Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mommy Ran a 5K

It's official.  The Indianapolis Women's Half Marathon and 5K is in the books and I was a bona fide bib-wearing participant.  I certainly didn't come in anywhere near First Place, but I also didn't finish last.  I placed 221st out of the 397 runners in the 5K, just over halfway through the pack and well within my expectations.

When we stepped out of the parking garage that morning I was surprised at how emotional I became at the sight of the half-marathon runners (who were already well on their way) and the crowds of people who lined the streets to cheer them on.

I had no idea there would be so much support from strangers, and it made me both proud and nervous:  proud at the camaraderie of the event and nervous at the realization that there would be people watching me run too!  For a moment I imagined some sort of Race Bully who would lurk on the sidelines and yell discouraging things to those of us who were obviously struggling.  Clay assured me that this would not happen.  Still, I allowed myself the pleasure of imagining the crowd of cheering onlookers descending upon my imaginary Race Bully and pummeling him for his disrespect.

After kissing Clay and the kids goodbye I took my place among the other runners on Monument Circle.  I still have no idea where the actual starting line was, but the masses moved at the sound of the gun and I went right along with them. 

During my training I never did manage to stay running for the whole length of any run.  I always have to alternating running with walking, and the 5K was no different.  I imagined my walking would be an embarrassing handicap in a sea of experienced runners (enter my imaginary Race Bully), but that was not the case at all!  I stayed with the same group of women for most of the race, our paces intertwining as we took turns running and walking around each other.  I never learned their names, but they were my partners nonetheless.

There was a lean, muscular woman who looked like she could've run that 5K in her sleep, but she had to stop and walk every bit as often as I did.  There were two mother-daughter pairs; the younger daughter was about 8 years old and the older daughter was about 18.  The young girl took cues from her young mother and they ran and walked in near silence throughout the course, but the 18-year-old was quite an attentive coach, talking and laughing during walks and giving quiet encouragement during runs.  There was a lady who -- I'll try to be polite by saying she was fairly Plus Sized -- ran a slow but steady pace the entire time, never once stopped to walk, and was even chatty with most of the other runners around her.  We passed each other several times but she finished pretty far ahead of me.

The finish line was a welcome sight, and I ran across it barely noticing the crowd and not really hearing their cheers.  The only thing I could hear was "Yay Mommy!" which came from Clay as he encouraged Will to cheer and Elly to wave from their post just inside the finish.  Race officials were presenting all the runners with roses and gifts and - of course - the coveted Finisher's Medal!  Then my Family Officials presented me with hugs and kisses and a Congratulations card.  I was a sweaty mess.  My legs and hips ached for days. 

It was awesome.

My official time was 45 minutes and 26 seconds.  I would love to do it again next year.  I checked with my doctor to make sure it was, in fact, OK for me to run with arthritis in my knees and hips (perhaps a little late after the fact...) but she said it was fine and encouraged the exercise as long as I feel OK. 

If anyone else would like to run next year please let me know.  I promise you won't have to beat up any Race Bullies.  ;-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Anatomy of a Lap

Last week I ran (and walked) the distance of a 5K for the first time.  I figured it was high time to see if I could actually go the distance since I have approximately 3 weeks left until the Indianapolis Women's 5K.  It felt amazing to know I could really do it - that these bad feet and arthritic knees and sore hips could shuffle me along that far!  I certainly didn't break any land speed records, but I got it done.

It takes 4-and-about-1/3 laps around my neighborhood to make up the 3.1 miles (actually 3.2 miles on my route), and I have to say I'm looking forward to the chance to run through some different scenery.  Winding through the streets of downtown Indianapolis will come as a welcome change after running laps and laps and laps around my small neighborhood.

I've come to know my path quite well over the last few months of training.  I start out with a warm-up walk along the front stretch of my subdivision until I see the crack that runs across the road about 3/10 of a mile from my house:  My official Starting Line.  Along this stretch of road there used to be a little yellow "V" magnet, the kind my kids play with on the fridge.  It was always upside down, spelling nothing, and then it was gone.

About halfway through the lap there's a short downhill slope.  That's what I live for!  I always make sure I'm running at this point so I can take advantage of the downhill momentum.  If I look up into the trees I can see a pair of tennis shoes that have been tied together and tossed high, the left shoe clinging to a slim branch and the right shoe dangling underneath, trusting her mate to keep her from falling.

On the back stretch of my lap is a line of evergreen trees that runs along some railroad tracks.  The smell of those trees always takes me back to my days of summer camp, hiking through the damp, wooded paths to our cabins.  It was church camp, actually, back when religion was a social outlet for me; a chance to spend more time with my best friend, a week away from home where I could meet new people and try on different versions of myself, swept away by emotional displays of faith and trying desperately to conjure up some faith of my own.

The last half of the back stretch is a small uphill climb, playing the Bad Cop role in opposition to its downhill Good Cop partner.  It's barely more than a slight incline, but it kills me so I usually walk through that part. 

At the top of the hill a Char-Broil grill brand plate has been destroyed and scattered.  The siblings "Char", "Bro" and "il" used to live close to one another along the side of the road, but recently il (presumably the youngest) and Bro (the troubled middle child) have gone off to find their own places in the world, leaving older brother Char alone on the cracked pavement to fend for himself.

Past this is a short block then one more turn and I'm back in front of my house, another lap down.

Sometimes I see neighbors out and about.  One man, no matter how many times he sees me, always shouts from his porch or driveway, "Yer makin' ME tired!" and laughs as I go panting and wheezing past.  A thin woman who lives near the downhill slope always yells encouragement from her patio.  I can smell which houses are cooking and which need a good cleaning.  Dogs bark at me from behind windows and fences, and I have momentarily broken up a few games of street basketball. 

I always start out feeling powerful and optimistic.  About halfway through the first lap I start questioning my ability to finish.  The third lap makes me wonder what the heck I was thinking.  By the fourth lap I'm so happy to have come so far that it's a mix of adrenaline and giddiness pushing me the rest of the way.  By this time my legs are jelly and it feels like I've stopped breathing through my lungs and begun breathing through my stomach (quite the respiratory feat, I know).

I wish I could say I was using my running time to think about writing that novel that's always in the back of my head, but I'm usually just concentrating on breathing and putting one foot in front of the other.  My lovely and talented friend Lisa has inspired me to attempt (again!) to write the darn thing, so maybe I'll learn to use my runs as quiet creative time rather than focusing on the why-oh-why-did-I-sign-up-for-this wheeze coming from my lungs.

My next blog entry will most likely be after the Indy Women's 5K, and with any luck I'll be able to post a picture of my sweaty self holding a finishers medal.  Until then I'll continue to run circles around my neighborhood.  I'll run like the wind downhill and I'll curse like a sailor uphill, I'll jog through memory lane and make up stories about the trash along the road.  And I'll feel like quitting but I won't because I have an official 5K to run and a medal to collect.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Year of Self-Improvement and Letting Go

I'm thinking about calling 2011 My Year of Self-Improvement.  Either that or My Year of Letting Go.  Or both, who knows. 

Of course there's room for improvement any year, but this year I'm making a more conscious effort to acknowledge some of my issues and deal with them head-on, out in the open where everyone can see and either point and laugh or cheer me on.  Here's what I'm working on so far:

1.  I am Letting Go of the notion that I cannot ever do anything athletic.  This idea has been ingrained in my head for so long that I never even questioned it.  I have always sat on the sidelines watching others play the game or run the race, using my lack of athletic ability as an excuse to not participate.  I am not athletic and I know it, but that shouldn't keep me from getting in there and trying anyway.  I signed up to run this 5k knowing it was going to be tough and quite out of character for me, but I still did it.  I never said I'd be good at it, I just said I'd try.  And I am trying, and I'm still not very good at it but I'm doing it anyway.  Hopefully in doing so I can start Letting Go of a few unwanted pounds along the way!

2.  I am Letting Go of a little bit of pride and a whole lot of fear of reliving the past.  I am getting braces.  Again.  Apparently when my braces came off just out of high school I should've continued to wear my retainer every night until the end of time.  Instead, I was told to wear it for 6 months and all would be good, which turned out to be oh so false.  Now my teeth have taken on a life of their own, entering every room about half a second before I do to announce my arrival with trumpets and fanfare.  OK, so maybe they're not quite that bad, but that's what it feels like.  So now I'm doing the adult braces thing with a program called Six Month Smiles.  It won't fix everything but it'll help make me less self-conscious.  I've been putting off this decision for many years, afraid of reliving my awkward adolescence with all it's painful shyness and horrible hair styles.  This year I am Letting Go and will once again achieve metal-mouth status next Tuesday.

3.  I am Letting Go of a large amount of money.  If you know me, you know this about me:  I am cheap.  I hate to spend money.  I will go to 3 different grocery stores every week if I can save money by doing so.  I cut coupons religiously and it is almost painful to eat at a restaurant when I don't have some sort of discount to present.  However, this year I am Letting Go of a bunch of money to install a new half bathroom in our house and to put on a new roof with gutters and fascia boards so that our house will be more attractive to buyers so we can (hopefully!) finally sell it.  I am terrified that as soon as we pay to put a new roof on our house we will have a huge hailstorm and will end up getting another new roof courtesy of our insurance and if we had only waited we wouldn't have had to drain all our equity on the first new roof that we didn't even use and blah, blah, blah.  Now it's all but done, we're writing the check and I am Letting Go because I do not want to be woken up in the middle of the night anymore by rainwater dripping on my bed. 

4.  I am Letting Go of my fear of giving blood.  Last month some friends of ours lost their newborn son to a congenital heart defect.  He was only 3 weeks old but in that short amount of time he had several blood transfusions.  His parents have generously set up a memorial blood drive so that others might be helped by the donations given in his memory.  (If you'd like to donate go here.)  I have always been terrified by the thought of giving blood, but my fear is nothing compared to the fear this family had to endure watching their tiny baby fight for his life.  I have had lots of bloodwork done in my lifetime and I can't imagine this will be that much different, so I am Letting Go of letting fear prevent me from helping someone.  Barring illness or injury, I will give blood for the first time on May 31st.

This is the list I have so far.  Granted, none of these things are earth-shattering and most of these things are done every day by other people who don't even give it a second thought.  I'm not trying say I'm special for doing these things, I'm just ready for some self-improvement, and right now for me that means Letting Go of some silly fears and inhibitions.

I'd love to hear what everyone else is Letting Go of!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Have you ever wondered if you have any hidden talents?  Maybe it's naive, but I'd like to think that we all have some sort of latent gem of natural ability just waiting to be discovered if only we had the opportunity.  I don't know if it's an idle curiosity or a need for a new hobby or maybe just a yearning to surprise myself by excelling at something, escaping the mediocrity of what I already know and already do. 

Maybe I'd kick ass at water polo.   Could I hold my own in the world of high stakes poker?  I've always regretted making the trumpet my instrument of choice for junior high band and wish I'd tried playing the xylophone instead.  I could've rocked that thing.

When I started training for this 5K I thought running might be a possibility but so far it's not looking good.  It's probably pretty safe to rule out any sort of sports-related activity as my hidden talent.  My Little League coaches were certainly justified in stowing me away in the outfield.  In fact, they probably would have gotten the same level of performance from me if they had assigned me to the parking lot instead.  I guess water polo is out.

I've already tried singing (Ha!) and dancing (Trust me, you do not want to see that) and when I was younger I dabbled in acting (Meh.).  I'm just OK at painting as long as I stay within the realm of the abstract, not good enough at drawing to get me anywhere, and only good enough at sculpting to impress my 4-year-old with tiny Play-Doh trucks and dinosaurs. 

Last year I did happen upon something that made me dust off my old theory.  I was watching some friends play Rock Band and when there was a break in the play I stepped in as the drummer for some song I barely knew.  And I didn't suck.  My friends were understandably shocked, as was I, and when we played some familiar songs I found I was actually pretty good!  Was it a fluke?  Possibly.  Were my friends a little excessive with the praise because they're great friends?  Probably.  I'm certainly not going to sit in for Animal the next time Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem come to town (What?!  Those guys were AWESOME!) but it was exciting to think that there was still something yet undiscovered in my talent repertoire.

If nothing else, it keeps me inspired to continue trying new things.  Like writing a blog, when I actually have the time and the inspiration and something to say.  And like training for a 5K, which... um, yeah... I promise I will start doing again very soon.  For my next experiment I'm going to try creative cake sculpting.  Will has asked me for a garbage truck cake for his birthday (he says it MUST be a front-loader!) so I have until October to perfect my cake-sculpting skills.  I'm also going to take a photography class to figure out how to use my fancy camera and to make up for the Photography 101 class I totally phoned in during college. 

And I will not be discouraged that running is not my hidden talent and I will do it anyway.  I promise.

(Seriously.  I will.) 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Running Through the Pain, Running In the Rain

Tempting fate like a car wash on a cloudy day, I just had to talk about how many times I'd run without feeling injured.  Well, so much for that.  Since my run on Saturday I've been dealing with some pretty hefty knee pain, and not even from my bum left knee which was what I had expected.  Nope, the pain is in my previously-unbummed right knee, pain that feels like the joint itself is coming unhinged, like the bottom half of my leg is about to fall off.  That would certainly put a damper on my 5k plans.

I decided to run outside Saturday morning because it was a beautiful day and because I don't have a treadmill at my house but still wanted to log a training run.  My husband said the loop around our neighborhood was approximately half a mile, so I figured I'd do 3 laps in half an hour since my best time running on the treadmill has been 1.3 miles in 28 minutes.  When I finished my third lap at 24 minutes I thought his calculations must be wrong and did another short loop around the block to get to the 28 minutes I needed.  After I cooled off I hopped in my car to drive the distance, setting my Trip Meter on the dashboard to calculate the actual mileage I had run.  I was shocked at the results:  1.8 miles!

So I wasn't really surprised when I started feeling the pain Saturday afternoon.  I had run half a mile further than ever before in the same amount of time!  Of course I'm in pain!  Luckily Meijer sells knee braces, so I picked one up while grocery shopping that afternoon.  I already wear one on my left knee, might as well make them match!

This morning I decided to run outside again, even though it was raining and even though my knee still felt slightly unhinged.  I pulled on my matching knee braces then zipped up my hoodie and tied it tightly around my face to try to keep the soaking to a minimum. 

The first couple laps were unremarkable, but not long after I passed my house the second time I started really feeling the pain.  My calves were burning, my knees were sore with every stride, and I was tired.  For the first time since I've been training I actually thought about stopping.  For several yards I fought a mental battle as much or more as I fought the physical one.  But then I turned a corner - both literally and figuratively - and I did something that I have never done in my entire unathletic life:  I pushed myself harder.  I ran faster.

It probably didn't last for more than a quarter of a mile, because even the best internal pep talk can only sustain you for as long as your body holds out, but it was enough.  I finished the third lap at 24 minutes and went for the mini loop around the block again, finishing up with the same pace as Saturday: 1.8 miles in 28 minutes.  I was soaking wet, panting, wheezing and sore, but my leg did not fall off and I did not collapse in the street.  As far as small victories go, this was a pretty good one.

I'm not sure what it is about running outside that makes me run a faster pace.  I figured that without the guidance of the treadmill I would run slower, without the comfort of being indoors I wouldn't run as far.  Maybe it's the fresh air in my lungs or maybe it's because I can make my own pace, speed up when I want to and slow down when I need to without having to change a setting.  Whatever it is, it's working and I'm sticking with it - rain or shine!  I know the pain will come and go, but right now I feel OK and very encouraged and I'm looking forward to running outside again!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

No Pain... Still Gain?

I have to admit I'm a little surprised.  OK, I'm a lot surprised.  I have run on the treadmill 5 times and so far I have had almost no aches or pains to show for it!  The ice storm kept me away from the treadmill for a week and the first time I ran again after that left my bum knee hurting for a few days, but that's pretty much par for the course.  I found my knee brace and the next run I felt fine!  Sure, I feel like hell while I'm actually running, especially toward the end, but even that is slowly getting better. 

I was all set to be miserable.  I expected sore muscles, a limping gait, aching arches, testaments to my hard work, badges that I would wear proudly as proof of my sacrifice (if I can call getting off my lazy butt a sacrifice...).  I expected to be able to say, "I feel like crap - it must be working!"  I thought at least my arthritic knee would put up more of a fight.

I expected all this because I'm a bit of a hypochondriac.  When faced with any sort of pain or discomfort I immediately think the worst, usually believing myself to have some sort of tumor and mentally prepping my Last Will and Testament just in case.  Sometimes I feel like I need to have someone always on standby to assume Arnold Schwarzenegger's role in Kindergarten Cop and to tell me, "It's not a Toomah!"   My husband is no help (Sorry, Clay!).  In fact, we enable each other's hypochondria fairly effectively.   If I had a nickel for every time one of us has been convinced of having a tumor, I'd have a boatload of cash to donate to the American Cancer Society.

But it's not just cancer I've convinced myself of having...
   Splitting headache?  Aneurysm!
   Pain in my side?  Appendicitis!
   Sort of breath?  Heart Attack!
   Feeling dizzy?  I'm having a stroke!
   A bit nauseous?  I'm pregnant!!

OK, maybe not always that last one... nausea usually leads me back to having a tumor.

To be fair, I'm also paranoid about my kids' health and safety too.  I've had both kids to see the doctor for symptoms that I was convinced were life-threatening (they weren't).  I've been sure that they were going to poke their eyes out on every sharp corner and choke on every small object (they haven't).  Luckily for me, Will is pretty gentle and careful and doesn't usually give me too much to worry about.  Unfortunately it seems that Elly is fearless and is sure to give me that heart attack some day.

I feel like I am somewhat justified in my paranoia, though.  Almost 14 years ago I watched my dad lose a quick but ravaging battle with cancer (turns out it was a "toomah").  My husband and I have both lost family and friends to one disease after another, and we've sympathized as our friends have dealt with the same diseases and the same losses.

Even my stupid knee has given me good reason to be scared.  It was diagnosed as arthritic after an injury when I was a teenager and I had some physical therapy.  Then at Will's 1st birthday party my kneecap dislocated and ended up around the side of my leg where it had no business being.  Even though I had more physical therapy it still gets "stuck" several times a day and I'm terrified it's going to completely blow out one of these days.

So for me to be two weeks into a running routine with only one real day of pain (a reminder to not press my luck and always wear my knee brace) is nothing short of a miracle.  I'm sure as I get further into the program and start pushing my body harder I'll feel more pain, but right now I'm enjoying the ride. 

But today is a no-run day so I don't have to worry about my own injuries, I just have to tend to my sweet, fearless Elly, who is currently playing with a plastic fork which I'm sure she will soon poke into her eye.  Sigh...

Friday, January 21, 2011

No More Excuses & A Little Good Conversation

Believe me, I tried.  But I couldn't find any reason to NOT start my Couch-to-5k program today!  I had my running shoes, the treadmill was all cleaned off, and Elly was taking a nap.  Time to dig in. 

First off, a little background information:  3-4 days a week I stay at my mom's house during the day so she can work, play, have doctor's appointments, go shopping, etc.  I stay here with my little brother, Brian, who has developmental disabilities.  He has Hydrocephalus, Cerebral Palsy, severe Autism, and who knows what else.  He's pretty much self-entertaining but he needs 24-hour care and supervision.  I work for the company that provides his in-home care and am paid a small annual salary to do so.  So, yes:  I have a college degree and several years of management experience but I get paid to babysit my brother. 

The biggest benefit of having this job is that I get to keep my kids here with me during the day.  And even though my brother does require someone to be here all the time, he doesn't need me to be right with him all the time (he actually prefers that I leave him alone for the most part...).  This leaves me with a lot of free time to play with Will and Elly, read, watch TV, and occasionally work on my laptop. 

Luckily for me my mom owns a treadmill, and up until this week it had been covered with picture frames and paperwork.  So today when Elly went down for a nap, Will and my brother were playing by themselves, and I saw that Mom had cleaned off the treadmill (Dang!  That was gonna be my last excuse!), I knew I had to just jump right in.  It took me a while to figure out the treadmill, and I'm still not entirely sure how to work some of the settings, but my "brisk 5-minute warm up walk" went fine and I began my 20 minutes of alternating walking with jogging. 

Will bounced into the room on his Toy Story Hopper Ball and watched me with wide eyes.  After a while he asked, "Mommy, are you very good at running?"  I had to laugh.

"No, Sweetie, I'm not very good at all!"

"Oh," he said.  "Then why are you running on that thing?"

"Well," I said, "because I want to get better at running and because I'm out of shape. I need to exercise."

He got a big smile on his face and said, "So then you can get better and then you can have some shape!"  Then he bounced over to the treadmill and said, "I have some shape.  Here, you can have some of mine," as he pretended to give me an invisible handful of "shape".  Because I had said I was out of shape.  Gotta love a 4-year-old's logic.

About eight minutes in I started feeling sweaty.  I had dressed in layers so I pulled off my long-sleeved shirt and continued in a tank top.  Will, still bouncing, looked at me and said, "Is that your BRA??!!" 

I looked down.  "Nope, that's my tank top."

"Oh," he said.  "But what's inside that?"

"Well, I guess that's my bra!"

"Is it an Ahh Bra?" he asked.  The boy watched a few minutes of an infomercial the other day while I was out of the room and now he keeps talking about the Ahh Bra!

I had to laugh again.  "No, It's not an Ahh Bra."

"Oh.  OK!" he said, and bounced out of the room.  When he's older I'll have to remind him of our bra conversation.  I'm sure he'll love that.  :-)

After about 14 minutes I was worn out, but determined not to quit.  I slowed down my jogging speed to make it more manageable and took longer walking periods.  Finally, after 20 minutes of sweating, huffing and puffing, walking, and half-assed jogging the monitor said I'd travelled just over a mile and burned about 90 calories.  (Not quite enough to cancel out the package of chocolate donuts I had for breakfast.  Whoops!)

I'm happy to say I've at least taken the first step to begin my training.  I know it's been said that the first step is always the hardest, so now that's over with.  I've also learned a few things today that I think will come in handy in the future:

1.  Start my jogging slower.  I can work up the speed later.
2.  Never leave the room unless I know there are no bras on the TV.
3.  Bring a change of clothes.  And some deodorant.  (Psheew!)