Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Blisters, Snot Rockets and Frozen Tears: What I’ve Learned on my Quest for the Double-Digit Run.

If running is a solitary sport, then training for your first Half-Mary during the worst winter in recent memory is downright reclusive.

Here I was last Sunday, at somewhere around mile 6 of my first 10 mile run ever. Twenty minutes into digesting the first of two energy gels and stopped dead at the bottom of a colossal hill, under the guise of needing to check my dog’s feet for salt burns. My dog was fine. It was me who needed a health check. Or maybe I just needed my head checked. At 31 degrees I had labeled the weather “warm” (in relative terms), I was wearing shoes with 3 millimeter thick soles and separated toes on frigid slush country roads, with no sidewalks; I was standing on golf ball-sized blisters on both feet from a 4-mile (sans socks) altercation with a treadmill two days prior, I had unwisely chosen to wear my lighter running gloves, and I was just plain not in the mood to run. I would have started crying at this point, but any available facial fluids were already running out of my nose. It was here that, despite my patient canine companion, I was feeling the most lonely I’ve ever been since I started my second running life.

I’ve appointed this degradation of sanity “my second running life” because until last June I’d only been sort of jogging on and off for nine years, and never really taking it seriously. I never tried to run further than 2 or 3 miles at once and I never paid much attention to form, stamina or proper footwear. I hurt my knees and ankles a lot, and then that would stop me for awhile. It wasn’t until I discovered the whole minimalist running movement that I realized I wanted to enter races and get better at running. And that is the point at which I became truly mad.

So, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that I’m alone at this junction. Who wants to run ten miles at all, let alone ten miles in the freezing cold on a dreary Sunday afternoon in January? And who would want to be next to me right now, anyway…shivering, snotty and grumbling to myself about a colossal hill in front of me that, by the way, isn’t really that steep at all? No, I shouldn’t be surprised that 100% of my jogging pals had dropped out of my “fun weekend run” circuit by the time I was up to 8 miles. Training oneself to run a half-marathon doesn’t sound like much fun to the rational person. But to me, 13.1 miles is glory at its finest, and I am going to finish training for it even if it kills me (something I’m not entirely ruling out). And it all begins with this hill.

But since running is so darn lonely these days, I have had plenty of time to deliberate upon the many things I’ve learned about myself over the course of this mental illness (it also helps me forget that gnawing pain in my left arch that started back at mile 7). I’ve listed some of them below, as it helps me to mantain lucidity if I can remember that this is actually a useful learning experience.

  • I can run more than three miles. The last nine years have been a bunch of pretense and foolish whining.
  • it doesn’t matter if I run with music or without. Rhythmic sounds do not make those last two miles magically go by faster.
  • running at neck-breaking speed for the next fifteen seconds does not make them go by any faster, either. Moreover, landing on your face at the back of the treadmill is embarrassing.
  • guacamole and chocolate is not a good dinner to have the night before a 10K race.
  • there is an art to performing snot-rockets that is particularly vital to learn if you don’t want to wash your gloves after every run.
  • underwear is unnecessary. Why waste a pair of skivvies just to run in them for 40 minutes? They always get twisted and bunchy anyway.
  • the best way to silence a room is to ask if anybody wants to join you at next weekend’s 5K race.
  • the second best way is to talk about how many miles you plan to run tomorrow morning.
  • you don’t need to wear a lot of layers out in the cold if you’re going to be running. Frozen sweat is quite unpleasant.
  • running 10 miles is somehow twice as hard as running seven.
  • going to races by myself is not fun. There’s nobody to talk to at the number pick up, at the starting line or at the coat check, and the Post-Race Victory Lunch just isn’t the same when I’m eating it out of a Wendy’s bag on the drive home.
  • the worst time to think about next week’s long run is right after this week’s long run.
  • 48 degrees is not that cold; it’s actually the perfect temperature for running outside.
  • I appreciate my dog Oscar, because he is always willing to run with me, any day, any distance. Everyone else refuses to commit.
  • running works better than fiber (just think about that one for a second).
  • removing teeth with a plastic spoon might be more pleasant than running for an hour on a treadmill.
  • A Camelbak filled with 50 ounces of water weighs 50 ounces more than it did when I tried it on at the store.
  • It is my personal opinion that people who run full marathons are utterly and irreversibly deranged. And that people who run ultra-marathons simply cannot exist.
  • I am an outdoors person. I love beach, trail, grass, warm breeze and the summer sun. If I lived in San Diego, I could get all of those things on a run, every day. I still haven’t learned why I continue to reside in New England.
  • just because I ran 20 miles this week doesn’t mean I can eat at Five Guys and still expect my muffin top to disappear by summer. I’m over 30 now.
  • only three people on Facebook give a damn about my 4-mile fartlek time, but even if nobody did I would still post it.
  • I feel I am an Enlightened Runner because I run in minimalist shoes, and a Rock-Star because I run barefoot in mild weather (well…some of the time, anyway).
  • I sort of like it when people call attention my barefoot running ways. Even if is to tease me mercilessly.
  • the most exciting thing that ever happens during a run is seeing another runner. Other crazies make me feel more validated.
  • I am always a little disappointed if the other runner is wearing regular running shoes.
  • I’m kind of a slow runner. Even when I think I’m running fast, I’m still pretty slow.
  • now that I have my very own Garmin watch (thanks, hubby!), I get to see exactly how slow I am in vast, glorious detail.
  • Buying BodyGlide is an embarrassment on par with buying condoms or Vagisil. But going without it is far more terrifying.
  • sometimes the best runs start with a hangover.

It’s times like this I am glad I can learn anything from my madness. Because my 60-pound dog can’t pull me up that hill, and if I can’t remember why it’s all worth it, then then it’s really going to suck to see my husband’s disappointed face when he comes to pick me up in his SUV.

So, anybody want to join me for next week’s long run?

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Dedication is.

Dedication is going outside to brush 12 inches of snow off your Honda at 1pm on your day off, and heading to the gym with the very edge of nausea climbing down into your stomach from god-knows-what you ate the other day. It is dusting icy remnants from your old winter boots before getting into your pre-heated car, and still wondering slyly to yourself: should I just exchange them for my running shoes right now and go out on the road anyway…throwing caution to the 18 degree wind? Dedication is running three miles on a treadmill and then hurling your face into a public toilet to dispose of this morning’s toast, coffee and perfectly ripe banana. And feeling really bad because you wanted to run five today.

Dedication is also sometimes a crazed and unadulterated surrender of all reason and good sense.

Since starting this blog I’ve been hesitant to write a post about running. I am well aware that talking about my new hobby bores the hell out of half my friends and makes the rest want to claw my pretentious, holier-than-thou-sounding eyes out. It’s not an interest I share with my husband, any of my family members, or most of my friends. But I think it’s okay for it to be a lonely endeavor. Because running has become a part of who I am in a way that was always there but never fully realized until the day I ran my first road race. Running is how I feel closer to the natural world, to the roads around my neighborhood and to the day’s running partner (sometimes a friend and sometimes my dog Oscar), and it’s how I feel closer to myself. And the closer I am to myself, the smaller are my clouds of insecurity and self-loathing.

Right now I’m training for my first half marathon, which is happening in the beginning of April. I find it’s an oddly intimate thing, training for a big race. You find all your self-inflicted limits and then bash them senseless with your newer and better expectations. You get used to aches and familiar with ice packs. It’s a time to feel like a bad-ass rock star, and it’s a time to fail like a big ole’ loser. Clichés aside, running at times can be murder, but there’s kinda nothing like the day you learn that you can run 9 miles all at once. When you’ve finally made friends with discomfort, that dark pursuer, and trade in your excuses for the satisfaction of getting that round number to show up on your GPS watch.

It’s a hallowed place, that number. Whatever it is, three, seven, thirteen-point-one. It’s where the ghosts disappear. But of course, every time you reach one number your eyes turn immediately to the next, and tomorrow you’re chasing a new ghost. A runner is an addict. Like one who must consume a substance just to make the world balance out again,  the runner needs this self-sustaining heroin. I feel the most normal when I’m in motion. To settle into that familiar rhythm is to know lucidness again. My feet glide softly over the surface of the ground, the arch of one foot propelling my frame just enough to land squarely over the next. A perfect balance of strength and velocity. I feel I belong in this place. Here I can’t be judged for admiring a quiet pond, can’t be rushed out of feeling the warm sunshine. I can make a right onto a street I’ve never been or stop to watch my dog chase a squirrel off the path and up an oak tree. Here I can have the air, I can feel the earth underfoot. It is freedom.

In the summer.

And then there are the days I’m donning wool socks and a “burglar-chic” face gaiter, to run for two hours in the dead center of a New England January. And when the roads won’t abide, there’s the suicidally boring gym treadmills and endless episodes of Oprah and Family Court playing on the corral of ceiling-mounted TV sets facing me. Training myself to run 13.1 miles outside in the sunshine, wearing tank tops and those cool new running skirts that everybody loves, that sounds like a piece of cake. No excuses, no fear of nature biting back with ice-slick roads and purple toes. But, training for a half marathon in the screaming-cold, angry winter? That takes some major dedication.

Or insanity.


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A Better Resolution

Well, well, well…here we are. The third day of January, in the year twenty-eleven. Half a week into those lofty, ever-looming New Year’s resolutions. You know, those well-intentioned promises we declare out loud, as if just by voicing them we are re-inventing ourselves for the next three hundred sixty-five days. It’s unfortunate that most of these promises are swiftly abandoned, leaving diet plans unrealized and fitness centers empty all over the country by mid-February.

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. I avoid the expectations altogether by admitting to myself that a date on a calendar is just not enough to motivate me to lose 30 pounds or to clean my closet more often. I do, however, have some goals for the year 2011. One of them is to start a blog (done). And the other is to start training for a half marathon (done). It’s a win-win when all you have to do is promise to continue something you’ve already begun, right? To me, that’s better than making some stinkin’ resolution.

It feels good to have started a blog. I don’t know why I didn’t have one before – perhaps it was laziness, fear of failure or lack of motivation. Or maybe it was the realization that the internet doesn’t need another self-important, nameless American blathering on about their preference for wet-wipes over regular toilet paper. At any rate, I’m disappointed in myself at how little I’ve written over the past few years. I was born a writer. And by that I mean I had a deplorable, tragic childhood, which is the perfect canvas for a brilliant writing career. I’ve always planned to write at least one book in my lifetime. A seamstress in a school uniform store once told me, after having been briefed by my aunt on the events of my childhood, that I should write a memoir someday. I’m not sure many people would be interested in a memoir about me – maybe only about as many as I expect to read this blog, if that. And even if my life story were compelling enough to land on Oprah’s Book Club list, I still haven’t written it. I haven’t even decided whether to write it, or to write fiction instead, or something in between. “Write what you know,” mentors advise, “find your voice.” But maybe that’s just it: I haven’t yet found my voice. I guess my hope is that having a blog will tease that voice out of me. I have some ideas; but whether they work or not, at least I’m finally writing again.

The half-marathon (or “Pikermi,” as it’s been affectionately nick-named, after the city which falls mid-point between the Grecian cities of Marathon and Athens, in the historical 26.2 mile race) is a new ambition of mine, even though I have been a “runner” for several years. I put the term in parentheses because for about 8 years I only ran for the sake of punching out 30 minutes of cardio on the dreadmill twice a week, in an effort to aid my Weight Watchers diet plan. There was no attention to form, distance, footwear, no attempt at improvement or acquisition of skill. I didn’t love doing it, and I injured myself a lot. It wasn’t really running. It took me until last June to understand how much I do love to run. I won’t go into minute detail here, but one day I discovered the joy and freedom of running without “shoes” (i.e. heavily padded, rubberized, motion-controlled foot coffins known as the modern running sneaker). Since then I’ve learned how to be a runner. Now I run because I want to be a better runner, and being a better runner requires physical fitness and a healthy body weight. Which brings me to the core of my running goal: to train, and eat, in such a way that I can complete at least one half-marathon in the year 2011 (and, hopefully, beyond). My endeavor officially began on New Years morning with a 10 kilometer race, and I’m well on my way, as they say, with a stack of celery on my desk and a 9-mile long run planned for this weekend.

So there’s my introduction to this blog, and to the year 2011. Now let’s get down to work.