april 27/4 MILES

34 degrees
mississippi river road path south

Cold today. Brrr. It was 59 degrees in February, now 34 at the end of April. Sounds about right for Minnesota. Didn’t mind too much. I like running at this temperature. I could have done without the wind, though. When I looped back at the halfway point I was greeted by a stiff 15 mph wind, blowing directly in my face at first and then off to the side later, almost like a not-so-gentle nudge to move along.

Thinking about the weather, I’m reminded of a great blog post about walking and poetry that I read a few days ago by the poet Edward Hirsch titled My Pace Provokes My Thought. I made note of a few lines that I especially liked in the essay, including:

the inner and outer weather

The full line is: “Wandering, reading, writing–these three adventures are for me intimately linked. They are all ways of observing both the inner and outer weather, of being carried away, of getting lost and returning.”

Here are a few more lines that I particularly liked:

Cool Lines, a list

  • my thoughts modify my pace; my pace provokes my thoughts
  • Saunter off into the unknown,
    heading into strange terrain.
  • It had dignity. It wasn’t overly familiar. It kept its privacy, its wit
  • it turns out that I like my alienation mobile, fluid, transformative
  • walking meant “to roll about and toss,”
  • to turn what is transient into something permanent, immutable
  • Walking is so common
  • It disappears in plain sight, too pedestrian (i.e., commonplace) to notice.
  • a type of dream-work, a form of associative thinking
  • An aimless meandering intermingles with–it is transformed into–a type of intentional and revisionary thinking

I also responded to a few lines. Hirsch’s lines are italicized.

a poem often starts as a daydream
so does a run, or rather, a run enters into a daydream, starting as a task.

one moment you’re following a leisurely trail; 
the next you’re staring into the abyss.
The run is mundane. Routine. Focused on mechanics and efficiency. Then something happens. Not always, but sometimes. An awareness of life beyond the fluid surfaces of my body breaks through. I hear more. I feel more. I am more and less at the same time.

a walk made out of words.
Is it possible to capture the rhythms and feelings of a run in words? How?

april 26/3 MILES

80 degrees
ywca track

Most likely the last indoor run until next October, which is fine with me. I don’t really enjoy running inside. It’s dry, often crowded and repetitive. Before running at the track, I said goodbye to both of my kids who were leaving on school trips: the 11 year-old went 90 miles north for two days, the 14 year old went across the Atlantic to Budapest, Vienna and Prague for 10 days. It’s exciting, strange and a little scary. I also spent time crafting a poem in terza rima form (3 line stanzas with an aba, bcb, cdc, ded, etc rhyming scheme) about the single most important running advice I’ve tried to take, and have to repeatedly remind myself about: slow down!

Running Advice

Here’s a trick: at first, run slow.
Don’t start with too much speed.
Try to find a rhythm, a flow.

Let your shadow take the lead.
You should really stay behind
because that is what you need.

If you ignore this advice, you may find
that your pulse will become elevated.
This can put you in a terrible bind.

Too much lactic acid is created.
Muscles ache and you’re exhausted.
Hitting the wall, all energy has faded.

At this point, you’ve lost it.
You feel very sick.
But, you know what’s caused it.

You took it out too quick,
and forgot what I suggested:
go slow, that’s the trick!

Even if you’re invested
in training for a PB,*
this method has been tested.

Running slower, experts agree,
is good for preventing pain
and avoiding injury.

Running creates a strain
on various parts of the body,
like your joints, the experts explain,

and the tendons surrounding your knee.
So much pressure with every stride!
But slowing down could be,

when properly applied,
a way to reduce some of these tensions.
How slow? Here’s a guide

to a theory that gets lots of mentions:
Take your 5K per mile pace
and add at least 90 seconds.

So since you run 8 minute miles in a race,
your training runs should be in the range
of 9:30, or even 10, in case

you decide that you want to change
your pace and make it even slower.
The slower, the better! Sounds strange,

but it might make your finish time lower.
That is if your running form stays efficient and neat
and you mix in a few tempo runs or

intervals or maybe some mile repeats.
But only once in a while.
Speed work is something you treat

as a small portion of your weekly miles.
Slow, easy runs should be the biggest part
of what makes up your training percentiles.

Take this advice that I impart:
Sara, remember to go slow!
Or don’t. But you’ll be finished before you start.

*PB = personal best/your fastest time recorded.

Note: I have added an edited version of this poem to the my running stories section.

april 25/5 MILES

57 degrees
mississippi river road path north

Another great morning for running. Intended to ruminate on the differences between running and walking in terms of how I think and generate ideas for the entire 46 minute run. It didn’t happen. I can’t really remember much of anything that I thought about. Devoted most of my attention to my running form and keeping my pulse steady.

Running Form

Keep it slow
don’t start fast
Keep it steady
find your rhythm
Breathe     i       n
Breathe     o  u  t
Check your pulse
Lift, lift, lift the knees
squeeze the glutes, squeeze the glutes
breathe in, 2, 3
out, 2, 3
drop your shoulders
lead with your chest
relax your arms
loosen your hands
roll an imaginary pencil between your thumb and fingers
l   e   a   n  forward
lift, lift, lift, lift, lift, lift the knees
raise your eyes, stare blankly at the top of the bridge
check your pulse
keep it steady
don’t lose your rhythm
breathe in, 2, 3
out, 2, 3
lift, lift, lift, lift the knees
slow it down
squeeze the glutes, squeeze the glutes
relax your arms
drop your shoulders
breathe in, 2, 3
out 2, 3
check your pulse
lift
lift
swing
swing
pump
breathe in out in out
pump
pump
lift
lift
breathe in out in out
in out in out
in out in out in out
FLY
l  e  a  n
lift
breathe i       n
breathe o  u  t
relax your arms
slow your pace
stop.

april 24/REST

This morning I took a long walk with my dog. We walked the 4 blocks to the river and then down to the Winchell trail for about a mile. Heading back, we left the trail and walked on the wide expanse of grass between the river road and Edmund boulevard. It was wonderful. Peaceful. Relaxing. Restorative and generative. I had a lot of ideas about walking and running.

Here is a transcript of a few ideas that I recorded into my voice memo app while walking:

“I’m interested in the difference between walking and running and how I experience and pay attention and what I process, and thinking about that maybe as an entry point into discussing those various walking pieces and then maybe even some poetry around the tension between walking and running.”

When I listened to the voice recording, my thoughts didn’t seem so unruly. But when I wrote them up, I noticed how they ran into each other, one idea after the next in a relentless flow. When I think about the differences between running and walking, I’d like to record myself walking and running and play with the different rhythms and sentence structures. My running seems to create poetry, with pithy statements and breaks for breathing. In contrast, walking seems to create lyrical prose that flows endlessly with rambling questions and tasks to pursue. To prove or disprove this hypothesis, more fun experimentation is necessary!

As part of this experimental work, I’d like to do more research on walking. For starters, here’s a reading list that I’ve created: Walking, not Running.

 

april 23/3.15 MILES

51 degrees
mississippi river road path north

Another beautiful morning. A nice run. Can’t really remember that much of it. Ran each mile faster than the last by about 30 seconds. No hamstring pain. Could it be that my “deranged” experiment with injury terms helped? Even though I know that’s not possible, I’d like to think so. The power of poetry!

april 22/10 MILES

57 degrees
mississippi river road path south/lake nokomis/mississippi river road path north

Beautiful. Sunny. Hardly any wind. A perfect spring morning for a long run. Focused on lifting my knees and “activating my glutes.” It helped. My left thigh felt a little sore, but not heavy and I was able to run the entire 10 miles without any problems and without stopping. This is one of the main reasons why I’ve been working so hard these past couple of months on my running. So I could run today for a little over 90 minutes without pain or doubt, on the paths that I love. The Mississippi River Road path, the Minnehaha Creek path, the Lake Nokomis path.

Shortly before leaving for my run, I looked over some notes that I took a couple of months ago about writers who run. The writer/runner Rachel Toor discusses the state of vulnerability that both writing and running create:”When I think harder about it, what I believe running and writing have most in common, at least for me, is the state of vulnerability they leave you in. Both require bravery, audacity, a belief in one’s own abilities, and a willingness to live the clichés: to put it on the line, to dig deep, to go for it. You have to believe in the “it,” and have to believe, too, that you are worthy.”

I wanted to reflect on this statement as I ran. For the most part, I didn’t. I was focused on keeping my breathing steady, making sure I was using my legs properly and enjoying watching the creek as it gently flowed towards the falls. But, about halfway through the run I started having some dark thoughts about my son’s upcoming trip to Europe that he’s taking with many of his 8th grade classmates. He’ll be gone for 10 days. It’s his first time away from home for that long and his first time on a plane. I haven’t been too worried about him. He’s a confident, relaxed kid, so I was surprised that worries about what might happen on the trip were suddenly erupting in my mind. Would the plane crash? Would he get sick? Would something happen at the airport? Then I remembered this notion of a “state of vulnerability.” Running makes you vulnerable. Toor understands this as an opportunity to prove your mettle, to “put it all on the line.” Today during my run, I saw the state of vulnerability as an opportunity to be open, to allow the feelings that I’ve been hiding from myself to surface and be addressed. In the past, my inclination would have been to quickly tamp down my dark thoughts, to dismiss them as ridiculous or overly dramatic. Today, I let myself experience them, allowing them to linger beside me for a few minutes as I ran by the main beach at Lake Nokomis.

In an interview about their documentary, The Runners, the filmmakers talk about the purpose of their project of filming random runners in a park, while asking them serious questions mid-run:
“We were trying to understand what goes on in the minds of runners as they charge through the streets. What does it do to them and what can we find out about ourselves by interrupting them at this moment of vulnerability and clarity?”

I feel like now, almost 400 miles into this project, I’m finally using running to tap into my own vulnerabilities and being willing to acknowledge and accept them.

Hover over the entry to reveal the erasure poem.

april 21/4 MILES

47 degrees
mississippi river road path south

A beautiful morning. The run started and ended well. Somewhere in the middle, after running up and then down a steep hill by Lock and Dam #1 and Wabun Park, my right thigh started to bother me again. It never really hurt, it just became harder to lift. Then, when it became harder to lift, my right calf tightened up too. For 2 or 3 minutes, it was a struggle as I tried very deliberately to lift my right leg, focusing on my glutes and hips. By the last mile, I felt better and was running much faster than I had at the beginning of the run. Strange.

When do you take aches and pains seriously? When should you rest? Tough questions. I’m extremely cautious with my running; I’ve never tried to push myself too hard. It took me two years to build up to running 10ks, 4 years for a 1/2 marathon and now, 6 for a marathon. I have only had one substantial injury.

The Injury, first version

My first big injury happened exactly a year ago in April 2016. I had been struggling with running all winter. Had even taken half of February off–about 2 weeks without running, the longest I had gone since starting in June of 2011. March was okay. But then on April 2, while doing a flip turn at the pool, something suddenly hurt. When I got out of the pool, I was limping. Within a few days, I couldn’t bend my right knee. It was so strange. I forgot how to walk. My leg and my brain couldn’t get the motion right. The most I could manage was shuffling for a block or two. It sucked.

I didn’t know what was wrong with my leg, just that it was not good. Googling medical and sports websites convinced me that I had a meniscus tear (don’t know what is? don’t google it; blissful ignorance is underrated). I went to a sports medicine doctor to verify this diagnosis and discovered that I had a much less catastrophic injury: a bone spur in my knee. A jagged little knob on the inside of my knee. The bone spur wasn’t directly causing my problem; it was the tendon that, after repeatedly rubbing over the spur, had become inflamed. The area around my knee had swollen and I couldn’t bend it properly. The solution: lots of ibuprofen (9 pills a day), lots of ice (3 xs @20 minutes a day) and physical therapy for about 6 weeks. No running, barely any walking. I was able to swim and bike some. I can’t quite remember when I was able to run again–early May? I do know that my first 5K was on my fifth runniversary, June 2, 2016.

A few months after all of this transpired, a friend, who also runs, asked: “Will the bone spur go away?” I didn’t ask, I said. I was so freaked out about the injury and spend so little time in doctor’s offices that I didn’t think to ask. I’ve looked it up online and still am not quite sure. Sometimes spurs dissolve and sometimes they don’t. It hasn’t bothered me since.

Notes:

This is the first version of an account of my injury. In working to express how it feels to run, I’d like to develop this account to more effectively express my emotions surrounding this injury. Right now, it’s pretty boring and lifeless. That might be partly because I don’t like thinking about injuries–it’s my biggest fear. It might also be because I’m uncomfortable describing my experiences, which seem so trivial and ordinary compared to the physical struggles of other people I know.

Where to start on pushing this version?

  • Expand on “it sucked.” So many feelings crammed into those two words! Fear, frustration, anger, resolution and more. Push at these emotions.
  • What does it mean to forget how to walk? What does that feel like?
  • Say more about this: “The solution: lots of ibuprofen (9 pills a day), lots of ice (3 xs @20 minutes a day) and physical therapy for about 6 weeks. No running, barely any walking. I was able to swim and bike some.” Maybe write a list of what I know about running injuries?
  • Write some more questions and answers in response to this: Will the bone spur go away?

Update: After reading this post, I decided to experiment a bit with thinking/writing about injury. The experiment I did today was all about trying to lose some of the fear that haunts my thinking about injury.