Friday, March 28, 2008

Blogger's Block

* I'm experiencing blogger's block. Is it because I have nothing to say? Is it because I'm not running very much so my brain is atrophying as much as the rest of me?

I do want to wish that all my injured friends get well. Joseph and his poor tortured sesamoid (by the way I believe you're going to do well tomorrow!). Joe Positive and her hip. Mainers and his seemingly healed calf and now cold. Meghan and her pain in the butt. Evie and her stubborn foot.

Hmmm. What else? I did read the NY Times article on endorphins. All I can say is, duh. I could have told them that and they could have saved the money and the resources they spent on the study. There was nothing like the feeling I got last summer finishing up those 20ish mile wave workouts on the towpath. It would be hot and I'd be covered in sweat, so much so that I could wring it out of my shorts. I remember jogging to my car after I was finished and fishing around in my workout bag looking for the jug of fruit punch flavored endurox I lovingly prepared for myself, complete with lots of ice so it would still be nice and frosty when I drank it. I would get through the last couple of miles of that workout just thinking about that jug! Mmm. And in no other context does that stuff taste good. But when the sun was beating down and I was dehydrated and flooded with those endorphins it tasted damn good! See, running does make you high. I miss the towpath. And I miss endorphins. I might even miss endurox.

Yikes. To overcome my running blogger's block I've stooped to reminiscing. I mean, who wants to know about my 3.5 mile no watch run around downtown Cleveland? It was nice, but nothing to write in a blog about. So you'll have to settle for my reminiscing.

* This is so bad I can't even find a good picture! So, today in honor of my sister's cats' preparation for their great voyage, enjoy this cat, who incidentally looks strikingly like Fortunato, in a sleeve.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

5 Minutes in the Valley

I'm sitting here at my kitchen table with Fortunato curled up on my lap. He's snoozing so he's missing the big fat bumbling mourning dove sitting on our deck and the neighborhood bald eagle circling over our slice of the river valley. We have another foot of snow out there. I am as sick of winter as anyone, but I have to admit it's breathtakingly beautiful--the snow a stark contrast to the leafless apple tree branches. And now there's a cardinal at the feeder next to some sparrows, the one mourning dove, and some juncos, sticking out like a sore thumb.

I got out for a run a little while ago. Just 4 miles. I ran down my snowy street as it winds along the river. The only irritating thing was the speeding drivers. My street is windy and mildly hilly and not conducive to driving over 30 miles per hour, especially from a pedestrian's vantage point. When I reached the end of our road, about 1.75 miles from my house I turned around and spotted a huge darkly colored hawk sitting in a tree along the river bank. One of the benefits of not training is that I was able to take the time to stop and admire it. It didn't seem to mind my gawking. I could hear nearby song birds squawking, probably about the big bird danger lurking nearby.

As I made my way back home I passed mrp on his way out and I tried to tell him about the hawk, but he just looked at me and said, "what?!" Heh. I forgot there was a headwind going in that direction. No matter. It would probably be gone by the time he gets there anyway.

I decided to add on a half mile loop of a sidestreet on my way back and I was having such a nice time I ran past home and over the single-lane bridge to check out the gas well to see if it was activated. For some reason I always get a kick out of seeing that thing humping. On the way back I watched the spring-time river rush by below me.

Fortunato is now awake and standing next to me and still oblivious to the scene outside. Mrp's here and complaining that despite all his attempts to attract them, there are no bluebirds among the avian throngs. They must be extinct, he says. The mourning dove is gone and the juncos have taken over, having weathered the brief appearance of an aggressive grackle. As much as I hate to admit it, the snow just might bring out the best in this place.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Great Expectations

Did you know that you can only be disappointed by something if you have expectations about that thing? Another one of those duh revelations for you. Why do I bring this up, you ask.

Well, I have been struggling with feelings of disappointment for quite some time. I'm not talking acute and normal disappointment that comes from running a subpar race. I'm talking about the kind that comes from expecting life to generally be a certain way only for it not to go that way. Wa wa, right?

Here's what I expected. I expected to run a strong marathon in October, one that left me satisfied. Then I expected to have an amazing wedding to mrp in November. Then I expected to train for one more month for club nationals and to run tough and help my team there. Then I figured I'd take a break from running and mrp and I would focus on starting our family and within a month or two I'd be pregnant and here we would be expecting. More expecting.

Here's how it went. My marathon was far from satisfying. Sure, it was a pr and I have learned to live with it. If I never run another marathon I really won't feel that bad about a lifetime personal best of 3:10:15. Whatever. Sure, I know I can do better, but if I never have the opportunity, so be it. If I do, bonus!

Our wedding was amazing. In fact, it exceeded my expectations, if you can believe it. The marriage itself is going swell too. I am very happy and thoroughly satisfied on that front and I trully am not just saying that 'cause I'm supposed to.

I did continue training but a couple of weeks before club nationals we and I had my first ever pregnancy "scare." My period was seemingly late for the first time ever and I had been feeling things I normally don't feel. Well, turns out gaining a couple of pounds and decreasing mileage by 40% or so will do that to a girl. It appears my hormones were balancing out and those symptoms were normal pre-menstrual symptoms and the late period was just a slightly longer normal cycle. False alarm, but it got us thinking and it distracted me from training and racing my best at nationals. I still had a blast, which was really the point, but it was the beginning of the muddled feeling of confliction and disappointment.

So, I took December and January off from training. I ran a bit, but not much to speak of thinking I'd get pregnant. Nothing. People told me I could keep training and still get pregnant--afterall, many people had done it. "I knew this one woman who got pregnant three times on 60+ mpw" or "My friend was shocked to find out she was pregnant the week before her marathon" or "Paula Radcliffe..." So, I thought maybe I was being overly cautious and since I felt antsy and wayward I talked to Tinman about it and he helped me come up with a lower mileage plan (45-50 miles per week).

Still nothing. Actually, those pounds I had gained started to flee. What's worse is that I attempted to run three races in this time. I legitimately had a horrible stitch in NY, but I have to wonder if somehow it was self-sabotage and in the next two races I consciously could not put the pedal down and push my body to the brink. I want to devote my body's resources to nurturing a child now, not running a pr. Even on my fartleks I started to feel conflicted. I just couldn't do it. As hard as it was to realize and accept that training and getting pregnant are pretty mutually exclusive for me, I felt instantly better once I decided to focus on one over the other.

So, that's where things stand for me. I am still running, just not much and not very fast. I am not to exceed 30 miles per week and I am not to run hard. My doctors agree. Tinman agrees. I agree. This is what's best. It's just not easy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Camera in the Wrong Hands

I have yet another confession for you. I am one of those people who likes to take group shots myself. You know, the ones where the faces all jumble up in the frame. Sometimes they come out cute:



Sometimes they come out really bad, like mrp's face is cut off and when it's not you can tell he's over the whole picture thing and then of course we're both squinting because I insisted we take our beautiful portrait with the intense morning sun in our face.



But that's beside the point.

Anyway, we left Vegas and headed out Rt 93. Along 93 happens to be the Hoover Dam.

We immediately noticed how low the water table in Lake Meade is. Oh, and of course how strinkingly beautiful it is too. Can't not mention that! Of course then we needed to do what all tourists do: prove we were there!

First mrp.

Then me.

Then mrp and me. How novel!



And here's a little of mrp's right brain porn: a shot of the under construction bridge for the under construction Rt 93 Hoover Dam bypass. After a few snapshots and ducking and weaving RV driving and tour bus riding tourists, we hit the road for the real prize. And after a lot of staring out the window looking for weird cacti, we finally made it. Unfortunately, it looked like this.

That's a real picture of the sky. Duh. We navigated through the dark and found our lodge. I told the lady at the desk we were there to check-in. She looked for my name and said I wasn't on the list of reservations. "Impossible!" I said as I whipped out my printout. She took a look at it and noted the reservation I made was for the preceding two days. Christ! Remember that thing I was telling you about problems with details. Well, there you go. Luckily they had rooms for our two nights and luckily the rest of the trip was going so smooth mrp and I thought it was freaking hilarious and laughed about it all the way up to the room.

In the morning, after a brief encounter with a lady elk (which is odd for some of us, Meghan).

Then finally mrp spied the Canyon!

I was a little more timid at first.

Note the bar. But then, I relaxed and posed (a little stiffly) seemingly at the edge of the precipice.

And once warmed up, mrp and I tackled quite a bit of the unpaved rim trail even in the snow.

And of course along the way we hammed it up with some buildings.




On our way out mrp and I got to talking about grade school social studies and about how we were both fascinated by the idea of a Painted Desert. We saw on a map in the lodge lobby that we were within 50 miles or so of the Painted Desert. We asked some kid who worked there about it (who was from Nebraska, according to his name tag). We asked him whether it would be a nice drive out to Tuba City. He replied, "I don't know why you'd want to do that. It's just desert." We were sold. And off we went.

About 10 miles outside of the park we came to a roadside scenic overlook. As we walked down we saw a sign that said "Watch for Snakes and Lizards." "Go stand by the sign so I can get a picture," I directed mrp.



As I was fumbling with the camera he gets all excited and says, "Hey, there's a lizard." And there you have it.

We headed off walking down a dusty desert path and climbed down some rocks and suddenly were overtaken by a canyon carved by the Little Colorado River. Beautiful! The Grand Canyon is so immense it is hard to mentally grasp. Perspective is all off and it is just this constant ruddy panorama. But this little canyon was so much more easily grasped that it made it almost equally stunning to us midwesterners.

And speaking of stunning:

Haha. We were the only one's there so I took the opportunity to release my inner cheesecake. And then we climbed back out and headed back to the car.

As we drove we found ourselves deeper and deeper into the Navajo Nation and the beautiful and constantly changing landscape of the Painted Desert. We stopped in Tuba City for cheese burgers (it was later on Sunday so other than fast food not much was open--no fry bread). We decided to keep on going for just a little longer. We headed out another 25 miles or so and it was just beautiful. We decided to turn off the road before turning around just to take in the sights. All of a sudden I noticed some movement off into the distance and then I realized what it was.

Wild mustangs headed our way! Ok, not wild mustangs, but running horses of any ilk are pretty cool.

And then we headed back to our National Park confines and into the sunset.



Friday, March 14, 2008

Ahh, Humility

I have some sad sad news to report. You might want to sit down for this. Are you ready? When I was out on an easy 4 miler at lunch today I noticed something strange. As I ran by the back door of the Hustler Club I noticed it was open and I saw a pole all alone inside in the dark. And as I turned the corner I noticed some guys carrying things out the front door and then I noticed the marquee was gone! NO!!!! Not the Hustler Club! It was the only thing to get me through those blizzardy fartleks when I felt like I couldn't go on! I suspect now I will be entertained by demolition. The last time there was a swath of empty buildings in the flats like that they were leveled within weeks. Soon I will run in the company of cranes and back hoes and hooting construction workers. Ok. I guess that will have to do.

But as I was finishing up my four miler and reflecting on the demise of the Hustler Club, my mind wandered to Eliot Spitzer. I guess I should preface this with the fact that I have a bit of a curious fascination with the sex industry. I get it, but I don't get it. I'm sure it's because I'm a woman, but I really don't get why men would upend their lives for sex: ruin relationships, risk disease, ruin careers, waste gobs of money etc. And even more peculiar to me is what causes a woman to enter the sex industry? The Eliot Spitzer case is a perfect case study and it fascinates me. Anyway, as I was running I was thinking about the fact that the prositution ring was called the Emperor's Club and how I always associate the words "the fall of" with every Empire.

And this got me to thinking about myself. I am totally one of those people who just as she starts to think she's hot and starts to strut she trips on the sidewalk and looks like a fool! I am glad that happens to me and keeps me in check. I like being stuck on earth. But really, I read something about why the scandal is so particularly damaging to Spitzer: no one likes him. He was a horribly cocky asshole to everyone that got in his way and he had no friends. He staked his whole political career on squashing people like bugs. He is just that quintessential case of getting too big for his britches. The more tyrannical the empire, the farther it has to fall and the more humiliating that fall is. And worse still, no one will be there to help clean up. Sad.

And this got me thinking back to my pecking order post. When runners get too cocky about their abilities and alienate those around them there will be no one there for them when they get injured or sick or life gets in the way. As I struggle with my down time I am glad I have a lot of friends who have been there and when I feel bad about and worry that people think less of me that I'm not out there racing well right now that kind of stuff helps me feel better and confident I can pick it back up when the time is right, like Chelle (seriously, she is the patron saint of comebacks!)

Anyway, speaking of embarassing, I don't think I told you this exciting news: I'm being audited. When I found out a few weeks ago I collected all my records and upon my review, I realized I made a really stupid mistake. I'm a tax lawyer and I'm supposed to know what I'm doing. And of course the error was in my favor so I've been sweating how I was going to handle it. I was pretty sure that they would give me an extra hard time about it because of my job, assuming I did it on purpose. I really didn't. For a tax attorney, I am terrible with minutia and details. I have never ever taken an accounting class. In fact, the extent of my accounting knowledge comes from the Accounting for Dummies book sitting over there on my book shelf. I was even a math minor and only did well in math because I got the big concepts just fine, but I'd always get dinged for arithmetical errors. I am into policy and fighting the man, not so much filling out forms and sometimes my lack of interest in and attention to detail causes me to make stupid mistakes that come back to bite me.

But yes, as I walked up the stairs to the auditor's office, I pictured my future spending time whittling and singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot in the federal penitentiary alongside gruffy man-voiced biker chicks, detoxing junkies, and young women with scary boyfriends with tears tattooed on their cheeks. But once in, I sucked it up and admitted the moronic mistake and it was no big deal. I told the auditor about it and he agreed it was a mistake, but he was nice about it and laughed with me about my lack of skill in tax return preparing. I will owe a few hundred dollars. Oh well. I'm sure if I went in there all bad-assed tax lawyer I'd be screwed right now. Ahh, humility.

In other news, I ordered the hook-up thingee for my camera so I should be able to upload some pics from our trip early next week. When I do, I'll tell you all about the Arizona excitement.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cha-Ching

Ok. Las Vegas is just ridiculous. It was everything I expected and more. The one thing that shocked me was how there are so few places that cater to people who want to be outside. Everything is indoors and dark and often smoky. That is a damn shame, especially when the weather is 65-75 and sunny! Mrp and I luckily found a few cafes with outdoor seating to enjoy the warm air, sunshine and people watching. Wow. The people run the gambit. We saw the quitessential Vegas guy with the slicked hair and baby blue patent leather shoes. But those are a rarity. Instead the Japanese business men abound alongside the ubiquitous bleach blond bachelorette party-goers and their mid-life crisis in training male counterparts, flashy Euopeans, and middle Americans enjoying such passe attractions as Coyote Ugly, Dick's Last Resort, and Planet Hollywood. And someone has to appreciate that every casino forces those horrible leotard-like outfits on their cocktail waitresses. It's really not sexy. Well, not to me anyway. Actually, that's what I think really intrigued me. Who are all these people making this place tick and what the heck do they think of all this excess and all-to-common cluelessness that abounds? And how do they feel charging me $2.99 for a cup of diner coffee?!

Even worse, the place is teeming with misguided parents who somehow got hosed into thinking a place with pictures of naked women in lascivious poses littering the sidewalks and with hotels that force you to walk a long ways through a smoky labrynthian casino is a family destination. It's really not, whatever anyone might tell you. It is the most adult of playgrounds and if you accept that it can be a lot of fun. And boy did mrp and I have fun!

It was so fun just to gape at the spectacle. Sure, the water attractions at the hotels, like the Fountains of Bellagio (said in a very breathy and vaguely European accented voice) are nothing short of appalling in light of the drought conditions in the dessert Southwest (made even more glaring when we passed over the very obviously depleted Lake Mead). But the fake New York, Paris, Egypt, Rome, Venice, Thailand were absurdly amazing. "Rome," also known as Caesar's Palace is truly the best of the bunch. In fact, before we even made it into Caesar's I was sure all those thick velvet curtains in the casinos hid VIP vomitoria. Maybe there really aren't vomitoria, but I'm sure for the right price one could purchase an orgy. Vegas proves there are some things about people that span the ages. I'm sure I would have been a snobby Roman if I was born 2200 years ago too.

Anyway, mrp and I were total dorks and paid too much to ride to the top of the "Eiffel Tower" (which was horrifying!) and we got the guts up and forked over too much to ride the roller coaster on top of "New York" (which was really fun!) We went out for an absurdly expensive dinner (seriously, I didn't know a dinner for two people could cost that much!) We went with an opulent 7-course tasting menu at the chicest of French restaurants. We even let the sommelier choose our wine for each course (1985 Port tastes pretty damn good!) In our normal life we would NEVER do anything like that and I'm not sure we're sophisticated enough to fully appreciate it, but we did appreciate expanding our horizons and just doing something different. Mixing it up and living on the edge is good sometimes! Foie gras is always disgusting! And now we know.

As for running, while we were in Vegas we got out to run once. We drove about 15 miles West to Red Rock Canyon. It was such a nice break from the Vegasness of Vegas. The ranger pointed us to some non-treachorous trails and off we went running through the dessert. It was glorious! I now understand the appeal of real trail running. It was so fun to cruise up and down the single track dusty trails. Man, I could do that all day everyday. So beautiful and fun! We managed about 4 miles but we did do a little starting and stopping to gaze at the scenery or check out a lizard or two along the way. Afterwards we found a trail that went deep into the rocky canyon and did a little hiking and exploring. Then we returned to the faint dinging and whirring and flashing and smoking of the casino-wonderland to the East.

At least we had the forethought to ditch Vegas in favor of the Grand Canyon on Saturday morning. We got to avoid the weekend bacchanalian throngs and see one of the 7 natural wonders of the world to boot!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Pecking Orders and Not-Races

Early last week mrp mentioned something about helping to pace his friend in a 30k. Mrp hasn't run seriously in quite some time so I'm always interested to see him push himself. I'd love for him to get back into training. His friend *M* is training for the marathon trials and was looking to average 6:20's for the 30k, starting around 6:30 and working down to 6:10's by the end. He was very worried that he wouldn't be able to keep that kind of pace for 18.6 miles so he suggested I enter the corresponding 15k and run the first lap with *M* and then he'd jump in for the second lap. I think at my peak last fall I could come in under an hour for a 15k, but right now I'm not so sure I'm in shape for it or that I particularly want to. I left things open to the possibility of backing out, but I more or less agreed to at least show up and stay with her as long as I could. I suppose if all hope of her achieving her goal depended on me I could come through.

Thank goodness it didn't, though. Mrp decided to run the entire race with her and *M* managed to talk her friend *K* into running the first 15k too. On top of that the course was pretty icy, the weather was frigid and windy and mrp said the course was about .25 miles long. Plus, it turned out I had a lovely tempo run that I would have missed out on and *M* didn't even end up pushing all that hard. In fact, by the time I finished my 15k I was just a few seconds behind her.

The way it panned out was, I awkwardly lined up with mrp, *M*, and *K* feeling like I didn't quite belong. Running has a weird social hierarchy. This was the first time I met *K* and I felt her look me up and down with this sort of "who are you?" kind of thing going on. Admittedly it could all be in my head as I did feel a little out of place as it was. But, I've noticed this before. No one talks about this, but just like in any other social arena, running has it's popular and unpopular people. It's mean girls and wannabes and everything in between. I know name droppers and people who's self-worth seems so hung up on their running that it's embarrassing to talk to them. I also know fast runners who won't give slow runners the time of day. At the same time, I know way more nice well-adjusted runners fast, slow, and everywhere in between.

I definitely have my faults and I don't mean to talk smack at all. It's just that sometimes I feel kind of bad about it. Even though in the rest of my life I am pretty well-adjusted sometimes I feel like the kid sitting by herself in the school cafeteria in my running life because I didn't use the right lingo or because I didn't run a time that magically acts as a ticket into the cool table. Sometimes I feel like the coolest kid in school too when people I've never met congratulate me for some race I ran months earlier or people seem strangely eager to meet me. Maybe it's because I'm relatively new to running and I'm figuring out the social structure so that's why I feel like a kid sometimes?

For me, I want running to be a break from pecking orders and social competition. I like to root for everyone and I try not to feel bad that this or that person did better than me, although I do feel bad sometimes when I feel like I didn't run hard enough to beat them. I admittedly don't always succeed. I admittedly have gotten caught up in the competition from time to time and have had to check myself. But 99.9% of the time I am happy for other people's running successes. Why not be? I did talk to *K* and her husband quite a bit after the race and they were super nice and I'm sure any look was inadvertant or unconscious (or again, possibly in my head). But this very minor incident got me thinking about all this other stuff so it was worth mentioning. Again, it is in no way meant as a negative against *K*!

Anyway, back to the race. The four of us went out together. I ran with them through the first mile or so and then we hit a narrow bike path that was covered in ice. So, we were all clustered in there and then the 5k runners started coming back through us and I got cut off from my group. By the time I got off the path onto the road, they were a good 15 seconds or so ahead of me and dropping the pace. I felt really good right where I was so I just relaxed and went with it. I was running alone and I was locked into a very comfortable 6:5x pace the entire way. I can't tell you how nice it felt. It was weird. By mile 3, I watched *K* break away from *M* and mrp. *K*'s fast! She went on for the 15k win.

By about 7 miles or so I started to feel a little tired, no maybe bored is the word I want here. I was ready to be done. I think I would have dialed it down a bit but the wind was starting to whip up and it was really cold. I could feel a stupid stitch building and by then I was entrenched in second place and still happy as a clam with my pace so why tempt fate at that point. So, I continued on dancing over the icy bike path again and then looking forward to the finish until I got there and they told me I had to run around the building once before heading into the shoot. This annoyed me so this is the only time I picked the pace up. I finished second behind *K* in 1:04 and change and felt good.

It's awkward to me when people compliment me on my race when I know I really didn't race. It's hard to accept a good job when I feel like I really didn't do the job they think I did. Part of it is pride, "I could really run a lot faster!" And part of it is that I don't deserve it, "I'm sorry but I didn't do the work to deserve your praise!" But yesterday I just said thanks and smiled and let myself be satisfied for once.

I saw *K* and asked her if she was going back out but she said she was done and going for some coffee. She invited me along but I wanted to head back out to see how mrp and *M* were doing. So, I jogged back out along the course, again having to go on that god-forsaken icy bike path! I headed out a little shy of 2.5 and hung out with a cop waiting in the freezing cold in my capri tights, long sleeve top, and dollar store stretch gloves. I kept telling him I was only going to wait one more minute but I couldn't go knowing they should be coming around the bend any second now. Finally, I saw them and could tell they gave up the initial quest. I said good bye to my cop buddy and jogged after them and they weren't going much faster than me by this point. I passed over that stupid bike path one last time and fought the nasty wind before meeting them at the finish. *M* felt crappy, and like I said, it wasn't the day for super-hero running so they decided to just complete the 30k and call it a day. She'll just try again at a 25k next weekend. She nuts! But in a good way, of course.

As for me, I'm just playing this week by ear because on Wednesday mrp and I are hitting the friendly skies on our way to Las Vegas! We're spending 3 days in Vegas and then road-tripping to spend about 2.5 days at the Grand Canyon. I've never been to either. I've always wanted to reenact the Brady Bunch episode where the kids + cousin Oliver ride burros to the bottom of the Canyon and hijinks ensue. I also can't wait for the people watching possibilites of Vegas. Imagine all the gawking and judgment I can pass. I know what you're thinking!