Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Human Race

I've noticed the word "disrespectful" popping up more and more in discussions about whether the New York City Marathon should be held. In a nutshell, anyone who evokes this word or its gist seems to be suggesting that it's wrong to hold the equivalent of a celebration in the wake of a tragedy. This argument irritates me.

A few days ago, a Dailymile friend from KC posted something going on and on about how she felt "selfish" for hoping the race wasn't cancelled, in the midst of Hurricane Sandy aftermath, and wondered if it was "disrespectful" (there's that word again) to run the race. I encouraged her, saying it wasn't like she was going to go dancing on anyone's graves - instead, she was bringing a spirit of endurance and strength and much-needed commerce to a city in need. And I didn't see anything wrong with that. She ignored me.

Yesterday, a first-time marathoner friend used the word "guilty" when describing his feelings about running through a city where people are suffering, where homes and businesses have been lost, and where some have lost loved ones. It was a feeling so far from my own when I ran my first marathon and especially when I ran my first NYCM that I felt the irritation coming back. Aloud, I wondered why he was bothering to run it at all. He said raising money for the Red Cross was how he was making himself feel better for running a marathon he didn't think should be held, and if I had a problem with anything about that, it was something that was wrong with ME, not with him. I applaud his activism, but I'm saddened by the guilt.

This morning, a New York run-blogger I know posted that he disagreed with the decision to such an extreme that he was ending his streak of NYCMs and cancelling in protest. This irritated me still further. Two weeks prior, he'd announced he was opting out of the race due to injury, but I guess he felt so strongly about the race going on despite the hurricane that he decided to resurrect his racing status so he could kill it once more, with feeling. It'd be like Newt Gingrich putting out a statement that he's ending his bid for the presidency today, despite being feasibly/mathematically/legally out a long time ago. Martyrs irritate me. Twice-baked martyrs, moreso.

It's certainly not for training reasons I want this race to continue - I've abandoned my hopes of a sub-4 in the wake of inconsistent training, time constraints, lack of inspiration, and homesickness have stalled my fundraising efforts, and I knew most of my amazing cheering section that flew all the way from Kansas City to support me wouldn't be able to make it this year, even BEFORE the hurricane. (Though Dad saying he couldn't make it made me cry.) Just finishing will be an accomplishment. I want people like Brian, who have trained so hard through the hottest summer on record and suffered recent marathon disappointments (too-hot Boston and dehydration at Garmin) to kick ass and take names, but that's not a strong enough reason for me to be feeling as irritated as I do. And it's not that I don't feel for the people who've lost their homes or businesses, lost their power, lost their sense of well-being, or in the most tragic cases, lost loved ones - of course I do. Sure, I got lucky - I don't live in a flood zone, I didn't lose power or internet, and while I might be stranded without my public transporation, but I'm not an academic, "Oh wow, that sucks - what else is on TV?" outsider. I've lived here long enough to feel personally affected, even if this doesn't quite feel like home. Plus, since I live here, I don't have the logistical concerns or financial investment in this race that I would have if I lived in Kansas City - I don't have to worry about how - or if - I'll get to the starting line. I don't even have to worry about my race-day transportation; the team takes care of that.

So why am I this irritated? Why do I care if the race goes on or doesn't go on?

The concept that's been running through my head ever since I started tuning into this debate has been "affirmation of life," a phrase I encountered for the first time in a Madeleine L'Engle novel about life and death. As Nietzsche put it, "If we affirm one moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event - and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed." 

(Heavy, right? I kind of can't believe I just quoted Nietzsche in my blog - holy pretension. And in a post about marathon running, no less.)

It finally occurred to me why these "disrespectful" types are getting under my skin. It's because they're the same types of people who look down on my family for celebrating, for laughing together, for continuing to enjoy life while my beautiful, life-affirming mother has been reduced to just barely 'existing' in the present, unaware of her past and unaffected by the future. They're the kinds of people who thought Dad should have started Mom on meds immediately, or that she should have been sent to live away from home the minute she started to decline. Such things (as well as the arguments the race should be called off) are often said out of deep love and concern. And I'll admit I've been one of them, from time to time - there was a big part of me that didn't want Dad to move out of the family home or even get rid of the old phone number, and there's a big part of me that still feels guilty for not living within hugging distance of Mom, Dad, and my brothers. But, as Dad reminded me when I took the job here, life goes on. Mom wouldn't have wanted things to stop just because she did. And so I go on. Sometimes it's easy, like when I think how she'd be proud of me and what I'm doing now. Other times, I realize the person I am now and the person I'll grow into are forever and incontrovertibly altered by what's happened to my family - Mom will never again know what I'm doing and be proud of me (or not) for it - and my heart aches.

I chose running as my affirmation, and the New York City Marathon (and still later, New York City) as the symbol of that affirmation, and of everyone who honors and supports my family. Running is how I meditate on hurts, how I get stronger, how I fight back, how I right wrongs. As such, I never feel wrong for running, I feel wrong when I quit. I picked New York because nothing but the biggest and the best would do, and it's the biggest and the best because it, too, refuses to quit. For me, this race is my mother, my grandmother, my family, my friends, and the belief that life goes on, for better or for worse, no matter what may befall us, and that there's more to truly living than merely surviving. Every opportunity we have to make new memories should be cherished, because without them, life really isn't worth living.

If anything, this marathon means more to me than last year's because it's more difficult, and yet more meaningful (?), to keep on while things are at their toughest. For some of us, there IS no closure, no 'making peace with it,' no definitive end to all the hurts. There's just moving forward...or not. And as much as I butt heads with this city sometimes, New York, of all places, understands that, and moves forward. Even now.

So, no matter what your reasons for being out there, fellow runners - be proud. And if you absolutely must acknowledge those who claim the race is a disrespectful event and waste of resources? Be fast.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Through My Prayers

A consummate Avett Brothers fan (my blog title should be a dead giveaway), I ordered an advance copy of "The Carpenter" and have been playing the album in my headphones to and from the office every day for the past week. I've discovered that the mellow quality of the songs offsets the frenetic New York City commute quite nicely.

Of course, there's a difference between hearing and listening. I've heard the entire album many times, but little by little, I've been listening to each song. This morning, I actually listened to "Through My Prayers," and it left me a big, emotional mess in the Carroll Street station waiting for the F train.

It made my heart hurt, but in a good way.

Hard to believe I won't see you again
We were just fighting when winter began
The coldness of our words competing with the wind from the north.
Still they make me shiver, but in a very different way
The pages of the calendar kept turning away
I have some better words now, but it's too late to say them to you.
My dream of all dreams and my hope of all hopes
Is only to tell you and make sure you know
How much I love you and how much I always did.
And yes I know you love me, I can see it in your eyes
And it was in your struggle and it was in your mind
And it was in the smile you gave me when I was a kid.
Feels like no one understands
And now my only chance
To talk to you is through my prayers
I only wanted to tell you I care.

Every night after and every day since
I found myself crying when the memory hit
Sometimes it knocks me down, sometimes I can just put it away.
Down in my mind where I don't care to go
The pain of a lesson is letting me know
If you have love in your heart, let it show while you can.
Yes, now I understand
But now my only chance
To talk to you is through my prayers
I only wanted to tell you I care
I only wanted to tell you I care.
(Avett Brothers, Through My Prayers)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2012 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon - Race Report Coming Soon!

Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Finish Time: 4:27.14 (10 minute PR!)

Race report to follow!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Runs (Part 1)

If you are overly imaginative or take offense
at candid discussions of fecal matter, stop
reading here. Don't say I didn't warn you.
The clutch in my 1994 BMW failed a few days before my very first Saturday morning outing with Runner's Edge. Fortunately, Dad came through with a free ride, the Jeep Wrangler he occasionally used to haul things and to drive when he wanted the whole "convertible experience." However, he warned me, the suspension was problematic (meaning occasional shuddering fits) and the brake rotors were warped (meaning no braking from speeds over 50mph). Plus, the brake lights were out and the turn signals didn't always work. "In other words," he said, "if you come to an intersection and there's a cop anywhere nearby, try to come to a stop with him in front of you instead of behind you." Good advice.

So the night before my run, I set out my clothes, looked up the "avoid highways" route to the start on Mapquest (Google Maps, obnoxiously, does not have an "avoid highways" feature), and set my alarm for an ungodly 4:30 AM to ensure myself enough time to get ready and make it there in time for the 6 AM start. Two pieces of toast, one small cup of coffee (to wake up), an espresso GU, and 40 minutes of driving (for only 19 miles - unreal) later, I was there...late for the 6 AM start, but very early for the 6:30. Having twenty minutes of down time before the run began was not doing my nerves any favors. I was not afraid of the distance - ten miles didn't scare me after surviving two half marathons on my (recently cured) shin splints, but looking awkward on the fringe of a huge group of people who all seemed to know each other, did. You don't have to know me for long to forget (like, memory dead, buried, and long rotted away) that I was ever ridiculously shy around new people, but...I'm ridiculously shy around new people. I think it's a confidence thing.

However, once the run started, I immediately fell in with a group of girls who welcomed me with open arms and were very encouraging about my aspirations towards a first marathon. The pace was easy for me and any faint worries I might have had about not being able to keep up immediately dissipated as I listened to their various conversations. I made it all the way to the 10 mile turnaround without even breathing hard before I was visited by what I've very appropriately dubbed...

The Ghost of Runs Yet to Come.

(Get it?)

In the interest of brevity, I'll say I went in twice and came out unsatisfied both times. My stomach was cramping like crazy and I was afraid of what bouncing would do to my insides. So I shut it down.

It was a very long walk back to the start as I tried to determine what it was that gave me the problem. Was it the coffee? The toast? The GU? The caffeine in either the coffee or the GU (or maybe the combination)? The nerves involved with driving an iffy car along an unfamiliar route and then having to stand around with a bunch of people I didn't know? Jenny (the pace group leader) kept me company and said she didn't mind walking, and she gave me the first three of what would eventually become hundreds of suggestions for curing stomach upset - no more pre-run coffee, no more GU, and no more Gatorade. I took her advice on the coffee and on the GU - I think it was the color and the consistency of the espresso flavor that permanently associated it with bowel movements in my mind - but kept taking the Gatorade after I realized water was just as potent in my stomach as sports drink. Jenny assured me it was a common problem for runners, and I was grateful she didn't flinch away from talking about it, like so many people do. But, driving the 50 minutes (thanks to increased traffic) home, I never in a million years thought that RUNNING was the problem.

Fast-forward to the present day. I'm about to begin my third year with the Runner's Edge program. I've learned so much about myself as a runner and as a human being since I began this journey, but two years of trial-and-error in the stomach department STILL has me baffled. It can strike whether I drink on the run, or don't drink. It can come during a 20 miler or a 3 miler...or sometimes it won't come at all. It's usually triggered by bad smells (like a cigar someone was puffing on near the finish line of the Kansas City Half-Marathon) but not enough to establish causation. My diet has little to no effect on it (though I've noticed grapefruit is a one-way ticket to browntown. Consumption has been restricted to post-run or non-running days). Pepto-Bismol has no effect on it, though I'll admit it makes the discomfort before the storm a tiny bit milder. I avoid gels of any sort in favor of electrolyte jellybeans (Sport Beans by JellyBelly) but I can't really say why - both of them mess with me. The faster I run, the worse it gets - it always seems to pop up on speed workouts - but running slower is not an option, as I have to make up for the time on the clock wasted sitting on my butt. The more water I drink, the more likely I am to be able to go prior to the run...but that doesn't always mean I'll be able to go then, and increases the likelihood I'll have to find a bathroom during. While the psychological aspect of knowing there are no bathrooms along the course will almost always guarantee I'll have to go, a peace-of-mind plethora of bathrooms does not mean the opposite.

The only thing I HAVEN'T tried (and won't) is Imodium. I had to take that once when I was a kid - I had some kind of stomach bug - and one dose corked me up for a week, straight. While that is a superpower I'd like to be able to activate, it's equally important for me to be able to DE-activate it. Not being able to - and knowing I might be creating some other kind of problem - makes me nervous.

In short, I have a huge list of half-baked theories and superstitions about the likes and dislikes of my jostled and hassled GI tract, but only three cold, hard facts, which I'll call (ba-dum ching!) Bowel's Three Laws of Motion:

(1) I cannot make myself go. Just because I have the opportunity during a run where I'm feeling discomfort does not mean I can actually make myself go. It's a process, and while I can usually delay the process in the beginning, if I'm not far enough along in that process, I can't go. Plain and simple. Trying too hard leads to other problems...and is very uncomfortable. I won't give specifics here but you get the idea.

(2) If I have to go, I cannot make myself stop having to go. Most runners that I've met can just will themselves to hold it until they get to a facility. I'm not that lucky. I can will it back once, maybe twice, but after that, sometimes walking is even too much and I'm reduced to standing there, clenching my eyes and my butt shut as tightly as I can, and praying that today won't be the day I sh*t my pants. Zero accidents (knock on wood)...and counting.

(3) "Runs" is plural for a reason. Going now does not always preclude going later. This was my problem in New York. I went before the race, and I felt WORLDS better after that because I figured I'd be okay for the rest of the day. But no...I had to stop again a few miles in...and again...and again...until I ran out of toilet paper and decided I was going to hold it no matter what. (And who are we kidding; I'd discounted psychological effects a long time ago. If I'd had to go, I would have stopped. Again. I just got lucky.) Besides, the last toilet seat was covered with feces and sweat and Body Glide and leg hair and I didn't have enough toilet paper to wipe it AND me I had to hover. And hovering on marathon-legs was tough.

But I'm nothing if not adaptive, and I've developed a whole litany of coping mechanisms to get me through my weekday and long runs. I try my best to go before I leave, or at least make sure I can't go. I never run a course without knowing where the bathrooms are. If there aren't any, I run my own course. There's something in my face that must convince people I'm about to make a mess on their floor, because I've never been denied by a convenience store clerk, a coffee shop, churches, even the security guards at an airport hangar. (Elementary schools are the exceptions...paranoid bastards. Just because I desperately want to enter a school on Saturday morning when no children are THERE does not make me a pedophile.) I always bring cash in case I have to buy something to gain access, but I've never had to use it. The waist-leash I received for my birthday means I can hook the dogs to almost anything within a matter of seconds (and they're usually very patient while they wait). My running buddies are incredibly understanding and patient and understand how frustrating it all is for me, and I don't have to use euphemisms or dance around the unpleasant parts - they've all been there at one time or another (or know they will be). Plus, an extra set of eyes to look out for restrooms (or, on one occasion, to let me into his house to use his) is always a good thing. Above all, they help me laugh and focus on something OTHER than the time bomb in my stomach, though, as Rachel pointed out, she can usually tell when I'm worried about it: "You go all quiet and get that look on your face." Ha!

Marathon running, however, adds an entirely different dimension to what's become a familiar problem...

(To be continued)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Voices In My Head: A Sing-Along Blog

Shaking a headphone cord out of my
mouth at the 2009 Hospital Hill finish line.
That was the last time I wore headphones
in a race. (They were broken, anyways.)
Note: At the bottom of all my usual yammering is my playlist. All the titles are links to the songs on YouTube. I'd suggest starting there, finding a song you want to listen to, then scrolling up and reading the rest. Just a thought.

When Brian and I were at Jazzfest this past spring, we stopped to listen to Better than Ezra. I couldn't recall any particular songs of theirs that had meant anything to me, but the minute they started playing, I was immersed in memories of my first car (a silver '87 Acura Legend) and all the freedom that car 'ownership' implied. I remembered that gas was so cheap (89 cents a gallon, once), I could scrounge loose change from the backseat and still have enough in the tank to drive for a week. I remembered my first two accidents - in rapid succession and not entirely my fault - and my sister falling out of the car in the second one, announcing to the neighborhood that she "saw a bright light!" And mostly, I remembered the discovery that the car - way more than the shower - is the ultimate music player and a safe haven for less-than-talented singers to unleash their vocal stylings. In a 1987 model, car music meant radio. And radio, when I started driving, often meant Better than Ezra.

Research has shown smell to be one of the closest ties to memory, or at least the most resistant to forgetfulness. If that's supposed to be the case for everyone, I must have a short circuit in my brain. I have a sensitive nose (I was second only to the dogs in smelling Brian's neighbor, who had died in his apartment) but it has no particular power over my recollections. Instead, my memories are all rooted in one of the things my parents immersed me in from the very beginning - song. Most of the good - and some of the not-so-good - moments in my life come with some kind of soundtrack, and I've started making lists that evoke certain categories of memories - family roadtrips, Hanna's wedding planning, driving around trying to sort out my life, and of course, running.

A couple weekends ago, Kansas City woke up to 18-feels-like-OMG temperatures, one of the first such mornings of this incredibly mild winter. Instead of getting up, manning up, layering up, and getting my butt outside like I should have, I laid around in bed for an extra hour, then puttered around with coffee and cinnamon toast and attended to my GI tract, then decided I'd do my run indoors instead of waiting around for it to warm up (which it never really did). Like most runners, I'm not horribly fond of the treadmill, but music helps. Incredibly, I can listen to the same playlist over and over and over again without getting bored, but no matter what's on the TV or what kind of workout I'm doing, without my music, I won't last more than an hour. The winning combination? Listening to my iPod while watching muted college basketball. And once, I ran all the way through Larry the Cable Guy's show on the History Channel without once looking at my watch. Who knew?

But, I digress. My schedule read 8-12 miles. My treadmill distance PR is seven miles, and that was on a speedwork day, so I was there only about an hour. To run eight miles at long run pace would mean about an hour and twenty minutes of treadmill time. Twenty treadmill minutes can feel like twenty treadmill miles, so I decided it was a good day for an experiment. Recently, my dailymile buddy, cellist, and fellow Runner's Edge member Myra had written a post about accidentally adding cello music to her running playlist and how much she enjoyed it. Having a huge classical selection at my disposal, it became something I was excited to try, and treadmill day seemed like just the day to do it. So I added a few faster-paced selections to my playlist, changed clothes, corralled the dogs, and set off for the treadmill - my running song lab.

It was a good decision. The classical music was a strange fit, but it fit. Running to a piece I'd played was an entirely different kind of movement compared to the dance-like fluidity of playing the violin, and it gave me a belated insight into the rhythms and syncopations I (admittedly) probably didn't notice as a student violinist. I felt like a scientist making an unexpected breakthrough on an experiment I had long abandoned...and kind of made me want to play again. My fingers were ahead of my brain, and twitched their way through my run, as if against an imaginary fingerboard. And as I ran, I remembered. Classical music, free of words and meanings and video images placed there by the artist, is especially evocative for me and brings back all sorts of memories and friendships and feelings I don't even remember forgetting - the joy of working hard towards a goal, of community and solitude at the same time, of feeling like anything's possible.

Could there be a better possible set of memories to channel into my running? Or, for that matter, into everyday life?

Of course, I have no illusions this will work for every run. I'm a violinist, but I'm not always in the mood for classical music and the memories it evokes aren't always quite so sentimentally positive and nostalgic. Plus, from a more practical standpoint, I don't think I'd be able to hear it if I took it outdoors. I don't run with headphones except on the treadmill. Outside, I barely even run with music - I strap my iPhone to my arm when I run at the airport and play music through its speaker, but for non-airport runs and for races, I don't like to run stuck in my head. It's good to be able to dig deep without a crutch, and I think it's tougher, sometimes, to pull inspiration from one's surroundings, but having raced both with and without headphones, it's a lot more exciting to race without them and really, REALLY take everything in. In New York, I got the best of both worlds - I was able to absorb energy from hearing the crowds and conversations along the route, but I also heard each and every song that had brought me special inspiration during my training. I marked them with a picture, below.

(Aside: Seriously, sometimes I wonder if I'm tempting fate by wanting to take on New York again. I have a hard time imagining how an encore experience could POSSIBLY be better than the first. Seriously! SO! AWESOME!)

And, in the way of things, none of these songs exist in a vacuum. Like the classical music brought positive memories to my treadmill run, songs I've run to have injected specific memories and emotions from other places in my life into my running but have also picked up a specific running association of their own. In turn, whenever I hear one of my running playlist songs outside of that specific context, something in my brain fires and I immediately get that little bit of peace and enormous sense of strength I associate with my happiest runs.

Funny how that works.

The Rotation
Without further adieu and in no particular order, I present to you my main rotation. I'm proud that it's eclectic, I'm proud that all these songs fit my stride so well, and I'm always open to suggestions! The titles are all clickable, but I haven't listened to all of them, so if they're wrong or are terrible quality, let me know and I'll switch them out with something better. (And if the lyrics are wrong, I apologize - remember, I'm listening on the run!)

Written in the Stars (Tinie Tempah, Disc-Overy)
Favorite line: No particular favorite line for this song, it's just sort of all-around fantastic for running.
Best for: Speedwork. I always get an extra pick-me-up when I hear this song, and it pretty much DEMANDS I go fast. Usually my favorites come from some kind of deeper identification with the meaning of the song, but not in this case.

How Far We've Come (Matchbox Twenty, Exile on Mainstream)
Favorite line: I think it turned ten o'clock but I don't really know / And I can't remember caring for an hour or so / Started crying and I couldn't stop myself / Started running but there's nowhere to run to / I sat down on the street, took a look at myself / Said, "Where you going, man, you know the world is headed for hell" / Say your goodbyes if you've got someone you can say goodbye to...
Best for: Speedwork. Tapering. Any song that choruses with the line "Look how far we've come" is definitely a taper song, and the rhythm is good for a speedy cadence, even if it's not the most cheerful song in the world.

Ready to Start (Arcade Fire, The Suburbs)
Favorite line: Now I'm ready to start / I would rather be wrong / Than to live in the shadows of your song / My mind is open wide / Now I'm ready to start
Best for: Speedwork or the first warmup mile. It always kills me when this one comes on during a cooldown.

Paper Planes (MIA, Kala)
Favorite line: Every stop I get to I'm clocking my game / Everyone's a winner, we're making our fame / Bona fide hustler making my name.
Best for: Happy running. Picking up the pace.

A-Punk (Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend)
Favorite line: No particular inspirational lyrics. I just like the beat.
Best for: Warmups. Getting this song first in the shuffle guarantees I'll start happy.

Empire State of Mind (Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3)
Favorite line: New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of / There's nothin' you can't do / Now you're in New York / These streets will make you feel brand new / Bright lights will inspire you / Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York.
Best for: Training for the NYC Marathon! Sure, it might be a little overplayed but this hit the regular rotation the minute I got into the race in 2011 and it never ceases to bring a smile and inject a little energy, knowing what I'm training for. Brand new, indeed.

Supermassive Black Hole (Muse, Black Holes & Revelations)
Favorite Line: No especially favorite lines here, I just like the song and kind of wish it didn't have such strong ties to the "Twilight" movies. Blah.
Best for: Speedwork, energy!

'Til I Collapse (Eminem, The Eminem Show)
Favorite Line: 'Til the roof comes off, 'til the lights go out / 'Til my legs give out, can't shut my mouth / 'Til the smoke gives out - am I high? Perhaps / Ima rip this shit 'til my bones collapse.
Best for: Energy! Digging deep.

This Modern Love (Bloc Party, Silent Alarm)
Favorite line: Nothing in particular. I just like the song.
Best for: Runs where I need to think.

Dog Days are Over (Florence + The Machine, Between Two Lungs)
Favorite line: Run fast for your mother, run fast for your father / Run for your children, for your sisters and brothers / Leave all your love and your longing behind / You can't carry it with you if you want to survive.
Best for: Everything. Inspiration. Remembering why I'm running and what I'm running for. Speedwork, warmups, energizers, you name it. Hearing this during NYC was one of the highlights of the route. The only other song that could possibly define my running more is the song that inspired my blog title, Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise, by the Avett Brothers.

Viva la Vida (Coldplay, Viva la Vida)
Favorite line: No particular lyric that stands out, I just enjoy the song in general.
Best for: Warmup. I started warming up to this song when I first started running, and it's been carried over from several prior playlists.

Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty, Anthology Through the Years)
Favorite line: No surprise, this is one of the quintessential running songs. The entire song works.
Best for: Happy running!

Graceland (Paul Simon, Graceland)
Favorite line: And I may be obliged to defend every love, every ending / Or maybe there's no obligation now / Maybe I've reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.
Best for: Happy running. Warmups, cooldowns, going fast/slow, pretty much anything.

Resistance (Muse, The Resistance)
Favorite line: Honestly, I go back and forth about whether or not I want to keep this one on my list, but it ends with "It's time to run" and I keep forgetting to take it off. I've already eliminated quite a few Muse songs from the rotation, because it's great running music but gets a little old/dark after awhile.
Best for: Zoning out.

Angeles (Elliott Smith, Either/Or)
Favorite line: No particular favorite here, I just put this on my list because the rushing sound of the acoustic guitar gives me that feeling of the wind blowing between my ears on a good, mind-clearing run.
Best for: Mind clearing.

A Well-Respected Man (The Kinks, Kwyet Kinks)
Favorite line: And he likes his own backyard / And he likes his fags the best / 'Cause he's better than the rest / And his own sweat smells the best.
Best for: Warmup. I added this song to my list after seeing Juno. This was the song they played when introducing Paulie as a runner and it's stuck with me ever since. In a (good) way, it reminds me of Brian.

The Cave (Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More)
Favorite line: 'Cause I'll find freedom now / And I need to know how / To live my life as it's meant to be... / ...And I'll find strength in pain / And I will change my ways / I'll know my name as it's called again.
Best for: Happy running.

Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard (Paul Simon, Paul Simon)
Favorite line: Well, I'm on my way / I don't know where I'm goin', but I'm on my way / Takin' my time, but I don't know where...
Best for: Happy running.

Sweet Child o'Mine (Guns n'Roses, Appetite for Destruction)
Favorite line: No particular favorite running-specific line, this is just a good song in general.
Best for: Happy running.

1901 (Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix)
Favorite line: Honestly, I really have no idea what this song is about and I don't really care, I just like the pace and the melody.
Best for: Happy running.

Bittersweet Symphony (The Verve, Urban Hymns)
Favorite line: I need to hear some sounds that recognize the pain in me, yeah / I let the melody shine, let it cleanse my mind, I feel free now / And the airways are clean and there's nobody singin' to me now /
Best for: Cooldown. This is another one that's followed me since the beginning, and it's always been effective at helping me put on the brakes and wind down.

Up Around the Bend (CCR, Cosmo's Factory)
Favorite line: You can ponder perpetual motion / Fix your mind on a crystal day / Always down for good conversation / There's an ear for what you say.
Best for: Injecting energy! This song makes me think of my running buddies!

American Girl (Tom Petty, Anthology)
Favorite line: Well, she was an American girl / Raised on promises / She couldn't help but thinkin' / That there was a little more to life somewhere else / After all, it was a great big world / With lots of places to run to / And if she had to die tryin' / She had one little promise she was gonna keep.
Best for: Happy running. Energy.

Mr. Brownstone (Guns n'Roses, Appetite for Destruction)
Favorite line: I used to do a little but a little wouldn't do me / So the little got more and more / I just keep tryin' to get a little better / Said a little better than before.
Best for: Speedwork. The above line sums up my running career (and Slash's heroin addiction, ironically) perfectly.

Paint it Black (Rolling Stones, Aftermath)
Favorite line: Eh, these aren't especially running-applicable (or life-applicable) lyrics, in my case. I just like the melody and the beat.
Best for: Speedwork

This Moment (Disturbed, Transformers OST)
Favorite line: Dream this moment as you run away / You will only separate me from what I believe / This moment, in brutality / You're the one who kept on pushing / 'Til I made you bleed
Best for: Speedwork. Digging deep. I first had this song on a playlist I'd entitled "Fast Driving" (I drive way faster than I run) so I'd already built the association between this song and gunning it.

Uprising (Muse, The Resistance)
Favorite line: No particular favorite. It's a good song in general.
Best for: Speedwork. This one has survived since the early days, and while no particular lyric stands out, it reminds me of how far I've come as a runner.

The Shrine/An Argument (Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues)
Favorite line: And if I just stay awhile here staring at the sea / And the waves break ever closer, ever nearer to me / I will lay down in the sand and let the ocean lead / Carry me to innisfree like pollen on the breeze.
Best for: Happy running. I took Kessler for a run on the beach in January. There were only about five people out and about, the sun was shining, the air was warm, and we were joined by a small pod of jumping dolphins. It's a good moment to be able to recall with a song. Plus, I'm clearly a sucker for any song with a slash in the title.

Life is a Highway (Tom Cochrane, Mad Mad World)
Favorite line: Through all these cities and all these towns / It's in my blood and it's all around / I love you now like I loved you then / This is the road and these are the hands... / ...There's no load I can't hold / The road is rough, this I know / I'll be there when the light comes in / Just tell 'em we're survivors.
Best for: Happy running!

Jai Ho (A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire OST)
Favorite line: I understand not a word in this song, but I love it anyways.
Best for: Energy.

Dashboard (Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank)
Favorite line: Well, we scheme and we scheme, but we always blow it / We've yet to crash but we might as well tow it / Standing at a light switch to each east and west horizon / Every dawn you're surprising and in the evening one's consoling, saying / "See it wasn't quite as bad as"
Best for: Picking up the pace.

Wake Up (Arcade Fire, Funeral)
Favorite line: If the children don't grow up / Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up / We're just a million little gods 'causin rain storms / Turning every good thing to rust / I guess we'll just have to adjust
Best for: Anything and everything. Hearing this song makes me happy, but the chorus makes me think of victory laps. Wherever this happens to appear in the rotation, it's sure to have a good effect.

Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues)
Favorite line: If I only know one thing, it's that everything that I see / Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak / Yeah, I'm tongue-tied and dizzy and I can't keep it to myself / What good is it to sing helplessness blues? Why should I wait for anyone else?
Best for: Happy running. This song can go fast and slow (and does, tempo-wise) and it makes me feel more like Kilian Jornet hopping around in the mountains than Elizabeth Hodges, shuffling along on the roads in the middle of nowhere. Hooray for cheap escapes and vivid imaginations.

Honorable Mentions
These are songs I enjoyed in prior lists but don't fit either my running mood or my pace anymore. I'm kind of particular about what I like to run to, and while I have no qualms about listening to the same rotation over and over again, when a song begins to get out of sync with the way I've been running or starts to irritate me, it has to go. Skipping a song three times automatically earns it a demotion from the regular rotation...or as soon as I remember to delete it. (Van Halen was the most recent to go. I like some of their stuff, I just can't do it over and over and over.)
  • Truckin' (Grateful Dead)
  • Run-Around (Blues Traveler)
  • Dirt Off Your Shoulder (Jay-Z)
  • The Seed (The Roots + Cody Chestnutt)
  • The Way You Move (Outkast)
  • We Didn't Start the Fire (Billy Joel)
  • Always on the Run (Lenny Kravitz)
  • Bigger Than My Body (John Mayer)
  • Sex on Fire (Kings of Leon)
  • Jackson (Johnny Cash)
  • I've Just Seen a Face (Beatles)
  • Beautiful Girls (Van Halen)
  • Mrs. Potter's Lullabye (Counting Crows)
  • Friday I'm in Love (The Cure)
  • Solid Rock (Widespread Panic)
  • Helicopter (Bloc Party)
  • Shipping Up to Boston (Dropkick Murphys)
  • Believe (The Bravery)
  • Surfin' USA (Beach Boys)
  • I Stand Alone (Godsmack)
  • Add it Up (Violent Femmes)
  • Berlin (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club)
  • Can't Take My Eyes Off You (Frankie Valli + Four Seasons)
  • Stylo (Gorillaz)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Here I Go Again...

In the weeks (or occasionally months) following a big race, most runners take time off to sort out future plans, heal their muscles, and enjoy some quality time with their loved ones or with other interests.

Not me. Aside from a 4 day hiccup the week before Christmas (when it was cold outside - I HATE the cold), I was up and running at way faster than my marathon pace only two days after the race. Brian wanted to go for a run along the East River, and I didn't want to miss the chance to see a different part of the city on foot just because any expert out there who ever gave advice on marathon training would say it was a stupid idea. The morning was inviting and the route looked interesting and besides, I was beginning to get the notion I might actually have a gift for fast race recovery, if not fast race times. It was only after my first couple half-marathons that I felt creaky the next day. Since then, I've felt fresh after one good night's sleep - and that includes the DNF disaster in Illinois that had my left leg so locked up I could barely walk. Of course, most experts would probably point out this "gift" is merely an indicator my race times are well below my capabilities (surprise! I'm an underachiever!), but after spending so much time injured, I like feeling good the day after a race.

I made a friend for my Hudson River run! This one was
faster than I - I spent the entire run looking at her back.

So instead of a hiatus from running, I took a hiatus from writing and gave myself an emotional rest. While sickness, unlike fitness, is something you can't escape no matter how much "off-time" you take, I wanted to take a little time off from talking about it. At this point, my running and Mom's condition are inextricably linked. Even if I never run another race for Alzheimer's (unlikely - I'm already thinking about fundraising strategies for NYC 2012), this is the only thing I've done that I really feel good about since Mom got sick, and I'll always have that to hold onto no matter what. And I know I still owe myself (and you, what remains of my gentle readers) a NYC race report. I initially put it off so I could sort through how I wanted to write it...and believe it or not, I still haven't come to any universal, earth-shaking conclusions. Despite an overwhelmingly positive experience, I don't feel better about the way things are, just some mild hope about the way they could be. And that makes for some wishy-washy, inconclusive writing that doesn't do justice to the cause we're all fighting for.

Despite a brief consideration of making the blog a time capsule for the 2011 marathon, I decided not to let it go because (a) I really am a more talented writer than I am a runner, (b) it's still the perfect URL (see introductory post about the difficulty of picking a not-already-picked URL), and (c) while I'm still feeling out the concept of whether what I leave unsaid in this public forum is too much (or whether I'm saying things I should be leaving unsaid), leaving the cut under the band-aid will rot it in the long run. Writing this has been a crazy, emotional process but there have been moments of illumination, too. And looking back, it's definitely been some of my better writing. And besides, I need an outlet to talk about running. I suspect I'm easier to read than I am to listen to, sometimes. 

So after two and a half months of radio (blog) silence and running off-schedule, I'm back. I told myself last year, when I first started sending out fundraising letters, that if I wanted to do NYC for Alzheimer's again, I'd start planning way in advance...and that's essentially what my spring schedule is getting me ready for. Instead of running a marathon and aiming at a specific time, I'm running the Kentucky Derby Marathon in April just for the "time on my feet." I've only run 26.2 twice in my life, after all, and I'd like to have a better idea of what to expect (like how to handle GI-discomfort issues) from start to finish. Then, in May, I'm aiming for the Brooklyn Half-Marathon for a specific time - 1:55, to be exact, which would be a huge step up in intensity. I'm also thinking up some new ideas for fundraising, although without a formal "team" affiliation until April, all I can really do is plan at this stage. Ultimately, the goal will be to run NYC in less than 4 hours (sub-4, to those in the know) and $8500 for Alzheimer's. And I have eleven months to make this happen. 


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just In Case

There are millions of distinctive qualities that make my mother such a special, beautiful person, both inside and out. The only quality, however, that made her such a favorite target of the Homeland Security customs officers, however, was her choice of suitcase.

Huge and black, with wheels and a heavy-duty metal handle, that suitcase as I remember it could have easily fit a small child...and judging by the way customs targeted and searched through that thing, that was exactly what they were expecting to find.

Whenever we traveled abroad, Dad's rule for Hanna, Max, Alex, and I was "Whatever you bring, you carry." Instead of the intended effect, lighter and more careful packing, this usually meant we carried about half our things in our small bags and the overflow went into Mom's car trunk of a suitcase. No room for both a heavier and a lighter jacket? No worries, Mom had room. Things packed so tightly there's no room for souvenirs? No worries, Mom had room. Snacks, books, stuffed animals, video games, rolls of toilet paper? No worries, Mom had room. As a result, Mom's suitcase became a "just-in-case." So carefully packed before we left Kansas City, on the return journey it would be stuffed so full it would be misshapen and practically bursting at the seams, groaning along awkwardly on unsteady wheels, and letting off the occasional clank or gurgle as things shifted in its depths. Every time she passed through customs, she was pulled over for searching. And every time they searched her, she'd get that vaguely embarrassed expression that all moms get when caught indulging their children in some kind of unnecessary luxury.

I hate to admit it, but Dad was right. As a result of that indulgence, I've never really learned how to pack. Instead of bringing along what I know I'll need, I bring along everything I think I might need - a "just-in-case" I'm now forced to carry. Packing for the beach house is a prime example. What I wear when I'm there in the summer, historically, is two swimsuits (one to wear while the other dries - I hate putting on wet suits), two pairs of shorts, two shirts, flip flops, running shoes, and a couple running outfits. I've never once needed a jacket, jeans, heels, or anything dressy...but the packing monster insists on planning for every contingency, like snow on Dauphin Island in July or a black tie event at the Oar House, purveyor of fine fried food, beer, and Alabama football. We even have a washer/dryer there and a closet filled with things like jackets and extra sweatshirts...but still, I persist...just in case.

So here I am on the eve of my flight to New York facing an empty suitcase with a brain full of running-related what-ifs, and I have a feeling this is going to make for a very heavy suitcase to haul around for four hours - we land around 11ish and don't check in until 3. I know what I need and don't need...but I also know I can't really just buy whatever I might forget. Going to the beach in a new swimsuit is one thing, running a marathon in a new shirt or shoes is a totally different, different-bad. At least I don't have that many contingencies to plan for, weather-wise - the forecast looks absolutely beautiful for marathon running and I know exactly what I'm going to wear race-day: purple Alzheimer's Association singlet, black Under-Armour shorts, fluorescent yellow compression sleeves, black armwarmers, light gloves, and the turquoise/silver/white Mizuno Wave Runners. (If you're looking for me during the race, that's my outfit!) And we're carrying on, so I don't have to worry about losing luggage. If I didn't have to worry about the size of my bag, though, I'd totally be in the attic right now looking for that black monstrosity of a suitcase. Assuming that thing still zips, of course.

As for the rest of my day, Mom never went on a trip without first cleaning the house from top to bottom - something that annoyed me to no end when I was a kid. "Why are we cleaning?" I'd ask. "No one's going to be here!"

"What if the house burned down or we were robbed?" she'd ask. "Someone might have to come in here and I don't want them seeing a messy house. You know, just in case."

"If it burned down, what would it matter? And who cleans for burglars?"

"JUST. DO. IT." And then she'd give me a look that would send me scurrying off to my room to pick things up off a floor no one would see.

She was right, though. No one would see it, but it was nice coming home to a clean house. So I'll do it too...just in case.