Decided it was important to recover after three days of 5+ miles. So, I rested. Came across an article about Alexi Pappas, the elite runner/poet. Here’s what she writes about the connections between poetry and running:
In poetry, “there’s such an economy of words. I love having absolute freedom within boundaries. And in running, similarly, there are limitations. You might have a certain lane you have to stay in or a certain number of laps. But within those boundaries, there’s so much room for creativity and personality.”
Squeezed a run in today after my daughter’s 11th birthday party at a bowling alley and before her mini-slumber party with 2 friends. Can’t remember much of what I thought about while I was running. Fleeting fragments of thought about my life, combined with a constant return to, “what’s my pulse?” and “how fast am I going?” and “this run doesn’t seem easy, but I could keep doing for a lot longer than 5 miles if I wanted.”
*franklin loop = west mississippi river road path/lake street bridge/east mississippi river road path/franklin bridge/west mississippi road
Tried something new today: 2 minute warm-up, then run 9.5 minutes fast/walk for 30 seconds x 4, finish by running fast until reading 5 miles
Ran with my headphones, listening to my cheesy playlist. It was humid, but not too cold. At some point, it started drizzling, but in the middle of a run, it was hard to tell, except for the relief from the heat of my effort that it brought. I think I would try this workout again. It helped me to go faster.
*the ford loop = west mississippi river road path/ford parkway bridge/east mississippi river road path /lake street bridge/west mississippi river road path
Today was a rest day. Like most rest days, I wanted to run but I didn’t because I know I need to rest, so I finished up an amazing book instead. Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember is about a writer who had a stroke at 33 because of a blood clot that traveled through a hole in her heart that she never knew she had. Powerfully written. Towards the end, she writes about how she had always been unable to exercise but thought it was because she wasn’t trying hard enough. Turns out, it was because she had a hole in her heart! After recovering from the stroke and then getting surgery to close up the hole, she is finally able to exercise. She starts running.
…running felt better than it had ever felt before. Every step was no longer a struggle. I understood how running felt like freedom. I was not gasping, I was taking deep and measured breaths. It was, I kid you not, as if with every breath I lifted my body off the treadmill. I no longer felt the immediate pain I’d always felt while exercising.
…I sat down on the floor to stretch, and instead of stretching, I took a breath, and when I exhaled, I exhaled sadness and disappointment and rage and my chubby childhood years and frustration, and I emptied myself until the voices in my head–a lifetime of voices that said I was not good enough that I was too fat that said I must starve that I was not good at sports that I would never be able to run or jump like anyone else for some unknown reason–went quiet (200).
Today for my run, I tried a variation on the poetry/writing experiment that I did on Monday. Inspired by my teacher’s suggestion to modify my first experiment with Bernadette Mayer’s proposal to “attempt writing in a state of mind that seems less congenial” (Please Add to This List, 12), I decided to record my thoughts while running up a steep and long hill: the Franklin hill, also known as the I-94 hill. Length: about 1/2 mile. Grade: Not sure, but it’s steep. I figured that running up a steep hill for several minutes would generate a “less congenial” state of mind.
I ran an easy 2.5 miles to get to the hill. I took a quick break to set up the voice memo app on my iPhone, then I ran up the hill while talking into my phone. I stopped at 3 minutes and 39 seconds, which was a little less than half a mile. Finally I ran home.
The following is a transcript of what I said while running. The only thing I’ve done to the words is to add line breaks. I tried to use the line breaks to mimic the breaks in my words as I caught my breath:
Starting my run
up the hill
I’ve taken a break
with a walk
I’ve definitely slowed my pulse down
The traffic above me
as I go under the bridge
The traffic beside me
as it goes by me
on the river road
the drivers think I’m weird
holding a phone
up to my mouth
while running up the
is in my eyes
my shadow behind me now
For most of the run
was ahead of me
right ahead of me
Sometimes off to the side
almost as if
it wanted to lead
be beside me
it wants to follow
Breathing here a little harder
the rest has worn off
the Franklin bridge
pulse is higher
I wonder how much of this I’m recording?
I love hearing my feet
on the dirt
in the gravel
I’m approaching a person
will I keep talking,
or be too embarrassed?
under the bridge
feels like someone’s following me
but it’s just my shadow
just passed the turn off for Franklin
I’m going to stop now
I used today’s run to complete my assignment for my poetry class by doing one of Bernadette Mayer’s experiments from Please Add to the List. Here’s what I posted for my class:
Inspired by Mayer’s suggestion on page 10: “Attempt tape recorder work. That is, recording without a text, perhaps at specific times.”
During a 3 mile run, I recorded my thoughts as they occurred to me by pulling out my iPhone mid-run and speaking into it using the Voice Memos app. Total recording time: 4 minutes and 16 seconds. Total run/walk time: 30 minutes.
Un-edited transcript from voice memos recording:
Pre-run. The chattering of the birds. I’d really like to learn all the different bird sounds and I’d like to be able to identify them but I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to because that’s just not something that I remember. But it made me think about how, when I try to focus on something and reflect, how overstimulated I get by the experience.
At the beginning of my run, just as I try to steady my breath, I try to calm my mind.
Mid-run. Attempting to formulate thoughts into words that I can speak without breathing too heavily. It’s a good test.
It’s the first day of spring, but it looks like late fall. I love running this time of year when the trees are bare. No leaves. And you can see to the other side.
Still feeling a bit self-conscious talking into this phone. Wondering what people think if they see me. Also, thinking too much about what I’m saying and whether or not it’s thoughtful or clever or deep, all of which it is not.
I always forget to remember: if when you’re running, you don’t feel the wind in one direction, when you turn around to run back, it will be in your face.
The wind makes so many different sounds. A whoosh through my ears. A sizzle in the trees. I wish I could figure out how to express it and capture those sounds in words.
Familiar landmarks: the fluorescent yellow cross-walk sign at 38th. I wonder how many times I’ve run this this winter.
2 and a half miles in. Feeling very warm and over-dressed, which I shouldn’t be surprised by but am because I was so cold earlier today walking home.
Just ran by a single black glove in the middle of the path. Wondering who it belongs to and what the story behind it is.
Just encountered a biker biking with no hands on the handlebars. I never understand how people can do that.
Just finished my run. Wanted to capture the sounds of all the birds I’m hearing. I think Scott says those are chickadees. What other birds am I hearing?
One possible poem:
As I start my run,
I work to steady my breath
and to calm my mind
I’m definitely self-conscious pulling out my phone and talking into it. Also self-conscious because I know that I’m recording everything I say and typing it up. I’m hoping that once I get into to it more, I might be able to record thoughts as they happen, not thoughts that I’m attempting to craft into clever or coherent ideas. But I like this experiment as a way to help me express how I feel/what I think when I’m running and as a way to develop a relationship between running and writing.
I want to try this experiment again and maybe experiment with it even more. Possible variations:
Run one mile and then, while walking for 30 seconds, talk about what I experienced and thought about while running. Repeat at least 6 times.
While running, speak into the phone in regular intervals (every 1 or 2 or 3 minutes?) even if I don’t think I have anything to day. Do this on a long run that is at least 90 minutes in duration.
While running, speak into the phone whenever I feel moved to do so. Do this on a long run.
Question: Does the recording of my thoughts count as writing or is it merely the raw material to be crafted into something more polished?
It’s the day after the race and I’m resting my legs. I’m a bit sore, but not too bad. Just started an online poetry class about Bernadette Mayer and her list of experiments (Please Add this to the List). Really cool. I’m thinking about trying to write about running for my poetry experiments. In a post for class I wrote the following:
In the editor’s note it’s mentioned that Mayer writes hypnogogic poems. I looked up the word and found the definition (a state between waking and sleeping, when drowsy) and an interview with Mayer about how, after suffering a stroke, she experimented with using a tape recorder to record her thoughts in this drowsy/dreamy state. So cool. Currently, I’m writing about running and I’d like to experiment with ways to express the dreamlike state I sometimes enter during long runs.
A great race. Well organized. Decent weather (a bit chilly and windy, but no snow or ice). Challenging, but interesting course (tons of hills). I achieved all of my goals: running all the hills, not walking and negative splitting the second five miles. Perhaps the best thing about this race was that my husband Scott and I were able to run it together, which is a big deal because we’ve never run more than 5 miles together. In the past I’ve been too fast for him. But since I slowed down a bit to build up strength and endurance, we’re more evenly matched. Maybe we’ll run the marathon together?
I’m resting up today for the 10 mile run on Saturday. While I was walking to the studio, I listened to Krista Tippet’s On Being. This episode, How Trauma Lodges in the Body, featured an interview with the psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. He’s particularly interested in bodywork and how it can help people with trauma recover. I was struck by his discussion of the disconnect between mind and body in the West.
the mind/body split
DR. VAN DER KOLK: But it’s true. Western culture is astoundingly disembodied and uniquely so. Because of my work, I’ve been to South Africa quite a few times and China and Japan and India. You see that we are much more disembodied. And the way I like to say is that we basically come from a post-alcoholic culture. People whose origins are in Northern Europe had only one way of treating distress. That’s namely with a bottle of alcohol.
North American culture continues to continue that notion. If you feel bad, just take a swig or take a pill. And the notion that you can do things to change the harmony inside of yourself is just not something that we teach in schools and in our culture, in our churches, in our religious practices. And of course, if you look at religions around the world, they always start with dancing, moving, singing…
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Crying, laughing.
DR. VAN DER KOLK: Physical experiences. And then the more respectable people become, the more stiff they become somehow.
Part of this running project and the development of one of my key running stories is the split between mind and body and how it works in my running, writing, thinking and being. I’m trying to develop a relationship between mind and body that doesn’t prioritize one over the other or understand them to be wholly separate and disconnected things. What could that relationship look like?
heart rate variability (hrv)
Also during the interview, they briefly mentioned the importance of a “robust heart rate variability.” What the hell is that, I wondered. So, I looked it up and found that it’s a measure of the time between heart beats and that it might be useful to track for improving your training. Now, I’m not trying to get too fiddly and overly complicated with my training. I don’t want to start tracking lots of different things, but I’m curious about HRV, mainly because my heart rate seems a little strange. The difference between a super easy run (166 BPM for 6 miles/avg. pace 9:43) and a decently hard run (180 BPM for 5K race/avg. pace 8:13) was not that much. Is that weird? Anyway, I’m just wondering how “robust” my hrv is.
Here’s an article that discusses HRV and its values for training and here’s an app for the iWatch that tracks your HRV.
Was only supposed to run 3 miles today, but decided to run a little extra. Wanted to do the Franklin hill one more time before my 10 mile race on Saturday, which, due to a recent course change, will include the monster hills that I’ve been running 3-4 times per week this winter. A few months ago, this course route would have freaked me out, but now it doesn’t bother me at all.
Ran without headphones again. So beautiful. Heard lots of birds. Thinking of trying to learn to identify different bird calls. While running and listening, tried to come up with words that could properly mimic the calls I was hearing. Now, writing this hours after the run, can’t remember the sounds or the words.
The river road is peaceful, but never completely quiet. It’s in the middle of Minneapolis and just across the river from St. Paul, so there’s a constant, underlying hum of city noise that you don’t so much hear as you feel deep in your core. I don’t mind that hum, but I miss my family’s farm in the remote UP Michigan, where it was always quiet and still. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to run up there, where there are few off-road paths, only dangerous shoulders, too close to recklessly fast drivers and to the edge of the woods, where black bears, stray dogs, foxes, cougars and who knows what else might lie in wait, ready to lunge at me as I run by. Though I would like to go back up there and sit in a field, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the silence.
Just read an essay applying Foucault’s theories on dominant discourses to self-narratives about long distance running. The author of the essay writes and then analyzes her own race report for The Big Sur Marathon. In her analysis, she discusses how she reinforces and subverts dominant discourses about femininity, the “ideal” body and running. I’m wondering: what are the dominant discourses in this story project?
What dominant discourses are present in my running?
time/speed, desire to achieve a PR, motivated by success as faster time
“true” running = no walking, walking = failure
self-surveillance and monitoring (bpm, pace, total miles in training)
run training = complicated combination of long runs, tempo runs, hill work, speed work, Yasso 800s, tapering, “core” work
running = overachieving + highly motivated and “Sucessful” person
value of running is being the fastest, or faster than most people, or the fastest you can possibly be
races are about PRs
excellent runners are disciplined
running = fancy and expensive gear
I am attempting to challenge, transform, unlearn, disrupt, rework and play with these dominant discourses. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t.
Finished watching Asics Running: Beat the Sun while biking for 30 minutes. I teared up when the racer whose wife had recently died finished his final run and was briefly interviewed. Losing a partner too soon seems to be a theme today. Before biking, I read about the artist/writer who died yesterday from ovarian cancer, only days after her essay, You May Want to Marry My Husband, was published in the New York Times. So sad. Looking at her work, especially her experimental memoirs, and realizing how awesome she was and then finding out from my sister that she had known her, made her death seem more real and even more sad.
It snowed last night. About 2-3 inches. The path was already almost all clear by the time I ran at 1 in the afternoon. My right thigh wasn’t hurting anymore, which is a relief. So glad I took yesterday off.
Earlier today, I read a blog post by an academic about her running. I particularly liked her discussion about discipline, although I want to find another word for it:
I remember telling R. years ago, in those early running days, that the key aspect of discipline for me was less about the need to make myself go do something than it was about the need to keep myself from doing too much. And so I’m trying to be very disciplined about things, to build strength slowly, to keep plodding forward, to focus on the years ahead rather than the miles right now.
Today I was supposed to run 5 miles. I rested instead. My right thigh feels sore and I don’t want to risk injuring it. It’s hard to rest. Much harder than getting out there and running. I’m proud of myself for having the strength to not run.
What is it that I displayed when I was able to overcome my strong desire to run even though I knew I shouldn’t? Many would describe it as “self-control” or discipline, but I dislike these words; they’re too directed towards certain aims, like success!, achievement! and privileging the mind over the body. They’re also too motivated by squelching passion and enthusiasm. About denying your Self and what you want for the sake of your goals. How could we understand not running as a form of (self) care instead of as discipline or willpower? Does this make sense to anyone other than me? Does it even make sense to me? I want to keep pushing at this idea of framing my training around care instead of achievement and Success!.
13 degrees/feels like 1
mississippi river road path
My third week in a row doing 10 miles! Most of it felt good, except for the parts that didn’t. Just one part, actually. Coming back from downtown, running down the big hill, my right thigh started to hurt. It was hard to run. When I realized that I was clenching my fists and grimacing a bit, I decided to stop for 30 seconds to shake it out. Starting again, it felt much better for the remaining 4 miles.
According to the runner’s world pace tool, my long runs should be between 9:55 and 11:15. It’s a challenge to run that slow, about 90 seconds slower than I ‘m used to running. But I did it today. I averaged a 10 minute pace. I ignored the shadow Sara that wanted me to run faster so that I could stop being passed by other runners and so that I could finish the whole run in less than 90 minutes.
I ran without headphones. Heard lots of birds, cars, conversations, crunching shoes and barking dogs. Because I was running much slower, I barely heard my breath.
Some Distinctive Sounds, a list
At first the wind blowing gently through the dead leaves on the trees sounded like shimmering, but after listening to it for awhile, I decided it sounded more like static on a television.
The brittle twigs sticking out of the fence that I hit as I ran too close to the edge of the path to avoid the runners approaching me made a “boing” sound. I can’t remember what I thought they sounded like as I hit them, but now, reflecting on the run, I imagine they resembled a distant diving board, right after someone has jumped off of it.
Without headphones, I heard a lot more people saying “hi” to me. Had people I encountered in past runs said “hi” at the same rate, but I just didn’t notice because I was too distracted by Barry Manilow or Billy Joel or Krista Tippett or Michael Ian Black?
Wouldn’t have minded running outside in the 10 degree weather, but it worked out better for my schedule to run at the y. I need to stop running there. I run faster than I want (or should) and my knees or feet or some other part of my body always hurts more after running 20 times around a track than running outside.
A wonderful run. The wind was down–only 8 or 9 mph instead of the 25+ it’s been at for the past 3 days. Wind like that scares me. The howling. The trees violently swaying. The dead leaves and random debris ominously swirling. A few years ago, I recall being outside at a park when it was really windy. It was sunny and otherwise a beautiful day, but the wind was making the big trees towering over the playground and my head tremble and shake. I had this moment of panic where I suddenly felt trapped…on the planet. No place to hide or be safe from that wind or those trees. Overly dramatic, I suppose, but it was such a weird and intense feeling.
Felt really great during my run. Slowly built up my pace. Lifted my knees when I ran up the big Franklin hill and didn’t think I was going to die at the top of it. I guess running that hill 4 times a week is paying off.
Biked on the stand while watching ASICS Running: Beat the Sun. It’s a crazy endurance race in France where 5 teams of runners run for 150 km and scale a huge mountain. They’re not so much racing each other as they are the sun; they have almost 16 hours–the amount of daylight on the longest day of the year–to complete the race. The race is broken up into 13 segments, with 5 of the 6 team members running 2 segments and 1 member running 3. Each team has 3 pros and 3 amateurs. 10,000 runners competed for the 15 amateur spots.
I love watching shows like this, especially when they’re mostly about the actual race instead of dramatic conflicts between team members or highly polished and annoyingly clichéd personal interest stories. An occasional story sprinkled in is okay, but not at the expense of the race.
Perhaps my one exception to this rule is NBC’s coverage of the Kona Ironman. I love all those sappy stories about the athletes.
Sappy Kona Stories, a list
the widow of a gulf war vet who races in his memory
the 70 something nun who comes back every year to battle the trade winds on the bike portion–the winds that once threw her right off her bike, forcing her to withdraw
the middle-aged man who uses the motivation of competing at Kona to recover from a debilitating stroke
the pro racer who placed 5th the year before but then had a training accident and was paralyzed, coming back to race in his wheelchair
the octogenarian doctor who desperately wants to (and spoiler: does) beat the cut-off time of midnight so that he can officially claim that “I am an Ironman!”
the father and son team racing together, with the father dragging the son in a raft during the swim portion because the son has cerebral palsy
the former race volunteer who wants to see what Ali’i drive and the finish line look like from the other side.
I don’t care that these stories seem designed to get me to cry and that my connection to them might be more orchestrated than authentic, I love them anyway.
But, getting back to the Beat the Sun race. I’m about halfway done with the show. It’s almost all about the actual race. Only one brief mention of how one of the runners decided to come and race even though his wife had just died. I’m learning about the climbs in elevation, the pace of each runner, the terrain, the difficulty of the altitude, GI distress. No sappy feel good moments to move me or make me cry. Yet, there’s a moment in the show that made me feel something deeper than I’ve ever felt in the dozen or so KONA videos I’ve watched. A little over 19 minutes in, the camera focuses on a runner who has just finished his grueling segment. He’s wheezing and having trouble breathing. We watch him wheeze for 10 seconds, which seems like a long time. Finally, he recovers. He walks off and calls out “I need a hug.” I’ve wheezed like that after a race. I know how it feels to not be able to breathe, to panic, worrying that you might pass out. I hate that feeling. I’ve watched the clip several times now and every time, I feel my throat closing up.
I don’t have a neat conclusion to offer to this entry, but I feel like I’m getting at something bigger with my discussion of sappy stories, personal narratives, feel-good moments and orchestrated versus authentic. Part of what this run! story project is about is experimenting with how to authentically communicate my experiences training and running. How do I express what it feels like to be running in a way that moves others and/or enables them to understand who I am in all my complexity, beyond the trite clichés of “the runner” and the formulaic running stories and race reports?
I’ve been trying to run in windier conditions but today’s 25 mph wind was too much. Decided to run at the Y track with Scott before lunch. Experimented with tempo, running fast and slow. I can tell my legs are getting stronger; the run felt good.
Early on in the run, a group of preschoolers were on the track. Tethered together with a rope, they walked the perimeter of the track. They were led by two caregivers and (mostly) stayed out of the way as I ran by. Sometimes when I run around the track in the evening, I encounter little kids who want to race me. A small part of me wishes I appreciated this and that I could enjoy running beside them, but I don’t. I find it irritating and try to avoid it. Most of me is okay with my grumpy attitude.
After the run, went to library and picked up for more books that I requested for this run! project:
So far, I’ve read a wide range of things about running.
what I’ve been reading, a list
personal narratives about why runners run
academic essays on running and philosophy/feminism/rhetoric
dissertations on running and identity/feminism/narrative
interviews about running habits
memoirs about learning to love running
popular books about running as sacred
anthologies of running stories
tweets and news reports about elite athletes
fictional accounts of runners
stories about pacing and/or coaching other runners
accounts of suffering injuries; accounts of recovering from injuries
essays about running and grieving.
These readings have come in many forms.
books, almost all of which were checked out from my public library
blog posts on online journals, running sites, individual runners’ sites
newspaper and magazine articles
online short stories in literary journals
I’m trying to develop a reading/researching plan for myself, in the form of a syllabus. It includes weekly reading lists, assignments and running challenges. Not sure how well it’s working because I keep changing it up. I’m all over the place with my reading, but that’s what makes it fun and undisciplined.
mississippi river road path
15 mph wind
If my mom were alive, today would have been her 75th birthday. She died in 2009, from pancreatic cancer. She was a runner. Well, more like a jogger. She jogged regularly for decades, sometimes alone, sometimes with my dad. She was slow and steady and rarely ran in any races, just a few charity runs. She started in 1977, when I was 3 and she was 36.
I never talked to her about running, or if I did, I don’t remember any specifics from our conversations. Did she ever try to talk to me about it? Now that I’m an enthusiastic runner who loves to talk about running—where I run, who I encounter on my runs, how I feel on my runs, what parts of me hurt after my runs, what I listen to on my runs, what my times are on my runs—it’s hard for me to imagine her not wanting to talk about running and share her stories with me. Was I just not listening? Or, was she not as obsessed with running as I am?
Regardless of whether or not she talked with me about running, the fact that she ran was always there, a constant in my life as a kid, even as we moved from the North to the South and then to the Midwest. One of the ways I still picture the non-sick her–over 10 years after she got sick and 6 years since she died–is in her running clothes.
Random Running Memories of Mom, a list
She started running at the Paavo Nurmi Gym at Suomi College (now Finlandia University) in the 1970s. I remember tagging along (with my 2 older sisters) and sitting in the bleachers. I got my first kiss from Kiefer during on of her runs.
In the early 80s, she ran in rural North Carolina, after teaching all day at a junior high school. At least once, I tried to go out running with her. I couldn’t keep up, so she went ahead. Alone, on my way back home, I got trapped by a barking dog that was roaming the neighborhood.
In 5th grade, while biking recklessly on the road, I ran into a pick-up truck–I hit the truck; it didn’t hit me. My friend Sharla biked home and told my sister. She quickly got in the car and went looking for my mom, who was on her afternoon run. She rode with me in the ambulance, still wearing her running clothes.
My parents liked to go out running early on Saturday mornings. When they got back, they’d rush off again to go out for breakfast. I was rarely asked or allowed to go with them to the restaurant, which was fine with me because I hate breakfast food.
When we moved to West Des Moines, we joined a fancy health club: 7 Flags. My mom would run on the track while I used the rowing machine.
I went along with my parents only once on one of their runs. It was 1997, when I was 23 and they were both 56. It was on the recently redone waterfront in Houghton, Michigan. They ran; I walked. Their pace was slow enough that I could keep up while briskly walking.
Mom stopped running sometime in my 20s, years before her pancreas shut down and she had to have surgery and then chemo that only temporarily saved her life. It was also years before I started running. I never got to talk to her about how it felt to run for 20 minutes without stopping for the first time. Or experience her joy in witnessing the return of the physical Sara, the Sara that, in my late 20s, had been replaced with the intellectual Sara who thought too much and moved too little.
I wanted to take her on my run today. To imagine her beside me as I traveled on the bluff, above the Mississippi River. I couldn’t. My mind kept wandering back to the mechanics of my run–how was my heart rate? is my right knee doing okay? am I going too fast? But, that’s okay. I don’t need to imagine her beside me; she’s already always there. Not so much as a running partner, but as one of the reasons I run. I run because it’s something that I can share with her even though she’s dead. And I run because I know it would delight her and make her so proud that I’d found my way back to the physically confident Sara I had once been.