#deanslife · accessibility · equality · fitness · injury · racing

Stairs are not Sam’s friends

Image description:
The Girona Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona, is a Roman Catholic church located in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Girona.
Also, it has lots and lots of steps leading up to it!

Oh, old European cities. I love you. But I hate your stairs. SO MANY STAIRS.

Why do I hate stairs? They hurt my knees. It’s seriously painful even on days when I’m walking pain free. Down is way worse than up. Handrails help. I’m now a person who notices when they’re there and when they’re at the right height. I also sometimes worry that the stairs are making my knees worse.

So I turned to the Internet with my question. Dr. Google, do stairs simply hurt my arthritic knees or do they make things worse? Here’s a good a survey of the relevant literature.

“Stair climbing increases loads on the knee joints. And if we take into consideration the mechanical factor for appearing and progression of degenerative joint disease, it is clear that damage to joint cartilage increases with stair climbing. So reduced loads are beneficial for knee arthrosis.”

“Combination of stairs and weight or better loading and repetition of it is discussed as having some effect of knee joint degeneration. It is calculated that when someone is walking on plain ground he puts about 5 times the body weight or load in every step into the joint. When stairs are used or walking up or down hill the person is loading the knee up to 7 or 10 times the body weight or load according to the speed used. So repetition (circle of loading) – weight (and load) – and inclination of the ground has possibly effect of degenerative knee disease”

“The reasons why patients are advised to avoid them when OA shows up is that stairs are stress raisers, especially descending them. The point is that OA knees regardless the severity,  are often unstable and in these conditions stairs may  induce shear stresses on the cartilage and speed up the degenerative process. “

So I guess I should try to avoid them. I raised the issue at the knee surgery clinic on Monday when I was there for my regular appointment. Their message was clear. “You need to modify your activity. Avoid stairs when you can.”

See you on the escalator/in the elevator!

Though in these old cities there isn’t much choice.

Image description: Yellow brick buildings flanking a narrow walkway of stairs, in the old city of Girona.
Happy New Year! · race report · racing · running · traveling · winter

Race Report – Bettina’s New Year’s Eve 8k

In 2017, I started dabbling in running one or the other race, and discovered a wonderful one: the Bilbao – Rekalde San Silvestre 8k, which takes place on New Year’s Eve. My husband is from the Basque Country, so we spend New Year’s there every year. I had so much fun in 2017 that I decided to run it again on the last day of 2018. This time, I roped in two friends to run it with me. Overall, just under 2,500 other runners had the same idea. And it was even better than the year before!

I’ll get into this in a moment, but first, there are a couple of other things I’d like to talk about. The first is the reason I love this race: while there are of course some people who are there for the competition, the vast majority are there for the fun. People run alone, in groups, with their families, or dressed up in all kinds of costumes. My favourite this year were the two guys who came dressed as a trainera (a Basque type of rowing boat). In the head picture of this official blog post you can see them! There’s also a summary video of the race that gives you a good idea of the vibe (you really only need to watch the first half, the second half is more boring, unless you want to see how the winners did):

The second thing I wanted to talk about is slightly less fun: it’s the gender split of the race. There are only two categories, male and female, which is a problem unto itself, but the race this year was no less than three-quarters male. That doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy split to me. In fact, even in comparison to marathons in the US (a statistic I could find quite quickly), it’s quite poor. I’m not totally sure what is going on here. It’s a fairly short race (below 10k), not a very serious one, and cheap (10 euros) so it sends all the right accessibility signals, or so one would think… and yet. I was intrigued, so I looked into the data for Spain (from a few years ago) a bit. Generally, women are quite a bit more sedentary than men. For example, in the 25-44 age bracket, 55% of women never (!) exercise, compared to 41% of men. On the European scale*, Spain sits in a middling position overall regarding physical activity, but the difference by sex (again, the data is binary) is comparatively large. Possible explanations would be entirely speculative at this point – but our work, fit feminist friends, is not done.

For now, let’s focus on why I loved the San Silvestre even more this time than the year before. In 2017, it poured with rain throughout the entire race. This time around, we got spectacular blue skies (see picture below) and a perfect running temperature of just over 10°C. It felt amazing!

Runners gathering for the San Silvestre run in front of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum, with a spectacularly blue sky and curious onlookers.

Also in 2017, I was still getting into running and quite slow, and I suffered due to the hills along the route. But over the past year, I’ve been working on my hills quite a lot, and my overall running speed has increased. We’d decided to run the race in our pack of three, so the (supposedly) slowest in the group was our pacer – and he wasn’t slow at all! We ran pretty much at the speed I currently train at, so we did very well. It gets even better: the reason we did the time we did was that our first kilometre was really slow due to the masses of people at the start. Meaning that overall, I was actually faster than ever, aside from that first bit! And the really amazing thing is that I could have run even faster – but the way we did it was perfect because we stuck together as a team and had a fabulous time. Mission accomplished!

*There is so much interesting data in that Eurostat graph, I’m going to make it its own separate post, promise!

Guest Post · racing · running

How I Came to Run (Guest post)


by Christine Dirks

In my early forties I worked from home and would go for a walk mid-day to clear my head. If I was puzzling over something by the time I was home I had an answer. Three years later the half hour walk was more than an hour. I’d been active before but a routine was something new and I loved it.  One day, while walking, I thought, “Run for a few blocks and see how it feels.” It felt good. 


The running increased. Within a year I was running the route six days a week. Sometimes my son, then in late grade school, would ride his bike alongside. Often I’d pick a spot a few blocks away and run as fast as I could telling myself, “Go. Go. Go.” One summer when my sister was visiting she asked how far my route was. I didn’t know. “I’m going to measure it” she said. I wrote down the route which she then drove. She returned smiling, “It’s 10k.”


In 1998 I returned to university to earn my Masters in Journalism and I kept running. In many ways running kept things together. It was the busiest year of my life. I was working part time and my son was in grade nine with lots of homework requiring many trips to the library. We shared the one computer. Running relieved stress, gave me time to think about assignments and tell myself, as often as I needed to hear it,  “You can do it”.  When I was wondering about applying to the Masters program, I told my sister I was concerned about how tough the year would be. “Yes” she said. “But in a year it’ll be over and you’ll have your degree.” She was right and in that year I learned I could manage a lot more than I’d thought possible.

 
I never considered doing a race until I watched the 2000 New York City Marathon on tv and saw the lead women in those final few miles racing hard to the finish line. Their effort was palpable. In the summer of 2001 I registered for the fall marathon in Niagara Falls and joined a running group. One morning while waiting for the group to gather I noticed a poster in the store window. It was the age group qualifying times for the Boston Marathon. Now I had a goal. I was determined to meet the qualifying time for my age group and run Boston the following spring.


The training runs with the group were fun and the longer the runs the more I liked it. Half way through the summer I stopped taking walk breaks telling myself, “You’re not going to walk in the marathon so don’t walk in the training runs”. I had planned on not doing a race before the marathon. Then a running friend said it would be good to do one as I’d know how to handle nerves and pacing. It was good advice. I ran a half marathon and a month later as I approached the finish line at the Niagara Falls marathon and saw the time on the big clock I yelled “YES!!”.  I’d qualified for Boston.

I’m 67. I’ve run 181 races. I look forward to more runs, races, fun times with the running group and new challenges. This September I ran a 50 mile event. Had someone told me when I was young and tearing about that sometime I would run 50 miles I would likely have laughed and said, “I don’t think so.” But as with many things in life, you never know until you try.


Christine Dirks is a writer and editor in London ON.  Early in her career she worked in the Toronto book publishing industry where she specialized in international marketing. Later she wrote two weekly columns and features for The London Free Press. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Canadian House & Home, Canadian Gardening, Azure and other publications. Christine currently provides research, writing and editing services for individuals and organizations. 

fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running

Left and Right (Guest Post)

by Amy Kaler

The road is never neutral. You are always moving towards something or away from something, bearing dread, hope, anticipation, longing, as you go. No one is the same at the beginning of the road as at the end.

Roads are also risky. “Highwayman” was once a synonym for the worst sort of thieves, a “roadhouse” is a place where bad things can happen, and when someone titles a novel “The Road”, you know it’s not going to end well. By now, there may be nothing new that can be said about a road – the metaphor itself as exhausted as the travellers.

Speaking of exhausted –

In mid-September, I was running on a road near Banff, Alberta, and I was exhausted. It was my first official road race – Melissa’s Race, 10KM – and along with several thousand other people, I was pushing through rain, snow, sleet, freezing mud, and cold water in all its forms. The weather was not just bad, it was apocalyptic. At the end of the race I ran into a friend who regularly runs Death Marathons and the like, and he used words like “gruelling” and “excruciating”. So now you know I did make it to the end of the road. But I am getting ahead of myself.

By the second kilometre I wanted to give up. My knees hurt, my chest hurt, I could not run uphill in slush and breathe at the same time. I wondered desperately if somewhat dramatically whether it was possible that I would actually die, just fall over and die, in mid-race, and whether that would be better or worse than giving up and revealing myself as a quitter who couldn’t handle the road. This run is supposed to be visually spectacular, circling upward through mountains, but all I could see was the metre right in front of my wet shoes, and the peripheral view of other runners moving steadily past me. My MP3 player with its curated inspirational running music had given up on me a few hundred meters in, so I jammed the cord into my phone and listened to the same six Fleetwood Mac songs over and over. I had to stop. But I had to continue.

After a while I became aware of my feet. At first I noticed my feet because they were not cold, unlike most of the rest of me. Then I became aware of my feet running, side to side, right and left and right, like a pendulum swinging fast while moving forward. The oscillation started to weave into my monotonous survival-focused thoughts. I’m overwhelmed, I can’t keep going. I can do another hundred steps. I can’t do another hundred steps, I’m going to die. I can do another fifty steps. I can’t breathe any more. But I AM still breathing because I’m having this thought which I couldn’t have without oxygen in my brain. I have to stop before we get to the hill. I can keep going up the hill.

Eventually the thoughts narrowed down to I can’t run/I can run. I have to stop/I won’t stop. Left, right, left-and-right. Breathe in, breathe out. I can’t/I can. I have to/I won’t.

Many things invaded my mind, my imagination skittering around a wealth of images because linear thought was not really happening. I was bouncing amongst all the times when we say yes and no, real and unreal, what is and what isn’t, known and unknown. I was Vladimir and Estragon, who can’t go on/ will go on. I was a fresh Marine recruit at boot camp (when I first typed that, I wrote “boot can’t”) marching in cadence: I don’t know/But I’ve been told. I was a hundred therapists and yogis and spiritual teachers breathing: in with the good air, out with the bad.

Am I the only runner in the history of Melissa’s Race to fantasize that I was a yoga teacher? Left, right, left-and-right.

Every step was a question and a choice. Can I? I can. Left side, right side. I did not have the clean precision of a metronome. I was irreducibly organic and visceral, not mechanical. I tripped over roots, skidded on a Dixie cup discarded at one of the water stations and doubled-over a couple of times when I truly couldn’t breathe any more. I kept falling out of rhythm and then falling back into it. Left, right, sideways, then left-and-right again.

I have read that neurologists use diverse forms of bilateral stimulation, alternating sounds or pulses or light on the left side and right side of the body in order to calm erratic nerves and to help people integrate traumatic or awful memories into their present selves. I met no trauma ghosts as I was running, and even now as I write this, the awfulness of the cold and wet has moved away from me, become something I describe rather than something that I feel. But I can easily believe that the left-and-right, one-side-the-other-side, movement helped to draw me through a physically pretty intense experience.

I also believe that this back-and-forth of running opens into a bigger experience of ambivalence and contradiction. I’m in danger/I’m okay. I can/I can’t. I am/I am not. And all the while I am moving forward while I’m tiring out. I am not enjoying this road, but I’m not getting off it either.

You never know how far you can go until you stop, and at last I did stop, with ten kilometres behind me. In the final kilometre, my glasses fogged up so I was running through a fuzzy translucence in which I had to trust that there was an actual road in front of me, which is probably a metaphor for something. At the end of the road, I was indeed not the same person who began it. When I started, I didn’t know if I was the person who could run ten kilometres in terrible weather. I thought I was the person who would give in to the road, who might be humiliated by weakness and failure.

But I did get to the end of the road. I did it one step at a time, but more vividly, I did it step by step by step by step. I have to stop/I can keep going. I can’t breathe/I’m still breathing. I can’t/I did.

Amy Kaler is a professor and associate chair in the department of sociology at the University of Alberta. Her academic work can be found here: https://sites.google.com/ualberta.ca/amykaler/home?authuser=2. Her nonacademic writing about Edmonton can be found here: https://edmontonseries.wordpress.com/

competition · Fear · fitness · racing · Rowing

Maybe I’m not actually in it to win it

Have you ever believed a thing about yourself, just fervently believed and adamantly defended it, and then one day you’ve woken up and realized that perhaps what you’ve believed and defended has… changed? Or perhaps was never quite true – not in the way you had imagined, anyway – in the first place?

The-Race-Poem-Children-Race-To-Win

An image of six boys running on a school track; it looks like nearly the end of the race. The boy in the foreground is racing to win; the image is in sepia tone. What does this have to do with my post? Read on.

This story begins back in spring, when I hopped back into the scull at Leander, my new boat club in Hamilton, Ontario, full of keen interest. My bum was not even on the slide yet when I realized that the women I was now training with were experienced, serious, committed, and out to win.

Not that they are not completely amazing humans, balanced and sane and gorgeous, and not that they are not fun, or out to have fun. They are all these things too. And, OF COURSE, not that there is anything whatsoever wrong with wanting to race to win. On the contrary: I love winning. I LOVE WINNING!

Or so I thought.

Rowing with these women started to freak me out pretty much immediately. I was painfully aware that, while I’m strong as hell, my technique in a scull is not honed enough yet to be easy or natural; this is another way of saying that I kept yanking our boats off course because I’m strong enough physically, but still weak enough technically, to be something of a liability. I was hugely embarrassed about this from the get-go, because I knew these women needed an able and consistent teammate. I wanted to be that teammate. I did.

Or I thought I did.

I told myself: I’ll improve over the summer. It will come in time. There’s time! Training consistently will help! I will do the training required.

Then summer rose high, and I had (as usual) lots of work travel. (This is why I rowed much more casually back in London, Ontario, with my delightful and equally casual and fun teammate Jen. For us, the water was pure joy. PURE JOY. More on this later.)

So: despite my best self-talk, I got out to Leander’s regular masters practices much less over the summer months than I’d hoped. Or that I had told myself I had hoped, anyway.

I wasn’t in the boat enough to be improving, and I realized that; I chose not to sign up for regattas in the expectation that I would not be ready.

It all seemed sensible and logical enough in my head: just not quite ready, not yet.

After a while, and a chat with Cate, it dawned on me that something else might be going on – other than me being super busy.

My-Big-Duh

A large “Duh!”. Because, Kim, come on. DUH.

I realized I might be finding lots of excuses not to go to rowing practice, because actually I was scared of going to practice.

I was scared of letting my teammates down. The pressure to improve was destroying the pleasure, the pure joy, rowing held for me.

When I thought about it more, as the summer passed, I realized that I actually hadn’t been all that busy, not really. Actually, I had chosen not to go to many practices, or sign up for regattas, because the thought of racing was making me crazy nervous. The idea of getting to the race was making me nervous. The idea of spending a day at the race was making me nervous. The idea of driving back from the race was making me nervous.

Not because I didn’t want to win a race; don’t be silly. I LOVE TO WIN. But because … well, I didn’t actually want to race.

I realized: I. Did. Not. Want. To. Race. Not like this, anyway. Not now, anyway. Maybe not… ever.

Surprise, self. Surprise.

Autumn arrived, and then my teaching schedule and family commitments meant I could only reasonably commit to one practice a week. And then family health problems arose and made me so tired, so exhausted from the thought of even trying to row, that I just emailed my head coach and stopped. I should have done this long before, of course, but finally I had an excuse that was legit. Or that I thought was legit. “Family crisis!” sounds so much better than “Really just not enjoying it!”

But the truth is, crisis or none, after I emailed Greg I felt immeasurably better, lighter.

I want to be clear here that I’m not suggesting that racing is bad – hells no! If it is your cuppa, please head straight for the starting line! I also want to be clear that I’ve thought a lot about the mixed and complex feelings I was having around rowing practice over the last few months, and I’ve concluded that the cloud of expectation I felt around me about racing was really, powerfully, hampering both my love of the sport (which is real) and my desire to be better at it (which is real, too). I started out telling myself that of course I was going to race, and of course I was going to commit to all the things in order to make that happen. No excuses! But it turns out that hyper-motivator of a phrase was the opposite of motivating for me.

Early in the autumn, the head of the women’s crew and I found ourselves in calm water in the double one Sunday morning. She knew I was struggling but I doubt she knew the depth – almost certainly not, since I had only just begun to admit it to myself. We started talking about the club, its culture, and then I asked her about the Rec program: was it super loosey-goosey and frustratingly disorganized like Rec rowing often can be?

No! She told me. She sang the praises of the coaches and the structure and the fun of it. She told me it was how she had gotten interested in racing, inspired to leap up to masters. I suddenly realized that maybe I could grasp again the joy and fun of the learning that goes into rowing by dropping down to a low-pressure, no-stakes, but still structured and technically focused environment next season. Maybe I could actually develop a true, heart-felt, joy-filled desire to race one day.

Soon, we spotted a heron on the shore and stopped hard for a look. We commiserated about the heat building and the sweat beginning to ripple on our arms. Greg came by in the coach boat to chat about his new super-wicking shorts; we had a laugh and took away a pro sartorial tip. And I remembered the pleasures I take from the boat, when the pressure to perform eases off.

2207933758

A young woman half-sit in her single scull along a lakeshore, looking into a cloud-filled, orange sunrise. She is wearing a white sport top, blue sport shorts, and looks to have her hair in a braid across her right shoulder. This is not me! But maybe, next season, it might be.

See you next season,

Kim*

*This will be my last regularly post for a while. That family health crisis I speak about above is actually, really, a crisis, and I’ll be turning my attention there for now. I hope to write again before too long, though. Thanks for reading.

fitness · motivation · race report · racing · running

Have you amazed yourself lately? Try consistent effort and see where it takes you [aka Tracy’s epic 10K]

Image description: Ellen and Tracy selfie after MEC 10K. Ellen on left, blond hair with straight bangs, smiling, white tank; Tracy on right, smiling, short blond hair, sunglasses atop head, smiling, pink and purple tank, white earbuds cord hanging around her neck; trees and parked cars in background.
Image description: Ellen and Tracy selfie after MEC 10K. Ellen on left, blond hair with straight bangs, smiling, white tank; Tracy on right, smiling, short blond hair, sunglasses atop head, smiling, pink and purple tank, white earbuds cord hanging around her neck; trees and parked cars in background.

One thing that I’ve loved about the past six years since Sam and I started our Fittest by 50 Challenge and created this blog to document it is the way I’ve actually amazed myself.  When I was 48 and we were just embarking on challenge, I didn’t think of myself as an athlete at all. And definitely not as a runner.

Well, fast forward six years, well after the end of our challenge (Sam and I hit 50 in August and September 2014, respectively), and just two weeks shy of my 54th birthday. On Saturday morning at the MEC 10K race at Fanshawe Conservation Area I put my summer of 10K training to the test. My last race was in early June when I did the Guelph 10K with Ellen and Violetta. There, I ran with Violetta and had the goal of running a continuous 10K, no walk breaks. My time: 1:10:01.

This time I wanted to break 1:05. That’s a lot to shave off a race time, just so you know. Indeed, I confess to feeling as if it wasn’t going to happen. I trained consistently through the summer, following weekly training plans developed for me by my running coach, Linda from Master the Moments.  They were tough some days, with long interval repeats of 800m to 1K at uncomfortable paces. But I did them.

That’s when I started to amaze myself, actually. I would set out to do one of these interval workouts and think to myself, “Linda has got to be kidding if she thinks I can hit those paces for that length of an interval!” And by the time I had about 6-8 weeks of training under my belt, I was routinely hitting the prescribed paces, often even going faster than she asked me to go for all or almost all of the intervals. And that was despite a hot, muggy, uncomfortable summer.

Linda said to me a few weeks ago that she really thought I hadn’t yet reached my athletic potential. My first thought, “Coaches are supposed to say those sorts of things.” But she actually meant it. She doesn’t like to get too hung up on race time goals, but she believes that consistent effort in training can pay dividends on race day.

So I went into the Saturday race with the hope of breaking 1:05 but lacking the confidence that I would. Ellen came in from Guelph the night before to do the event with me.

Saturday morning was the first day in months that presented perfect running weather. Perfect! Cool but not cold. Light breeze. Zero humidity. When we got to Fanshawe Lake Conservation Area and parked the car we were cutting it close to the start time. We asked someone in the parking lot which was to the start line and she pointed in the right direction and then said, “Are you Tracy from Fit Is a Feminist Issue?” And then she talked about how she’s been following the blog and she likes it and she’s planning on power walking the trail race. I always get a kick out of meeting people who love the blog! So that sort of charged me up and we wished each other well in our respective races.

I am the kind of person who has to pee before movies, classes, runs, and yes, races. So as we walked past the bathrooms I told Ellen I needed to go in and she could go ahead. She said she’d wait but when I got out I couldn’t find her. Now we were really close to the start I thought, so I wandered over the to start area and saw a bunch of people with red race bibs like mine milling about. I milled about with them and Ellen was nowhere to be seen. After a couple of minutes, I asked some one if this was the 10K road race. Guess what they said? “They left a few minutes ago!”

Bam, I was outta there. Looking back, I wonder if that late start without a cohort to run with lit a fire under me that made me not just break 1:05, but come in at 1:04:25, a personal best for me!

I ran strong and continuous for the entire 10K. I eventually did see Ellen on her way back (it was 2x out and back for 5K each time, so we passed each other three times in all). I went in with a few strategies that served me well:

  1. I left my Garmin on my belt and vowed not to look at it after the race started. I wanted to check my stats later but I wanted to run by feel not the external cues of the Garmin, which can mess with my head.
  2. A friend of mine who has done a couple of iron distance triathlons said he gets through them by smiling (I’m sure it takes a little more than that, but whatever). I remembered that and decided smiling would be a good strategy. It wasn’t hard to do because I really did feel amazing on Saturday.
  3. This might sound strange and obvious, but I committed to pushing myself just enough to be able to sustain what felt like a strong pace but not so much that I would lose steam before 10K was over. I figured I could turn on the extra power near the end when I knew I didn’t need to have anything left in the tank.
  4. I absolutely didn’t want to walk at any point, and I made that decision ahead of time so there would be no question if my mind started to play tricks on me.

So, without the Garmin, smiling, pushing my pace, and committing to a continuous run, I ran the fast flat course in perfect weather. I could feel that I was running strong and steady. Instead of thinking I needed to walk, I actually felt pretty jazzed by the building momentum. I hit my rhythm and stayed there pretty consistently after 3K.

My younger faster colleague, Miranda, turned out also to be doing the 10K, and it was great to see her a few times and also at the end with her partner (also a colleague) and one of their kids. I got cheered on by a few other runners who know me through the blog and the book but whom I don’t know in person. At about 7K, one woman running towards me said she read and loved the book and that I was her hero! That almost made me cry but then I knew crying would slow me down so instead I let her beautiful comment motivate me (“you’re someone’s hero! Act like it! Go faster!”). Thank you to the lovely soul who said that to me.

When I hit the final turnaround and realized I only had 2.5K to go, which, come on, is hardly anything, I felt so good. I made a final decision that when I got to about 1K to go I would turn off the music and give it my absolute all. And I did just that.

When I crossed the finish line I hit “stop” on the Garmin. True to my word, I hadn’t looked at it since the race started. It read 1:04:31, not far off my chip time of 1:04:25. I was amazed. Seriously.

Now it’s true that had the conditions been different — a more humid day, a hillier course, less support from others, maybe even an on-time start — it wouldn’t have been the same. But whatever. I did it. I broke 1:05 and shaved almost 1:30 off of my previous personal record, set way back in 2014 at the Halloween Haunting when I was in top condition after my fittest by 50 triathlon season.

Between breaking my 10K record and consistently doing 3 sets of 12 pull-ups at the weight training studio, I’m feeling pretty amazed at the evolution of my athleticism. Confident and strong. Yes, I realize that 1:04:25 is not an epic time for some people. Lots of folks come in under 60 minutes for their 10K, some even under 45 minutes, closer to 30. Wow! I am truly in awe of those sorts of times. But I am also in awe of progress and personal milestones, and I think it’s okay to be impressed with ourselves sometimes!

That feeling will carry me to my next goal, which is to take the continuous running to a new distance–the half marathon. That will be a new challenge, but I think I can do it if I run smart at the Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon in October. I have the time goal of 2:25 in the back of my head. I will follow that pace bunny. But my main objective is to run continuous. Again with no Garmin. Between now and then I will stay consistent with the training that Linda has laid out for me.

Sam and I sometimes laugh about how boring our message is. No dramatic magical transformation that happens overnight. Just a moderate, easy going approach. Start small, put in consistent effort, challenge ourselves a bit, and see what happens. It really does yield amazing results, even if they kind of creep up on us.

Have you amazed yourself lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

competition · fitness · Guest Post · racing · running

Compare and Despair: Help, I’m so cliché, why do I keep doing it? (Guest Post)

Training run on Castle Peak in the Sierras

Do you have a particular someone in your life with whom you compete or whom you envy? For me, it’s my partner. Not surprising. We are most likely to compare ourselves to those closest to us. Love and envy are flip sides of the same coin. In my case, the bar is high. My partner is super smart, engaging and well-liked, successful in his work and (this is the part I’m going to get into in a moment) he’s physically gifted. That’s why I love him. That’s why he is a source of more frustration than I ought to admit.

I train harder and faster than he does and when we get to the starting line of an event, some inner switch flips and he often performs better than me. I should also add, he’s eleven years older than I am. WTF? Well That’s Fantastic, as a 9-year old friend of mine says.

Back in May it was the North Face Endurance trail half-marathon event near Bear Mountain in New York. At mile 8, he breezed past me. My mind switched to Radio Self-Laceration; the volume at level 11. Life is too unfair. Why do men have it so much easier in the world? Why do I try at all? What’s the point of even training? I’ll never be good enough. And so on. I pulled myself together enough by the finish line, so that I didn’t melt down (as I’m embarrassed to say I have done in the past, and, okay, in the past month on a run with several much younger mountain goats, who had the same starting line motivational effect on my partner).

My partner has pointed out that my competitive streak means I’m rooting against him. I want him to be slower than me, so that I can feel good. True. I’ve tried nuancing. I want us both to do the best we can, but my best be better. This line of logical reasoning is not a credit to me. Being competitive is not a bad thing, as Sam and Tracy point out in their book. But it’s not so healthy, when I can’t respond with the same aplomb whether I win or lose, following tennis great Chris Evert’s counsel.

This past weekend, we did another long running event. The Sierra Crest 30k –technical mountain trails; at altitude; and lots of climbing. For the week before the run, I was in mental prep mode. Counseling myself to just let it go. Let go of my competitive desire to do better. Let go of my idea of fairness. Let go of my tendency toward self-sabotage.

Easier said than done.

Race day. The smoke from California forest fires is the worst it’s ever been (some volunteers at aid stations are wearing face masks). My partner gives me a hug and kiss before we start. I press play and start listening to Krista Tippett podcasts, something I’ve never done before during an event. Off I go, ahead. After a few miles, David passes me. Off he goes, leaving me in the dust. I will not fall apart. I will not fall apart. I’m listening to a podcast about love in politics. I see my partner far ahead of me up a hill. I am overwhelmed by the small heartedness of my competitive streak. How can I not just be proud of his strength? I want to catch up to him, so I can say, “Have a great race. You’re amazing!” But he’s too far away. I feel lighter. Like maybe I’ve let go.

At the first aid station, I see that he’s refilling his camelback. I was never planning to refill, so I keep going. Besides, I always worry that if I stop, I won’t be able to start again. A couple of miles later, on the steepest downhill switchbacks, he waves to me from one switchback above me. He’s so cheerful. I’m already pretty spent. I use his imminence as incentive to keep going. Not because I want to beat him anymore. I’ve accepted that’s not possible and it’s fine. I just want to do my own best time.

Two more grueling hours pass on the trails. Mostly I’m alone. Three men pass me. None of them are my partner. I pass two of the men back. I catch a woman. We chat about the smoke. She unearths some new zest and takes off with one of the men who passed me. I never see either of them again until post finish line. I listen to interviews with Cory Booker, a US Senator I’ve long admired; with Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist whose specialty is moss; with Luis Alberto Urrea, a writer and poet; and with the great cellist, Yo-Yo Ma.

I finish in 3:53. I’m second in my age group (same as at the North Face run) and 10th among women. My partner finishes 8 minutes later.

How do I feel? Relieved. Surprised. Pleased. Competitive. Displeased with my competitiveness. Uncertain about whether I actually let go.

When it comes to my partner, finding the balance between my competitive spirit and the ability to let go of an outcome is as challenging as the rockiest, tree-rooted trails.

Please tell me I’m not alone in this. How do others solve for this balance?

Summit of Castle Peak on a training run

Mina Samuels is a writer, performer, fableog-ist, citizen, traveler, enthusiast and author of Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives and other books.