought.

What I needed was a running cadence. I started with something we'd sung to Buster while visiting his Nana at Easter - "Hey baby, hey baby, wipe those tears away" - it was the first thing that came into my head. I sang that for a while but it didn't seem cheery enough, so then I switched to a song I'd been singing to him the day before that felt more appropriate - "We're walking, we're walking," - only for this I changed it to "We're running." This worked and gave me the extra oomph I needed. It's always very satisfying to find some mental key that unlocks greater effort when it's needed.

We're running, we're running, under the bright blue sky.
We're running, we're running, under birds that fly.
We're running, we're running, under the great gold sun.
We're running, we're running, we're having ourselves some fun!

In the last 1/2 mile things began to reverse themselves and I started steadily passing people. I kept looking ahead to get a sense of where the finish was, and then looking inward to see if I had the reserves to quicken my pace and sustain it for the duration of the course. At one point, actually, I misjudged how close the finish was and picked up my pace, only to realize a couple of minutes later that it was farther away than I'd thought and I'd better drop back down. And that was satisfying too, to see that I was going to be sensible about this, that as hard as I was willing to work to keep myself going and meet my goals, I also knew when to back down so that I'd end the race excited about what I'd done AND wanting to do more.

And then I saw the finish line, and knew it was a distance I could go ahead and push more quickly on, and then I saw Buster and The Dude smiling and waving at me (well, The Dude was smiling and waving, Buster was looking a bit grim - he's not wild about his stroller any more), and I knew I could step it up just a little bit more for those last yards (though no sprinting, not that day, not yet) and then I was done. And I walked around a little bit, decided not to eat an unripe banana, snagged my favorite kind of energy bar from a race sponsor and went and found my guys.

Final time for my 5K --- 37 minutes, 36 seconds, for a pace of 12 minutes, 8 seconds per mile. Two walking breaks.

Initial goal when I started the day --- 40 minutes, no more than three walking breaks.

I so rock.

Fundraising goal --- $200.
Final tally --- $385.

Thank you, my friends! You roll.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

March 2009 Books

Okay, here's what stood out for me from my March reading. Mysteries! No surprise there, I've been reading a lot of mysteries this past year. It's almost no use recommending ones to me, though, I'm tremendously picky about which ones I read, but I couldn't tell you what the common denominator is among them. Aside from good writing. And no serial killers.

"O Jerusalem" and "The Game" --- Laurie King
These were ones I re-read. I read quickly, but not very carefully, so I don't usually remember plot points - which means, of course, that I can read and re-read mysteries without any worry that I'll remember something critical and thus spoil the fun of reading it. I also don't read mysteries to try to solve them myself, but for character and thrill, I suppose. I've read Laurie King's San Francisco mysteries and some of her stand-alone books, but those are typically more dark and pessimistic than I find her Mary Russell books to be, so I haven't read any of those for a while. But I love the Mary Russell series.

"Suffer the Little Children" --- Donna Leon
This was a deeply depressing book to read as a new mom. I kept wanting to stop and couldn't. About the investigation of an illegal adoption ring in Italy. I also didn't think it was one of her better ones. Donna Leon's books are ones that I remember the plots too, or at least enough details from the plots to not have any fun in re-reading them. And they are too sparse, streamlined, almost, to just lose myself in. But I like the main character and his family and how steeped they are in their setting.

"Legacies" --- F. Paul Wilson
A new mystery series that The Dude's friend Dean introduced me to. But I've read all the ones he has, and don't know that I'll bother to go out and find the others on my own. My hold list at the library is long enough as it is. And I don't see any of these finding their way on to the book cart at work, which tends towards more feminine mysteries. This series features a man named "Repairman Jack" and leans towards the bizarre - it brings to mind the short-lived TV series "Life on Mars" (the American series, that is, the British one was not short-lived, but I haven't seen that one). I'm sure anyone who has seen that series and read these books will wonder why I'm comparing them, but they just have a similar feel to me, somehow.

Spring (and Summer and Fall...) Training

Well, ever since I went back to work in December I have been feeling unhappy in my body. While I was home with Buster I was eating well, going for walks every day (I had to, it was the only time he'd sleep), and even getting in some yoga from time to time. Then work started, plus the holidays, and I started eating crap and getting NO exercise. Plus every day I was a packhorse extraordinaire - carrying Buster in a front carrier, a backpack with the pump, then a large tote with his food, my food, his diapers, whatever I needed for work, etc..., and then sleeping on the living room couch at first and then a cot in Buster's room. My spine, she was not aligned.

Over the years I've come to realize that I need to be moving on a regular basis - like nearly every day - or I just don't feel like myself. I don't even need to trouble myself much with food if I'm working out - not because I'm expending so many calories but because I'm just so much more conscious of how I feel in my body and how eating well makes me feel well, and that's its own reward (plus feeling bloated gets in the way of my exercise). So I knew I needed to get some kind of exercise schedule together, designed to take into account my need for challenges AND the reality of taking care of Buster, who is a pretty demanding little kid. Oh yes, and my work schedule, and The Dude's rehearsal/performance schedule...

I do best when I have a specific goal in mind. While pregnant my goal was to be able to have an easier birth and recovery. Now, while I do need to lose weight, I don't find that to be an inspiring goal, and never have. And exercising for the sake of exercising, while good enough in an earlier life in which there were fewer demands on my time, also wasn't compelling enough to get me really going in these last few of months of trying to get active again.

But races! Oh, how I love to run, and how I love to run races. And how I have missed being able to run races these last two years. I don't remember where I got the idea of starting running again, but once it was in my head, there was no getting it out. Running, I reasoned, was something I could do with Buster in our all-terrain stroller (since I am so very slow and because the front wheel does lock), and something we could do all together as a family, both the training for it and the race itself. So I decided to commit myself to running a couple of family 5Ks later this year, but I didn't have any individual race schedule in mind.

At first.

I was on the train going in to work when I saw the poster for the Wrigley Start Early race. I ran this race (the 8K) two years ago - in fact, it was the last race I had run before becoming pregnant the first time. I had enjoyed the race itself greatly, though I was frustrated by how poorly it seemed to be organized. I had even raised funds for its charities, Prevent Child Abuse America and Voices of Illinois Children.

The fact that there were posters at all suggested to me that it might be better organized this year, and when I got into work I couldn't help but look it up online. And then I couldn't stop thinking about it. Sure, I hadn't yet run more than a mile since starting again the week before, and it was only three weeks away, but I figured at the very worst I could walk as much as I ran, and I knew I could cover the distance walking no problem. So within a couple of hours I had signed up to run the 5K.

The race itself was great, and I'll post on it later. But what I've been really jazzed about since doing it is how WONDERFUL it is to run, and to run races in particular. So I immediately starting thinking about what my next individual race would be, wanting to do a 10K at the least, and then thinking about what kind of training I would need to do to be able to accomplish a longer race. And before I knew it (well, after a great deal of thought and some research, but it felt like it took no time), I had myself a race to shoot for (the "Hot Chocolate 15K" on November 1) and a training schedule for the year, one that incorporates strength and flexibility training, distance and speed training, is challenging and yet not intimidating, and that looks like it will fit into our family's schedule. Feeling pretty proud of myself.

In fact, I am STOKED!

Friday, April 3, 2009

So Why A Blog?

And why now?

I'd been meaning to start one before Buddy was born. I anticipated feeling disconnected from people during my maternity leave, and I anticipated feeling disconnected from myself in the all-absorbing task of taking care of an infant. I was particularly concerned about losing my connection to making music, since I'd only been playing for a short while, so I envisioned my blog as being a place to talk about music and what I was working on. A way of inspiring myself to play and to keep myself on track with practicing.

And then Buddy was born earlier than expected, and all my "nesting" instincts had gone into work (bah!), and then he had colic, and then I had to go back to work, and I just didn't get started writing. Facebook kept me connected to people while I was at home and for a while I thought it might be enough.

But honestly, in the tsumani of information that is Facebook, things get lost, or overlooked, or only glanced at. I wanted what I wrote to last a bit longer than the half-day or so that my post might last on someone's home page. Plus I was inspired by my friend the Pumpkin Mommy and her blog and her painstaking descriptions (with illustrating photographs!) of daily life in Japan.

And mostly, I just wanted to write again.

I no longer envision this as a music blog, mostly because I don't intend to try to pick up playing the bass again until Buddy goes off to school, if then. I'm tired of picking it up and putting it down again as I've done these last three years - I want to be able to devote serious study to it. And I'm finding that other art forms feel more compelling to me these days.

So I don't know what I'll write about, only that I will. As Whitman says, "I contain multitudes."

Thanks for reading - thanks for sharing. Blessings to you all.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

February 2009 Books

Some time ago I read Nick Hornby's two collections of essays for Believer Magazine, in which he details the books he bought that month and what he actually read. Aside from being funny (no surprise, it's Nick Hornby), it made sense to me to view one's life through what one reads. I started keeping an account of what I read, and have been doing it for a couple of years now.

At first I thought I'd just share the list here, with commentary. That's what I do on my Facebook page. But I read an awful lot of stuff, and not everything is interesting, even to me. What is more interesting to me, and why I keep track, really, is the different phases of reading I go through from month to month, or even from week to week. To see, "Wow, I was really on a Dick Francis kick last summer, wonder why?"

So this "column" will not try to discuss everything I read in a particular month, but only what stands out for me at the end of the month, for whatever reason.

I'm only slightly embarrassed to report that in February, for whatever reason, I was taken with the desire to read a number of chick-lit novels. All in a week. All borrowed from the book cart in the lobby of where I work. I can only assume that it was February and I needed comfort reading. Actually, when I remember that week, that is exactly what was going on - the whole family was sick and my ears were completely clogged and painful. I stayed up too late every night on the couch, losing myself in words. We'd also only just moved Buster and myself into his room to sleep from the living room, so it was the first time in months that I could have time to myself to read without worrying about waking him. Lovely.

"Sushi for Beginners" --- Marian Keyes
"Alphabet Weekends" --- Elizabeth Noble
"Hissy Fit" --- Mary Kay Andrews

When I first wrote on these on my Facebook page, I wrote that the Keyes was forgettable, the Noble less so, and the Andrews completely so. Since then I've had to revise my opinion of the Marian Keyes book, because it does, after all, stick with me. I still think it's in need of major editing, but the characters have stayed fresh in my head, and I've gone on to read another couple of Keyes books since then, each one better than the last. Helped, of course, by my getting recommendations from friends who are more familiar with her work and could steer me in better directions (Thanks, JJ!)

So, that was what stood out from my February reading. Now on to March...