Friday, 27 May 2011

Running Report

(I'm behind on my running posts, having been distracted lately by writing my novel. So, this is from a run three weeks ago, written on the day before I left for Italy.)
A five mile run. Something about the neatness of the number five makes it seem significant to me. Then I translate it to a messy 8.05 kilometers and that all goes out the window, but I like to think that the distance is important. Today I ran a five mile run around the local track. I’m not going to lie or even dress it up a bit, it was slow and it was ugly. I’m doubting a lot of my choices right now.

For starters, there is the decision to run on the track. I don’t know what possessed me, but I think the reasoning went something like this: it is a pre-measured course, it is flat, and it is a relatively soft surface. Oh - and it was outside, as opposed to the least loved treadmill. Still, it was damned boring. This particular track happens to be surrounded by grass and pastureland, but it isn’t exactly scenic, especially after the 10th lap. A five mile run is roughly 20 times around the ridiculous oval of boredom and switching directions halfway did nothing to relieve my poor brain from the tedium.

Then I made another stupid decision. I decided to run without my headphones and music. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a big deal. When I first started running, the ipod didn’t even exist yet, and I ran without music most of the time. I had just finished reading this article on the pros and cons of running with music and felt like I would be doing myself a favor by listening to my footfalls and breathing. It wasn't good idea, as it turned out.  Coupled with endless trips around the oval, the rhythmic clap, clap, clap of my feet and sound of my ragged breathing only grated on my nerves. I think I started chanting the lap number at lap 15 just to give my mind something else to do.  That article I’d read - it also stated how music can lesson your perceived effort and improve your positive thoughts. I should have weighed those pros higher for this run.

The next issue wasn’t so much a decision I made as bad luck.  The black clouds were pretty ominous as I stepped out onto the track, so I suppose I could have chosen to go back to the gym and run on the treadmill, but five miles is a long time on the dreadmill at my current speed. I hoped the clouds would just blow over. They didn’t. So, the one thing that did break up the monotony of my run was the intermittent downpours of cold rain and gusts of chill wind. Thankfully I did bring my windproof/waterproof running jacket. It wasn’t so cold that my hands turned blue, and my running generated body heat kept me fairly comfortable. It just wasn’t helpful to my state of mind.

The thing is, five miles (or 8.05 kms) is the longest I’ve run since I was originally sidelined by plantar fasciitis in 2004.  As I started running my endless loops, it hit me that most of my long runs scheduled for the next four months would be a new long distance record for me. Well, a new distance since I started running again some 20 months ago. You would think this would be an exhilarating idea, but it was not. I felt a little intimidated. I started to feel doubt creep in about this whole crazy running idea.  It was a struggle to keep trudging along and some evil little voice kept telling me to just stop and go get a hot coffee.  Why the hell was I out running in this cold and wet wind around a stupid oval like a half drowned rat in a wheel? Ordinarily, my first mile of any run is where I struggle to get my head in the game, but this whole trip was a disaster.

This is when I started to doubt my biggest choice of all: to run the Great North Run Half Marathon. My pathetically slow five miler wasn’t even half the distance of my race, and I was losing my mind. I know that becoming a runner is about building mental fortitude as much as leg and cardio strength, but today I felt like I was failing on all fronts.

So, despite feeling no pain during my run and completing each mind-numbing lap, this run was miserable. Until the end. Once I finished that last lap and began my cool down walk, I felt on top of the world.  Heck yeah, I just ran five miles. I checked my sportband to confirm: five - sixteen minute miles. Oh my god. I added two minutes per mile to my slowest run yet. Cue ego deflation. Then I got home, and as I bent down to untie my shoelaces, I noticed how puffy my left shin seemed. Crap.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Running Progress Update

Yesterday’s run was a 5k (3.1 miles) on the treadmill. Not my favorite place to run, but with shin splints rearing its ugly head, I’ve decided to go with a smooth soft surface.  My pacing is just terrible, too, so I’ve been using the dreaded treadmill to try and work on that. I have to admit, it was not a brilliant running experience.  I had a big change to my running form about a two months ago now, and I’m still adjusting.  That change, in addition to minor lower limb injuries, has made my running difficult and full of effort. Plus, it has slowed me down considerably, adding as much as a minute per km (or 2 per mile) to my previous slowest times. I’m using muscles I’ve seemingly never used before, and I have to mentally scan my body regularly to ensure I’m maintaining proper form. It’s a real drag.

The run was tedious and I didn’t really enjoy it. However, I did get in the distance I needed, albeit at a time that makes me want to cry.  I’m not sure I can keep up this treadmill running - it is too demoralizing for me. After it was done, I did feel better. That is one of the (many) good things about running, even if the run itself is awful, you do usually feel better having run than not.

On a side note: I saw my physiotherapist this morning. More ultrasound and acupuncture on the shins, and I had her check out my new-ish shoes.  Apparently I bought them a half size too big. My feet have been swimming around in them with my light summer socks (hello-o!). I’ve already put about 160 km (100 miles) on these babies, and they did seem extra-roomy.  Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to this newfound space until switching a few weeks ago to a lighter-weight sock for spring. How did this happen, you might ask? Well, I went from a stability shoe with a heavy orthotic (way too much correction my PT said) to a neutral shoe with no orthotic. When I went to purchase these a while back, I asked to try on the same size I’ve worn in Saucony for years, and the running store didn’t catch on. To be fair, neither did I until about 100 kms, and even then, I didn’t mention it for another 60.  The store gave me a nice discount on my new, smaller shoes.  My they’re snug. Can’t wait to try them out. Could this be adding to my lower limb issues? We’ll see on Thursday.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Harrogate Spring Run - The Main Stray Loop

(This post was written originally about a month ago, just as the cherry blossoms began to bloom on the Stray Park in Harrogate, North Yorkshire)

I love to visit Harrogate’s Stray Park in the spring time. As far as running routes go, it is a pleasant enough spot year round, but in the spring, the paths of the park burst into color, lined with a succession of crocus, daffodil, and cherry blossom. These blooms are the first evidence that the long, dark North Yorkshire winter is finally coming to an end, and they hold the promise of warmer days with more light. In the weeks before the first bloom of the crocus, I find myself searching with desperation the parks, fields, lay-bys, and road sides of North Yorkshire for signs that their little heads are popping up from the soil. I keep thinking that, if I can just hold out for the flowers, those bright spots of color will carry me through ‘till summer.  And so they do.

The Stray is a large green area bordered on the sides by tall trees. There are a few paved paths that you have to share with those walking their dogs or riding their bikes, but I like to run under the trees, where the grass cover is thin enough for regular running shoes, but more cushy and less crowded than the paved paths. Plus, the paths don’t really ring the entire park and are prone to pot-holes.  My favorite time to go over to this area for a run is in the short period of time when the daffodils still have most of their blooms and the cherry blossoms on the trees lining two long sections of paths began to open up. So, for about a week or two, you have the lively yellow peering up from both sides of the paths and the pink blossoms drooping down over your head.

I like to start my run at one side of this part of the stray, running through the pink fluffy trees on my way to the main part of the park. The park loop doesn’t offer a long run, about 2.7 kms (1.7 miles) if you run a loop around the two largest sections, but I will start on the cherry blossom side, run down the path and cross the bridge over the train tracks, and run one or two loops around what I call the “main Stray loop.” I make sure and end my run with another pass through the second of the two cherry blossom lined paths, a sort of victory finish. For one, it is a slight downhill, which I enjoy for ending a run, and for two, I love coming back ‘round to the lovely pink foliage.

This year the week after the cherry blossoms first appeared was full of bright sunshine and warm mornings.  It was glorious, truly it was. Running the gauntlet of cherry trees, I felt like I was in a fairy tale.  The trees of Yorkshire tend to be blown into strange and leaning shapes, giving the plants a twisted and otherworldly appearance. The bright pink balls of blossoms contrasted against clear blue sky above and bright sunny yellow daffodils below, and the whole the whole view makes me think of a Dr. Seuss book, with impossibly vivid colors and comic shapes. I love it. The best part is the way the flower petals gently rain down on you as you make your way through.  If I run this route early enough, pink flower petals cover the paths and the fluffy carpet of petals swirl around my feet as I run in the morning breeze. Pure heaven and as delightful a way to start and finish a run as I can think of.

Running through the flowers, I don’t think about slow or how short my runs are. I don’t worry about injuries or training schedules.  I just feel genuinely happy to be outside and running. Unfortunately, the flowers don’t last long. After a full week away from the area, I returned for a jog and found the daffodils wilted and withered and the pink flowers replaced by green leaves. I think this is what makes me love the run more, knowing that I have to get out and run that route every day to take in the magical scenery before time runs out.  After all, in the end, time runs out for all runs, doesn’t it?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Hello Blog World

Who am I? What a paradoxically mundane yet profound question. Yet, there it is, staring back at me from the computer screen. I’m a runner.  It is fair to say that I am no accomplished runner, no runner of note. I’ve never finished a marathon. In fact, I’ve never finished a race beyond the 5k distance. I’m an injured runner, returning to the sport after quitting in 2004 due to injury. I’m a struggling runner, wrestling with self doubt, injury, fatigue, and only a vague vision of what kind of runner I want to be.  But, this is not all that I am.

I’m also a writer. I am no accomplished writer of note. I’ve never finished writing a novel. In fact, I’ve never finished any story of a length beyond a short story. I’m a lost writer, returning to writing after giving it up in 1998 in order to find a sensible career with a future. I’m a struggling writer.  I roll around in my mind with demons, writer’s block, self doubt, fatigue, and a tiny spark of inspiration that daily threatens to go out again, maybe this time forever. Even this is not the whole story.

So, what do the two have to do with one another, or more importantly, this blog?

The parallels between my runner self and my writing self have been lining up more and more each day. I find that running has become a metaphor for my life and writing a metaphor for my running. They nurture one another somehow. When I run, I feel more creative, more positive, more focused, more optimistic, more ME. That was the question I started with, after all. Sometimes I don’t know who Jennifer is, but I almost glimpse my long forgotten and neglected true self on the running path. I’m chasing after her, after me.

Then there is the travel. I love to travel and have spent the last few years living as an expat in England and traveling around Europe. Running is a great way to get to know, not only yourself, but a new place and, to some degree, its people. It is fine and good to drive around in a car or ride the bus or train, but if there is one thing that Europe has taught me, it is that if you really want to know a place, you have to slow down and you have to use your feet. Running puts me in a sort of meditative state where I really notice the little things around me. I start to absorb into my surroundings and there is less between me and the place when I am running through its streets and paths.

That’s it, that’s why I’m writing and why I’m writing about running. When I run around the world, I feel more in tune with it and with myself. I don’t know what it all means yet, but I’m hoping that writing about it will bring some clarity.

Oh, and like all runners, I simply love to talk about running. My husband doesn’t run and most of my friends think I’m mad, so maybe someone out there will understand the obsession and enjoy my musings on the subject.

I plan on blogging about running in general, running while traveling, my training and how all of this informs my life and me as a person. If I buy a new pair of trainers or find a new gadget, read a running book I can’t put down or discover some interesting running trivia, I will probably dedicate a post or two to my experiences with them.  I’ve also started taking pictures of my running routes, and I’ll try to incorporate sites such as so that you can plan your own running adventures or follow try a suggested route.

I look forward to any feedback, be it praise or constructive criticism. If you have a favorite run I should try in the UK or Europe, let me know. I may not get to it (or may have to work up to it), but then again, it could become my new favorite route. I’m just starting out on this adventure, and I’m open to suggestions. Leave your own running obsessions, routes, thoughts, quotes, gadgets, etc., in the comments. Feel free to email, too.