Sunday, August 28, 2011


I haven't written. I haven't been running. I haven't been running because I am stupid.
In May, I got back into speedwork, giving the coach a check for $100.00 for Cal Coast Club Membership. I paid in order to give myself a message: "I am serious about returning to speedwork."

Back in 2008, I quit speedwork because I injured my left knee. I'm a distance runner, not a sprinter and the hard pounding of the 800's and 1200's repeats got my left knee. By the way, it took me months to learn the obvious: 800 is twice around the quarter-mile track and 1200 is three times.

OK, I got injured last time, but I still wanted to get back to speedwork---I love to "run my guts out," and compete with the other slow runners on the track. I love to watch the sprinters lap me. I don't even remember my times and which is why the other runners are there, to improve their times.

I'm there for the visceral thrill of working hard, gasping for breath at the end and doing it all over again. I'm weird. Even weirder when you consider I'm 67-years-old.

I'm weird and I'M STUPID. My injury from failing to warm up cost me a lot. For six weeks I was off the track, off the trail and had to cancel my next marathon, the famous, Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. What I injured this time was the biceps humorous. No, that's not in the arm, its part of the hamstring. Read about it, stupid runners do this with leg-pounding speedwork and WITHOUT WARM-UP.

Duh! I mentioned the sprinters who lapped me at speedwork. Well, they come early to speedwork. They warm-up--run, stretch, and swing their legs around. They are beautiful runners with strong linear bodies and I liked to watch them.

WATCH THEM??? Wouldn't it occur to most people to warm-up along with them? Well, I had to learn the hard way.

When my hamstring first hurt, I didn't stop running. I kept showing up at the track and for my long runs. I would cut mileage, but not stop.

I finally quit, went to the doctor, got physical therapy and took a dose of Ibuprofen for a week. I'm better and slowly getting back into running. Slowly. Yesterday I ran a quarter mile and walked three-quarter miles. I did that for ten miles. Today the hamstring does not hurt so the walk/run worked.

I haven't returned to speedwork. Maybe it's not for me. If I do try again, maybe I won't compete so hard with the back-of-pack runners and for sure, I will warm up before I pound my legs into the track.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CAMP PENDLETON’S MUD RUN, 6-18-11: One of three such events where people pay almost $60.00 to “run” through 6.2 disgustingly dirty miles. I did it to be with friends. I was sure I would not like it.

Mud. Where is the mud? Dirt, yes, for the first three miles Cammie (61), Delsie (56) and I (67) run/walk through California chaparral trails, kicking up dust. We see camouflage dressed marines, 6000 participants and one fluffed up hawk on a telephone wire but nothing wet. THEN, the first stream crossing. Hey, I will NEVER dip my running shoes in water up to my calves!

The next instant I’m IN. Shoes fill with water and spandex slaps, sloshs, slips through the stream. Cool water, no danger of falling, mud at stream’s exit, I’m done and it’s fun.

At approximately Mile 4 we round a bush and come upon the biggest mud pit of the day- 30 feet across, waist deep, the smell of an excavated latrine site. I DO NOT EVER sink my body into stink. I would walk six miles to avoid this.

I slide in. The technique is to pull your feet along through the waist high, brown shit smelling mix. In about ten feet you meet a 4‘ tall wall which I hike over, splashing down on the other side. Protecting my bad knee, I do not want to land on my feet, so I fall in mud, covering me up to armpits. Newly perfumed by the doodoo pool, I slog out, run a bit to find Cammie and Delsie and continue on, happily.

We trip along the trail, unfazed by the muck splattering from all body parts. Warm weather, blue skies, we are filthy and euphoric until I spot a huge lake-like reservoir, “I can’t get across that!” I scream to Delsie. My running shoes, 2 sizes too big to accommodate marathon-feet-swelling, are full of mud. They are anchors. I cannot swim with them on my feet.

“Hang on to me and to me” say Delsie and Cammie, my expert swimming friends and they are IN.

I follow, desperate to keep up with my two living life rafts. Instead of holding on to the ladies, I hold on to a line stretched across. So do 99% of the other participants. We WALK across in an ant-like que. I’m 5’2” and am able to hold my head above water the whole way, I do not even drink any water which is good because just ahead of me, Cammie is peeing in the reservoir.

The “swimming” part I dreaded turns out to be my favorite. Cool clean water, poo-pit washed away.

Momentarily clean, we walk half mile to another “river” crossing. Now I prance in welcoming the cool current, swirling around my ankles. My big running shoes store enough water at each toe to accommodate a couple of gold fish.

By the time we reach the second mud pit and wall, water’s drained from shoes to be replaced with sweeter smelling mud this time, I look at Cammie’s back, pure sticky brown from shoulders down to ankles. Delsie turns to tell me, “Your face is full of mud.” Her face and blond hair are still perfect.

A steep incline arises in front of us at about Mile 4.5, a hose shooting water down the path. We start uphill, water washes down. In spite of the fire hose, we make steady progress up, holding on to the fence wire, planting feet in the thick mud to prevent backwards slide. Piece of cake, (chocolate)

Next, a crawl through a pipe, the idea is to go on hands/knees, but my knees have knobs which hurt against the hard pipe, so I crab-walk through. Easy.

Half mile to a 20’ stream with flags stretched across. We’re down on our bellies, heads under the flags. We use arms to pull across, feet floating out behind. My water-filled size 8’s do not float out behind me so I crawl under the flags. Refreshing.

We hear music and the FINISH ahead, we join hands and run down the wrong chute, we are NOT registered as a team so somebody sends us out. We head backwards to the “individual” chute where we squish on through, hands still joined, crossing at 1:42:22.

There are showers at the end but we all have commitments so we skip the long lines at the shower and stay filthy. We jump into Delsie’s Mercedes reeking of mud and satisfied with our mucky morning.

Quote from Cammie: “I’m here because I like to do something new.”

Quote from Delsie: “I’m here because I can do this and enjoy it.”

Quote from Carrie: “I like mud.”

We kiss each other good-bye, the only people on Earth who would touch us are us.

I get home by I:00. At 2:00 I sit in the Performing Arts Center, watching the formal National Ballet of Cuba. I watch the ideally feminine ballerinas on pointe and the strong leaping premier dancers. In my mind, I move along with them in graceful synchrony. In reality, I'm better at moving through the mud pit.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Surf City Half Marathon, 2011

“I was so slow today,” I told Catherine as she leaned into my car window bidding me good-bye after our usual Saturday work-out, She and Elizabeth finished our fifteen-mile work-out at least ten minutes ahead of me.

“Yeah,” Catherine said, “but you have it where it counts. You beat Elizabeth and me both last Sunday.”

Sunday was the Surf City Half Marathon. I am a sixty-seven-yr-old marathoner. My goal for the half was under two hours. My fastest previous half had been a 1:58. I’m the oldest runner in our informal work-out team, old enough to be the mother of some and the much older sister of others.

We carpooled Sunday, me in Jill’s big Chevy SUV. Jill’s a school principal and a member of Jill’s staff gifted her a parking pass which put us right up near the start, the best parking place at the race.

We arrived around 6:30 for a 7:45 start which gave time for one bathroom stop at the beach bathrooms on the boardwalk. Turned out I needed two bathroom stops but we ran out of time.

Runners from two cars got together at 7:30. Elizabeth, Catherine, Jill and I walked to the corral designated for the two hour finishers. What’s our strategy? I asked Catherine, our coach. She pointed to a slender six foot dowel with “1:58” in 4” numbers printed on the flimsy paper taped to the top. My eyes followed the dowel from the top down to a hand. The hand attached to the arm of a short hispanic man who later told another runner he was from Mexico City. He wore a navy blue singlet and had a small spare tire around his middle.

“ Keep that pacer in view,” directed Catherine. We were the third wave. Bad luck, just as I realized I needed to hit the toilets, our horn sounded. The pacer who had SnailsPace Running Club on the singlet started right out at a 9-minute-pace. His relaxed gait spoke to me. I knew he could go faster.

For almost thirteen miles he was my beacon, his flag bouncing in steady counterpoint to his regular step. I did not speak to him but I listened to his banter with others. He said, “Stick with me, you’ll get in at 2:58,” the voice of confidence. I watched him check his Garmin. I gave my race to this man. He cured my habit of going out too fast. Watching him made me forget I had to go to the bathroom. His effortless steady motion tempered my inclination to pick a runner to pass, surge ahead and wear myself out. He was the conductor and I ran to the rhythm of his six foot vertical wand, bobbing over everybody’s head.

We came upon Mile Four (?) where we turned at Sea Cliff and encountered the only steep up-grade of the race. Never breaking pace, my SnailsPace pace-man took the hill. I lost him for seconds but told myself to get my butt in gear. I regained my place in his pack. I heard a runner say to him, “I just want to stay with you for the first five miles.” He answered, “That’s fine, after that five miles, we’ll talk about the next five.” I heard a smile in his voice. I never looked his face. My focus was to listen and keep up.

We came around and down Sea Cliff, a little scream went up from first one runner, then another, and another. I kept running. I’m generally nosy and want to take part in every tiny excitement but this time, I kept my head up and ran. After the race, Catherine told me that a rat ran across the street, stood up on its hind legs and look terrified. I ignored the rodent, happy I did not step on it. The shock of squishing the rodent would have changed the outcome of my race and invited disaster considering my bathroom situation.

We returned to PCH. and I took note of the Marathon Mile Markers. They were high. I kept missing the Half Marathon mile markers which were lower. I asked other runners, what mile are we? When I heard “Seven!” I thought 7+7=14, I’m more than half way done! At some point the pacer took to the bathrooms himself. A young runner ahead of me with a sparkly skirt had been consistently running beside the pacer up until he peeled off . While he was in the bathroom, I watched her skirt. The pacer joined us shortly thus producing proof that he could run much faster than the 1:58. Upon his return, I resumed keeping his “1:58” dowel within easy sight.

I still remember that dowel fondly. I’ve tried to follow pacers before but most have their pace pinned to their shirt. At about 5‘ 2” tall, I loose sight of them if one runner comes between me and the pacer.

We turned at Mile Nine (?) and welcomed the straight run to the finish. I started to get anxious and ask what mile we were in. It was here that the pacer spoke the only words we would exchange. “I’ll get you in at 1:58, don’t worry.” A thought crept into my mind so I asked, “Will you tell me when we’re on our last mile?” “Yes,” he answered. The tiny thought was: I might finally finish a race with enough in the tank to put on a dash at the end.

I was not worn out. All experienced runners told me that for every minute you go out too fast , you give up two minutes at the end of a race. All that Catherine and Caroline cautioned me about my famous surges taking away from my final time made sense. The pacer took my self defeating responsibility away from me. All I had to do was run.

When I saw the 11 mile mark, I took off. I could run the last two miles, full intestine, bubbling along with me. I pulled into the finish at 1:57:21, forty seconds ahead of my pace group. Those few seconds put many runners between me and the 1:58 group. I never saw the pacer again and never got to thank him. I still don’t know his face. I did email Snail’s Pace Runner’s Club to say “thank-you.”

I found a port-o-pottie and celebrated as I sat.

I dedicate this personal best to my generous-hearted pacer. The personal best is the point of running. The fact that at 67, I got a faster time than ever in my running career is important to me.

So, why do I run faster in races than the stronger, younger runners in my group? They finished minutes behind me.

That is a mystery to me. I am not faster in our pre-race work-outs. Elizabeth and Catherine should beat me on race day and when they do, I’ll be satisfied that they deserve to win. For me, the point will still be, did I match or better yet, beat my old record?

I really wish I could take the Snail’s Pace Pacer from Mexico City with me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

On the Road-16 miles

On the Road

Saturday, August first, I met my usual distance running partners at the usual spot, the Corona del Mar High School parking lot, Newport Beach, Califorina. What was unusual was that we planned to add four miles to our customary 12-mile-loop around Newport’s Back Bay. The daunting 16-miles was part of training for the New York Marathon, November l, 2009.

Marie, sporting a new short do, prepared to punch her Garmin timing watch and start. She’s a 53-year-old ex-nun who casts an impervious air of good will and calm wherever she goes. Carol, 42, our third partner and Marie’s “roomie,” is a nuclear engineer, who runs a three-hour-and-twenty-minute marathon to our four-hour-and twenty-six minute time. Carol, a natural director and pleasant know-it-all is also our official coach. Today she looked us right in the eye, and delivered a New York accented command:

“You two run at a comfortable pace, about a 10:30 minute mile.”

Obeying, we left the parking lot at 6:00 a.m. instead of the customary 7:00. We hoped to avoid the blistering August sun.

I’m a 65-year-old runner. I’d attended an out-of-town writer’s workshop the previous week, sitting on my behind for hours. Maybe the week off made the start of this long run so easy. Too often muscles and joints complain, creek, resist the first mile. Today I started right out enjoying the pace, the feel of pumping limbs, the sensation of footfalls upon path, air moving past cheeks and elbows, the sudden breeze, the witch hazel smell of the mountain misery bush growing among the chaparral on the bluffs.

At mile 9 everything changed. Hot, sweaty, and tired, I had to command myself to move forward. Then, a second wind, a push from an invisible hand, the freedom to run without nagging inhibitors and so it went. Tiredness, release. Fatigue, renewed energy.

Carol ran ahead, leaving Marie and I alone to battle 16 miles. The 10:30 pace which sounded so easy at 6:00 a.m. became harder and harder to maintain. By mile 14 the punishment from sun and mileage drove us to beg for sight of the school athletic field, signaling the parking lot and finish.

“Yes!” we let out a weak cheer when we spotted the chain link fence surrounding the field. I put on my end-run-speed JUST TO FINISH and Marie came up behind me, running circles in the parking lot until her watch measured exactly 16 miles. I stopped as soon as I hit the lot not caring that I was three tenths of a mile short of 16. We accepted congratulations from the speedy Carol and other runners who finished shorter runs. Marie and I, flushed and dripping shared a smug high five. The mileage gave us a feeling of self worth, no doubt about it.

Driving home I looked forward to seeing my husband. I’d brag about my run and eat a delicious breakfast of oatmeal scattered with walnuts and melting chocolate chips.

I walked through the door to the kitchen. My husband hit me with the need to make the decision I’d put off for weeks and left undone before when I went to the writers’ workshop.

“Take a shower and get in the car,” he pressured. “Go to Canyon Fireplace, decide which screen and order it! Lets get moving on this thing.”

I moaned. Hadn’t I justified my existence by getting up at 5:15 a.m. and completing a sixteen mile run? If not accolades, I expected my husband to leave me alone.

I whined, “That store is across from Anaheim Stadium. Driving there is like traveling cross country.”

I ate my oatmeal, the reward I’d looked forward to dissolving into resentment for my husband’s nagging and the ride ahead.

I showered, dressed and dragged myself to the computer to look up directions to Canyon Fireplace. There it was, printed plainly at the top of Google Maps, Canyon Fireplace, exactly sixteen miles from my home in Newport.

My eyes locked on the “16,” confirmation of how odd a distance-runner can be. The mileage I’d been proud to struggle through on foot was exactly the same as I resisted when all I had to do was place my foot on the gas.