Sunday, May 20, 2012

Turn it out

Yesterday I ran the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. Except I ran the 10K race (6.2 miles). Two friends and I had decided to run the 5K race, but the more I thought about it, the more of an itch I got to run the 10K instead. I ran a 5K race last summer, and I regularly run about 3 miles at lunchtime. Running a 5K race would not be a particular challenge, unless I tried to improve my time by running faster. I wanted something more. I haven't run 6 miles in a really long time, and although I was fairly sure I could do it, I wanted to push myself. I wanted to find my limit. I envisioned a struggle in both mind and body, a combination of zipping ahead and pulling back, a need to push through a desire to walk, just for a minute.  I just wanted to see if I could do it, no matter how long it took. My kind friends were accepting of my need for this challenge, so I switched my registration. We three would run together for the first mile, after which I would veer left while they would veer right. We would meet at the finish line - I envisioned limping through the final stretch, drained but satisfied.

I awoke on race day around 4am, hungry because I hadn't eaten enough the night before, excited fot the race, nervous that I would bonk because my blood sugar was too low before breakfast. After a big bowl of cereal with a banana and some walnuts, a piece of toast with jam, and a Gu, we lined up at the starting line. I plugged in my marathon mix, fired up the app that would track my speed and trail, and hit the road. We three weaved through the slow runners, the walkers, the kids, the strollers, along the road and over the river, where we got snagged in the bottleneck on the bridge. Then, they went one way along the greenbelt and I went the other. We had jetted off the starting line thanks to a burst of adrenaline, and I kept waiting for that to wear off so I could settle into my 5.5-mph average speed for the long haul. But the adrenaline never wore off. I never felt the need to slow. I glanced at my app, which showed an average speed of 5.71 mph, with a current speed of 6.35 mph. And I just kept going. I decided that if I kept up that pace maybe I could finish the race in under an hour. I have run for short intervals at 6+ mph, but never before as a sustained pace, and this felt good. With each new song, I felt re-energized, exclaiming "yeah, yeah!" and "turn it out! turn it out!" in my mind as I went. My chest never felt too tight, although I knew I was breathing bigger than my lungs had before, and my legs never felt tired. Reaching Mile 3, the almost-halfway point, felt like a warm-up. Three miles already? That was fast! Mile 4 felt fine - I could definitely keep going. Then I started to feel the burn, but as the trail entered Julia Davis Park, I pushed on. Yeah, yeah! Turn it out! Turn it out! I reached mile 5 as "Galvanize" by The Chemical Brothers punched in my ears.

Don't hold back
'Cuz you woke up in the morning
With initiative to move
So why make it harder

The world is holding back
The time has come to Galvanize

And I did. I turned it out. I pushed harder. Shoulders back and down. Lead with the legs, not with the chest. Settle into it. Push it. As I crossed back over the river, the finish line in sight, I tried to stretch my legs farther and sprint the last bit, but my knees protested and my lungs cringed. Sustained faster pace, I could do, but sprinting was not in the cards for me on this day. So I waved to my friends clapping and shouting from the sidelines, gave high-fives to the kids cheering on the crowd, and pulled it out. I crossed the finish line at 01:01:44. One hour, one minute, forty-four seconds. Average speed: 6.04 mph. Not too bad for a curvy girl with asthma, and definitely a personal best. I blame the heart-pounding, pavement-shredding hustle on the Gu (tastes good, weird consistency), the 6-mile hike on the Polecat Loop a few days prior, and the incline intervals I ran on the treadmill earlier in the week. I blame the extra 1:44 on the bottleneck over the bridge.

I should be satisfied with this race. I should be thrilled that I ran farther than I ever had before, and faster than I imagined, and I felt okay afterward. But the truth is that I want more. That race was fun, and it was a good workout, but it was not the challenge I had anticipated. It was not a struggle, physically or mentally. It didn't show me my limit, nor force me to push past it. So there will be more training in the coming months. Sure, I could enter some more 10K races, try to run them faster. But speed has never been my goal. It's about going farther, testing my courage, conquering something new and different. For many years, I shied away from such challenges, hesitant to push myself in order to avoid overexertion. But I am not my best in a complacent state. I am someone to be proud of when fear motivates me to do better, when I commit to something that scares me. So I signed up to hike Lucky Peak Summit (3,600-ft elevation gain, 12 miles round-trip) and Borah Peak (aka Mt. Borah, the tallest peak in Idaho, 5,262-ft elevation gain, 7 miles round-trip) this summer. Next spring, I will seek out a longer race - maybe a half-marathon? That race or Borah may prove too much for me, but I have to find out for sure.

Monday, May 14, 2012


It's muggy outside, like a Midwestern evening. Were the sky clear, the sun would be blasting through the west-facing windows, but instead, thin grey clouds obscure the hot rays, dissipating them across the dispersed water droplets and thickening the air. A tree somewhere is blooming and the sweet fragrance permeates every inch of space, except for under the ponderosas, where the piney sap and dry needles keep things fresh. Small birds hide in the trees, tweet-tweeting and chirp-chirping messages about who has the most colorful feathers, where the tastiest food is, and in the case of the mourning doves, who has just died the saddest death. The mourning doves are pretty birds, and they often visit in pairs, but they really do emanate an air of sadness. What if their call were not so morose? If they tweeted like robins or cooed like their pigeon cousins, would they seem like better party guests? Our pregnant squirrely friend chatters at us from the tree above, daring Dear Kitty to come and get her, or maybe inviting us up for a snack. Dear Kitty prefers to lie in the grass, growing less scared each day of the noisy world.

This here is the default setting. The place to go when nothing else nearby seems satisfactory and everything else is too far away. The groaning lawn mowers and shuddering air conditioners are drowned out by the backyard cacophony. One tree is growing fuzzy fruit the size of cherries, but cherries aren't fuzzy, so perhaps they will be peaches or apricots instead. A self-sufficient yard that feeds all of the senses, with plenty left over to share. This is why people move to places like this. When they purchase a house or pay to rent it, they are getting more than brick and mortar, more than central AC, more than good schools in the district. They are getting a symphony that never ends, pesticide-free fruit at 2am, and friendly neighbors who live in the trees and provide constant entertainment, unobtrusive company, and plenty of gossip about whose nest is positively impeccable and who let that riffraff redbreast show his face in these these parts. When you put it that way, we're getting a real bargain. Don't tell the landlord what this place is really worth. I'd be out on the street in no time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

If there was a better way to go, then it would find me

I certainly haven't been shopping for any new shoes, and
I certainly haven't been spreading myself around.
I still only travel by foot, and by foot it's a slow climb
but I'm good at being uncomfortable so I can't stop changing all the time.

I notice that my opponent is always on the go, and
Won't go slow so's not to focus
and I notice
He'll hitch a ride with any guide,
as long as they go fast
from whence he came
But he's no good at being uncomfortable so he can't stop staying
Exactly the same.

--Fiona Apple, "Extraordinary Machine"

If ever there were a master wordsmith, Fiona Apple is it.