Archives for category: Fitness

I recognize that I will not fully appreciate this until later, but I’ll do my best now.

A Saturday morning, legs crossed, one foot pressed against the boards. On the other side of the wood and glass, hockey players circled the rink—tall, bulky, padded black-and-goldfish on skates. They largely focused on their drills, motivated by short blasts of a whistle. But they snuck occasional looks, grins, stick-on-glass taps to the 100 or so of us on hand. I saw my favorite guys. The new guys. The boys, 18 or 19 years old, fighting for what amounts to a roster spot two seasons from now.

The buzz I’d expected to sense during my trip to Fort Myers back in March was finally here—six months late, different sport, right at home in Boston. This is what training camp is supposed to feel like: Players are competing for their spots, proving their worth, while diehards show up with their smuggled-in bagels to sit around, talk shop with fellow junkies, and get sneak previews of lines and pairings from vantage points significantly closer than anything they’ll experience during game play.

I made my way around the rink to take in the view from the other side, feeling my late morning stretch into an early afternoon. My later plans were much more flexible than the Bruins’ schedule, and I was reluctant to leave without seeing my favorite player skate in the second session. No stress in the preseason.

Two subway lines later, I navigated a collegiate crowd I’d spent the past month avoiding. Harvard Square wasn’t as congested as I’d feared it would be. That said, it would still be a few weeks before I’d return with any sense of regularity. But Harvard’s running shop was the easiest to visit on the way home and Mark Stuart had led to a time crunch. I was in and out in seven minutes: running socks, the sports beans that would give me a carbohydrate boost during long runs, and a couple other odds and ends I would never have imagined needing even a year ago.

Two hours later, the socks were on and the beans were tucked into the back pouch of my hydration belt, along with my cell phone, keys, transit pass, credit card, license, and health insurance card.

(Once you’ve cleared at least two hours in your schedule for running purposes, you ought to be prepared for anything.)

The route felt shorter this time. Perhaps it was that I felt stronger this time. I suspected that it was a combination of the two. Regardless, the doubt about whether I would be able to reach the twenty mile milestone had come and gone, replaced with focus and the flood of endorphins that kept my feet moving in time to the Ryan Adams song playing on my iPod. It was my first genuine runner’s high of the season. And it propelled me through Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston.

For twenty miles.

After the endorphin high faded and the muscle stiffness set in—albeit not nearly as badly as I’d anticipated—I sat on my couch, toasting the day with a glass of pumpkin beer and vanilla vodka while discussing how much fun was going to be had picking apples the next day …

… after getting out of work at Fenway Park.

Again, I recognize that I will not fully appreciate this until later. That said, I’m certainly doing my best right now.

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I could tell you about how the first three miles of my race on Sunday were actually downright pleasant – that the skies were overcast and there was a breeze that, coupled with the 9 a.m. start time, helped me forget that I was running on a day expected to reach the 90s. That the sun came out during the loop back, which wound us through the surprisingly quaint town square of Foxborough and past cheering fans waving signs. That there was a glorious saint of a woman who sat on her lawn in a chair, grinning as she squeezed the handle on her hose and sprayed us grateful runners with ice cold water as we moved past.

But I’d rather just tell you about the end.

After six miles, my friend Kim and I (who had wound up running within sight of each other over the course of the entire 1oK) kept telling ourselves to converse a little bit of energy. “Wait for it. Wait for it,” we repeated as we watched the lights and stands of Gillette Stadium grow larger and larger. We held back as we ran past Bill Rodgers, who was cheering on fans near the back entrance to the stadium parking lot. We held back as I tried to find “Crazy Train” on my iPod, settling for “Motownphilly” instead. And we held back as we wound our way around the final bends…

…through Gate 8…

…and as we approached The Helmet.

And then, after slapping the side of The Helmet like we’ve seen them do from our various spots in the stands over the years, Kim and I emerged from the tunnel, arms raised, and then booked it. An all-out, leave-it-on-the-field 50-yard dash where we blew past our fellow runners and raced each other to the end. We crossed the finish line at the same time. Kim unleashed her best Randy Moss and we dropped to make Welker-approved snow angels in the endzone (verdict: awesome, yet scratchy and HOT on the turf in July).

That dash – and 10K that preceded it – left me breathless in the short term. It put me out of commission later in the day, when I took what was supposed to be an hour-long break from barbecue and revelry and fell asleep until 2 a.m. But it was a moment of pure fun and adrenaline in which I had such a sudden spike of runner’s high, feeling strong, powerful, and amazingly alive.

I like to think that I’m a nice person. I try to be, anyway. I like to be helpful. I believe in karma. Many of the breaks I’ve gotten in life have come from people who’ve looked out for me the same way I’ve looked out for them.

That said, I’m such a bitch when I run.

Seriously. My weekly long runs take me out of my neighborhood, where I’m able to run comfortably and safely without a whole lot of interruption or agitation, and into a much busier environment. I like it that way – the stimulation and changing scenery keeps me entertained. Historically, I’ve had greater success running down Mass Ave to the Charles than I’ve had running through the wooded areas of the Minuteman. I love the exhileration of running against a city backdrop.

But I’m reminded every week of just how much people suck when you’re a runner. And rather that smile and carry on, I’m a bitch about it.

There’s ample discussion about how tough it can be to bike in the city. There are movements to make sure that pedestrians are taken care of. People lament trying to drive safely in Boston. But I don’t hear anything about how all of these other groups seem to conspire to make running as difficult as humanly possible. You have cars speeding through crosswalks, bikers eschewing bike lanes – lanes specifically established for the purpose of their travel – for sidewalks. Skateboarders are flipping all over the place, their boards flying out at whomever happens to be running by.

As for those fellow travelers by foot? A runner weaves past:

  • dogs
  • people walking side by side by side by side
  • others crawling at Newbury Street speed
  • those who are taking photos on one side of the path of the people standing on the other side (not knocking photography, of course, but still)
  • and, most obnoxious, the people who ignore repeated calls of “on the left” until you’re jogging in place behind them, having to pretty much shout “EXCUSE ME PLEASE.” And then, bless their little hearts, they snap at the runner that she should get out of the way.

Listen, people. I’m in training. I’m training for a marathon. I’m not trying to take up the entire road. I’m not trying to get in your way. I’m just trying to travel a path that gets me from Point A to Point B. And I’m a nice person, I swear, but after seven miles, when you are busy yapping with your buddy as you walk at a snail’s pace and block the entire sidewalk, I am going to be snippy.

So, in the immortal words of that poet for our times, Ludacris:

Move, bitch. Get out the way.

Let’s give you warning: you are about to read what I sincerely hope is the first and only instance in which the holiday season is linked to R Kelly’s “Bump N’ Grind.”

My friend Brian was giving the tune his best – and given the set of pipes this guy has, that’s saying something – last night at karaoke while I chatted with friends. At one point, I glanced over at him and did a doubletake at the sight of a long necklace of lit up holiday lights.

“When did he get lit up? Did I miss that?” I asked.

“That’s how it goes when you look away for a moment,” was Dave’s response. Wise words proven even more right when I turned back a few moments later and realized that Brian had acquired himself a backup vocalist. I laughed as they conveyed their special message of love, perfect for the holiday season upon us.

I didn’t think about this again for a bit, as I was too busy gearing up to cross “Part of Your World” off my To Sing karaoke list.

(Yes, that happened.)

In many respects, however, I feel like the last few months and the arrival of the holiday season are similar to watching Brian sing “Bump N’ Grind.” I turn away for a moment in October and the next thing I know, I’m welcoming November during my trip to Chicago. I look away again and suddenly it’s December, a whirlwind of a month that periodically threatens to force me to adopt “Christmas Wrapping” as my theme song. Now here I am, realizing there’s a rink at Fenway (which I saw for the first time last night – amazing) and a crazy hot stove season underway. I’m thinking about the New Year and the Best of Lists I should be and will be putting together.

2009’s almost over and it feels like it just got underway.

***

“Wait, so let me get this straight. You ran a 5k when you were waiting for MRI results on your knee?” I could just see my friend shaking his head as he typed the words into the chat box.

“I hadn’t planned to run the whole thing. I’d signed up prior to all of the knee issues and I figured I’d rather walk than waste the bib and registration fee. So I just figured I’d jog until the knee felt sore and then I’d walk.”

More head shaking. And I deserved it. It was just that it felt amazing to be lined up with all of the other runners waiting for the start. And then it was just that the knee never started to hurt.

Besides, the results came back and the knee’s OK!

For the first time in months, my knee wanted to run. The rest of me, based on the way I felt the next day, was on a slightly different wavelength, but I’ll take it. How it felt, coupled with the test results, means that I might finally – FINALLY – be on the mend and able to start slowly making my way back into running life.

It’s a Christmas miracle!

***

Top Five Songs I Never Would Have Dared Sing In Front of People a Year Ago
or “How Karaoke’s Helped Me Come Out of My Shell”
(in no particular order)

  • “Superstition” – Stevie Wonder
  • “Use Somebody” – Kings of Leon
  • “Roxie” – Chicago Soundtrack
  • “Pour Some Sugar on Me” – Def Leppard
  • “Total Eclipse of the Heart” – Bonnie Tyler

Since I started training for distance running, I’ve been shaped more than I initially realized by the power of finding a silver lining. Somewhere along the way, I started to actually possess an ability to spin something negative into a positive. At the same time, I started to learn (without even realizing it) that I enjoy life much more when I don’t sweat the small stuff or overanalyze. Things are how they are and you can either complain about it without changing anything or you can accept it, embrace it and make it work for you.

This is big, people. Call it commonsensical, but I’m a twentysomething woman. Celebrate these crazy huge realizations with me.

That said, there are still times when you need to be able to take a step back, recognize that things can be unfair and give yourself a small amount of time to wallow in self pity. And it’s not taking a step back or falling off a positivity wagon. It’s being human and dealing with what that involves.

All this from running? Like I’ve been saying, it’s not just about putting one foot in front of another over and over again. And that’s a good thing, because my running situation put my running-prompted philosophy to the test yesterday, when I went to have my knee examined by an orthopedic specialist and was told that training for the marathon wasn’t a good idea for my body right now.

Long story short: if I can’t run in a week, I’m supposed to get back in touch with the doctor, at which point I’ll get to experience the fun of MRIs and whatnot. In the meantime, it still seems to be an IT band issue, albeit one that has left me unable to run and in a good amount of pain when I walk. Or sit in one place for too long. Or try bending my knee. Don’t even get me started about going down large sets of stairs.

But there are a bunch of different things that I need to do before I can get into serious training mode for a marathon. Stretching, strength training, specific exercises and moves that are supposed to help get the left side of my lower body back in working order. There might wind up being new shoes or custom orthodotics. I basically have to wait until the pain goes away before I can start running and then I have to take a much slower approach to building up mileage so that I can run distances without all of this happening.

I took all of this in during my appointment, asked appropriate questions, went home and called Dana-Farber to tell them that I would have to withdraw from the marathon team, but that I would be reapplying for 2011. I got in touch with the various people who had been sending me wishes of luck and support for the appointment, as they knew it was a big day for me. I settled in to finish the work I’d missed because of the appointment.

And then I cried and wallowed. I went to the liquor store, bought a bottle of wine, waited for my friend Rachel to come over and keep my disappointed self company, ordered Chinese food and watched My So-Called Life.

That was the appropriate thing for me to do in that moment. But now it’s about spinning this into something positive. So when I woke up today, I did so confident in the fact that I didn’t fail or lose by accepting that my body needs certain things before I can reach my goal of running Boston. The timeline changed, but the goal remains the same. When I cross the line, I’m going to do so with a smile on my face, without pain in my knee and secure in the knowledge that I didn’t give up.

(Crossposted on Operation 26.2)

Honestly, signing up for and running the BAA Half Marathon on Sunday was worth it the moment I started to walk down Lansdowne Street during my meandering route to the start line. It was a crisp morning and I’d seen dawn reflected off the windows of the Hancock as the Red Line passed over the Longfellow Bridge. Fenway was waking up, slowly starting to prepare for the playoff game just hours away, and I was able to walk the sidewalks surrounding it in quiet, soaking up inspiration and touching Teddy’s cleat for good luck.

The knee felt great and my body was wired despite my complete inability to sleep the night before. I felt like a runner ready to take on the course. I’d trained, prepared and psyched myself up, and the confidence was only bolstered by the text messages I was receiving from friends and loved ones.

(Know a runner? Send them an encouraging text before a big race. It does make a difference.)

I was blaring Kevin Rudolf (“Let It Rock”), Jay-Z and Linkin Park (“Points of Authority/99 Problems”) as I made my way down Jersey Street to Roberto Clemente Field, where I laced up, pinned, stretched and quelled the jitters that were starting to set in. When the horn sounded, my part of the 5,000 runner field cheered and began to bounce up and down as we walked our way up to the starting line and took off past the crowd of well-wishers on either side that created a gauntlet of positive energy that put a grin on my face I couldn’t repress.

The pace was slow during the first stretch, as the field was thick with runners committed to not overdoing it at the start. I wove my way in and out a bit over the course of the first two miles, all the while conscious of the fact that it’s easy to accidentally adopt a faster pace than you should. The adrenaline and competitive spirit can cut time off your pace that you come to regret in the later miles.

All in all, however, I was feeling good. Confident. Settled into a pace that allowed me to enjoy the signs that were on display, the clusters of friends and loved ones peppered along the route to cheer for a specific runner or – and this is truly awesome – to just cheer on all the runners. I saw a little girl clutching a sign that said, “HOORAY!” as she and her family cheered everyone on.

The field grew less dense and the crowds thinned as we made our way along, but the weather was perfect – sunny and warming up, but still a gorgeous autumn day – as I realized that I was feeling AWESOME. I knew that the knee would begin to bother me at some point, so I elected to make the most of the time I had and increase my pace. It was all about strategy: if it came to be that I would have to slow down my pace or walk, I’d be able to have more time with which to work and still reach the finish line before my 2 hour 30 minutes deadline.

half marathonWe wove our way along until we were crossing the Forrest Hills overpass. The view of the Boston skyline was gorgeous, putting into context how far we’d come. I chose to ignore how far we still had to go and focused instead on continuing my way through the Franklin Zoo to the halfway point…

…at which point the knee started to hurt.

Nonononononononono.

Technically, I had two options: push through or stop and have someone take me back to the finish line. But really, I had one option.

I don’t not finish things.

So the second half of my first half marathon experience was pretty much agony. I hobbled, jobbled (which is what I now refer to as hobbling and jogging at the same time), walked with a look that I hope was more “Eyes of the Tiger” than “pissed off girl” and otherwise counted down the miles that stood between me and my medal. I passed other walkers. Others passed me. Spectators cheered me on, some offering up the ultimate runner lie – “You look great!” – but one saying exactly what I needed to hear when she yelled, “YOU ARE SO STRONG!”

Truth. I was strong. I was running 6.5 miles on one freakin’ leg.

The pain intensified as I continued. What started with my knee spread up and down my leg until I could feel it at my hip and my calf. Whenever I thought to myself that I might not be able to finish, my stubborn side kicked in and told the rest of me to shut up. I had time to work with and I’d worked too damn hard to get to this point and give up. My plan was to power walk the last mile up until the bend in the road that signified the approach to the finish line. My family and roommate would be there and I wanted them to see me running.

About a quarter mile before the bend, that plan flew out the window.

“VICKIE!”

Oh, balls. I turned to see my mother waving. “HOW’S THE LEG?”

“IT HURTS!” OK, run time.

half marathon3I jogged as best I could up until the bend in the road, at which point the crowd thickened. “You’re almost there!” “You’re so close!” “KEEP MOVING!” I found myself responding, my legs picking up the pace and the adrenaline flooding for one last push so that I could run to the finish line and get myself my medal, some water and hugs from my loved ones.

I’ve run races where I’ve finished strong. But I don’t think I’ve been as proud to finish strong as I did on Sunday. Even though my time (2:22:55) wasn’t what I would want in a normal situation, I like to think that the half showed not only what I’m capable of now, but what I’m going to be capable of in future runs – whether another half, the 15k I’m running on Nov. 1 in Chicago or in April when I take on the full marathon.

This is what I did hurt? Just you wait to see what I do healthy.

Fact: Emergen-C is much more tolerable when you’re drinking it in a big glass of orange juice.

As I continue to battle the first cold of the 2009-2010 season, I can at least offer these snapshots from Sunday. As soon as I can form lucid thought (which, trust me, wasn’t happening today), I’ll fill you in on what running the half was like and what comes next.

Surprise Delivery!

running-4

mefenway

running-9

And this is what the end of a season looks like:
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