“Don’t follow the feeling, follow the plan.”

Dr. Barry Rovner A few weeks ago NPR broadcast a story about elderly people suffering from age-related macular degeneration, a condition that impairs the ability to see fine detail. Reading, driving, watching television, and cooking may become impossible. Worse, those … Continue reading

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Despite a dull lingering hum from the hammond organ and salty dogs at the Royal Cuckoo, last Saturday morning I emerged from my front door at a quarter-to-eight to take a very dirty dog for a very necessary haircut. A strawberry smoothie, a stroll around Precita Park, a trek up and down the hill to the Noe Valley farmer’s market (bounty: kale, parsley, summer squash, rapini, lavender, sunflowers), and a very strong cup of Philz later (Greater Alarm blend) — I felt it. Summer. Arrived.

polaroids-44,medium_large.crop

Here are a few to-dos for my summer vacation (note: summer is always a vacation, even if we’re still nine-to-fiving):

Finish FIVE Books Since purchasing an iPad, reading has become a rare event. When I do select from the bookshelf or Kindle, it’s usually nutrition, running, or cooking-related, so I’m focusing on fiction. Novels and short stories kind of exercise the brain creatively in a way that nonfiction doesn’t, as corroborated by this article from the Boston Globe:

“The emerging science of story suggests that fiction is good for more than kicks. By enhancing empathy, fiction reduces social friction. At the same time, story exerts a kind of magnetic force, drawing us together around common values. In other words, most fiction, even the trashy stuff, appears to be in the public interest after all.”

Hoping the “magnetic forces” not only feed my soul but also improve my sleep (by doing away with the evil blue light of the device screen). I’m only almost finished with book #1 (The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham), so I need to get cracking. What can I say? I was derailed by OITNB.

tumblr_myvyve1dfs1toh0n6o1_500

Write 3x/week “Writing” is a common excerpt from my Gratitude Journal. I’m attempting two blog posts and one free-writing or exercise. Maybe a few creative nonfiction prompts from Poets and Writers?

One getaway / month (June-August) With Tahoe in June, and a planned vacation mid-August, that leaves a July excursion. I’m itching for a campout, but if it must be an overnight at a B&B in Marin, well then, I guess that’s life. 😉

Foam roll & Yoga Forming healthy habits for increased speed sessions and mileage building later this summer/fall by developing a short home yoga practice (once/week in addition to my twice weekly classes), using my “Stick” after every run, and epsom salt bath and foam rolling sessions on Monday nights.

Meditation Just 15 minutes several times a week. Psychology Today discourages meditation before bedtime, which would actually be my preferred window. But after work or running sound nice too. This goal also involves exploring various mindfulness and meditation apps.

Practice happiness Continue writing in my gratitude journal. Take deep breaths. Smile. Don’t hold onto things too tightly. Take myself less seriously. Wake up early and enjoy the quiet times.

Happy Summer 2014!

(Photo by Max Wanger)

“Don’t Freak Out.”

Tish Hamilton.

10330314_10152382293523088_8756665503885198003_n

Well, well. It’s come and gone as all things do. I’ve a sense of post-marathon runner’s blues — but although an iconic, strongly run race has passed me, a season of possibilities lingers on the horizon.

Here’s how it went down.

Saturday April 26 — Marathon Eve — 10:53 am

Image

John and Darwin headed out for a walk around Monterey while I settled in for some runnerdness at the Expo. After retrieving the essentials I proceeded to shell out some dough, beelining to “The Stick” (love it), and hitting the Sports Basement booth for Yurbuds since I’d forgotten to bring headphones (I rarely listen to music in training, and never have during a race, but I’d prepared an “emergency” 90’s grunge mix in case shit hit the fan). I also purchased a tube of Watermelon Nuun, which I had not previously tried and is now by far my favorite flavor.

I was stoked to hit the 11am clinic featuring a panel of Runner’s World editors. Bart Yasso was every bit as charismatic as they describe, but it was the ladies that inspired me most. At Bart’s urging, Tish Hamilton relayed mantras for 3 key portions of the race:

On the early downhill through mile 6: “Pass nobody”

Ascending Hurricane Hill: “Don’t freak out.”

Over the rollers from 13 – 26.2: “Keep it together”

Solid advice if you ask me.

But my favorite moment of the seminar came from Jen Van Allen and her thoughts on facing the mental low points of the Marathon, when negative self-talk rings loudly in the mind and threatens to prevail. When pain, or boredom, or doubts seem like more than we can handle. In those moments Jen suggests regrouping and coming back to your motivation. What’s hers? In a word, gratitude. Here’s a day where you don’t have to go to meetings, or do your taxes, or scrub the toilet, or take your kid to a birthday party, or balance your checkbook, or take the dog to the vet…..it’s a day free of obligations that pervade everyday life. It’s a day when you get to celebrate and do what you love — run. It gives me chills thinking about it even now!

John and I drove the course in the afternoon. I’d studied well, and as we made our way along Highway 1 from Big Sur Station to the intersection of Rio Road, we counted off the miles on the odometer, reviewed the terrain, and pointed out some of the more famous features along the way (Strawberry Hill, Piano Man, Taiko drummers, the infamous mile 25 incline…)

The takeaway wasn’t surprising. Hills, hills, and more hills.

With Mr. Darwin in tow, we headed to our B&B in the Carmel-by-the-Sea, arguably the most dog-friendly town in America. We took a much needed nap, and it was mostly uneventful for the rest of afternoon except for when John dropped his iPhone in the toilet (oops). After an artichoke, pasta, and glass of red wine at the Hog’s Breath Inn, I was ready to rest and rest I did before the early, early wake-up.

Big Sur Early Wake UP

Sunday April 27 — The Big Sur Day — 3:45am

Holy shit. What a disaster. I’d brought along TJ’s steel cut oatmeal and a measuring cup, but discovered upon waking that I was minus a bowl. With oatmeal exploding out of a mug, I proceeded to freak out and make a big mess of the microwave. I needed carbs! Stat!

With my breakfast finally cooked through I booked it to the bus pickup with the inn’s “Bad Hair Day” coffee cup in hand.

4:00 am

Image

Once I had my butt on the seat of the school bus my anxiety began to subside. Hopefully, this oatmeal snafu would be the worst part of the day. The weather forecast was looking good, my meal was beginning to digest, and I had a hour-long ride to catch up on a little more rest. I practiced some visualization exercises and tried to quiet my mind.

5:36am

Image

It was funny to be dropped off in the middle of the woods with a bunch of buzzing runners, all eager to race. I didn’t have any coffee, but I was happy it was there. The porto line was super long and slow-moving, of course. It was the first time I’d ever checked a bag, and it was way more straightforward than I imagined. Finally, I know you’re worried so I’ll say right now that the mug made it to the finished line unharmed.

I thought with some effort I might be able to PR this race, but had decided over a long and squirrely taper to stick with the “finish strong and happy” goal. So there I was lined up in Corral B with the 4:30 pacer.

Miles 1-10 — 6:50am

Image

I felt sort of sleepy in those first several miles, and the pacer was a little speedier than expected. After all of the caution about taking the 5 mile downhill too fast, I wasn’t prepared to bank any time. Turns out the guy’s strategy was to go out slightly faster than goal pace and then pull way back on Hurricane Hill. At times he got quite a bit ahead of me but I told myself that I wouldn’t worry as long he stayed in sight.

Image

This was an historic race for me because it marks my first in-race bathroom break! It’s a true right of passage, I know. I spotted a row of portos with a short line and got in and out as fast as I could. Somewhere in these miles, a lone brown cow by the side of the road bellowed loudly. The ocean and the breeze moved gently. I sped up in an effort to reach the pacer, who I caught just before Hurricane Hill.

Miles 11-14 — 8:29am

Image

I don’t mean to brag, but I felt unbelievably good on the climb up Hurricane Hill, and it was perhaps my favorite part of the race. It was certainly tough and took concentration, but oh my god it was a million times more comfortable than the hill I’d run on Potrero a week prior (that gave me my first full-blown asthma attack I’ve had in years, not a big confidence boost going into Big Sur, let me tell you). The fact that I was managing this hill with relative ease got me really excited, and the adrenaline surged. But as they say at Big Sur, what goes up must come down…

Image

Mile 15-Finish — Time unknown

Image

After bombing down the other side of the hill, along came the rollers. Suddenly, I felt my legs. Oh. My. God. Owwww. “This is going to be a long 2nd half,” I thought. I felt a rush of panic but tried to channel Jen and Tish… “Keep it together…” “Would you rather be cleaning the bathroom right now? No!”

After the initial panic and fatigue, I got serious about how to deal. First, I fueled. My hip felt on the verge of cramping, so I dug a Margarita Shot Blok out of my FlipBelt and it did the trick. During mile 19 I stopped to stretch at an old beat-up pickup parked alongside of an aid station. I felt a bit better as I headed back on course. I decided then that I’d do my best to stay on-pace, while walking through the remaining aid stations. Still, this was a meditation in pain management to the glorious end. Mercifully, I never bonked and stayed fairly positive on my way to the finish line.

I’d kept my watch to read mileage and clock time, and tried to avoid obsessively checking my average pace. So it was only at some point towards the end that I realized I might come in under 4:20. I stayed strong and just squeaked by.

Image

Official time: 4:19:53

Just 40 seconds behind my Portland time on a much harder course. I was pleased. My legs were throbbing, but after getting that radical medal, pretzels, a cookie, and finally emerging from the chute to be immediately greeted by John and Darwin, I was in very good spirits. I’d done it!

Image

Here’s a race that I’d considered dropping out of 4 months ago. I didn’t want to put in the time — I was feeling burnt out from my first marathon. I’m so grateful to have found the will to pull through. I can say honestly that this time around I feel different somehow, and I don’t think I’d be the same person had I not done it. Going through this training has taught me so much, but what’s inspired me most is the age-old runner phenomenon of realizing that you’re stronger than you think. The last four months have me dreaming crazy dreams. The celebration at Big Sur was truly the cherry on top. After months of learning, wondering, worrying, hoping, and running my heart out, it really did feel like the victory lap.

Now, I’m regrouping and deciding summer races, a new plan for speedwork, and some short and long-term goals. It’s time!

“Don’t Dream it. Be it.”

Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

Image

I’ve been dreaming. Mostly I’m running. I dreamed I fell into the ocean off of Highway One while racing in Big Sur. I also dreamed that I completed the miraculous transition from Bakasana (Crow Pose) to Chaturanga, over and over and over.

The following morning, when Roy took requests at his 7:30am All Levels class, I asked for crow. And lo and behold, you know what happened? I floated from bakasana to chaturanga. And then I went home and did it again.

Image

Kathryn Budig says:

This is a transition that can be extremely mental for most of us. We get stuck in our heads or tell ourselves that we can’t do it. So, the first step is to tell yourself you can.

I admit, on first read this ”power of positive thinking” stuff can sound, to my ears, corny at best and pseudo-scientific at worst. But how can you possibly disassociate the body from the mind? I think about the times when I’m struggling to hold a challenging yoga pose, or in the last tough push of a race, and what forcing a big smile can do for a bit of pain relief. This New York Times article from February describes how Olympians use imagery as part of training.

So I’m trying to carry through the experience of dreaming (ie – visualization and mental preparation) in the lead up to Sunday’s marathon in Big Sur. Not only to rehearse my plan and calm my nerves, but also to perform optimally. So I’ve been reading this great course description from the Clif Bar Pace Team blog, and trying to internalize the terrain, scenery, and recommended strategies. I’m beginning to meditate on how I’ll feel, what I’ll do, and ways I’ll focus.

I’m becoming a little obsessive about everything but I suppose it’s natural at this stage in the game. While the nerves are prevalent, the excitement is also kicking in. I’m reminding myself to focus, relax, and enjoy the build up. It’ll be over before I know it.

“I only have ‘yes’ men around me. Who needs ‘no’ men?”

Mae West.

Image

It’s climate-change spooky warm here in California, but I can feel the season on me too. Some have the special super power to flip the mental switch from holiday celebration to just another winter, and up and reset their lifestyle and eating habits on January 2.

Are these the Optimists, New Year Resolutionists, Health Evangelists, the Consistenly Inspired? Are they simply very, very strong?

I suppose I need a grace period in the form of 29 days or so. I’m fairly at peace with my fitness regimen for now, but struggle to maintain the concentration necessary for a consistently healthful diet. Because in the darkness of winter, “Nos” and “Shalt nots” feel especially dreary, so it began last Saturday, with a flurry of “Yes.”

Yes! Make healthy eating a priority in February!

Yes! Eat vegetables and berries and apples and fish, and kefir and tempeh and tea.

 Yes! Do my best keep record of my food intake in the form of calories, unprocessed foods, and macronutrient ratios (I endeavor for 50-30-20 Carbs-Fats-Protein.  But historically, when concentrating on healthy eating I usually end up with less carbs and more fat, and don’t really worry about it as long as I’m eating a lot of vegetables and the fats are natural).

Yes! Pay special attention to areas where I tend to fall behind: Iron intake, sugar, and drinking plenty of water.

Yes! Enjoy 3 satisfying meals a day. Intuition and listening to hunger cues informs healthy snacking, rather than boredom/routine/immediate availability of food.

Yes! Feel my body move. For sport and mental well-being. Walk, bike, run, yoga, lift weights.

Yes! Drink wine sometimes, usually with food. Have a cocktail or two on the weekend, sipped luxuriously.

Yes! Calmly and responsibly break a rule when the occasion arises (SF Beer Week, wine tasting with out-of-town family late this month).

I wonder if the secret to good health is openness and brightness and happiness and positivity and yes, and if the secret to all of this is good health in return. Who should care one way or another about well-being if we’re not inspired to love ourselves and feel empathy for others? What masks as narcissism, how do we find truth? Is this hard for everybody, and why is it hard for me? It must be painful to reflect the light of the universe all the time, and everyday people do ghastly unthinkable things.

Is there always yes, really? Does it hover above a dangling piece of curved glass, like a secret orchid, waiting for us to find it?