july 31/13.6 MILES

70 degrees
81% humidity
dew point: 64
mississippi river road path, south/minnnehaha creek path/lake harriet/minnehaha creek/mississippi river road path, north

Ugh. Hard. Hot. Humid. I really don’t like running in the summer. Even so, I didn’t give up and kept moving the whole time. More walking than running in the second half, I think. Running to Lake Harriet has become my new long run route. It’s time to write a new running route essay. Here’s a list of landmarks along the route that I might incorporate into an essay or writing experiment.

The Run to Lake Harriet, Some Landmarks

  • 36th Street parking lot on the river road
  • the double bridge (a bridge for walkers/runners and one for bikers) near 44th street on the river road
  • under the 46th street bridge, near Ford parkway
  • Minnehaha Falls
  • Minnehaha Parkway and by the old neighborhood that we lived in for 10 years
  • the light at 34th
  • the four way stop at Nokomis
  • the light at 28th
  • Mel-o-glaze, where they sell “legal crack balls,” at least that’s what their sign proudly proclaims
  • the dinosaur park
  • lake nokomis rec center
  • over the small steel bridge that has a stand of trees that smell just like the UP
  • under the cedar bridge
  • the light at Bloomington
  • where Rosie learned how to bike
  • where the running and biking path split and where it becomes confusing and disorienting the first few times you run it
  • the bunny
  • the woods, part 1 (running under the freeway)
  • the woods, part 2 (where I saw the freaky cat just chilling out in the woods by the path, staring at me as I ran by
  • where you come out of the woods
  • running down the wooden platform and not up the big hill
  • the woods, part 3 (where you separate from the biking path by crossing over a small wooden bridge)
  • lynhurst park, where I fill up my water bottle
  • the woods, part 4 (between lynhurst and lake harriet)
  • Lake Harriet!

Reading through this list, I started thinking about words we use for roads/paths and bridges.

Bridge

link
overpass
platform
arch
branch
span
trestle
extension

Path

trail
lane
road
sidewalk
parkway
artery
byway
track
route
street
groove
rut
walkway
footpath

july 24/15.4 MILES

67 degrees
mississippi river road path, south/minnehaha falls/minnehaha parkway/lake nokomis/minnehaha creek path/lake harriet/return

My longest run ever. Slow. Difficult. Lots of walking. But, I did it. And, I’ll do it again next week. It was a beautiful morning for a run. It started to feel really difficult on the way back. I have no deep thoughts. No brilliant insights. No interesting observations. Just fatigue and relief.

Technically, I should count these miles in this week’s total, but this long run is for last week. I didn’t have time to run it any sooner because 2 of my college friends (and favorite people!) were visiting. So I’m adding the miles to last week.

Hover over entry to reveal the erasure poem

july 15/14 MILES

74 degrees
77% Humidity
mississippi river road path, south/minnehaha falls/minnehaha parkway/lake nokomis/minnehaha creek path/lake harriet/return

14 miles! The longest that I’ve ever run! It didn’t feel too bad. I ran the 7 miles to Lake Harriet without stopping then stopped a few times on the way back to walk and fill up my water bottle. Even though it was hard, I felt good and was enjoying it. It helped that for the first 50 minutes I listened to an On Being podcast about running as spiritual practice. 10 runners talked about their experience with prayer, faith and running. Since I’m interested in the idea of running and breathing and paying attention as forms of prayer, I found this podcast to be fascinating. One of the runners, Sarah Khasawinah, had this to say about running:

In the Qur’an, multiple times, God puts thankfulness up there after believing in God, and being thankful is constantly one of the most important things. And when I’m running, I feel like I’m actively expressing that gratitude — first of all, by being able to use my limbs and the faculties that God gave me to run. And also, I’m outside, and when my strides are comfortable, and I feel like nobody’s looking, sometimes I’ll sort of spread my arms out and just think, “Thank you, God. This is beautiful.”

While the something greater that orients me and motivates my gratitude is not God with a capital G, and is not connected to an organized religion, I really appreciated what she said. I like to express gratitude when I’m running and I have wanted to spread my arms out and embrace the world! I haven’t done it, but I’ve thought about it.

july 8/10 MILES

70 degrees
the downtown loop, short

A decent run. Kept running a few times when I wanted to stop and walk. Stopped to walk a few times when I probably could have kept running. I feel pretty good considering I ran the 1/2 marathon this week too.

After I finished running, I worked on my homework assignment: a braided essay.

It Starts with a Step

It starts with a step. The heel touches down. The weight rolls forward, onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off. The body shifts. The arms swing as the legs reverse. Step. Step. Step.

Step.

When running, my body is a marvelous, wonderful machine, enabling me to move without stopping for miles, even with my creaky knees and my wide, misshapen feet. So strong and graceful and efficient! But it’s also a temperamental machine, breaking down and preventing movement, forcing me to stop doing what I want to do. So fragile and frightening! I revere and fear my body. It is a mystery, a part of me that isn’t quite part of me. Separate. Unknowable. Unpredictable. Able to turn on me with little warning.

Last April, having repeatedly rubbed against a bone spur in my knee during my daily runs and the extended walks I was taking with my dog, a few of my tendons became inflamed, making my knee swell and become so stiff that it couldn’t or wouldn’t bend. Almost immediately, I forgot how to walk. Or, more precisely, my right leg forgot how to walk.

How does one walk? Can you describe the process? I couldn’t and didn’t want to. It was only a year later, when trying to write about my injury and think about future injuries that I decided to do some research and uncover the mechanics behind the magic of moving.

The biomechanics of a step involves two phases: the stance phase and the swing phase. The stance phase has five parts: 1. The heel strike, when the heel first touches the ground; 2. The early flatfoot, from when the foot is flat until the body’s center of gravity passes over that foot; 3. The late flatfoot, when the body is past the center of gravity and the heel is beginning to lift; 4. The heel rise, when the heel rises off the ground and 5. The toe off, when the toe lifts off the ground.

The heel strikes on the ground, not out at the plate or because of unjust working conditions.

Early flatfoot, a police officer with a morning shift.

Late flatfoot, another officer, working the night shift.

The heel rise. Apparently I was wrong about why the heel was striking. It is because of unjust working conditions. She and other locomotion workers are refusing to lift anything off the ground until their demands are met, namely adequate health care. They are rising up!

The toe off. Management is becoming increasingly irritated by the peaceful strikers. All mechanical operations have been shut down. How can the toe be lifted off the ground when the heel won’t do her job? The early and late flatfoots, who have both finished their shifts, are called in to force the heel and her compatriots to submit. Neither of them are happy about it. They’re tired and want to go bed. Besides, they agree with the heel and are angry with management.

Step.

The sensation of not knowing how to walk is strange and unsettling. I don’t usually think about how to walk. I just expect my body to do it. In fact, the less I think about it, the better. When I pay attention to my gait, I become self-conscious. My arms awkwardly swing. My legs almost trip over themselves. I feel like a fool. Does my body think about walking? As they prepare to move, do my calves ruminate, or just follow orders?

My right leg didn’t hurt, but it wouldn’t bend. I could manage to limp down the street, a block or two, but that was all. After weeks of barely walking and no running, I finally went to a doctor and discovered that I had a bone spur in my knee and that tendons were rubbing on it, causing a lot of inflammation. I needed to get the swelling in my knee down with a lot of ibuprofen and ice packs and figure out how to walk again with some physical therapy.

When I started my research, I was overwhelmed by all of the technical jargon used to describe the different bones and muscles and ligaments and joints involved in the process of walking. Words I couldn’t pronounce. Processes I couldn’t understand. But, I took a deep breath and eventually made some sense of it. Then I went out for a walk and tried to isolate the movements and the muscles in the body as I propelled forward, shifting legs and hips and swinging arms for balance. It was difficult. At what point were the semitendinosus and semimembranosus rotating in, while the biceps femoris was rotating out? I couldn’t determine.

During the heel strike/early flat foot phase the anterior compartment muscles work to gently lower the foot onto the ground. The anterior compartment muscles are the tibialis anterior muscle, the extensor hallicus longus, and the extensor digitorum longus. During the late flatfoot to heel rise phase the posterior compartment muscles control the body so it doesn’t fall forward. The posterior compartment muscles are the gastrocnemius, the soleum and the plantaris.

During the strike, the heel is confronted by some well-meaning but naive co-workers who are urging her to reconsider her tactics. “Why not ask nicely?” the tibialis anterior muscle suggests. “Yes!” agree the extensor hallicus longus and the extensor digitorum longus, “if we take a gentle approach and try to reason with them, management is sure to see that we deserve better!”

Listening in on their conversation, early flatfoot rolls her eyes and can be heard to mutter dismissively to late flatfoot, “yeah right.”

The heel refuses to listen to the anterior compartment muscles. “We will strike!” she declares. She is joined by many others, including the posterior compartment muscles. The gastrocnemius and the soleum help by reassuring the crowd of striking workers and the plantaris delivers the strikers’ demands to management.

Step.

Since my injury, and now as I’m training for my first marathon, I’m paying attention to my body. Studying my different bones and muscles and joints and how they function. Listening to my breathing. Not ignoring my hamstring when it aches or my shoulder when it stiffens. Icing my knee. And, I’m spending more time marveling at how complex and intricate I am. So many wonderful parts working together, not always in complete harmony, but well enough to keep us moving on the path, at least most of the time.

The physical therapist told me to do some exercises for strengthening the muscles in my right leg, like one-legged squats and an odd-looking walk in which I raised my knee up to my chest, balancing on one leg like a flamingo and then straightened the bent leg in front of me while slowing lowering it. This, she said, was to re-train my leg on how to walk. I did it for a few weeks. By the end of May I was walking almost normally. And soon after, running. Now, a year later, my knee hurts occasionally and sometimes it clicks, but I haven’t had any major problems walking.

In studying locomotion and how it works, I’ve come to a realization: I can try to understand it. I can break it down and reduce it to phases and muscles and minute movements. But I’ll never take away its magic. And I don’t want to. How extraordinary ordinary movement is! Never something to take for granted or to fear! Walking is magic. The body is magic. I am magic. All the complicated elements that are nearly invisible but work—or sometimes don’t work—together for me to walk. Magic. I don’t always remember this, but I’m trying.

The swing phase has three parts. The early swing after the toe is off the ground and just until it is next to the opposite foot, The mid swing, when the swinging foot passes by the opposite foot, And the late swing, which lasts from the end of mid swing until another heel strike.

The strike is working! Management has reluctantly agreed to the demands and a tentative agreement has been reached. It is uncertain if it will, in the long run, be satisfactory, but for now, locomotion will recommence. Relieved to start moving again, the dorsiflexors of the left ankle joint initiate the swing phase. Slowly and steadily the feet trade off steps. One heel strikes, one foot is flat, one toe lifts off. The other heel strikes, the other foot is flat, the other toe lifts off. Step. Step. Step. Locomotion.

july 1/7.5 MILES

62 degrees
87% humidity
dew point 57
lake nokomis loop short, slight variation

This run was harder, but I still followed my plan, stopping every 1.25 miles. What happened on my run? At first, I couldn’t remember. It seemed like it was just about getting through the run and sticking to my plan. Then I started to remember some things. Here’s a list.

Things that Happened on my Run

Lots of runners greeted me on the path. Most of the time, I greeted them back. Missed one when she ran by too fast. Saw some rowers at the lake, one had rowed over to the floating dock and was lounging on it as I ran by. Didn’t encounter any big groups of runners, but two mini pelotons (bikers) on the path. Saw some ducks and some dogs. Heard some birds. Had some bugs fly into my eye, but not my mouth. Didn’t encounter any sprinklers. Stopped at two red lights. Was passed by one runner, who greeted me. Found myself watching his strange gait. His legs moved smoothly and rhythmically, but his arms were hanging low and wide. Stepped off the path by accident and my knee let me know I’d made a mistake with a quick, sharp pain, followed by a duller pain for a few minutes. Forgot which direction I was planning to go for a few seconds, took a wrong turn, and then had to backtrack about 20 feet. Ran by 2 playgrounds, one that had kids playing, the other that didn’t. Heard the rowers practicing on the river and at least one car honking. Were there more? Also heard some loud rustlings and big plops while running at Lake Nokomis. Was it the waves from a boat or something else? A duck? A fish? A dog? A….?

june 24/9.5 MILES

60 degrees
lake nokomis loop, short + minnehaha creek path/minnehaha dog park/mississippi river road path, north

Oh, if the weather could be like this on every run! Ran to the lake and took in the beautiful blue water, undulating in the wind. Too cold for swimming, but just right for running and walking. I stopped to walk at 4.25 miles for a few minutes. Then ran again, with headphones this time, down Minnehaha Parkway, past the falls and turned around at the dog park. My running wasn’t fast and wasn’t non-stop, but I still enjoyed being outside and felt good about what I accomplished.

june 15/12 MILES

69 degrees
57 dew point
64% humidity
mississippi river road path, south/minnehaha creek/minnehaha falls/mississippi river road path, north then south then north then south

My route today was a bit crazy. I did a series of loops and turn arounds along the river, along the creek and at the falls. Would it have been easier to run a single loop? Would anything have made this run easy? Doubtful. This 12 mile run (with several walk stops) was hard. It was slow. It was ugly. But I did it. At 3 miles in, I wanted to be done, but I kept going. I’m telling myself that keeping going is the most important thing for my training right now.

I need some tricks or spells or chants or cheers or something to keep me motivated and willing to push through the moments when the doubt starts creeping in and it feels too hard to keep running or moving. Here’s one possibility:

Come on Sara, you can do it!

There was a hill near our old house and when my daughter would have to bike up it, I would chant:

Come on Rosie you can do it
put some Puotinen power to it!

It usually worked and she could make it up the hill without stopping. That is, until she got older and was too cool for such cheezy chants. Maybe I should try a similar one while I’m running. I don’t care how cheezy it is. Besides I plan to chant it in my head, not out loud:

Come on Sara
you can do it
put some Puotinen
power to it!
use the sisu
that’s your birthright
be persistent
fight fight fight fight!

After posting the above shortly after my run, I spent some more time thinking through my struggles with motivation. Here are a few different versions:

A Difficult Run, 7 Versions

1

In the writing class that I’m taking, we just started learning about psychic distance. Here is my first experiment in trying out the various distances, from far away to closer:

I did my long run this morning.
It was slightly cooler, but the humidity and dew point were fairly high. I ran 12 miles.
I ran on several of my favorite paths, but I struggled to keep running.
So many times, I wanted to stop. It felt too hard to keep going. My legs hurt and I felt weak.
Soreness everywhere. Heaviness too. Legs thick and useless. Then doubt. A malevolent thought: You could stop, you know. At first, I stuck to my planned walk breaks and ignored the thought. But, it was persistent. You could stop, you know. By mile 9, it had dug deep into my bones, my bloodstream, my muscles. Too hard to resist or to remember that this moment would pass. I stopped and walked. Then ran. Walked. Ran. Walked. Ran. Until I had done all 12 miles.

2

Run 3 miles.
Walk 3 minutes.
Run 3 miles.
Refill water bottle.
Walk 3 minutes.
Run 2 miles.
Walk 2 minutes.
Run 1 mile.
Walk 1 minutes.
Run 1 mile.
Walk 2 minutes.
Run 1/2 mile.
Refill water bottle.
Walk 1 minute.
Run 1/2 mile.
Walk 1 minute.
Run 1/2 mile.
Walk 1 minute.
Run 1/4 mile.
Walk 1 minute.
Run 1/4 mile.

3

3:3
3:H2O:3
2:2
1:1
1:2
1/2:H2O:1
1/2:1
1/2:1
1/4:1:1/4

4

3 + 3 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/4 +1/4 = 12

5

Start long run: 6:04 AM
End long run: 8:14 AM
Average pace: 10’47”
Fastest mile: 9′ 28″
Slowest mile: 12’47”

6

Started without headphones because I wanted to feel the stillness of the morning and hear the birds chirping. At mile 3, decided that I needed the extra distraction of my running playlist. Listened to it for the rest of the run. It helped. A little. The first song I heard was Rufus and Chaka Khan, Tell me Something Good. And somewhere in the middle was It’s Too Late by Carole King.

7

Hover over the poem to see the full lyrics used from “Tell Me Something Good” and “It’s Too Late”

Somethin’ inside died
no
fire
just
pride
good

june 9/11.25 MILES

76 degrees
the downtown loop, long

Inspired by a Bernadette Mayer poem that I just encountered, here’s a summary of my run today:

11 miles to run

11 miles to run
10 fingers to flex
9 toes that aren’t purple
8 bridges to run under
7 times to wonder, why am I doing this?
6 dogs to encounter
5 hills to climb
4 weeks until the 1/2 marathon
3 water breaks
2 bridges to run over
1 river to run alongside

And here are some things that I thought about today on my run:

  • I am hot.
  • My legs are tired.
  • I am thirsty.
  • I like running down this long hill. Why can’t my run be one long downhill? Not a steep downhill, but a gentle one. I could live in a small cottage, near the banks of the Mississippi, at the bottom of the hill. I would drive, or take a tram, up the hill, before starting my run. Then I would only have to run down that hill to get home. So much easier than having to run up and down, up and down these hills along the river.
  • Nooo, I didn’t mean to put Patsy Cline’s Crazy on my playlist, I wanted the Gnarls Barkley version! Oh well.
  • I am hot.
  • I am thirsty.
  • I should try an energy drink instead of water. Is that why I’m feeling so drained? Could an energy drink help or would it just make me feel sick?
  • Why is it so much harder to run longer these days? Is it because I’m almost 43?
  • Hi shadow. Who are you today, my friend or foe?
  • Running downtown is nice.
  • The view from the Stone Arch Bridge is wonderful.
  • Am I really going to be able to run a 1/2 marathon in 3 weeks?
  • Today is another lesson in humility.
  • Oops. I should have put on sunscreen before I went out. I hope I don’t get burned.
  • Why is my water bottle leaking? Did I break this one too?
  • Uh oh. My calf is hurting a little. I really hope I don’t get a cramp or a knot.
  • “Stop a bullet cold, make the axis fold!” [the “Wonder Woman” theme song came on my playlist]
  • My legs are sore.
  • All this walking I’m doing better mean that I recover from this run faster!
  • Done!

june 2/11 MILES

76 degrees
the lake nokomis loop, long

Hot! Sunny! Difficult! Today’s run was not pretty. Well, the path was pretty. The lake was pretty. The many bridges that I ran over were pretty. But my run was not. It was hard and hot and tiring. But I did it, with the help of several walk breaks.

I decided to do my long run today instead of tomorrow because it is my 6th anniversary of running. I started on June 2, 2011. I used the couch-to-5k program and ran/walked less than 2 miles. Today, 6 years later, 11 miles! My route today included the Minnehaha creek path, which is what I ran on in 2011.

I had grand visions of doing some cool poetry experiment with the run: maybe stopping every mile to compose a line. But, I was too distracted and uninspired by the heat. So, instead, I’ll mark the occasion by sharing something that I’ve been working on about the body electric. It’s inspired by Prince (“electric word life”), a pbs show about Ibex and the harrowing lengths they go to replenish their electrolytes (scaling seriously steep cliffs), Walt Whitman and “I sing the body electric,” the movie Fame and their version of “I sing the body electric.” Marilyn Nelson’s “is” and Marie Howe’s “the this,” Frédéric Gros’s philosophy of walking and my own wanderings on electricity and the beauty of machines, developed while running. I suppose there’s a dash of Emily Dickinson in here too.

the body electric

The body electric is not a metaphor. The body is electric. It contains electrolytes, that, when consumed, break up into positively and negatively charged ions that travel by water through the body, triggering electrical impulses in the nerves and muscles. Every body needs electrolytes to function properly. They’re found in sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphate.

The body is a machine.
Not the body as machine
or the body is like a machine
or the body is only a machine.
But, the body is a machine.
An efficient machine,
capturing energy, consuming minerals, converting air into breath.
The body is an intricate machine,
made up of muscles and tendons
and ligaments and joints and bones
and organs and arteries and veins
and fluids and systems
that work together in the complex process of locomotion.
The body is a marvelous machine,
containing strange creatures
with multiple heads and fantastical names.
The body is a beautiful machine,
composed of grace and exuberance and joy.
The body is a powerful machine,
able to endure intense pain and absorb tremendous force.
The body is a delicate and temperamental machine;
it can shut down from overuse, lack of use or repeated abuse.

This body, my body, is not any body and it is not the body. It is just a body, a somebody who is happily a nobody, running and flying and floating free, feeling the sizzle of the sand under my feet on the path and the howl of the wind rushing by my ears, passing under the shadows of the towering tree in the midst of other bodies, who are somebodies and nobodies as well but who feel the earth and the sky, just the same but differently too. Each of us an I. A self. A soul. A body. But also a we. Selves. Souls communing. Charged bodies with electrons flowing freely. The Body Electric.

may 27/10 MILES

63 degrees
lake nokomis loop, long

Such a beautiful morning! Such a hard run! It felt tough from the start as I adjusted to running while carrying water. My legs seemed heavy and sore. It was not fun. Most of it was mental, I’m sure. At one point, I allowed the uncertainty to creep in: How can I run a 1/2 marathon in 5 weeks when I’m struggling to run 10 miles today? But I kept going and I managed to move past my doubt. I finished strong and very happy to be done.

At the midway point I reached Lake Nokomis. It’s all set up for summer with boats on the beach and buoys marking the swimming areas. Just a few more weeks until my favorite season of the year: Open Swim Season! I will get to swim back and forth across the lake, from the little beach to the big beach, as many times I want for two hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays!

In honor of open swim and to keep a steady rhythm, I created a few running rhythms while I was running at the lake:

Open Swim
Open Swim
starts next month
starts next month

I will swim
I will swim
across the lake
across the lake

I will see
I will see
the orange buoy
the orange buoy

may 21/8 MILES

49 degrees
the lake nokomis loop, short

Another day of rain. Like yesterday, it was only a drizzle, so it didn’t bother me. Tried to work on my breathing today. Recently I read an article about using breathing to prevent injury: Running on Air. It’s a form of rhythmic breathing, where you inhale for 3 steps and exhale for 2. The idea is that as you exhale your core destabilizes, which puts extra strain on the striking foot and that side of the body. If you trade off which foot you land on when you exhale you can distribute the strain more evenly between your left and right sides. Will it work for me? Not sure, but I’ll try it. I’d like to prevent injury and I’m interested in breathing rhythms. And thinking about and experimenting with breathing in general.

Did you know that the process of breathing in is also known as inspiration? Here’s something that I found on Merriam-Webster online:

“Inspiration has an unusual history in that its figurative sense appears to predate its literal one. It comes from the Latin inspiratus (the past participle of inspirare, “to breathe into, inspire”) and in English has had the meaning “the drawing of air into the lungs” since the middle of the 16th century. This breathing sense is still in common use among doctors, as is expiration (“the act or process of releasing air from the lungs”). However, before inspiration was used to refer to breath it had a distinctly theological meaning in English, referring to a divine influence upon a person, from a divine entity; this sense dates back to the early 14th century. The sense of inspiration often found today (“someone or something that inspires”) is considerably newer than either of these two senses, dating from the 19th century.”

Combine this with the first definition that I found when I googled “inspiration definition”: “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”

I love these connections between breathing, being creatively stimulated and the sacred!

may 13/10 MILES

60 degrees
mississippi river road north/hennepin bridge/stone arch bridge/mississippi river road south

Scott and I ran together this morning. A tough run. Why? Not sure. Maybe it was the hills: the Franklin hill and the I-35W hill. Or maybe it was the temperature. Warmer with more sun. My body hasn’t adjusted to it being warmer yet. Had a few moments on the run where I wanted to stop and probably would have if Scott hadn’t been there to encourage me to keep going. My legs felt so tired. Not injured, just tired. Favorite part of the route was running downtown. Scott stopped at the halfway point to take this photo on the Hennepin Avenue bridge:

A post shared by Scott Anderson 📎 (@room34) on

may 6/8 MILES

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

Another great morning. Sunny. Not too much wind. Great air quality. Wish I could say the same about my run. Most of it just seemed hard. I couldn’t really focus on anything but how I didn’t feel the greatest. But I did it. There was a moment on the “moustache bridge” (called that because someone, at some point, spray painted a hipster handlebar moustache on it. It’s no longer there, but the name stuck with us–me, Scott and the kids) when I really wanted to stop. I could almost feel myself stopping, but I didn’t. I made it through the moment and kept running. Eventually, around 7.25 miles,  I did stop to walk for a minute. I’m fine with that. Hopefully tomorrow’s 5 mile ran will be better.

Part of my route today was on the Minnehaha Creek trail, from Minnehaha Falls to Lake Nokomis. When I lived in that neighborhood, I used to walk with my kids on that trail a lot. We named all the bridges: the duck bridge, the echo bridge, the step bridge, the hole bridge, the stinky bridge. A few years ago, I made a video about walking on that path:

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 8/10 MILES

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

10 miles on a beautiful morning. Wasn’t sure if I’d run the 10 today or tomorrow, but once I started I knew that this run was my long run. I can tell that all the training and the increased mileage has made me more mentally tough. I used to spend significant portions of my longish (6+ miles) fighting against doubts and the desire to stop or start walking. Not today. There was no question that I would be running all 10 miles.

As always, heard lots of birds and fragments of conversation. Encountered lots of runners, most of whom passed me. In the last few miles, I was passed by 3 people twice who were running in the same direction as me. I noticed one of them stopping, so I expected he might pass me again, but the other two were a mystery. When did I pass each of them? Where and why did they stop? Maybe they didn’t stop. Maybe my brain was just on a loop, seeing the same people over and over again. Maybe, having run for over an hour, I had entered a new reality, where time didn’t progress but looped. If I had run any longer, would they have passed me a third time?

Random Memories of the Run

  • About 5 minutes into the run, heard a dog barking repeatedly, almost rhythmically. Decided to count the intervals between barks. Of course, the dog stopped barking, just as I started counting.
  • While running right by Minnehaha creek, heard a splash and a snort. Tried to see what it was but couldn’t. I wonder what critter made that noise? A muskrat? Beaver?
  • Encountered a bunch of runners just about to start a group run as I crested the hill between the Lock and Dam no. 1 and Wabun park about two miles into my run. Encountered the same group having finished their run and saying good-bye as I returned to Wabun on my way home. I wonder, how long of a run had they done? And, did they remember seeing me just before they started? Did they wonder the same about me?
  • Saw a woman walking her dog by the creek in a winter jacket and stocking cap. Wasn’t she hot, I wondered. Maybe she wondered the opposite of me in my running shorts: Isn’t she cold?
  • As I reached the halfway point of my run, near the little beach at Lake Nokomis, saw some kayakers in the water, many of them just about to get out. No ice on the lake! In just over 2 months, I’ll be swimming across that lake!
  • At about 9 miles, I felt really good. I smiled, knowing that I could run for much longer. At about 9.6 miles, I felt sore. I smiled again, knowing that I only had to run for a few more minutes.

Hover over the second paragraph for a hidden haiku.

april 1/9.5 MILES

54 degrees
mississippi river road path

A beautiful morning. Spring is finally here! I ran too fast in the first couple of miles and paid for it. I think it was because too many people were out on the trail. It felt like a race and I always run faster in a race. I didn’t wear headphones so I was able to hear the birds and when people said good morning to me. I estimate that I greeted around 20 people. There was one stretch of the trail where it felt like I was saying “good morning,” “good morning,” “good morning,” over and over again. It felt good, unlike the Franklin hill. That was tough. Had to walk part of it.

 

march 11/10 MILES

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?

march 4/10 MILES

34 degrees
mississippi river road path

My second week in a row running 10 miles. This one was a little rougher than the last. Halfway up the big hill near Franklin, I had to stop and walk for a few minutes. Partly because I had already been running for over 7 miles, including about 2 miles directly into the wind, and partly because I was running about 30 seconds too fast per mile. I’m pretty sure I know why I was running faster. At the beginning of my run I entered the river road path just ahead of two women running with a dog. They were really LOUD and they seemed to be hovering behind me, not fast enough to pass me, but fast enough to always be nearby so that I couldn’t block out their annoying voices. The next time something like this happens, I should stay slow and just turn up my playlist, letting the Foo Fighters drown them out.

feb 23/10 MILES

33 degrees
mississippi river road walking path/stone arch bridge

I did it. 10 miles without stopping. I have run this distance before. I’ve even raced it four times. But doing a 10 mile training run still seems like a big deal, especially one with so many huge hills. I experimented with fueling by eating a mini pretzel starting at 30 minutes in and then every 10 minutes. That worked. Will it work during a marathon? I doubt it; that’s a lot of 10 minutes and a lot of pretzels.

Currently reading Jen A. Miller’s Running, a love story. Miller mentions Katherine Jeffers Schori, so I looked her up. In an interview with Runner’s World, Schori says this when asked if she feels running helps with her work:

Absolutely. It’s focusing for me. In my tradition we might talk about it as body prayer. It’s a meditative experience at its best. It’s a sort of emptying of the mind.

Body prayer. I like this idea. I want to learn more about it.