Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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I Left My Mojo in Carlsbad

The afternoon sunset at my favorite sand-covered spot, Carlsbad Beach.

The afternoon sunset at my favorite sand-covered spot, Carlsbad Beach.

For weeks, it was nowhere to be found. I searched everywhere I could think of. I looked all over the house, in cluttered closets, under furniture, between my dog’s teeth and in the back seat of my car. It just wouldn’t turn up, and I couldn’t remember the last time I saw it, either. I asked some of my friends if they’d found it anywhere, maybe left behind in their car after a trail run or something, but nobody had.

I even ended up making an excuse to see my buddies Vanessa and Shacky, so I could look under the tires of their Rialta RV myself, because that had to be the last place on earth that I didn’t look. Or heck, maybe Vanessa stole it herself! I mean, she’s been running an awful lot of hundos lately, and nobody is really sure where she got all that mojo.

But, Vanessa is way too sweet to do something like that, so I had to let my suspicions go.

After awhile I made some “Lost Mojo” signs and posted them all over my neighborhood. No calls, not a single one. I started going door-to-door, but this is California, so I just got a lot of weird, uncomfortable smiles and no real answers. So I resigned myself to the reality that I might never find my running mojo again. I took up yoga and even looked into Crossfit as a possible replacement, but alas, it just wasn’t the same.

Then one day I went to the theater and watched a movie that was set in the east coast. It gave me that dull ache of homesickness for the first time since I moved to California. Those cracked old sidewalks and oak trees with their leaves that fell to the ground and made a crunching sound beneath my Merrells. Then I realized, that was it! Had to be. I must have left my running mojo behind when I left New Hampshire. Surely it must have been swept up and thrown into the garbage by the new owners of my house. It’s gone for good by now. What a goddamn shame.

Since then I haven’t been running much, if at all. And when I do lace up, my runs just don’t have the same fire that they used to have. I have been reduced to slowly gaining weight from lack of exercise and bad afternoon television, as I stare blankly at the pile of beautiful unworn INKnBURN clothing and tester shoes, for which I still have yet to write reviews.

Fast-forward to last weekend, when I actually, miraculously, showed up for the Tri-City Carlsbad Half Marathon. I wasn’t going to run it at all because, I mean come on, I haven’t trained in months! After all, I’d lost my mojo! My last long run was fifteen miles, sure, but that was way back in November. I just wasn’t physically prepared for a half marathon. Not to mention the fact that I’d signed up for the full marathon originally, and had had the Race Director demote me to the half over a month ago. There was shame written all around the idea of this big ole’ race in the fine city of Carlsbad, California. So why show up?

Well, last week I was talking with Shacky, while we stood around uselessly in front of the Rialta at the San Diego 50 Miler and Trail Marathon (I had also signed up for this marathon originally and then bailed on it, which begs the question: is there any end to my bad habits?!). I told him I wasn’t planning to run at Carlsbad at all. That’s when crazy old Uncle Shacky convinced me to just go ahead and do it. “Just half-ass it,” he said. “It’s one of the prettiest road races in the San Diego area. If nothing else, you can walk most of it and take tons of pictures.”

I take a lot of advice from Shacky. I’m not really sure why, since most of it tends to end horribly, while Shacky just sits by laughing. Maybe it’s the beard, it makes him look so sweet and avuncular while so successfully hiding his true maniacal intent. I’ve been burned by Uncle Shacky advice more than once and I don’t want to talk about it.

So naturally I decided he must be right, and showed up for the race.

The morning was gray, rainy and dreary, and the marine layer was so thick you could taste it in the air. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t see much of the ocean, nor many of the other sights that typically make this so called “Surf Sun Run” so memorable. Once again, the joke was on me. Thanks, Uncle Shacky.

Look at that beard, totally disarming! *Photo by Vanessaruns

Look at that beard, totally disarming! *Photo by Vanessaruns

But all that aside, I’m glad I showed up to race, and I’ll tell you why. Even though there were something like 10,000 runners signed up, the whole event was exceedingly well-organized by the volunteers and race directors. There was water available literally at every mile, energy gels ever so often, and even pretzels and oranges (which I’ve never seen before at a road race) handed out on the course. Despite the absolute lack of sunshine, the ocean was still awesome to look at. The sight helped me ignore my aching hips and roiling tummy, which forced me to stop twice for the porta-johns (I’d made some bad nutrition choices the night prior). Conversely, because of the lack of sunshine the temperature was fantastic, in the upper 50’s, with nice cooling winds.

There were so many great things I could go on about during this race. But the greatest and most unexpected outcome happened as I rounded that one corner during mile 4, and saw those delicious foamy waves to my right for the first time. Because that’s when I finally found it: my mojo. It was there all along, on the sands of Carlsbad Beach!

Of course! I must have dropped it and left it behind on one of my early runs out here on the west coast. I was so freaking happy, I almost completely forgot I had no reason to be running 13 miles that day.

All joking aside, I’m not going to say this was the easiest long run for me to complete. In fact, I found myself walking a lot more than I typically do during a half mary (which is almost none). I had to employ my get-through-it mind-tricks a little earlier than usual, because my feet and hip flexors were on fire as early as mile 8. But despite all the pains I suffered from lack of preparation, my attitude didn’t suck the whole time. Well sure, I had a lot of trouble getting my ass out of bed that morning, but we’ll leave that aside for now. I crossed the start line of that race with a smile on my face, and that’s exactly how I crossed the finish.

I’m not going to say that there was any stellar kind of performance going on, either. I don’t even know my finish time exactly, but it was at least ten minutes behind my PR (a blazing fast 2:35)…and well, I don’t give the first shit. This race wasn’t about my finish time, it was about my attitude.

I’m not even sure what exactly it was about that day’s events that turned on my mojo. All I know is that I finished a half marathon race without any real training, equipped with nothing but my two feet, some good tunes and a boatload of determination. And that takes some mojo.

So I dunno. Maybe there’s something to be said for racing, at whatever distance. Maybe it’s that excitement we all share as we stand shivering in one large group at the starting line. Maybe it’s the camaraderie, the equality we find as we traverse the same course and overcome the same challenges. If you really think about it, the race is a place where we are all brothers and sisters, where we are a family of trials, determination and grit.

Whatever it is, whatever it was, I hope I never lose my mojo again. It was a bitch to find.

menalysacarlsbad.

Also thanks to my amazing cousin Alysa, who participated in this race as a bandit, but nonetheless inspired and impressed the hell out of me by completing her first 13 mile endeavor, despite not even being a “runner.” I love you, kid.

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How the Ultra-Marathon Killed the Runner

tired

I just walked in from my weekend long run. Well, what was supposed to be a long run, anyway. The plan was for eighteen miles all by myself on the pavement and trails of my new pretty California neighborhood. I wanted a new route so I planned three rounds of a perfect 6 mile loop with my ever-faithful running partner, Oscar the boxer dog.

That first loop was great. Nicely paved sidewalks and lots of different trees. The sun was out but the air was cool and crisp with a few leaves crunching underfoot, so it felt a bit like autumn in New England.

The loop ended at the start of my street and when I reached it, I kept going on to the second loop. I was feeling fine, legs still strong, and I was deep in the zone. I thought, if this was the end of my run I’d finish so strong, with a happy heart and positive thoughts about the experience. By the time I finish this second loop I’m going to be much more tired, and probably feeling less happy. And what about the third loop? How will I feel after 18 miles – will I never want to run again? Then I thought, if this was the marathon that I have coming up next month, I’d get to this point and still have a 20-miler ahead of me —

And that’s when I stopped dead. And I asked myself: For what reason am I doing this to myself? Why am I ruining a perfectly happy, gorgeous fall 6 mile run? To train for a marathon? And then what, another ultra? What exactly am I trying to accomplish here?

I looked down at Oscar and said out loud, “This is stupid.” He looked up at me, panting, with his huge brown eyes and a bit of drool hanging from his adorable jowls, and seemed to agree. So we turned around right there, and we walked the last mile home. When we arrived my Garmin watch said 7.56 miles. I remember a time when that was far enough to make me feel accomplished. Why isn’t it enough anymore?

The answer is this: because I became an ultra runner. And that just may have been the biggest mistake I ever made in my running life.

Last year at this time I was training for a 50K. My first ultra-marathon. I always loved that word. Ultra-marathon. The term alone sounds like a feat of royalty. In the running world, being an ultra runner holds such a high esteem. I wanted that for myself.

At the prodding of my well-intentioned group of trail running buddies, I signed up for the Pineland Farms 50K and started training with gusto. My short runs got longer and longer, and my weekend runs quickly went from 8 to 12 to 15 miles and longer. I ran as much as I could, and in the beginning I relished the piling on of miles. New personal distance records were happening almost every week for me, it was such a great high. But as my training wore on it got more dreaded and strained. During the last two miles of my final training run before the race, I wanted to cry. And I never wanted to run again. I was bored, mentally drained and desperately lonely.

Not surprisingly, the 50K itself went much like those last few training runs, only it was much longer and much more awful. I nearly threw in the towel twice, and if it wasn’t for the charity of my friend Sheree run/walking me in those last five miles, I couldn’t call myself an ultra runner today. I crossed the finish line, and I got my medal, but oftentimes I wonder, did I really accomplish anything that day?

It’s possible the only thing that 50K managed to do was murder my running mojo. And I’m talking murder of the gruesome, bloody and screaming variety, with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre score playing in the background.

All I wanted to do was earn a shiny new status as an Ultra-Marathon Runner, to exemplify my love for the sport; to take my strength and determination to a higher level; to qualify my place in the trail running world, among all the other serious trail runners that I count as friends, acquaintances and role models. But after that race was over, all I ended up with was a worn spot on the couch where my ass never left for weeks.

In the last 8 months since that race I have slowly begun to run a fair amount of miles again, though rather inconsistently. Some weeks I get to 27 miles, some weeks I barely break 10. I still dread any distance longer than a half marathon. Also I have gained over ten pounds because I have continued to eat like I’m running lots of miles each week, even though I am not.

I signed up for a marathon in January because I thought it would make me train again. That the thought of an upcoming race would ramp up my motivation. But it’s actually done the opposite. Because I have to run to train for this race, I don’t want to run at all. To be completely honest, I don’t even want to run this race and I’m contemplating the best way to sell my number to someone so I don’t waste the entry fee.

I used to be such a happier runner. When I first discovered the point of running with good form, I enjoyed the process of learning it. Then that joy transferred to the joy of adding mileage to my previously embarrassing weekly runs. And then the joy only grew. I learned how much I loved running 5, 6, 7 miles at a time. How much I enjoyed the silence, the time spent with my dog, the pure exertion. I began to lose weight, look stronger, feel better about myself. Back then, I was only running half the weekly distance that I am now.

Today on the seventh mile of my run I realized that somewhere along these last few months I’ve lost all the reasons why running made me happy before. Before I started running for this reason or that, for training or for some arbitrary weekly mileage number or for accolades from other runners.

Today I realized something very interesting: that running makes me happiest when I am doing it for no reason. No reason at all.

If all this time I had been running just that little 6-mile loop, three, maybe four times a week, I could have been easily racking up 24 mile weeks, avoided burnout, ended every run with a smile on my face, lost 8-10 pounds a month, and never had to attempt a grueling 20 miler, ever. If only I could have been satisfied with that.

If only I could have decided earlier that just because I look up to some of my more talented running friends, doesn’t mean I have to be just like them. If only I could have kicked that feeling a long time ago, the anxiety over being left behind in the dust by all of those fast and fit ultra runners, while I plugged along on my happy little 6-10 mile long runs. If only I had the fortitude to smile and wave at them as they left me, perfectly content to log my own miles, at my own pace, in my own way. Bon voyage.

But I didn’t. I didn’t have the courage to say “not yet.” Or even, god forbid, “not ever.” No thanks, it’s not for me. Instead I left my happy running place, under the guise of “discovering my limits.” I trained hard. I dug deep. I learned my limits, and I chased the dream. And in the process, I also managed to chase down and kill my own love of running. Not exactly the outcome I anticipated, although in hindsight, I really should have seen it coming.

Last night while I was home by myself, I watched a documentary film called Happy. I’m glad I did, because I found it quite moving and insightful. It’s a film delving into what it is that makes people happy on a universal level, and I highly recommend it. One particularly interesting point it makes is that people are ultimately the most happy when they can do things with intrinsic value to them, when they can get into a zone while doing these things, and often, when they are doing something for no real reason at all, other than the desire to do it. Playing a game, relaxing with a good book, going for a run. The movie goes on to talk about the importance of intrinsic values (sense of community, good deeds) over extrinsic ones (money, status) in a person’s happiness, and the surprising definition of wealth and well-being to some of the happiest people on earth (spoiler alert: it’s the Danish).

What this film taught me is that I need to curb my extrinsic feelings about running (an ever-growing desire for recognition, accolades and status from others in the ultra running community), and nurture my intrinsic ones (personal growth, self-motivation, volunteerism) instead. I need to kick off the shackles of training commitments and ever-looming pressures to sign up for races that are too far outside of my current comfort level, and go back again to my roots of running for no reason at all.

I need to go back to chasing only happiness, because I know that’s when I’ll finally start feeling like a runner again.


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Ready for the Raptor

This Sunday, I’m running my first distance race in San Diego. It’s the Raptor Ridge Half Marathon. Those of you who might know this race, and also know me, are probably laughing right now. Why? Well, I didn’t earn the mock-nickname “Hill Killer” for nothing.

You know. It’s sorta like nicknaming the 300lb Samoan dude “Tiny.” And you’re not really sure if you should call him that to his face because he’s been known to have a “mood problem.”

I love to run, that’s a given. But probably nobody in the trail running community bitches about hills as much as I do have. Hell, I complained so much about the relentless hills at my 50K (that nobody else seemed to notice…what was that about?), that my friend Krista designed a “Hill-Killer” t-shirt for her online store because of me.

And dammit, why didn’t I think to order one for Sunday?

Anyway, the Raptor Ridge Half Marathon takes place near Lake Hodges, amidst the various hills and valleys of nearby Escondido, California. The first four or five miles are completely flat and prairie-like, and then the course climbs this pretty gnarly hill for about a mile, back down the other side, and then turns around and goes back up. I stole an elevation chart from the blog of someone who did this race last year:

It looks like Batman. I should show my husband.

Now, this race wasn’t totally my idea. I have some friends to thank for my participation in it. First is my friend Shacky, who coerced encouraged me to sign up for Raptor Ridge back when I was still living my safe, flat-trailed New England life. Having run the race before, he knew how hilly it was going to be but still managed to keep a straight face while I rambled on excitedly about “my first San Diego race.” Shacky is like that funny uncle who puts toothpaste in your Oreos and super-glues quarters to the sidewalk. You always trust him when he suggests that you do something “really fun”, even though it’s usually a bad idea.

And then there’s my friend Kate, who has spent the last month dragging me and my hydration pack all over Escondido to run up and down hills until we were both bent over at the waist, breathing heavy like two old men with emphysema. It’s been pretty awesome, actually. I’ve been looking for a friend to really push me for years, and it seems now I’ve finally found one.

Lucky for me (or perhaps not lucky, depending on your perspective), I got to run most of this course already. In two parts. The first time, Kate and I parked at the Raptor Ridge 1/2 trail head one afternoon with full packs, ready to crush that hill. But we never found it because we didn’t realize it was over four miles away, and also we wanted beer. The second time we parked at a lot much closer to the hill and ran up it with Shacky and Vanessa, the two of them bouncing up the ridge like it was an easy straightaway. Jerks. But I made it up both sides, and we even got to look out over the valley for a moment before flying back down like a bunch of wild, noisy antelope. Okay, not anything like antelope.

This was the first time I’ve ever run on a race course before running the actual race. I’m curious to find out if it makes any difference for me mentally, but I think it will. I have always told myself that I’d rather not know what I’m getting into because if it’s scary, I don’t want to be privy to it. But I think maybe I was wrong all that time, because all week I have been able to put this course into perspective, plan out my pace goals, and mentally prepare for the tough spots. I’ve run this course a hundred times in my head. For the first time in any race I’ve done, I’m approaching it like something to conquer, not just something I hope to finish.

And by conquer I don’t mean foolishly attempting to beat my half-mary PR by thirty minutes or anything crazy-stupid like that. In fact, I’m not even sure I can count on breaking my PR at all. Or even meeting it. My last half marathon was on a completely flat, easy course, and I still didn’t break 2:30. I’m not hoping for any miracles here, but I did just notice that there’s a 3-hour cutoff time. I’ve never run a race with a cutoff time less than an hour outside my personal best. Combined with the added difficulty, I’m a little nervous that I’ll be crossing the finish line on a golf cart with the course sweeper. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen.

It’s times like these (trail races) where I’m always reminded of how slow a runner I really am. And I’m not saying that so you’ll try to reassure me in the comments section. I am just a really freaking slow runner. I know a lot of it is because of the extra weight I’ve been carrying around these days, and that just adds shame to the slow factor. I’m the slow chubby girl in the slow stragglers section at the end of every race I run, except for the really huge and popular road races that attract 10,000 C25K’ers who just started running for the first time six weeks ago.

But then again I know lots of heavier runners and most of them are faster than me, too. Damn.

So, I don’t know what the real problem is, but it’s certainly not for a lack of trying. I’ll be cruising along at a pace that I’m sure is pretty fast, and I’ll be patting myself on the back for pushing my limits…and then some lithe little number in LuluLemon whizzes past me, pushing a baby carriage.

So I guess my only choice is to take the good with the bad. I’m probably going to be pulling up the rear on Sunday. But I’m also probably going to finish, hopefully before the cutoff, and I’m going to have some friends at the finish line to greet me when I do. Also I’m going to have finished my third half marathon, my second trail race, and my first one among the mountains of San Diego. No matter what happens, it’s going to be an achievement worth smiling about. And there’s also going to be beer.


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Runners and Team Sports: A Match Made in Hell?

I have a question for my fellow runners:

How do you feel about team sports?

I’m not talking about plopping down in your easy chair on Sundays to watch Football. I mean more like how you feel about playing team sports? How did high school gym class go for you?

Because for me, it was pretty freaking terrible. And I was quite vividly reminded of that trauma today in my morning Boot Camp class, when the trainer instructed us to get into two teams (based on the color of our sneakers – white vs. other…I was an “other”) and stand on opposite ends of the baseball field. There was a small medicine ball in the center, and when the whistle went off, we were all supposed to sprint toward the ball, grab it, and then pass it teammate to teammate on the way to our respective goals. Kind of like football, only each receiver could only take three steps before they had to pass the ball.

The second the whistle went off it was like gym class all over again. Even though I was neither the only Boot Camp “newbie,” nor the shyest, nor the least fit, I somehow immediately reverted back to that insecure, chubby, buck-toothed, not-cool-kid I was in school. Nobody wanted to pass me the ball. There were times that I was the only person open, and I still didn’t get the ball. Then, when finally someone threw it to me in a moment of sheer desperation (her favorite friend wasn’t paying attention), I was so shocked and nervous that I started running in the wrong direction! Of course then everyone started yelling at me, and I had to fight the urge to throw the ball on the ground, run to my car in tears and drive home.

I’m still shocked at how easily my mind regresses back to those insecure childhood days whenever I am thrown into a team-sport situation. I have never done well playing any game where others depend on me to excel, especially if speed, agility and a ball are involved. I’ve always been far too polite to fight for the ball, and not physically aggressive enough to spike, nudge or even run after another person. The whole activity always feels like some sick sort of popularity contest that I lost even before I stepped onto the field. It’s like I exude “I SUCK AT THIS” fumes and everyone automatically knows to stay away.

Either that, or women are simply mean and spiteful, even well into adulthood (and to some degree it may be true with this particular group, as there is one alpha female in class who has spent a great deal of class time watching to see if she betters me at every exercise, and if she doesn’t I’ll get a dismissive comment or a well-aimed dirty look. It’s a little disturbing, in a “Single White Female” sort of way).

But I digress.

Interestingly enough, there’s a very distinctive space in which my comfort begins and where it abruptly ends. Beach volleyball games with friends at a barbecue? No way. Office softball game? Count me out.

But throwing a football back and forth? Totally fine. Yoga? Pilates? Kung-Fu? Let me at it. Run with a buddy? Absolutely. And even if I’m the worst in the group, I’m totally fine with it. I guess there’s just something about that full-contact, aggression-driven competition…it simply makes me cringe.

I guess I’m lucky at least we didn’t have to pick teams today. Yikes.

So once I got home and had enough time to absorb what happened, I started thinking: Is it just me, or do other runners feel this way as well? Do most of us share the same traumatic feelings about sports that involve aggressiveness and mob team mentality? Is it that we are just more suited to sports built around endurance and body form? Do we all possess that independent “loner” sensibility, and find it more comfortable to rely on ourselves, rather than on a team of others? How else does this translate into our lives?

If so, it’s not such a wonder that I was glued to the television when the Olympic Gymnastics, track and field, swimming and diving were on, but couldn’t be paid to sit through basketball, volleyball or…any of the other sports ending in -ball. Maybe it’s not such a wonder that I roll my eyes at my Boston friends when they post incessantly about their favorite sports teams.

Maybe it’s not such a wonder that I love to run. Alone.

What are your thoughts on the matter? I’m curious to know how many of you runners out there feel much like I do about team sports, and whether there’s really something to this theory. Are you a runner who also excels at playing team sports, or are you like me and would rather pull out your eyelashes?

And, if you are the runner/team sports type, I wonder what kind of runner you describe yourself as: marathoner, sprinter, do you prefer speed workouts or long slow distances? Same for the latter group.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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NSAIDs and Foam Rollers: Active Recovery or a Delay in Progress?

Aside from looking pretty ridiculous, are these guys helping their legs recover, or simply enduring an act of needless torture?

Last week I ran barefoot out at Carlsbad Beach for the first time, and running through the waves was so much fun that I may have gone a little bit overboard. I stretched when I was finished, but by later on that night my calves were sore and hard as rocks. Hey, it happens sometimes…especially if you run in little to no shoe. So I popped a couple Advil to keep the inflammation at bay and went to bed.

The next day my legs felt a little better, but I was still overwhelmed with guilt because I couldn’t find time to use my foam roller on them. So I threw on my blue calf sleeves for a quick run with some friends that morning, hoping that the compression would encourage blood flow to my torn-up calf muscles. Later on that next night I did find the time to sit down and roll them out – and it was absolute effing torture.

“It’s a good pain,” says just about every person who has ever used a foam roller. I pretend to agree and carry on the message, but secretly I hate it. I still do it all, anyway…as a sort of guilt-induced process toward progress. I roll my legs, I stretch, I wear calf sleeves, douse myself in ice and sometimes even take NSAIDs, all because I have been taught that these are the steps I should take to avoid injury, aid muscular recovery and become a stronger runner.

But do I really need to assist my after-run recovery? Why, exactly, can’t my body do it just fine all on its own? What did all the runners throughout history do before they discovered foam rollers?

Do our muscles actually benefit from all this help, or have we been adding unnecessary steps to the end of our workouts, and possibly even stunting our own progress with it?

I recently read this thought-provoking article by Kyle Krantz, Social Media Coordinator of Skora Running, called “Artificial Recovery.” In it, he talks about just that: perhaps, using artificial means to speed up our bodies’ recovery time after exertion is actually holding us back.

If you reduce the duration of the recovery period, could you be reducing the adaption as well?

And it really got me wondering whether Kyle is really on to something here. If you’re expressly trying to reduce the amount of time your legs have to adapt to a new or difficult exercise, then are they even getting the full effect of the exercise? Or are you just working out all the kinks for your muscles and never letting them figure it out on their own? The more I think about it the more it sounds kind of like paying the rent for your 27-year old child’s apartment and then wondering why their credit card balances are still so high. Students never learn what you fail to teach.

What if, like the softie parent, we are aiding a slow learning process for our muscles by artificially assisting their recovery, and thus, their adaptive learning? Would they be better off if we gave them some “tough love” by relying less on all those chemicals and gimmicky products? Possibly.

Based on this theory, I would be able to delete a lot of my runner’s guilt from all those ice baths I didn’t take, and all those days last year that my foot hurt and I failed to make a date with my foam roller. Perhaps not having done those things helped more than I ever realized.

Moreover, lessening our dependence on artificial means to recovery might help us rely more on all the natural ways. Things that people never talk about, like getting enough sleep or utilizing proper hydration and nutrition. Think about it: have you ever been complaining to a friend about your sore quads after a hard run and heard her say “Take my advice: go home, eat some kale and then get to bed early.”? Yeah, none of that here, either.

That said, I still believe there is a proper time and place to utilize the artificial solutions: when recovery needs are above and beyond the usual after-workout soreness, i.e. when there is injury involved. Last year I injured the tendons on my left foot and it took months to heal. Now, ever so often I (stupidly) over-do it and have to spend a few days on the sidelines to circumvent re-injury. In that case I might pop a few NSAIDs before bed and roll out all the muscle tightness that caused the sore foot chain reaction. But perhaps now, in addition to that, I will always make an effort to consume more lean proteins and vegetables, drink plenty of water and get some extra sleep. I’m not entirely sure what part of that habit will be the magic bullet (or if there even is one), but it can’t hurt.

So, next time you don’t have twenty minutes to suffer through an ice bath or forget to wear your compression socks to a race, skip the guilty feelings. Your legs just might benefit from the tough love.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you use a lot of artificial recovery methods, or just let your body work it out naturally?


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Training for a Race by Not Running: A Study in Counter-Intuitiveness

So, I’ve been hearing a lot of the following things lately:

  • If you do nothing but running, you’ll suffer from muscle imbalances.
  • Train better for running by weight training.
  • Running makes you better at running, but Crossfit makes you better at everything (eye roll).
  • Do Burpees.
  • Do squats and lunges.
  • Do deadlifts.
  • You want to run better? Faster? Then you gotta stop running!

And on and on with the ridiculousness. If you know me at all, you probably know how annoying I think Crossfit is. Nothing against you people who love it, I just…don’t. I really just dislike all that chest-beating, grunting, beastly, anti-runner dogma that seems to emanate from so many of Crossfit’s devotees. In some ways it seems pretentious and showy to me. And not to mention I just hate the idea of having to be inside a gym to work out.

For awhile most of that strength-training noise was coming from the Crossfitters exclusively, which makes sense because most Crossfitters think they’re better than runners. But lately I’ve been hearing more and more support of these crazy ideas emanating from the ultra runner crowd.

I know, it sounds totally counter-intuitive, right? Train for a run by not running? But it really seems to have worked for some of my ultra runner friends, especially the more injury-prone ones. For instance, my friend Krista trained for her first 100k without ever really doing long runs. And my friend Christian does Crossfit workouts almost every day (at least he does them at home) and hasn’t run more than ten miles since probably last spring (nor has he written a single blog post, I might add). But they both do quite well when they get to the starting line, despite spending over 90% of their workout time in the weight room.

Let me say this right now: I will never do that non-running crap. I run. I do it because I love it. And I mean I really love it. I don’t even see distance running as exercise, it’s simply something I want to do. It’s part of my lifestyle. Giving it up altogether in lieu of squat thrusts and 100-Burpee-a-Day challenges would be totally idiotic and counterproductive.

But…

I think there is something to be said for all-around strength and muscle competency. I mean, right now I can’t even do a pull-up. Not even one. Not even with 50 pounds of assistance. And I mean, if you think about it practically, such a lack of upper body strength could potentially translate into a major disadvantage for me in the event of a zombie attack. Sure, I could run pretty consistently until most of them lose interest or manage to die, but what if I have to climb a rope up to a third story building to avoid them? Right now I’d be totally screwed.

Yes that’s right, I measure fitness by one’s relative chances of living through a zombie attack. Don’t judge.

I’d totally live longer than this chick in a zombie attack.

So, here’s what I’m getting at: I have signed up for the Raptor Ridge Half Marathon on October 14th. That’s three weeks away. And because of all the uproar of this move, I really haven’t been training the way I should. I haven’t even run longer than seven miles in over six weeks. But that doesn’t even worry me. Thirteen miles is not much of a feat for me anymore. The problem is that a vast majority of the race involves climbing one giant hill, going back down, and then turning around and coming right back up. And since I have spent the last 9 years running on almost completely flat roads and rail trails, hills and I really aren’t friends yet. In order to complete that half without DNF’ing or dying (which would also result in a DNF), I’m going to need a major strength and endurance overhaul.

Which is why I signed up for a butt-crack ‘o dawn, weekday morning Boot Camp.

This isn’t my class, but yeah. It’s dark at 5:30am. Prime time for a zombie barrage. Just sayin’.

So for four days per week, from 5:30-6:30am, I have been paying someone to force me to run up over picnic tables, sprint and grape-vine across baseball fields, run obstacle courses, lunge, squat, do pushups, situps, burpees, tricep presses, and so on, until I’m slightly nauseous. I’m curious to see how it will affect my speed and endurance, and I am even more curious to see whether it’s going to matter if I ever do any real-deal long runs before Raptor Ridge.

In addition to Boot Camp, I plan to spend as much time as I can doing hill repeats up God-Forsaken Hill (my nickname for the crazy steep hill that sits directly in the center of Buena Vista park, right across from my neighborhood), running up and down Raptor Ridge and the hills at Lake Hodges with my buddy Kate, and cross-training by riding around on my bike. Which I haven’t done yet, but I will…I swear.

So I guess, in my lack of recent mileage, I’m about to learn how much I really need to actually run in order to be able to run better. Will I become a cross-training believer, or will I regret not running more? I’ll let you know in about three weeks.

So, what’s your take on the whole “cross-training as race training” theory?


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On Being a Poseur

If you have read this blog for more than thirty seconds, you have probably picked up on the fact that I really love running. For better or for worse, over the past three years or so running has become a HUGE part of my life. Most of my friends think of me as “the runner,” they come to me for advice on minimalist shoes, tease me about my penchant for going barefoot, and ask me when my next big race is. I spend a lot of time writing about running on this blog, or having my thoughts published elsewhere. I love being thought of as “the runner.” I also spend a lot of time running, too (strangely enough). For the last month or two my mileage has gone down, while I dedicate more of my free time and energy toward our cross-country move. And I am starting to feel the difference down to my bones.

I need to run. It’s my exercise, my escape, my reward, my alone time and my social hour. Running is where I learn the most about myself. It’s where I feel the most accomplished, and sometimes it’s where I fall the hardest. Running has renewed my self-confidence, and it has also broken my heart.

Last Sunday I lined up at the back of a pack of runners at a local 10-mile trail race, pumped full of nervous energy. The race started off really well, and for a trail run my pace was excellent. But in an unexpected turn of events, I couldn’t finish the race. At mile 7 I started to feel some pretty bad stomach cramps and I had to listen to my body and drop out. As I jogged uncomfortably toward the end of the third loop (and the porta-johns), I passed by a running friend of mine who had finished with an impressive personal record and was so kindly waiting to see me cross the finish line. It killed me to announce that I was dropping, because I wasn’t even tired yet….and also because I had spend the last year or two talking so much shop with him and others I’ve never met on Facebook, that it doubled my shame.

In my growing love for this sport, I have spent years waxing poetic with people about running, and it turns out it’s been enough to make them all believe I’m some kind of runner.

But right then I didn’t feel much like one. Instead I felt like a bit of a poseur. And I felt even more like a poseur later on that very afternoon, when I just happened to decide to sign up for my first marathon. The two events of the day were not even related in my mind. To me, a bad ten-miler today really has no bearing on a marathon that’s happening in five months. But, I can see how it may have looked sort of weird to someone else. If I couldn’t finish a ten miler today, what would motivate me to sign up for a marathon? Am I just digging myself a hole to fill with failures?

Perhaps this dude doesn’t even think of me as a poseur, who knows. But even if he does I don’t suppose it would make much of a difference to me anyway. Despite my wordy posts on the subject, at the end of the day I don’t really care what anyone thinks about me as a runner (hence my lack of hesitation in signing up for that marathon). I’m certainly not a great or talented runner, and I’ve never tried to make others think that I am. I just like to run, and that’s all the promises I’ve ever made to anyone.

But on the other hand, is signing up for something like a marathon or a 50K a promise? Is it a promise that I’ll have trained well enough to complete the race in a decent amount of time (preferably, well before the embarrassingly long cutoff time)? Are my shoe and swag reviews my promise that I’ll consistently be running 30-mile weeks? Is my signature at the bottom of an ultra-marathon application a contract that I’ll at least keep up with the runners in the middle of the pack, rather than closer to the back where I typically end up? Or am I letting my readers and my friends down if my pace is slower than 9:30, or if I drop out of a race or, god-forbid, wind up finishing dead-fucking-last?

What kind of expectation am I setting up for myself by writing an entire blog about training and signing up for all these big races? If I’m not all that great a runner in the end, is my influence on others essentially all smoke in mirrors?

Truth is, I never meant to be influential (nor do I really believe I am). It is amazing, however, whenever I hear that I’ve inspired somebody to start running, or that they became interested in barefoot running after they read an article in my blog. I’ve got nothing but confidence about my talents for writing. But all I’ve ever wanted to do was use that writing talent of mine to share my love for running (and geek out about running shoes) with my readers…whomever they are. I’ve never meant to fool anyone into thinking I’m a great ultra marathoner. I’m not. I’m a deeply flawed runner with much more will and drive than natural talent. And I happen to get a huge kick out of setting high goals and writing about how I work toward them. I make mistakes, I fall, and I write about that too. And then I set even higher goals. This blog is a documentation of my personal journey, not a sermon on great running.

So far I haven’t figured out how to turn off that feeling of fraudulence that happens every time I meet a talented runner who also happens to read my blog. Nor the feeling of injustice that comes with being reminded of how unskilled a runner I actually am, despite how much I know and love the sport. Yet none of this comes with an expectation that others should pity me or waste any time encouraging me to continue. I don’t really need encouragement to keep on running and signing up for races, and I think that’s what perplexes people the most.

I run because I want to get better at running, sure…but mostly I run just because. And whether I suck at it or not, because is enough of a reason.