Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Running’

Running Towards the Smoke in Boston

April 16, 2013 8 comments
Finishing Boston - Boylston Street was a sight for sore eyes and tired legs

This is what it’s supposed to look like.

Instead of reading her a story, I laid down with my eight-year old, Ella, and I told her about the Boston Marathon that would take place the next morning.

I told her it is the most popular and iconic marathon in the world, it is the crowning glory for thousands of runners, who log hundreds of solitary miles in preparation. It overtakes the city for the weekend, packing out the world famous pasta joints in the north end and clogging Logan International with runner-clad travelers. It has an atmosphere all of its own, uniquely Bostonian, and someday, I hope she will experience it first hand, and I will come and cheer her on.

It is chilling and saddening to think this very same conversation could easily have been repeated in the household of eight-year old victim, Martin Richard.

It’s been three years since I ran Boston, and being there was a dream come true – as boring as that sounds it is crazily accurate. A seed was planted in my head with a surprisingly fast (for me) half marathon time.

That was it. This odd thing on my computer screen told me I could qualify for Boston, and I decided it would be foolish of me not to try; computers aren’t dumb. I trained, qualified, and registered for the race I had always dreamed of doing, but never believed I could. I tell you this because people who are not runners may not realize that Boston is more than a race, it’s a lofty badge of honour.

In racing terms, my result was disappointing, but the experience of running it was anything but. Every mile was filled with laughter and inspiration, and kinship with the other runners in my midst. Some things you can’t put a clock to, Boston being chief among them. I didn’t want that race, that journey filled with people  – the very best of people – running into their dreams, to ever end.

And so, for someone to mar this event, this moment for thousands of amateur runners like myself, who feel like running Boston is the closest they will come to glory on a grand stage, is particularly vile and upsetting.

My friend, who had finished the race and was waiting to meet his buddy when he heard the bombs, wrote an emotional email to his many supporters after the tragedy. He wrote, “marathon runners are such amazing, peaceful people, and everyone is walking around with their heads down instead of celebrating.”

But of course, there is another side to the story. Someone – maybe just one person – planted those bombs. Hundreds, and by now likely thousands, in different ways, jumped forward to help. I responded to his email:

“When things are senseless, there’s no point in trying to make sense of them. On another note, though, did you see the people who immediately ran towards the smoke? See, there is hope and humanity all around us, let’s concentrate on their huge contributions, and not the crazy bastards who attempt to ruin our world.”

For its victims and their families, their worlds stopped yesterday, and for those people we collectively grieve and mourn. Yet, I can’t stop replaying the images of the hundreds of people trying to help. To all those who didn’t think of dangerous consequences, and selflessly did what they could for the injured, thank you thank you thank you for your bravery. You give us hope.

So for me, Boston will still be Boston, filled with unlikely heroes and courageous runners, spectators and officials alike. And maybe one day, my daughter will run this marathon, and I will stand on Boyleston Street and cheer her on.

The Elephant in the Pool

November 5, 2012 13 comments

You are either a lover or a fighter. A leader or a follower. A liberal or a conservative. A runner or a swimmer. Put your hands down, triathletes. I know what you’re thinking, you can be a little bit of both. And yes you can, but you will have a bias. One that comes more naturally. Preferably one that doesn’t make you feel like you are drowning.

I’m a runner; not so much a swimmer. On land, I strike out comfortably, breathing in every four steps, and out every four steps, and reduce this to three or perhaps two breaths on hills. In, out, in, out, shoulders down, arms loose, feet quick. It’s a beautiful feeling, any day I run in is better than one I don’t, it’s cheaper than therapy, and it allows me to eat copious amounts of fries and chocolate. I’m a runner, born and bred. When I go out for a walk I am tired and whiny after five minutes, but I can run for miles, some days hours, without a problem. I may be a runner but I am definitely not a walker. Go figure.

But things are breaking down and my quadriceps and IT Bands aren’t what they used to be, so sometimes, in the summer months, I’m a biker. Biking has its own share of challenges, for instance the likelihood of dying on the fender of cement truck. I choose my biking days and routes carefully, and with the inclement weather we have in the Pacific Northwest these can be few and far between.

So the elephant in my room for the last few years, if not lifetime, has been swimming. Ugh, the chlorine, the cold water, the flattering skull cap look, not to mention the monotony, the boredom, the breathlessness, the other swimmers at your heels. Jesus. I’d rather walk.

But I remember the swimmers of my youth – Jacqui, Jenny, and Jamie, I’m looking at you. Damn they were fit. They kicked my cross-country ass to the curbside race after race, although I think the only time they ran was in the actual race; their training was in the pool.

So when a friend cajoled me into joining a masters swimming group (she said something like, I’ll bet you a bottle of wine you can’t do this, and I was like, oh no you didn’t), I was hesitant, but only momentarily. The writing was on the wall, and the white wine is now in my fridge. I got in the pool and kicked and splashed my way to the end. And back again. Repeat, times like a thousand.

It wasn’t pretty, I could see by the look on the coach’s face, a mix between Sweet Jesus where did this one come from and why is this woman drowning in my pool? But I got through the warmup, and though I was ready to call it a day by then, I managed to do some, if not all, of the workout that followed. Oh, the accomplishment; it was equivalent to achieving a PB in a half-marathon. I high-fived my lane mates while they looked at me quizzically, and my arm muscles wept with the joy of being called upon.

Now, twice a week, for an hour and a half, I stare at the line on the bottom of the pool and think about rolling and reaching. The water is cold for only a fraction of a second before the work required to stay afloat warms me. The coach writes cryptic notes on the whiteboard, like 8 x 50 f/c @ 60/65/70, and the only message I can decipher is that f/c is front crawl. When my fellow swimmers ask me what I want to do the 50’s in, I explain I just want to finish them without drowning, time is irrelevant. I have three speeds; slow, slower, and sinking. We swim about 3 kilometers each workout, which I figure is the equivalent to swimming the English Channel.

But I’m doing it, and I’ve never felt better. In the end I crawl onto the deck and thank God and Buddha and Shakespeare that although I came close to hyperventilating and drowning in my own snot, I made it to the edge just in time. I marvel mostly because not only did I do the workout, but that I even got in the pool to begin with. My back feels stretched, my IT bands are smiling, quadriceps spent, and the rest of the day, I feel my blood coursing smoothly through my body. When I listen closely, I can hear it say: thank you thank you thank you.

A New York State of Mind

May 7, 2012 11 comments

Many people have told me the best way to see New York is during the NYC Marathon. Mind you, these people were runners. And since I consider myself one, also, I have been holding off on a New York trip until I trained for that race. I wanted to see the five boroughs on foot, the arduous way, alongside the 50 000 other runners that make the trek out to Staten Island. I just had it in my head I would do this one day.

But sometimes life doesn’t play out perfectly on cue. Despite my best laid plans, a trip to New York has presented itself, but over the Mother’s Day weekend instead of race weekend. Far be it from me to decline, give or take the marathon. Marathon? What marathon?

Who cares? I’M GOING TO NEW YORK! This occasion absolutely calls for all capitals.

I am ecstatic to finally visit this iconic city that never sleeps, and experience it’s peculiar energy and buzz. I’m excited to browse through SoHo, drink a genuine Manhatten, visit the MoMA, Times Square, Top of the Rock, enter the New York Public Library, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and yes, run leisurely through Central Park. I’m going to a show on Broadway and will be eating in restaurants that are far too cool for me. We are going to an underground rave, and I’m told, will be conquering Century 21. We will do this, all of this, in three days. Of course no one ever sleeps in this city.

We are staying somewhere in Midtown; since someone fun and hip booked this trip, the hotel, I’m told, is fun and hip. Not that it matters. Sleeping isn’t on the itinerary.

I’m as excited to see New York as I am to get the monkey off my back of Not Having Been to New York. It is a conversation stopper, when people are musing about past trips to the Big Apple, to drop in the tidbit that I haven’t been before. Like blasphemy, or pant-wetting, it causes people to shift uncomfortably in their seats. They often mutter, “You should really go, you will love it.” Like I don’t know this.

So since I’m finally going, I’m going big, hitting as many highlights as possible. It will be exhausting, I know, but my children will totally permit me to sleep for a week upon my return. The more I see, the more I will be able to converse about. In my near future, when people say, “Don’t you just love the High Line?” I will say, emphatically, yes, I love the High Line; and the whole conversation will be much more comfortable without the slump in their shoulders on account of me never having been before.

What’s your favorite thing to do in New York City? I have loads of time to fill.

Marathon Memories of Boston

April 15, 2011 2 comments

It was only one short year ago that I was in Boston on this very weekend, getting ready to run the marathons of all marathons on Monday. People have since asked me, “Was Boston really all that?” The answer is it IS that, and so much more.

From the moment you set foot in Boston for marathon weekend, you feel you are on holy ground. The city transforms itself into a sea of blue and yellow, and you would feel out of place if you had anything on your feet besides runners. Runners signify athleticism over geekiness, a welcome change of events.

People everywhere near the runners expo at the Hynes Convention Center have their recognizable blue and yellow race day packages slung over their shoulder. Workers are lining the street with barriers and building the finish line stands. People are photographing each other on the finish line, smiling today knowing they may not be smiling on Monday. It is a hub of activity and excitement.

As you walk around on this blue and yellow cloud, it’s hard to believe it is just a regular weekend in other parts of the world.

I was humbled by the people I was meeting, runners who have run not one or two but sixteen and seventeen Boston’s. I met a man who had traveled from New Zealand for the race. People from all corners of America who regularly make this pilgrimage. The camaraderie is non-stop and all-invasive – not the place for a quiet weekend of reflection. It’s a place to embrace, and be embraced, by our great sport.

It’s hard not feel like you’re a part of running history by simply being there. At the runner’s expo I brushed elbows with storied people like Kathrine Switzer, Amby Burfoot, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and David Willey. Heady with touches of greatness and cross-eyed by the massive amounts of people, I actually got lost in the expo and couldn’t find my way out.

Everywhere, people are helping people. It restores ones faith in humanity. My high-tech Garmin watch broke on Sunday, and the manager at their booth simply gave me her watch to use. I was traveling alone, but was invited by a fellow runner to have dinner with his large extended running family in Boston’s storied north end. Everywhere people are speaking the body language of helping. It is impossible to get lost, or not know something. The first person you ask will help you.

It was surreal to walk out of my hotel at 6 am on race day and see the street lined with yellow school buses as far as the eye could see. Making my way to the Commons it could have been rush hour, as long lines of people waited to get on the buses that would take us out to Hopkinton, 26.2 miles outside of Boston.

The athletes village, set up at the Hopkinton high school, housed gigantic tents, with food and beverages being served at several tables for pre-race nutrition. People milled around in large groups, music boomed from speakers, and runners nervously chatted about their strategy or lack thereof. It was like being at a gigantic party. I reluctantly tore myself away from it and made my way to the starting line.

Waiting in my corral at the starting line, excitement crackling in the air, I could feel the ghosts of past runners who had stood on this same spot; albeit with fewer participants. In widely varying weather conditions, snow, rain, draining sunshine, people had stood here on Patriot’s Day, waiting to begin the journey to Boylston Street.

If the entire weekend leading up to the race wasn’t incredible enough, the race itself is out of a dream sequence. The festivities continue long after the sound of the gun. I saw a runner down a beer at the biker bar just down the road from Hopkinton, to the delight of the bikers. A runner veered off course in Natick to play lawn bowling with residents. Several runners stopped to kiss students in the Wellesley tunnel of love. I ran beside Captain Canada for a while, decked out head to toe in maple leafs and flags. Along the way people are holding up signs with the latest Red Sox score. Thousands of people lined the route, high-fiving and screaming the entire time.

It was evident that this was a moment in time. Despite a nagging pain in my knee that started only 5 km in, the momentum of both the crowd and the runners carried me through long after I would typically thrown in the towel. Boston is far from typical.

After Wellesley there are the Newton Hills, of which Heartbreak Hill is only one. Looming even larger is the descent from Heartbreak Hill to the Cleveland Circle, for me infinitely more difficult on my legs that were by then searing in pain, complaining loudly that they had had enough.

But Cleveland Circle leads to Beacon Street, and that meant thousands upon thousands of spectators lining the route, in some places 8 people deep, people on rooftops and balconies, everywhere spectators cheering you on. The Citgo sign appears, a vision to shoot for, proof that the end is actually in sight. If you can only put one foot in front of the other for a few more miles.

Fenway Park and the Citgo sign are the the last mile markers that send you through the famous directions, right on Hereford, left on Boylston, the shortest turn on the course, and undoubtably the loudest. Rounding the corner, the finish line is a short sprint away. Or crawl, depending.

As for the finish, let’s just say it is an odd juxtaposition, feeling physically terrible but mentally high. Yet I very much recommend it. If you ever get the chance to run the Boston Marathon, just do it. The mountains you may have to move to get there will be waiting for you when you get back. The memories of the race will stay with you forever.

Relieved to be finished

SnowShoe Running: Try, Try Again

March 11, 2011 2 comments

There’s a new trend in town, and it involves running and mountains, a Vancouverite’s dream. As it happens, I love running and mountains. How could this go wrong?

Well, it sort of did. But if at first you don’t succeed, they say to try, try again. So I will try again, but first, a little tale of woe.

Grouse Mountain hosts Snowshoe drop ins every Monday and Wednesday night, so after hearing several people tell me how amazing it is, you will absolutely love it I believe were the exact words, I took the tram up the mountain to check it out. They had just received a dump of great snow, so despite poor visibility and low temperatures it held the promise of a snowy adventure.

I wedged into the dark tram alongside snowboarders and skiers, amazed at people’s stamina after 6 pm, when I’m usually thinking about going to bed. Stifling my yawns at the thought of curling up with a good book, I tried to draw from their energy and enthusiasm as we ascended to the base of my favorite local mountain.

After signing in with about seventy other night owls, they split up into groups of varying abilities. Because of high avalanche risk, the back country was closed, which meant the runners would be sticking to Paper Trail. I heard some groans, but it sounded innocent enough.

From the word go, the runners were off at a break neck speed down a steep pitch, powder flying up the back of my jacket as I frantically tried to keep pace with fading voices and fainter headlamps. The last time I sprinted downhill was never, so I tried to go as fast as I could without breaking my ankle, or worse, neck, as I navigated between dark forms that I hoped were trees.

I managed to barely keep them in sight, when suddenly, several beams of light were coming towards me. The sound of labored breathing – other than my own – was approaching me.  Having come to the bottom of the steep pitch, they had abruptly turned and were now trudging back up. Obediently I turned and brought up the tail end of the group as they made their way back up.

Someone has to be last, I told myself, as I again tried to keep pace with these jackrabbits. After fifteen minutes of a heart pounding, calf searing climb, I was relieved to see they were taking a breather. I joined their circle as someone yelled “Let’s go!”. I bent over to take a full breath into my lungs, but they were off, screaming down the hill that I had just labored up.

Surely, this is a joke.

Wondering what was going on, I trailed these inhumane people. Once again, I just caught up to them at the bottom of the hill when they turned and headed up. “How many times do you do this?” I managed to ask between breaths, meaning it took a long time to get out that sentence. “Four or five,” a snowshoer called over his shoulder.

I never did see any of their faces, just clouds of snow as they ran downhill.

Acts of kindness

January 7, 2011 6 comments

The beginning of the road

It’s easy to be gracious and giving to people you know and love, much harder to do for complete strangers, which is icing on the cake if you happen to be on the receiving end of somebody’s act of kindness.

As I glanced at my Garmin watch today, thankful for its data keeping abilities, I was reminded of one strangers remarkable kindness to me a few months ago, and at the same time thankful to her all over again.

My handy Garmin watch is a great running tool, since it shows your pace over ground at any given time, and its “autolap” feature can be programmed to tell you your time per mile.  Wearing my Garmin has made driving my running routes to determine mileage redundant, since it tracks my distance automatically.  It is an indispensable gadget for runners.

Before leaving for Boston to run the marathon – my personal equivalent to making the Olympic team – I checked to make sure my Garmin and its recharger was packed roughly a hundred times before leaving for the airport; it ranked in importance right after my runners and credit card.

Safely ensconced in my hotel room, I unpacked my baby, unscathed from the trip.  Yet something about the Boston air didn’t agree with my watch, or some deity was playing a cruel joke on me; the day before the race I could not revive its year and half old self for the life of me.  It looked at me blankly, no numbers on its gray facade.

Meeting my idol Kathrine Switzer in happier times, the day before

Naturally, I panicked, and did what anyone would do in the face of such tragedy: I googled it.  Some soul recommended trying a hard reset, which didn’t work, and neither did banging it against the table.  I asked passersby sporting the blue and yellow Boston Marathon jackets, but no one had experienced such a failure.  I was hooped.

I had spent the afternoon previous to this catastrophe at the bonanza of all running expo’s in the Hynes Convention Center on Boyleston Street. It was so big I actually couldn’t find my way out of its maze.  No joke; I got a little panicky.  The thought of returning to the chaos didn’t thrill me, but I envisioned the large Garmin booth with its cash registers going “ka-ching!” and knew that if anyone could help me, it was them.  I had no choice but to return to the mayhem.

The John Hancock Tower, Boston

I got the attention of the person obviously in charge of the operation, Kiata Sleet.  She took one look at my panic stricken face and told me to leave it with her, she would jump start its heart, give her fifteen minutes.  Relieved at her message but not wanting to revisit yesterdays debacle, I shuffled out of sight and waited.

I returned promptly fifteen minutes later, but there were still no signs of life.  We repeated this pattern a few times, despite the fifty other people wanting her attention, bless her heart, and finally she told me to come back at the end of the day.  That meant if it still didn’t work, I was seriously in trouble, because by then it would be too late to make a panicked purchase of another chronograph device, and most likely the cheapest one I could find.  She assured me not to worry, but I was beyond worried.

This happens: devices die. electronics fail, life goes on.  But really? The day before the Boston Marathon?  Like the snowstorm that dumped three feet of snow the day of my sixth birthday party, this seemed particularly unjustifiable.

When I returned hours later, Kiata was looking surprisingly spry given the still large group of people milling in front of her booth.  She saw me, and I knew immediately the news was not good.  My watch couldn’t be revived, but she would bring it back to Garmin headquarters with her and fix it there.  “Great, but what about tomorrow?” I wailed.  She looked behind the counter, but there were no demo watches left, her resources depleted by the hundreds of customers before me.

She looked at my sorrowful eyes – not quite crying over this spilled milk, but red around the edges – and took off her own watch from her wrist and handed it to me.  “Take this,” she said, “it’s the exact same model.”  She scribbled her address on a piece of paper and told me to mail it back to her after the race, wishing me luck.

Now that is customer service, not to mention a leap of faith in humanity.

Running: the ultimate mood booster

December 10, 2010 4 comments
Sunset Beach

Image by Rusty Russ via Flickr

Something happened today that happens rarely: I did not want to go running.

Normally, no matter what the weather or circumstances, I cannot wait to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement; it is something I look forward to from the moment I wake up.  But not today.

Today I was cranky and in no mood for my workout.  Even the fact that it was not raining, as forecast, couldn’t levitate my sourness.  I hadn’t slept well, so despite the fact it was 9 am I was tired.  I had eaten breakfast ridiculously early since I couldn’t sleep, and was now ravenous.  I was freezing cold and could not feel my hands before I started, not helping matters.  And I was scheduled to do long intervals, which I find hard at the best of times.  I was not a happy camper.

But I had dutifully dressed for my run, ready to do battle with whatever came my way, so I soldiered – less than half heartedly – on.  It occurred to me that this is what many people feel like on a regular basis before their workout, and I had a flash of empathy for them.  This was not fun.  This was what I felt like before going to the dentist.

Of course you know what happens next; it is a truism, a fact, a sure thing: I immediately felt better as soon as I started running.  It took all of one minute, and I shook off all of my complaints, the cloud of distaste evaporating in a puff.  Once again, I was off and running, soaking in the views and the joy of movement.  One minute and I was virtually transformed into a happier person.  Am I really that flaky?

I know not everyone experiences the joy of running, it can be daunting and uncomfortable.  It’s hard.  But doing the workout, instead of calling it a day before you begin, will always make you happier (barring injury, obviously).   As I have read hundreds of times in running related magazines, on days you really do not want to run, at least start your warm up, then determine your workout.

I’ve always known running is a great way of dealing with my emotions, whether I am feeling down, sad, angry, or confused.  I go for a run and things sort themselves out somehow, and I finish feeling better than when I started.  For me, it is the best medicine, and I often tell people this.  But it was a jolt to me today to realize how quickly the endorphins (or perhaps just fresh air) can positively effect demeanor.  I was an entirely different person post workout, and it helped me enjoy the rest of the day immeasurably.

The point, of course, is to just do it.

Categories: Health Tags: ,