Live to Run Another Day

For as much as writing and running share, it surprises me how difficult it is to write about running. I can write about the logistics of training. I can describe the landscape of a favorite route, but ever since I tried to write that Faulkner-style stream of consciousness (HA THIS WAS AN ACTUAL ASSIGNMENT I HAD) about the state cross country meet back in 12th grade, I’ve realized how impossible putting the spirit of running into words is.

I’ve been training for the New York Marathon since July. I signed up for the race after I ran 1/2 a mile postpartum. I’d been in physical therapy for pregnancy-related hip problems and had just been cleared to start running again.

This summer, I logged miles with my college teammates in Central Park, raced a cross country relay and logged miles at the local rail trail with my good friend and her high school aged daughter. I PRed in the half marathon (the first PR I’d run in any distance since 2007) in October. I know it doesn’t sound credible, but I don’t think I had a single bad run this training cycle.

Last Tuesday I was in the middle of what I thought was my “third-to-last” hard run, the warm up with the double jogger, tempo run on the treadmill at nap time, when something went wrong. I took time off, saw my PT three times in the last week, stretched, rolled, iced, took anti-inflammatories…and then, when I still couldn’t run more than ten minutes without pain last night, I decided to defer the race.

I haven’t cried yet (though I probably will). Instead I feel relieved. I’m proud of my half marathon PR. I feel sad to see the day I imagined (watching the sunrise on the ferry, smiling through all five boroughs, celebrating with friends and family after the race) slip away, but I’d feel even more sad if I couldn’t run for weeks or months.

Running while breastfeeding with two young kids is so different from any kind of running I’ve done before. Not necessarily because it’s harder (though sometimes it’s certainly harder logistically) but because it requires so much from other people. On long run days, I often dug into our freezer stash (of breastmilk) for Simon. I asked Nick to take on the first three hours of the day solo. Maybe because I tried to be aware of how much I was asking from the people I love most that I cherished those runs that began in the dark or on tired legs or were squeezed in before someone woke up from a nap. But, I’m realizing this morning that even though the big goal race isn’t going to happen, those runs themselves were always part of the goal.

It’s hard to untangle running goals from dreams of invincibility and youth. It’s thrilling to run faster at 35 than I did at 24 (especially since I was already a serious runner, just out of college training, at 24), and the chance to PR in the marathon is seductive. Even as I’m finishing my course of naproxen and scheduling PT visits for the rest of this week, I’m thinking about which marathon I might do–New York next year? Something else? I’m dreaming about another summer of early miles as much as I am about the race itself.

A Bonus Run

A few weeks ago, I had what I assumed was my last run. I felt okay while I was running, and wasn’t worried that anything was wrong for Baby Scone (or I wouldn’t have been running to begin with), but felt so much pelvic pressure, and felt so slow that it just wasn’t fun. I had to stop frequently and never really got into a rhythm. I was happy to have made it running off and on (more off at the end) for 37 weeks of pregnancy, and ready to take the longest running hiatus of my life as I waited for labor, delivery, and the necessary recovery time to come.

And then, yesterday morning, I went for a run. It was unseasonably warm. I’ve been on maternity leave long enough now that I’m getting a little antsy, and I just had this feeling that it would feel good, rather than painful, to run. And it did. I probably only ran about a mile, in five minute increments. But, I saw another runner out there, and felt some community with him (though since I was behind him the whole time, he didn’t see me or know about our running community bond). The high from the mile run lasted for hours. It was interesting to observe this because, I didn’t feel free, light, fast, or like I could run for ages, the feelings I usually associate with runs that give an hours-long high. I just felt like myself.

I Don’t Care What it Puts Me Through

Now that my running has mostly become walking or waddling (this is what lifting my knees and going through running-like motions really looks like these days), I decided to download an audiobook for the days when I’m on the indoor bike or craving more privacy than walking around town 8 months pregnant affords). I’m listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love right now (a little late to the party on this one, I realize). I figured this would be a good choice because it’s a book I’d like to have read, but don’t feel compelled to actually savor one word at a time (like I do with Marilynne Robinson’s new novel). Yesterday, I was circling around the soccer fields at the school where I teach when Gilbert (who narrates the book) read this passage:

Still, despite all this, traveling is the great true love of my life. I have always felt, ever since I was sixteen years old and first went to Russia with my saved-up babysitting money, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless, newborn baby–I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to–I just don’t care.

This is how I feel about running. I’ve often thought about running as my first true love. A transformative, empowering, humbling love. I miss running (rather than waddling) immensely right now. I’m excited, nervous, eager for the actual newborn that I’ll meet soon, but I’m also scared that this new love will replace what has defined me for decades. Not because I have to be a runner, but because I know myself best this way.

Year 32

Friday was my 32nd birthday, and in the weeks leading up to it, I had been thinking a lot about everything that happened since my last birthday.

 

We got engaged.

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I ran the Twin Cities Marathon.

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I coached our girls cross country team to the highest state finish in more than 20 years.

We got married.

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We went to Hawaii

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We bought & started building a house

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I got pregnant.

Hannah won nationals and broke the national sophomore record.

We took our wandering road trip.

I finished the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on since 2011. 

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I know it is unrealistic to think life will slow down, and I don’t want it to, but I would also feel okay about having fewer major life changes between now and turning 33. Yesterday was a quiet birthday. Nick and I went for a run at the beach before work, and out to a delicious dinner after work. Kids come back to school on Monday, cross country season starts, and by early December, we’ll no longer be a family of two. 

This weekend was such a perfect way to end the summer that even though I’m excited about some new things I want to try in my classroom and the cross country season, it feels a little like I’m being ripped out of the house this morning. 

 

The [Taboo?] Penance of the Long Distance Runner

A few years ago, I wrote a piece for Running Times, loosely modeled on Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (not calling myself Rilke here!). I had been thinking a lot about how running has changed me, and the things that adult, teacher and coach-me wishes she could tell that insecure 14-year old on the first day of cross country practice. Before I started running (because I got cut from the volleyball team), I was an overweight, self-conscious 13 year old with frizzy hair and braces. I came in last in our team’s mile time trial at the end of the first week of practice, even though the time (still remember it: 8:12) was a PR (though I doubt I knew this term at the time). I wore flannel boxers and basketball shoes to practice. I had to walk more than once on the loop that would eventually become my warm-up.

I was trying to convey how becoming a runner totally changed the way I thought about my body, and in turn, myself. Instead of being embarrassed by it, for the most part, I was proud of what it could do. I wrote about how I eventually ran a marathon faster than that first mile time trial pace, and about how despite spending that entire first season of cross country counting down the days until the season ended, I now can’t imagine my life without practice at 2:45 each day. 

When I wrote the piece, I was coaching at a high school one town over from the one I myself attended, and now, I actually coach at my own alma matter. My high school coach is the boys’ coach and I coach the girls. We run the same routes, and some (though I try to be more innovative than this might suggest) of the same workouts. We return to the same park each October for our conference meet, and each October, I see this park magically transformed from the place where I’ve logged hundreds of long runs, fartleks, and tempo runs, to a place that still makes me short of breath with nerves. 

The piece I wrote for Running Times, though, was only part of the truth. Running did allow me to forgive myself for what I (still, to be honest) do consider the embarrassing failure of my adolescent self. I’ve grown to equate pre-running me with slothful me, lazy me, overweight me, worthless me. In part this is because running gave me something physical in which to take pride, and in the way that distance running has for so many others, the discipline of distance running really did change me as a person. I spent the entire summer after my freshman year determined to run away from the girl I’d been (slowest on the team, chubby, awkward). I can still remember running up Route 33 on muggy afternoons visualizing a varsity letter always a step ahead of me. The only person who wasn’t surprised when I made varsity on a team that went all the way to the New England championships the next year was me. I was too naive to understand that I wasn’t built like a runner, and that even novices don’t typically shave off minutes per mile in a year.

Sticking with running through those first hard months is, without hyperbole, one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. Becoming a runner, and everything that entailed (someone who took care of her body, someone who made fresh air, alone time, exploring new routes, pushing her body to the limits of competition and learning not to fear, but instead to relish, that pain) have defined me on and off the track. I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t worry about if I can endure something unpleasant for the sake of something that I think is important. 

After our honeymoon, my husband and I were showing his parents pictures and a few videos we’d taken on our trip to Hawaii. One of the videos Nick had recorded on his phone, mid-run. It starts out with the back of my head, my ponytail swatting around sticky with sweat and the wind from the Pacific muffling any other sounds. Then, I must have realized Nick was recording and I turn to wave, smiling hugely. When his parents saw the video, they both commented, clearly surprised, about how happy I lookedOf course! What in the entire world could be more joyful and free? I was running along the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii on my honeymoon while Connecticut got pummeled with the season’s 438th snow storm! Why wouldn’t I be happy?! Because most people associate running with grueling penance, tiresome drudgery, or side stitches and sore knees, I realized. 

Today, though, I spent a lot of time thinking about how the fact that I started running all those years ago to run away from something about myself cannot be ignored: my own penance. There’s a fine line between self-loathing and dedication, and I don’t mean just for me. I’m often asked what makes a given runner I coach successful, and usually it’s some combination of talent, hard-work, and willingness to be uncomfortable. This answer is something I’ve been surprised to learn makes people uncomfortable. I’m not sure what exactly about this it is that makes people uncomfortable: the idea of success requiring physical pain? The notion of masochism being, in some (if not all) cases, a prerequisite for success? The image of a teenager in physical pain for something as unessential to survival as sport? It had never occurred to me that there was anything shameful or taboo about success in distance running requiring not just a high pain tolerance, but a respect for pain.

Now that I’m pregnant, my relationship to pain, and as a result, to running, has changed. (I expect it will change again in ways I can’t even fathom once I face labor and delivery.) Pain can’t be the goal; avoiding pain is the goal. I’m running, wogging, or, increasingly, walking, in search of fitness and some peace of mind. Today, as I blew my nose into the hem of my maternity dress, I was struck by the realization that the peace of mind running brings me has always been deeply tied to my ability to endure pain.

Of course part of what I love about running I can still do: see new places, get fresh air, have some time to myself. But part of what I really miss, I’ll have to wait several months to experience again. I miss being in so much pain that I can’t think. I miss the high that comes from having made my body do something I doubted it could do. I miss being sore in the mornings or so hungry at night that I’d eat my shower curtain. Part of what running has always been about for me is about obliteration of something shameful (laziness, sloth, a past self buried deep inside), but also about the peacefulness that comes from the obliteration of consciousness. 

I am immensely grateful that I’ve been able to keep waddling as long as I have, and although it’s getting harder to stay comfortable and my pace is slowing, I do hope to be able to continue running for awhile longer. I am, as I hope goes without writing, beyond grateful that I have the luxury of contemplating missing physical pain during pregnancy when so many women are in scary, debilitating pain during pregnancy. But, as I’ve been a little surprised to find out, the escape that running has always offered me is more elusive than fresh air and solitude; it has to do with a mind-body synchronicity that’s almost spiritual for me. Figuring out what specifically I miss (after I blew my nose into the hem of a second maternity dress–not joking) was a relief, but at the same time, realizing that I’m still running away from something–or maybe more accurately someone–revealed a dark underbelly to something that I generally associate with pure, unadulterated joy. 

When Am I Going to Get Really HUNGRY?

Even though I’m 31, I don’t have many close friends who have kids, and those who do mostly had kids before I met them. Our daughter will be the first grandchild on both sides of the family, and I’m the first of my cousins to have kids. I’ve never been to a baby shower (not complaining). In the past few days I’ve been reading a lot of internet garbage about pregnancy and childbirth. Everything from healthy living mommy blogs with gratuitous photos of bellies to message boards to WebMD. Part of this might be because we go back to school next week and I’m procrastinating syllabus writing and unit planning, but I think part of it is because it’s hard to feel like I have a real-life community of nervous/excited/confused/bloated women to talk to.

I’m not a big group-joiner, so I don’t see myself making buddies at prenatal yoga or through our childbirth class, but all this internet mindlessness did get me thinking about what it is that’s surprised me about being pregnant.

1. I sort of imagined I wouldn’t look pregnant for a few weeks, and then BAM would look 7 months pregnant. I still feel like I appear to be ambiguously full/overweight.

2. Had I realized that strangers might stare at me (when running, when trying to discern if I am in fact full or pregnant), I would have realized I’d hate this, but since I didn’t realize how many people openly stare at pregnant women (or probably anyone who stands out for any reason), I’ve been surprised to feel extremely self conscious almost anytime I go out in public. I don’t even like seeing people I know and love that I haven’t seen in awhile because I get nervous they’re going to want to look at (or worse–TOUCH) my belly.

3. I kept waiting to get really hungry, and I’m kind of sad that that’s never happened. I also haven’t had any weird cravings. Or, at least not what I’d call cravings. I decided maybe I’m just really bad at self-denial all the time, and so eating a bowl of ice cream after dinner or some chocolate in the middle of the day is nothing remarkable. I’m running about 20 fewer miles a week than I used to, which I guess is enough to make up for pregnancy ravenousness. Which is too bad, because one of my favorite things about running a lot is getting really excited about dinner (or dessert). I was hoping for some 3pm “MUST HAVE A MILKSHAKE RIGHT NOW” episodes.

I’ve been really lucky (it seems it really is just a matter of luck) to be able to continue running and feeling pretty good. I’ve been running between 20-30 miles a week this trimester, usually 6 days/week with mostly 3-5 mile runs. I’m not sure how much longer this will be possible, but I’d love to be able to run with some of the new girls when cross country starts in the fall.

A lot of the things I’m not supposed to or can’t do haven’t seemed appealing. While there was a time in my (grad school) life when I’d have an afternoon snack of a latte and a chocolate covered espresso beans, I’m okay with my one cup of coffee in the morning. I’ve probably had about 10 turkey sandwiches in my life. I’m a little squeamish about raw fish anyway, so I’m happy to have an excuse to get my avocado rolls without eliciting eye rolls from sushi-loving companions. And, since all cheese made (and most sold) in the U.S. is pasteurized anyway, I’ve not minded reading the label before continuing on wholeheartedly with my goat and brie cheese loving ways. But the things I do miss…

1. a good, hard, exhausting, crash-the-rest-of-the-day long run or race (followed by calf-slicing pain when trying to walk downstairs in the morning)

2. wine (especially sipping a glass of wine while I cook dinner and catch up with Nick about our days)

3. disregard for sleep (I used to be an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” person, particularly fond of pre-dawn solitary writing or running time)

Luckily, I have a feeling that the first time I try to run after the little scone arrives, it will probably be hard, exhausting and, even if I can’t crash for the rest of the day, will probably result in pain walking down the stairs in the morning. I’ve also heard that I’ll have no problem finding a way to be sleep-deprived.

Cross Country Running

We’re home!

I decided not to bring my laptop on the road, and I do not have the patience for typing on a tablet.

But, now, we’re home and safe and glad to see our cat. So glad to eat healthy food, in fact, that I had a kale salad and beet juice (I thought it was berry juice!) for lunch.

I felt pretty good for most of the trip and we were able to run in a bunch of new places. There is nothing that makes me feel more like I’ve really explored a town as much as an early morning run. Since we decided to document our trip, I actually arrived back home with a lot of pictures from these morning explorations.

 

 

first stop: Sutton, WV, where I worked for the Kerry Campaign in 2004
first stop: Sutton, WV, where I worked for the Kerry Campaign in 2004
morning run through Wash U (and then Forest Park) in St. Louis
morning run through Wash U (and then Forest Park) in St. Louis
my favorite trail of all time: the Levee Trail in Salina, KS. So peaceful and open.
my favorite trail of all time: the Levee Trail in Salina, KS. So peaceful and open.
Rapid River trail in Rapid City, SD
Rapid River trail in Rapid City, SD
post-run view of our Cody, WY hotel
post-run view of our Cody, WY hotel
Rankin Ranch in Missoula, MT
Rankin Ranch in Missoula, MT
crisp morning along the Yellowstone River in Billings
crisp morning along the Yellowstone River in Billings
Cedar Lake, Minneapolis - magic running place
Cedar Lake, Minneapolis – magic running place

 

post-run ice cream on the terrace at UW-Madison with my college teammate, Britt
post-run ice cream on the terrace at UW-Madison with my college teammate, Britt

Running in the First Trimester

When I first thought that I might write about being pregnant, one of the things I thought I’d write a lot about was running. I spent the weeks before I knew I was pregnant reading everything I could about running through pregnancy, and loved the few blogs I did find that gave specific information. Not because I wanted a training plan to follow, but because I (obviously) like to know what to expect whenever possible. My college teammate and I went for an easy run last weekend and she reminded me that our assistant coach was pregnant during our senior year, and I realized: she’d been the person who let me know, without ever saying anything at all, that it was okay, healthy, and for some people, happy, to run through pregnancy. Suddenly, I remembered 8-month-pregnant Coach at our conference meet, the team jokes about what would happen if she went into labor at Nationals (I vaguely remember that she stayed home for that trip since it was so close to her due date). Nothing every seemed strange about Coach running with us on our easy days (at some point I’m assuming she ran with slower groups rather than the varsity runners, but now I can’t remember), and remembering all of this has been a good reminder how the overall message, that she cared enough about the sport, and about us, to keep coaching even when she obviously had other important things going on in her life, stuck with me much more than if she missed a meet or a practice or sat out some runs (things I’ve been worrying about with my girls). I hope I can be that role model to some of the girls on my team.

So, how have I been feeling on the run? Pretty good. Last Thursday I did my last training run with the varsity girls. We were doing an easy 5 mile loop, probably around 8:00 pace, when I noticed that the hills felt tough, and that I was breathing hard enough to make my stomach feel a little uncomfortable. At first, I thought that our typical pace-pusher (every team has one, right? It’s a lovable position, but usually a single identifiable person) was leading us a bit faster than we needed to be going, but then I listened to the breathing around me, and noticed that all the other girls seemed fine, chattering away about plans for Memorial Day weekend and goals for our upcoming conference meet.

I’m going to miss running with the girls because it’s the time I’ve used to check in with as many of them individually as possible, and because it’s so much more convenient than running at 4:30am (before school) or after a 12 hour work day when I get home. At the same time, it’s been nice to run alone, watch free, and at whatever pace strikes my fancy. This week, I’ve been participating in a consultancy in another district, so I’ve had a little more time in the mornings to enjoy beautiful, crisp spring mornings and then feast on consultancy-provided pastries all day (what is it about those costco brownies they always give you at these things that makes them irresistible?). Just in the past few days, I’ve started to notice that I’m consistently a lot hungrier than I was a few weeks ago (though I have to say I have yet to feel anything that compares to 70 mile-a-week hunger).

If any future or recently pregnant ladies are snooping the internet trying to find out what another pregnant stranger is doing in terms of running while she’s pregnant, here is how my past two weeks have gone. (For reference, before I got pregnant, I was running about 45 miles a week; I always run 7 days a week [for sanity not out of insanity, I promise] and typically did 1 or 2 speed workouts with the high school girls I coach and 1 long run of about 10-12 miles on my own. Most of my runs were between 7:30-8:30 pace and I was in shape to race about a 19:45 5k/1:30 half marathon.) Rather than boring anyone who might be reading with the details of which route, who I ran with, what time of day, etc., I thought I might just screenshot my training log calendar.

This log shows from the middle of the 7th to middle of 12th week of pregnancy:

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Some days have felt slow and sluggish and sore-chested. Other days, like yesterday’s sunny but cool morning when I’d promised myself a giant scone for breakfast post-run, have felt surprisingly wonderful. The biggest change, besides my pace slowing and being tentative and uninterested in doing any speed workouts or really long runs, is that I can’t run on an empty stomach. Hills feel proportionately harder than flat running does (maybe due to extra weight? As of last week, I had gained four pounds, but feel like I’ve been gaining a pound a day since then, so who knows).

I recently ordered a support band for when my belly starts to grow, and have been asking my midwife at each appointment if it is still okay for me to be running. I’m happy and thankful that I have been able to run and enjoy it so consistently so far, and am trying to remind myself on each run how grateful I am that this is still a part of my day.

 

Introduction: why the blog, and why not publish any of this yet

In the months before I got my positive pregnancy test, I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for information about how those first few days might feel. I knew that few (and in fact, I found none) women would write about those first few days publicly. We’ve had our two-line stick for three days and have only told our parents, and we don’t plan to do so anytime soon. I’ve never been pregnant before, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to feel like.

Is this nausea or cramping? Should I feel sicker? Less sick? Am I eating too much? Is it just me or do I already feel fatter? Is it okay to keep running? It has to be. I have to. I miss wine. I read coffee is okay. But what if it isn’t?

My thought was that if I chronicled the way I’m feeling–as a runner, but also as a writer, a teacher, a human–that there might be a time when I felt comfortable sharing these early thoughts and that these might be helpful to another runner, writer, teacher, human woman out there.