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 10/3 MILES

65 degrees
ywca track

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.

march 9/5.25 MILES

26 degrees
mississippi river road path

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.

march 8/XT

70 degrees
road bike on stand, the front room

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?

march 7/4 MILES

65 degrees
ywca track

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 four 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
  • race reports
  • training tips
  • 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
  • tweets
  • newspaper and magazine articles
  • online short stories in literary journals
  • academic articles
  • dissertation chapters

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.

march 5/5 MILES

59 degrees
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.

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.

march 3/5.25 MILES

19 degrees/feels like 8
mississippi river road path

No headphones again today. Enjoyed experiencing the quiet calm of running by the river, but even though it was calm, the path was still teeming with life and activity. I’m struck by the abundance and variety of sounds.

Variety of Sounds, a list

  • Birds that pecked, cawed, squawked, chirped incessantly, honked, cooed and rooted around in the dry underbrush on the edge of the bluff.
  • Cars that plodded, swooshed, revved, thundered, puttered and hummed as they ambled on the river road or passed overhead on the bridges I ran under or rushed hurriedly on the freeway that I could only faintly hear at the halfway point of my run.
  • Branches that thrashed against the iron fence when I accidentally hit them. That cracked under my feet as I ran by. That rustled vigorously when a squirrel climbed on them in the tall tree across the road and more gently when the wind caught hold of their dry and brittle leaves.
  • Critters that barked, screeched, thumped and noisily plodded through the vegetation near the riverbank.
  • Sandy debris that crunched under my right foot and rubbed against a small pebble that had become lodged in the slightly worn tread of my shoe as I ran up the small hill, just past the Lake Street bridge and that cracked under the heavy wheels of the cars that drove over it. Mulched debris that absorbed most of the sound of my striking foot, converting its usual sharp thwack into a dull thud.  

How much of my run was occupied with listening for these sounds? Not as much as you might imagine. I still managed to think about whether or not I was going too fast, why my nose was running so much, if it was better to do a snot rocket or blow my nose into my buff (didn’t have to think about that one too long; I’ve only tried shooting snot once and it was a gross failure) and how to swing my left arm in a way that loosened up the tension in my shoulder but that didn’t make me look like the woman that passed me running down the Franklin hill who had good form–a nice kick and arms that swung by her sides, but still managed to be a spaz.

march 1/3.1 MILES

34 degrees
mississippi river road path

It snowed this morning but by the time I went out to run, at noon, it had already mostly melted. I listened to a playlist–as a distraction from the cold wind (14 mph). Felt pretty good. The best moment of the run was this:

Running on the path, parallel to the river road, a gray car came barreling by, way faster than the 25 mph speed limit. Maybe 50 or 60 mph? They hardly slowed down at one of the four way stops. Just as I was thinking about how fortunate I was that I hadn’t been near the stop sign that they ignored and lamenting how they probably wouldn’t get a ticket, a police car drove by. “Yes!” I quietly exclaimed before I could stop myself.

feb 28/XT

40 degrees
longfellow neighborhood
walked 7.7 miles (2 dog walks + walk to/from office)

Today for cross-training I walked while listening to the latest episode of This American Life. It was about two babies that were switched at birth and it was fascinating. So fascinating that I became engrossed in the story, almost oblivious to my surroundings. Distracted. Barely aware of the sidewalk or any other walkers that were on it.

distracted.

Yesterday in my log entry I put two different versions of being distracted beside each other without realizing it. I didn’t notice the juxtaposition until I reread the entry a few minutes ago. In one paragraph I describe how listening to a running playlist on my headphones makes me feel isolated and disconnected from the external world. In the next paragraph I mention how a distracted driver hit and killed a runner in a St. Paul crosswalk, on one of my regular running routes.  (update: looked this story up for new info and discovered 2 important things: 1. the driver was quite possibly distracted by multiple brain tumors that were only discovered after the accident and 2. the runner was not wearing headphones when he was running.)

In both of these cases, being distracted is presented as bad or dangerous. But, is it always? Sometimes I need distractions to inspire me. To motivate me. To prevent me from being too fixated on my present realities:

  • That I still have an hour left to run. A good podcast can help me to forgot this.
  • That I’m running into a cold wind. Having my hood up, covering my ears, helps me to not notice this.
  • That our government is a shit show and our president is unhinged. Taking breaks from the news and stories designed to agitate and confuse by listening to Barry Manilow or Justin Bieber (sorry, not sorry that I like that song) or “The Jeffersons” theme song while I run helps me to shift my attention