july 18/4 MILES

75 degrees
87% humidity
dew point: 70
mississippi river road path, north

Yuck! Uncomfortably thick and heavy. The first half of the run was okay, but my legs started to hurt and my pulse started to race after the turn around. I stopped to walk a few times. I really don’t like running in the heat. I’m not looking forward to the Torchlight 5K tomorrow night.

It seems fitting to post a collage version of my humidity/dew point fragments that I’ve been working on in this entry.

Bad Air! Bad Air!

“What is it exactly that I find so totally unbearable? Something which I cannot deal with on my own, which makes me choke and feel faint? Bad air! Bad air!”

unpleasantly warm

It was hot. It was not a good idea to run this morning. Only 7:30, but it was hot. Already, the day shot. No more running, biking, gardening, just hiding inside. We should have left earlier. Maybe 6? Before it was hot. I forgot how miserable 77 can be when there’s humidity and a high dew point. And the wind, it was hot too. We only ran a few miles before we stopped. It’s too hot, I said to Scott. And he agreed.

damp

The dew point is the temperature at which water condenses. The closer the dew point is to the temp in the air, the longer the sweat will stay in your hair, or any other part of your body, because the air is too saturated and your sweat can’t evaporate, which is how your body cools you down.

muggy

Oh you! You muggy, buggy thing. So thick it makes me sick! Why can’t the water you contain be refreshing like the rain? Why must you make me feel so moist, a word I detest hearing almost as much as I despise feeling its effects: sweat that drips and sticks, heavy air that presses down on my body, sinking me deeper into the ground and making it almost impossible to fly or even to lift my legs up off the damp earth.

moist

How many cups of sweat can fit
Under the brim of my baseball cap?
More than 2?
It’s hard to
Determine but
I keep
Trying to figure it out while I run through the thick air. I think my cap has
Yielded at least 3 ounces of water per mile.

thick

When you mix up the words in dew point you get: not wiped. Not wiped? I guess if the dew point is low. Anything under 50 would work. Otherwise, it should be totally wiped, but those aren’t the letters in dew point. You also get: wit open’d. Really? Could more miserable conditions = more wit? I suppose for some comedians, this is true. And you get: owed pint. Owed pint of what? A pint of blood that traveled to the surface of your skin to help cool you down instead of flowing to your heart? Or the pint of beer that you owe your body for putting it through the misery of running in the heat and humidity?

oppressive

The Index of Human Misery, the Dew Point Version:
<50: very comfortable
50-60: manageable
65: uncomfortable
70: so thick and hard to breathe.
75: ugh!
80+: stay home, it’s not worth it.

wet (blanket)

Have you ever said,
Under your breath, in the
Middle of your run,
I really don’t like humidity & humidity heard you & replied: Well, I
Don’t like you either!
I am going to make you even more miserable because of your
Thoughtless comment!
Yesterday I think that happened to me.

stifling

The effects of heat and humidity on your body as you run:
increased sweat,
depletion of electrolytes,
flagging energy,
dehydration,
the pumping of more blood to the skin and less to your heart or your muscles,
sweat that can’t evaporate to cool your body,
elevated heart rate.

sticky

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. It’s not the humidity, it’s the heat. It’s not the heat, it’s the atmospheric moisture. It’s not the warm temperatures, it’s the moisture in the air and in your hair, on your skin, in-between your toes, on the back of your neck. And it’s the stickiness between your fingers as you rub them together, trying to keep your hands relaxed. And it’s the fibers from the cottonwood seeds, the catkins, that fly into your eye or your mouth or get stuck in the sweat on your face.

relief

86 degrees. Hot! Difficult! Some success, some failure. A hot wind, blowing in my face, which is already bright red. The sun beating down. My pulse heating up. No running playlist to distract me. And no memory of the running chants that I created to keep me going. What am I thinking about, other than: when am I done? why am I running in this heat? will I make it to Lake Nokomis for open swim? I stop and walk several times. But then I’m at the lake and it’s cooler, with a breeze coming off of the water, and I’m almost done and I’m trying to get past two other runners that are running just a little bit slower than me so I speed up for the last half mile. It feels good.

open swim: 2400 yards
bike to open swim/back: 8 miles

A great swim and a good bike ride. Some serious exercise today. 116 minutes worth. Talked with a woman after the swim today and she told me that she just learned to swim 2 weeks ago and managed to swim an entire loop tonight. Wow! Very impressive. I told her that I learned to swim when I was 6 months old and it took me until I was 38 to swim across the lake! She also said that she’s signed up to do a half ironman triathlon (1.2 mile swim/54 mile bike/13.2 mile run) this fall. That’s hard core.

july 17/Tri Training

Team Mo (me, the Mom) and Ro (Rosie, 11 year-old daughter)
1.32 miles run/walk

The first real day of training for the mile was a bit rough, but we did it and we still love each other and are willing to race together. I’m proud of Rosie for toughing it out, even when she really didn’t want to.

july 16/TRI TRAINING

Team Mo (me, the Mom) and Ro (Rosie, 11 year-old daughter)
.6 mile run
280 yard swim
Lake Nokomis

I’m so excited to be training with my daughter for a super sprint triathlon! In a month, we’ll swim 200 yards in the lake, bike 7 miles and run 1 mile. Rosie is a great swimmer and biker. And she’s a fast sprinter. Now she needs to train to run a mile.

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 13/8 MILES

60 degrees
77% humidity
the almost downtown turn around

60 degrees! I run so much better when the weather is cooler. Today was a very good run. I ran up and down both hills without stopping and felt strong and happy to be running.

I’m collecting fragments for (maybe?) a collage on bad air, which at this point I’m defining as humidity, heat and dew point. Here are two more things to add:

1

the effects of heat on my running
a
bright red face, an increase in 
coughing and
clearing my throat, a strong
desire to stop doing anything,
especially running, very
few happy thoughts
going through my
head, shallow
inhaling,
jagged breathing, no
kick in my stride,
legs feeling
mushy,
not strong
or
powerful, all
quickness
rapidly evaporating while
sweat refuses to do the same,
too much moisture for that, so it pools
under my baseball cap and down to the
very tip of my ponytail, a
wick that collects the
(e)xtra water then drops it on my arm or leg or bright
yellow shirt, sometimes making
zigzag patterns on it.

2

Do point me to the pool or the lake or the air conditioning or anywhere that isn’t here, where the temperature is high, the heat index is higher and my desire to do anything but run is at its highest.

3

Hugh, mid tee or Hugh, mid t (shirt) or hew, mid tree?

open swim
3 loops: 3600 yards

My longest swim of the season. Great conditions for it. Overcast. No wind. Cooler. Felt good. On the way out of the water, I dropped and lost my nose plug. The first causality of the season. No big deal; nose plugs are under $10.

july 12/4 MILES

86 degrees
dew point: 64
mississippi river road path, south/minnehaha falls/minnehaha creek path/lake nokomis

Hot! Difficult! Some success, some failure. Gravel on the road, getting kicked up by commuting cars. Pebbles and dust flying at me. A hot wind, blowing in my face, which is already bright red. The sun beating down. My pulse heating up. No running playlist to distract me. And no memory of the running chants that I created to keep me going. What am I thinking about, other than: when am I done? why am I running in this heat? will I make it to Lake Nokomis for open swim? I stop and walk several times. But then I’m at the lake and it’s cooler, with a breeze coming off of the water, and I’m almost done and I’m trying to get past two other runners that are running just a little bit slower than me so I speed up for the last half mile. It feels good.

open swim
1 loop: 1200 yards

I’m only swimming one loop since I already ran 4 miles in the heat. I am worried that I might cramp up if I swim more than that. The water is warm, which feels nice, even though cooler water would be nice for cooling me down. The water is choppy, but not too choppy. Gentle, not rough. Only a few big waves are crashing into my face when I breathe on the wrong side. I spot the big orange buoys the whole time. I’m not running into anyone, although a vine ran into me, a few yards back. I’m not being routed by any other swimmers, well, just one at the little beach, but it was only a minor routing and I got back on track pretty quickly. I feel relaxed. Strong. Happy to be out in the water.

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 6/2.1 MILES

75 degrees
69% humidity
mississippi river road path, south/mississippi river road path, north

Completed a quick tempo run this hot and humid morning. Felt good. Realized that during my race on Tuesday, I didn’t use any of my spells/mantras/chants. I didn’t think about my breathing. Maybe that would have helped?

Biking: 8 miles
Swimming: 1500 yards

Here’s something I wrote for my writing class this week:

In Out
Take in oxygen Release carbon dioxide
Take in the world, the colors: the greens and browns of the gorge floor, the grays of the sky on a cloudy day, the electric blue of the yarn bomb on the railroad bridge, the bright yellow-green of the runner’s shirt, the orange of the traffic cone, the red of the stop sign, the purple of the lilac bush, the pink of my jacket, the silvery-white of the river as the sun dances on its surface. Breathe in and accept what the world is offering: Energy. Life. Inspiration. Release worries and doubts, expel that which is toxic, force out and offer up what you don’t need, what you don’t want, what doesn’t provide energy or life. Expiration.
Favorite reason for holding my breath, kid version: completing 10 back flips in a row under water at the neighborhood pool. My sister and I used to practice this all summer. One time she dreamed that Darth Vader had kidnapped me. He tied me to a grill and threatened to kill me unless she could complete 10 back flips in a row without stopping to breathe. She did it, of course. What you might say to your kid when she’s freaking out: Calm down and take some deep breaths.

What, in retaliation, she might do: Turn blue.

Breathing in winter is ______.

1. difficult, my lungs are burning!
2. fun when it’s so cold that the snot in my nose freezes up.
3. the best. I love the cold, pure air.

Breathing in summer is ______.

1. dangerous. Watch out for the bugs!
2. incredibly difficult after an open swim.
3. so thick! I hate humidity.

What you need for breathing: lungs, intercostal muscles, a diaphragm, comfortable pants What you don’t need: someone telling you to calm down and breathe.
Breathing and ethical imperatives, inspired by Judith Butler: A life that is livable is only possible when you have room to breathe. A life that is valuable/valued is only possible when you breathe more good air in. What Nietzsche writes about bad air in On the Genealogy of Morals: “What is it exactly that I find so totally unbearable? Something which I cannot deal with on my own, which makes me choke and feel faint? Bad air! Bad air! It’s when something which has failed comes close to me, when I have to smell the entrails of a failed soul!”
Smells smelled while breathing during a run: burnt toast; smoke from a fire, below me, somewhere deep in the gorge; skunk; rotting leaves; too much perfume on the runner I passed; chemicals after the rain; the sewer; the inside rim of my super nasty baseball cap that I’ve been wearing, and have never washed, for almost every run and almost every race for the past 5 years. Number of times I’ve attempted a snot rocket or shooting shot not out of my nose, mid-run: 1.

Number of times that attempt has failed: 1.

What breathes: noses; mouths; skin; leaves. living things. What doesn’t breathe: that annoying race t-shirt; my mom, not since Sept. 30, 2009.
Reasons why we breathe: so we don’t die; to embrace the world; to take in oxygen; to calm down; to walk; to run; to fly; we don’t need a reason, our body will do it anyway. Reasons why I can’t breathe: too much humidity; running too fast; a stuffed-up nose from inhaling lake water; finding out my mom was dying from stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
How to breathe in: Use your lungs. Breathe in deeply through your nose and mouth, with your diaphragm. As your abdomen extends, so does your invitation to the world to enter and fill you with wonder and gratitude. How to breathe out: Relax your shoulders. Let your body do the work of forcing the carbon dioxide out. Let go of the toxins, the resistance to grieving what you are losing or have lost. Prepare for another breath.

july 4/13.1 MILES

72 degrees
77% humidity
Half Marathon Race/Red White and Boom

I’m not disappointed with my race, even though I did not stick to my plan, which was to stop every 1.25 miles and walk. I stopped many more times. I had several problems. The first problem: I couldn’t stop at 1.25 miles because it was too crowded. Second: the double hills around 3.5 miles sucked up a lot of energy. Third: the hills around mile 8 were also exhausting. Fourth: It was too hot not to be carrying a water bottle with me. Getting water every 2.5 miles was too long.

My time was slower than I’d like and I resorted to walking, then running a little, then walking again for the last 2-3 miles. My biggest feeling at the end of the race: I’m done and I don’t have to race this again! This is the second time I’ve run this particular race and I think it’s clear to me: I don’t like it. The race is organized well. I just don’t like it. The route. The heat. The super early start (we got up at 4:45 and left the house by 5:45).

Random Things I Remember:

  • Waiting in line for the porta potty before the race started and just barely making it to the start line.
  • The very slim and tall young woman ahead of me in a white tank top with bright blue shorts.
  • Stepping on something and having my feet stick to the ground on every step for about a mile.
  • How crowded it was for the first 2 miles.
  • Feeling wiped out by the first big hill at around 3 and a half miles.
  • The guy who was fat shaming Rosie O’Donnell.
  • The other guy who yelled to his friends as they passed the 2:05 pacing group: “come on! unless you want to run as slow as this group!”
  • Initially being annoyed by the pacer running near me because of his loud trivia game but then seeing him as a fellow runner and person when he had to stop pacing because the humidity was making it difficult for him to breathe. An important reminder to see the humanity in everyone first, before anything else.
  • The loud “woo hoo” that erupted behind me by some runner–it couldn’t possibly be the same one every time–when we approached a water stop.
  • Hearing a race volunteer yell out to a runner pushing a stroller, “Alright! Making it a family affair.” And then another runner yelling out, “That’s illegal!” I’m pretty sure it is. Almost always, races like this don’t allow strollers. 
  • The women on the bus yelling at the cops directing traffic to stop the runners and let the bus go through so that she could get to work. That same woman yelling at the runner just in front of me because the runner was giving her a snarky look. I struggle with how to feel about this one. Shutting down streets for the race can be a big burden for non-racers who need the roads. This incident seems to highlight the privilege involved with racing. Yet, I appreciate that the roads are shut down.
  • Encountering a woman who was breathing so heavily that I thought she might pass out as she passed me while I was taking a walk break. Passing her when I started running. Then having her pass me when I walked again.
  • Listening in as two women planned their future training runs. “When should we do our next 10 mile run?”
  • Watching as two runners stopped so that one of them, a woman in a bra and skirt, could stretch her ankle, which seemed to be hurt.
  • Walking up a hill that never seemed to end.
  • Listening in on another conversation as one woman told the other, “We already passed her. I hope she isn’t mad that I didn’t say hi. I think it’s rude to say hi when you’re passing someone.”
  • Approaching the halfway point, and the place where the first member of the relay teams finished and then next one began, and hearing a guy who was running in the relay yell out “which way to I go?” as he approached some orange cones dividing the road. Because it was very clearly marked, with a sign and volunteers directing you, I wondered if he was joking or serious.
  • The annoying volunteer that kept yelling out, “come on, smile! smiles are required!”
  • Not smiling and hearing him say, “I guess we’ve got some tired runners out there.”
  • Watching the pacer who had stopped pacing earlier in the race pass me at around mile 11.
  • A tall man running with his head tilted sharply down to the right. I wondered, was he exhausted or does he always run that way?
  • Overheard several times by several different groups: Are you okay? Can you keep running?
  • Overheard by a woman to her friend as they approached a porta potty with a long line: “Are you going to stop?” The woman answered: “Nah, I’m good.” Her friend: “Are you sure?”
  • Giving a few high-fives to kids who had their hands stretched out on the route.
  • Hearing one runner say, “Hey, what’s that?” Their running buddy: “A monument.” The first runner, again: “Cool. Hey, check out that library. They don’t make libraries like that anymore. I want to go there.”

That’s all I can remember.

 

 

july 3/1.8 MILES

75 degrees
lake swim: 500 yards
bike to lake nokomis and back: 8.5 miles

Biked over to the lake and tried out my new watch. I’m not sure if it got the correct distance. Looking forward to seeing how it works in the swim across the lake on Thursday. Tomorrow is the half marathon. It’s supposed to be warm and humid. I’ll be happy when it’s finished. I’ve raced in two half marathons. One went very well, the other didn’t. The one that didn’t was this marathon, 2 years ago. I think I can do a much better job this time, especially if I stick to my plan.

*Squeezed in a bonus run of 1.8 miles in the late afternoon when it was 81 degrees.

july 2/XT

68 degrees
open swim: 2 loops/2400 yards
bike to lake nokomis and back: 7 miles

Some Thoughts on Cross-training with Best’s Disease

Biking to the lake was difficult. A little scary when other bikers approached me, especially when they were biking too fast. My depth perception is pretty bad and I can’t always judge the distance between me and the approaching bikers. Hard to focus because of my macular dystrophy. Had to decide between looking forward and paying attention to where I was going or looking down to make sure that there weren’t any big cracks or debris on the path. Couldn’t do both because my eyes couldn’t focus on both or because my brain couldn’t handle all the jumbled signals it was receiving from my scrambled eyes or for some other reason that I don’t quite understand. I chose to look ahead. Luckily there wasn’t anything on the path. As I got used to the unsettling feeling of not quite seeing everything and just trusting that I was seeing enough, it got easier.

Successfully made it to the lake for open swim. A beautiful sunny morning. It’s always harder to swim across the lake in the morning. The sun is in my eyes as I swim to the smaller beach, making it difficult to see the big orange triangles out on the lake, marking the path. I’m sure it’s hard for anyone, but sunny days really mess with my already messed up macula. It’s also difficult to see because there are fewer landmarks to guide me. No big, sandy beach with the yellow boats on the one side that I track in my peripheral vision to ensure that I don’t stray too far to the right. No big beach house with the roof that you can see across the lake, even when you can’t see anything else. No white canopy. No tall light pole. On Sunday mornings, during my first trip across the lake, I’m usually swimming blind. Just trusting that my stroke is straight. It almost always is. And, now that I’ve been swimming across the lake for four years, I’m used to the feeling of swimming blind. It doesn’t make me panic or stop swimming. By the second loop, if I do one, I’ve figured out where the triangles are and worry even less about seeing them.

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 30/4 MILES

67 degrees
76% humidity
dew point 57
mississippi river road path, north/mississippi river road path, south

A good run. Followed my plan: Run 1.25/Walk 30 sec./Run 1.25/Walk 1 min/Run 1.5. Ran with headphones, so I didn’t really think that much, which was fine.

I’ve been thinking more about open swimming lately. Here’s a abecedarian poem about it:

Open Swim

Annoying things happen during an open swim.
Bad weather, big waves
Causing choppy water that can make me
Drift off the course. Bright sun in my
Eyes, blinding me. Bright sun on my
Face, burning me.
Goggles that can fog up, although that
Hardly happens anymore now that
I use baby shampoo in the lenses.
Just a little.
Keep it on the
Lens for a few
Minutes, then gently rinse it out. My
Nose used to get really stuffed up after swimming. I could
Only breathe through my mouth. At night, I would
Panic, unable to fall back asleep,
Questioning whether or not it was
Really worth it to keep doing open
Swim. It is. I searched for a solution. I
Tried sprays and pills, which didn’t work. Then, I tried nose plugs.
Uncomfortable and ugly. But effective.
Very, very effective and cheap.
Whenever I swim now, I wear them. I bought an
eXtra pair, just in case I lose the first one. I keep both cases in my
Yellow backpack, always making sure that I
Zip them up tightly, in the pouch on the top.

june 29/XT

75 degrees
open swim: 2 loops/2400 yards

Happy Birthday to me.
Now I’m 43!
I had such a great day
not one bit was crappy.

Woke up no longer 42, but 43. Went to the studio with Scott and wrote, working on two drafts that were homework for the amazing writing class that I’m taking. Read about lists in narrative structure, also for the class. Came home. Wrote some more. Went to open swim on a beautiful evening with calm water. Swam a loop. Then swam with my daughter. Our first training swim for the triathlon we’re doing together in August. Team Mo (Mom) and Ro (Rosie). Then swam another loop. Now I’m home writing this log entry. I have a nice warm, sore feeling from my swim. This was a great birthday.

 

june 28/4 MILES

69 degrees
89% humidity
mississippi river road path, north/minnehaha falls/mississippi river road path, south

The 1/2 marathon is next Tuesday and I have a running/walking plan for it. There are water stops every 2.5 miles until mile 7.5 when the water stops shorten to every 2 miles. I will stop and walk 30 seconds after 1.25 miles, then 1 minute at 2.5 (water), 3.75, 5 (water), 6.25, 7.5 (water), 9.5 (water) and 11.5 (water) miles. I tried an abbreviated version of this plan on my run today, walking at miles 1.25 and 2.5. I ran faster and finished stronger.

The key, I think, to all of this is to stay consistent and stick to my plan. I’m too good at finding reasons to alter my plans. Not because I don’t want to do the work but because I don’t trust my plan or because I think I can find a better way or because I’m restless and don’t like the obligation of sticking to one plan. I like to have options and the ability to think and imagine new ways of being and doing. And I like making plans much more than following them. Often, this is one of my strengths: flexible, creative thinking, always open to new possibilities. Being undisciplined. But, it can be a liability. Sometimes discipline and focus are needed.

june 27/8 MILES

64 degrees
the almost downtown turn around

Success! After several runs where I felt like I was too tired or too slow or too willing to stop and walk, I had a successful run. I decided that i would have a plan and stick to it, no matter what. My plan? Run 1.5 miles/Walk 1 minute. I ran up both hills without problems and kept to my running/walking schedule. The only change that I made was to skip the last walk and run for 2 miles instead of just 1.5. Lesson learned: decide on a plan and commit to it.

open swim
1 loop/1200 yards

The theme of the swim: chilly & choppy. So choppy! Big waves and rough water, especially by the big beach. Fun and exhausting. I’m glad that I’m a very strong swimmer.

june 25/3 MILES

56 degrees
mississippi river road path, north/mississippi river road path, south

56 degrees in June at 8 am. On February 19, it was 58 degrees. 58. Of course, that was at 2 pm, not 8 am. But, still. This weather is crazy. I ran much faster this morning and it felt pretty good. I think I need to add in a few faster runs each week.

58 degrees
open swim: 1 loop/1200 yards
bike to lake nokomis and back: 7 miles

Brrr. Actually, with my wetsuit on, it wasn’t too cold. The water temp was probably about 15 degrees warmer than the air temp. The water was very choppy in the middle of the lake, closer to the little beach. I don’t mind choppy. It’s kind of fun and it makes the trip across the lake even more interesting.  The bike ride was tougher. Lots of wind, some rain too. Sore legs. There was a tree down, stretching across the whole width of the street on my bike route. Must have been because of the strong winds yesterday afternoon. There were several spazzy dogs at the lake, barking and lunging at walkers, runners, other dogs.

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 23/6.15 MILES

63 degrees
mississippi river road path, south/minnehaha falls dog park/mississippi river road path, north

Ran 6.15 miles (with just a small bit of walking too) in the morning and then worked on my writing assignment for my class. This week, the assignment was to write a 2-3 page disruptive or fluid narrative. I think mine might be a bit of both:

Don’t Stop (on believing)

It’s hard to hold onto a thought when you’re running, except for when it’s not. Some thoughts, the brilliant ones, can pierce through your armor, leaving you breathless with their insight and intensity. Then they quickly evaporate. Other thoughts, the doubtful ones, linger. You can’t get rid of them. They keep returning, even as you try to push them away, to crowd them out with distractions and attention to other things. Like birds chirping. And leaves gently rustling. And sandy grit lightly crunching. And trees sighing. Why do trees sigh? Is it a gesture of resigned acceptance as they absorb the negative thoughts that we exhale? Or is it an offering of gratitude as they receive the carbon dioxide that is forced out of our bodies? Do trees sigh? Sometimes I think they do as I run by them. When I’m paying attention, that is. And when I’m distracted enough not to notice the worries that hover, like the humidity on an early summer morning. Thick. Wet. Heavy. A blanket of moisture weighing me down. Or an anchor, tethering me too firmly to the ground, like the time I had to run at noon, instead of in the morning, which is when I prefer running. It was in the spring, before it got too hot, but after the sun was out. Directly overhead. Bearing down. In the morning, my shadow leads me as I travel north and follows as I travel south. But that noon, my shadow was chained to me, no matter which direction I ran. An anchor, clinging to my feet. Dragging me down, into the ground. Demanding my attention and distracting me from the joy of moving and being outside. Right after I get outside, during an early morning run, I like to greet my shadow. “Hello friend!” Never out loud, just in my head. I’m hoping to be on good terms with her. She can be so helpful, running ahead of me, leading the way while my legs slowly warm up. And, if it’s early enough, she likes to run below me in the gorge, assessing the progress of the leaves on the trees and inviting me to do the same. I glance down and wonder what’s lurking behind those leaves? and where are those voices I’m hearing coming from? I hear a lot of voices when I’m running without headphones on. Friendly voices that greet me with a “hi” or “good morning” as we encounter each other on the path. Agitated voices, in the midst of a heated conversation or a swear-filled rant, that don’t notice me or my amused smile as l pass them. Annoying voices that drone on and on about something that only register as loud, insistent bellows or whines, but that cut through every other sound: the whirring wheels, the buzzing bees, my jagged breathing. Far away voices, distorted by distance and a bullhorn, that bark out orders to the rowers rowing on the river. Cackling voices, somewhere below me, that erupt with laughter over a joke? a funny story? one of the bodies attached to the voice almost tripping over a root on the path? And a malevolent voice that interrupts everything else to remind me that I am running and that it is hard and that I don’t have to be doing this. This voice frequently surfaces when I’m 30-40 minutes into a longer run.

You could stop, you know.

In A Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros claims that when you are outside, moving through the world, you are never alone with your thoughts: “Everything talks to you, greets you, demands your attention: trees, flowers, the colour of the roads. The sigh of the wind, the buzzing of insects, the babble of streams, the impact of your feet on the ground: a whole rustling murmur that responds to your presence (54-55)”. These murmurs delight and distract, but also invite us to pay attention to something other than ourselves and our limits. When I’m walking, I’m particularly fond of the trees. The tall, ancient ones, that spread their limbs wide and high, forcing me to crane my neck to take in their immense girth and wisdom. When I’m running, I often focus on the wind and its many versions: when it sizzles through the trees, its gentle wafting as a breeze, the times it howls as it rushes past my ears. That wind, the howling kind, is so awful when you have to run directly into it.

You know, you could stop.

In “Attention and Will,” Simone Weil argues that it is attention and not will or willfullness or stubbornness or clenched jaws or a better attitude or more fortitude that enables us to believe. Paying attention, pure, “absolutely unmixed attention is prayer” and faith and love. A belief detached from desire or doubt. But, attention to what? Attention to the good, the beautiful. The electric blue yarn bomb on the railroad trestle. The graceful gait of the passing runner. The clickity-clacking from the ski poles of the rollerblader/summer skier. The soft dirt absorbing the force of my striking foot. Not attention to the problem of being too tired, of wanting to stop running.

You could, you know. Stop, that is.

On the running path, I attempt to pray through breathing. In and out. In and out. Inhaling the world, exhaling the doubt. When this isn’t working, I try chanting: I am flying, I am free, I am where I want to be. Sometimes I resort to a counter-spell like the one that I created during a morning run a few weeks ago: This is my charm, against all harm. I’ll try every trick I can think of or that I’ve read about to distract myself and be fully present in the moment of running on the path. And to keep running and moving. To access another level of existence for a moment. Not to miss it by stopping.

But you could, you know, just stop, not go.

This cycle of attention/distraction, from believing to doubting to believing to doubting to believing, doesn’t happen on every run, although it’s been happening more lately, in the summer heat and humidity. But, when it does happen, it can happen over and over and over again until I’ve reached my destination or the number of miles that I’ve planned to run for that day. Occasionally the malevolent voice wins out and I stop early, but most of the time, it doesn’t. I keep moving until I’m finished. And, if I’m really lucky, I am changed, ever so slightly, by the effort, by my shift from will to attention and by having been able to experience the infinite if only for an instant.