fitness · running · training

Tracy Grapples with Scaled Back Around the Bay 30K Training

Image description: Tracy head shot, smiling, sunglasses, ball cap with a buff to cover ears, ear buds, and a zipped up running top, urban landscape of road, buildings, and two small trees in a winter garden in the background.

Yes, I’m a proponent of doing less, scaling back (also see “Let’s Be Realistic: It’s Okay to Scale Back”), starting small, and that whole family of kinder, gentler approaches to working out. But hello, I’m training for the Around the Bay 30K on March 31. That’s less than three weeks from now.

And the furthest I’ve run in recent weeks is 24K (or was it 22K?). And that’s the furthest I’m going to run. Because my running coach, Linda from Master the Moments, has me working on intensity over distance. I confess that I have told her more than once I’m worried that I haven’t done the distance. She assures me that I can.

It’s an approach that I’m not used to. Usually when I’m training for a distance, I make sure to cover that distance at least once, even exceed it sometimes, to feel confident that I can do it. But this training cycle I went to India (where I only got in one treadmill run) and I’ve been doing a lot of treadmill training this winter, and when I got back from India I got slammed with a cold, and just generally life has been harder than usual so I’ve needed more sleep.

So when I got back from India Linda switched things up. First, when I had that cold, she had me doing ONLY easy runs. “Just get back into it,” she said. “Get your legs used to moving again.” It felt like permission to do something that I needed to do. What it accomplished was that it got me moving where a more daunting commitment would have had me saying “forget it.” Linda is smart that way.

But I expected that when the cold went away (it’s just started to subside and not quite all gone), she would be upping my distance again. But instead, two weeks ago my “long run” was 45 minutes (Anita did 24K with the Running Room). Then this weekend it was an hour: 30 minutes easy, 15 minutes moderate effort, 15 minutes hard effort (Anita did 26K with the Running Room).

She increased the intensity on the in between runs too. For example, I was assigned 6x800m repeats at a hard pace (I managed 4x800m), with a warm up and cool down to equal 8K (I managed 7K).

Here’s the thing. I’m doing it but I’m feeling nervous that it’s not enough. Again, Linda reassures me that I will finish. Switching up the paces, especially with the hard effort at the end, reminds me that I have more than one gear. I have done 30K before (heck, I’ve done 42K before), and I wasn’t nearly as fit when I did that, so in some sense I know I can do it. Also, I was having IT band issues manifesting in my knee before India. Now nothing. Mind you, that only kicked in at 20K, so I guess we’ll see on race day.

And here’s the other thing: I am enjoying the training and feeling strong. Yesterday I went out for that 60 minute with the increasingly difficult paces, and it felt amazing. It helped that spring was in the air. I’m going to need to strategize my Around the Bay a bit, breaking it up into 10K segments. I am a little concerned that I won’t be able to keep up with Anita, who is a machine right now, clocking the mileage in preparation for ATB.

But I guess we will see how it goes on race day. I’m less keen to do 10-1 intervals than she is because, to be frank, though I can look forward to the rest intervals, I find it hard to break my momentum and restart it again. I realize there are pros and cons, but psychologically I fare better with a walk-through-the-water-stations strategy than a 10-1 interval strategy.

Have you ever done a long race on training that puts intensity before distance? if so, how did it go?

clothing · gear · running

I Bought Running Gear First After A Year of No Shopping

In 2018, I challenged myself not to shop for clothes, shoes, handbags and jewelry for the whole year (I wrote about it here: Making Room In My Mind: A Year of No Shopping). Throughout the year people kept asking, “But what about sports clothes? What about running shoes!?” 

My answer was that I would make an exception, if I had to. After all, running shoes are a matter of physical health. I wasn’t going to risk an injury running in worn out shoes. As for sports clothes, well, it’s amazing how long one can keep on going in tights so stretched out the crotch is bagging down around mid-thigh. Never mind desiccated running bras that make a snap-crackle-pop sound when you put them on, because the elastic has stiffened. 

January came. At first, I still couldn’t bring myself to replace items that had clearly expired. I’d grown too used to not shopping. Plus, I was worried that once I opened the door to let shopping back in, I’d slide right down the slippery slope with wild abandon and self-justificatory rationalizations.  I worried that “I want” would quickly become “I need”.

So, I waited. Then one chilly day I just couldn’t take the aggravation of running in droopy drawers. My only pair of extra-cold weather tights had already been darned multiple times and sagged like elephant skin. I got home and threw them out. The dam burst. I started throwing out all my defunct or beyond-grungy sports clothes—2 pairs of running shoes, 5 pairs of socks, a couple of bras, 3 pairs of running tights, a pair of yoga pants and 2 long sleeve base layers. 

I cornered myself with my purge, because now I really did need some new gear. So, I went shopping. What an adrenalin rush! Replacement running shoes, 2 new pairs of running tights in different weather weights, 3 pairs of socks and one long sleeve base layer in my favourite minty green. 

New blue running shoes, green and grey socks (with silver in them, apparently!) and a mint green base layer

If the shopping was a thrill, running in my new gear was even better! The ecstasy of brand spanking tights that hug the legs. The cozy comfort of fresh socks. The boing-boing spring of new shoes. Pleasures I had forgotten. 

I just spent two chilly, grey weeks in Champaign-Urbana, IL. But I didn’t care that the weather was discouraging for a run. I was so happy in my new duds that I looked forward to getting out in the icy, slushy, wet. Running is one of the important ways I tune in to myself and the world. Breaking my shopping fast with a stock up on running necessities was right for me. Fresh gear. Renewed attitude.  

Did my new running swag push me off the top of the slippery shopping slope? No. So far my no-slide crampons are holding. I haven’t gone crazy with all sorts of other clothing purchases. The joy of the new running clothes is more than satisfying for now. 

What’s your latest sports clothing pleasure?

health · injury · running · yoga

Yoga for what ails you

The idea of yoga as a strategy for managing what ails you is far from new. Before yoga was the trendy lifestyle package it has become today, I had B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Yoga: the path to holistic health. It was an illustrated book that laid out sequences of asanas (poses) recommended for different health conditions. It addressed physical and mental health, with an entire section devoted to stress. Back then, there was no YouTube. As a student of Iyengar yoga, I attended one class a week with the goal (as was the goal for most followers of Iyengar) of developing a strong home practice.

On occasion, if I was experiencing particular issues, I might flip to the section of the book that recommended a practice for those issues. But mostly I didn’t really take seriously the idea of yoga as a go-to for dealing with specific mental or physical health issues.

Fast forward 20 years. On Sunday, when my outer knee started to bother me at about the 7K mark of my 12K run, I knew my IT band was the culprit. I hate icing, but I know ice is recommended for the first 24 hours of any injury or flare-up. Besides that, though, it seemed obvious to me that there must be a sequence of yoga postures that would stretch that tight IT band and provide me with relief.

And I was right. I did an internet search for “yoga for IT band” and up came articles and videos for preventive and therapeutic yoga for runners with IT band issues. I zeroed in on one from Do Yoga with Me, specifically titled as a stretch class for runners for the IT band. I set up my mat and hit play.

Though I wouldn’t call the instructor the most engaging yogi I’ve ever taken a class with, I did get a lot out of the sequence. It was a half an hour of basic yet effective yoga postures with holdings that took some effort yet weren’t too terribly long.

I’ve also had some great luck lately with a neck and shoulder sequence from Yoga with Adriene (whom I just love doing yoga with because she is good and yet not overly earnest). I happened upon it by chance sort of because Christine sent me the link by mistake, thinking it was a link to a much shorter session. I did it anyway (it’s only 18 minutes long) and of all the things I’ve done for my neck since I injured it in a car accident nine winters ago, it’s offered me the most release and relief. It’s also great for general neck and shoulder tension, the kind that kicks in when we spend too long at our desk working at the computer. Check it out:

With all of the online content available these days, it’s easy to find what you need if you need a yogic solution. I know that at some level, all yoga is therapeutic and that regular practice can keep the body in tune.

I also know it’s not a cure-all, but it sure does provide tried and true relief from mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual and has been known to do so for ages (literally for millenia).

Do you ever use yoga therapeutically to help you work through minor injuries, health issues, or other ailments? Do you have any particular internet sources that you’d like to recommend? If so, please chime in in the comments.



Where did all my running buddies go?

Finishing up some last business on my next Run Like A Girlbook for the publisher, I got to the task of writing acknowledgements. Figuring they would be somewhat similar to those I wrote for the first RLAG book, I had a look back. Surprise. There was a lovely list of friends I ran and cycled and cross-country skied and went to yoga with. Not one of them is a regular workout partner anymore. In fact, in the 8 years since that book came out, my life has apparently changed so radically, that my only frequent workout partner anymore is my life partner (and when he’s not with me, I bring podcasts for company). 

Absorbing the full scope of the changes in my life, didn’t feel good. I wasn’t feeling lonely when I started the task, but that outdated list landed on my heart with a thud. Did I do something wrong? Did everyone stop liking me? 

Yes, I could go through the list and find reasonable explanations for each of the losses—children, moving, long-term injuries, marriage break ups and new travel schedules. Also, after a rough patch in my own relationship, I re-evaluated my own tendency to jump out of bed super-early and have been reveling these last years in the pleasures of sleeping a bit more and waking up together. Sometimes we really geek out and I read poetry aloud before we get out of bed. 

I haven’t “broken up” with any of the friends on that old list; most remain close. I even get to run with them here and there, which is always a ginormous treat. But mostly, when I see them now it’s purely social and sweat-free.

It’s not the same. There’s something different and, yes, extra-special about a friend on the road. Especially now, when so much of life is interrupted and mediated by our devices, the time together during a workout feels intimate and unguarded. Running and jubilating. Running and crying. Running and raging. Running and analyzing. Running and solving. Running and chatting. I have had the great good fortune to run in all these ways. These are the treasures of running (or cycling or cross-country skiing or any workout that allows time to talk on the go) with a friend. 

While struggling to write my new acknowledgments, I’ve begun the uncomfortable task of pulling together marketing, which involves positioning not just my book, but me. Hello, irony. The marketing people I’m working with (who are great) have come up with the idea of pitching me (as manifest in the book) as “your running buddy.” Once I get past the strange sensation of viewing myself from the outside, I know it’s a fine idea, even as it also strikes a melancholy chord.     

I miss my buddies. I feel so lucky to have had many precious companions over the years. If there’s anything to be gleaned from this moment of fresh understanding, it’s that life is going to change. Again.  And again. I’m enjoying the current pattern of my workout life and the time with my partner. I look forward to new configurations, too. 

With this post, I send out my love to all my workout buddies over the years! I invite all of you reading this to send out some of your own love to past and present mates in the comments section. 

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!

aging · fitness · injury · running · traveling

Not Running in Paris

I was in Paris for the month of December. Two weeks in my back started hurting for no discernible reason and I couldn’t run for the second half of my stay. In addition to the intense frustration at missing the pleasures of a run along the Seine (the light, the architecture, the people watching, the little exercise yard on the Left Bank), I felt old and creaky as I limped to the boulangeriein the morning for our breakfast baguette. (Side note—divine Paris breakfast—fresh baguette slathered with raspberry jam and sheep’s milk yogurt from an adorable little glass jar and crunchy salad of little gems, endive, snow peas, cherry tomatoes and carrots.) 

Top of Eiffel Tower through tree branches

Getting out of bed as slowly as my back demanded meant that age was much on my mind. So when I lost my scan card for the shared bike system (called Velib) and had to memorize an eight-digit access code, this mnemonic popped into my head as soon as I saw the numbers. I’ve rearranged into ascending order: 25—the age at which the media sets a woman’s prime; 32—the age at which I started to reclaim my power from societal norms of feminine delicacy; 49—the age I wouldn’t have minded sticking with for the rest of my life (the way my grandmother always said she was 29); 96—an age I hope to see, but only if I’m still enjoying life!

The access code is engraved in my memory. 

And fortunately cycling and yoga were still possible, so I rode the Velib bikes to the aerial yoga studio (Fly Yoga) and the spin studio (dynamo) I love in Paris. 

My back healed and this past Thursday (January 3) I went for one of the best runs I’ve had in I-don’t-know-how-long, a grand gift for the beginning of 2019. I felt light and strong. I don’t wear a watch, so I have no idea if I was actually faster than usual in my loop of Central Park. Does the time matter if I felt great? 

This aging business has made it clear to me that every time I heal from an injury and am granted the grace of strength and ease in my body again, a hallelujah and thank you is in order.

I’m starting 2019 with gratitude!

What are you grateful for as the year begins? 

Guest Post · running

Maybe I’m a runner (Guest post)

Something incredible happens after about a mile of running. It stops feeling hard. This is a revelation to me! Ancient memories of elementary school gym class, running the mile, feeling winded, sore in my ankles, knees, and hips, a stitch in my side, and gasping for air, had me convinced that running is a form of elective torture. But maybe it doesn’t have to be?

I run. I don’t run fast. I can’t run far. But I am improving, running faster, running further. And to my great surprise and delight, I am learning that the discomforts of running are often fleeting and balanced with a healthy dose of delight and enjoyment. In these moments, my body feels like it is flowing, gliding across the ground as my feet spring forward, gazelle-like. It is a lie I tell myself, or at least a happy fantasy, as no one would describe me as fleet-footed if they watched me run by, but this illusion of power and grace is good enough for me.

Is this the mythical “runner’s high” I’ve heard about? Somehow, I doubt it. I don’t feel high, I just feel ok, as opposed to feeling uncomfortable, a weird pressure behind my left knee, is that a blister forming on my right big toe?, hyperaware of each plodding footfall, each huffing breath. In the first mile or so, running is an exercise in optimism, it will get better, I remind myself as I push through it. And it seems absurd, until, suddenly, it does get better. And it is like this Every. Single. Time.

I keep expecting it to feel natural, easy. I am amazed it ever feels easy, but when does it feel right from the beginning? Does it ever feel that way? What does it take to get to feeling at ease from the start? How many miles do I need to put in? How fit do I need to become? Am I simply too large to be at ease in this sport? Runners are typically far leaner than I am, far leaner than I aim to become. Maybe the extra stress on my joints from my larger body means it will never feel like a natural fit. I have chosen weight-training and muscle-building over becoming swift and lean. At least, for now.

How cool is it, though, to realize that I can run and not hate it?! And why didn’t anyone ever tell me it gets better?

I played with running for a while before I figured out what works best for me. I suspect I have more trial and error ahead of me. What I have learned so far is that I need a good walking warm-up before I begin to jog, or my knees and hips yell at me, and I can’t go as far or as fast. Related to this, after a hard effort, I need to walk a while, or I get shaky and lightheaded. Apparently it has something to do with the blood pooling in your legs or something. I dunno. I just make sure to walk half a mile or so at the end. I’ve learned that unless I want to lift less often or less strenuously, I really only have one day a week right now that I can run. I just seem to need the rest time on the other off days.

I have learned that what I eat before I run really matters. No one tells you running starts to stop sucking after a while? Well, no one tells you it upsets your stomach, makes you want to poop, and gives you diarrhea for hours if you have too much fiber before a hard effort. I get it, it’s gross. But a little warning would have been nice. I have to carefully plan meals on my running days. This is another reason I can only fit it in one weekend running day a week. Avoiding fiber all day so I can run in the evenings doesn’t seem like a good long-term strategy.

I am still learning that the sport of running is all about the head-game. This has been a surprise to me as I’ve nerded out, reading Runner’s World articles and such. But there really isn’t a whole lot of talk about technique. There’s a lot of talk about mental strategy. How do you push yourself when you’re tired? How do you get your head ready for a long run? Or a fast run? How do you prepare yourself for the psychology of a race? This is not what lifters are concerned about. All the fitness literature I’ve read that is lifting-focused is on technique and programming. Generally, weightlifting gurus don’t seem all that concerned with your head. But runners are.

I am learning that this make sense. I can run further when I am mentally prepared for the effort. I do better with upbeat, empowering music in an ear, too. Hard-earned knowledge, like the fact that the aches and discomforts will ebb and flow are reassuring when it is difficult. It will get better. I find it reassuring to know that more-experienced runners have to train themselves to remember this fact, too.

So, I guess in that way, I am already a runner. Maybe it’s not a lot, but I’m putting in the miles. Maybe it’s not fast, but I am focusing on the work. I’m going out there and doing it, over and over, and learning along the way. And, honestly, it’s a wonderful, unexpected thing.

person wearing orange and gray Nike shoes walking on gray concrete stairsPhoto of person wearing orange and gray Nike shoes walking on gray concrete stairs. Photo from Unsplash.

Marjorie Hundtoft works as a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, OR.