Hey you guys, I’ve been posting over on my Tumblr blog instead: trailandcity.tumblr.com. I like the platform better.
So there we were, standing around in the forest as night fell, in the rain, waiting and watching for owls. It was the coolest date ever. Just me, my boyfriend, a half dozen strangers and a biologist named John who called to the owls and enticed them with live mice.
John would call out, “Hoo, hoo, hoo-hoooo!” In my head I was thinking, yeah right, that is not going to fool an owl, where did they get this guy?” Then we stood around waiting for 10 or 20 minutes while John told us about the life and times of owls. Just when we were starting to give up, suddenly we heard “Hoo, hoo, hoo-hoooo!” coming from the trees. It sounded exactly like John! We squinted up at the tall trees and spotted a brown blob between the branches. I borrowed somebody’s binoculars and the blob turned into a barred owl, like this one pictured above. John set a mouse on a tree and we waited. I turned away and then out of the corner of my eye I saw these massive wings spread and descend. The owl swooped in, grabbed its snack and flew away toward its nest.
I had never thought much about what goes on in the forest other than people hiking, running and occasionally pulling invasive ivy. Now I know that not only does the park house several species of owls (and the thousands of deer mice that feed them), but that trailing them and their coyote and insect neighbors are people like John who count them, study them and introduce them to people like us.
Athletically, I’m in more or less the same place I was last spring: optimistically dipping back in. I’m doing things differently this year, but it’s the same feeling of starting from scratch. Each workout feels so good. I’m still not running again yet but hiking several times a week, walking everywhere, going to the gym, and doing yoga regularly for the first time in years. Eating lots of healthy food. Playing, cautiously, with new things: different kinds of shoes, new ways to move my body, different ways to fuel it.
It has been slow and a little tedious getting active again. My feet still feel weak. I’ve had a lot of weird little aches and pains that come and go as I get used to an activity. I never really know if it’s par for the course or if something’s wrong. It’s nerve wracking, but eventually they go away and I feel a little stronger. I think this is part of why it’s taking me so long to get going again. It’s taken me awhile to trust this weird process and to learn to keep hiking anyway when something hurts a little to help it work itself out. But so far so good, and if things keep going well I might try working in some running in the next couple of weeks. I would say I can’t wait, but what this whole ordeal has taught me is that I can wait.
The thing I love about being injured is that it gives you a chance to learn about your body. If you never got hurt, you’d never know your limits, and never know if you were giving everything that you could. What I’ve learned from my year of injuries is that while my body likes distance, hills and trails, it doesn’t like sudden changes. This teaches me to be extra cautious when introducing anything new into my running—shoes, terrain, speed, distance—and that the time it takes to build at incredibly tiny increments isn’t wasted.
Injuries also tend to happen when I race. I make poor training decisions when I focus on a deadline instead of what’s healthiest, and whenever I race I push my body harder and longer than I ever do in training because there’s a motivation in the race that’s never there when I train, the primal need to be beat everybody that I can. And yes racing gives me a huge thrill, but so does being out by myself on a trail for three hours, and I’d rather do that every weekend than be on the couch every weekend because I raced once.
Running is about discipline. Not just the discipline to do it, but the discipline to not do it. To listen to your body and give it what it needs. To spend more time stretching than running on some days, to run for five minutes when you want to go for 50. To know when to push and when to reserve. It is so incredibly difficult to read these signals and make the right decisions. People say running is the most simple sport, but I think because of this constant fine-tuning and the high stakes of bad decisions it’s not as easy as it seems.
All these details are part of the lifestyle and part of what keeps running compelling to me. I’m still probably a couple months away from anything you would recognize as running, but in my mind I’ve already started. I’m evaluating my weaknesses. I’m stretching out any background kinks. I’m strengthening my core. I’m eating what will help rebuild my body and sleeping as much as I can. I’m planning my next moves. This is running too. Injury gives me the time and the perspective to improve at a basic level. And the ecstasy of healing rivals that of any race.
Compulsive habits tend to start innocently. What started with playing an episode of some random forgotten TV show in the background while I did my nightly stretching routine turned into full-fledged Netflix addiction, killing whole evenings with back-to-back Gossip Girl marathons. I was injured and couldn’t run (weird top-of-foot thing, you don’t even want to know). It’s not like I had anything better to do, I thought resentfully. I finally had to cut myself off, and I’ve committed to no unsupervised Netflix watching for the month of January.
I have found myself antsy and jonesing with time on my hands, and have turned to dorking around in the kitchen as a coping mechanism. What started casually and innocently has been picking up steam. Once or twice I threw a baked frozen chicken tender in a tupperware with some frozen vegetables to bring to work for lunch. Later in the week I stopped by my neighborhood farmer’s market on my way home from the bus stop, because it was there. The next thing I know I’m mixing up homemade energy bars for weekday breakfasts, and instead of the pale chicken and square carrots going into my lunchbox it’s turmeric-roasted cauliflower with hardboiled farm eggs and kale chips. I know I must have had times in the past when I cooked obsessively because I know how to do it, but it has been such a long time that I barely remember what I like.
Cooking for me has to be a leisure activity, something to which I can grow joyfully addicted. If it’s ever obligatory, like “I should bring my lunch to work to save money” or “I should cook dinner more often because it’s healthy,” I don’t do it. It’s a chore and there’s always something else I need or want to be doing (usually running), and chances are the kitchen is a mess because I was doing that other thing instead of cleaning, and I’m tired and out of time and I say “Screw it.” But if I have a few hours free and nothing better to do, I’ll wander into the kitchen and absently pick up a cleaning rag or grab a squash to prep for later, and then suddenly the counters are spotless and there is a beautiful feast crackling in the oven, and I don’t even know what happened.
Someday, hopefully soon, I will recover from my injury and always be too tired to cook again, and will go back to shopping exclusively in the frozen food aisles. For now though I’m enjoying my foodie relapse.
Check out these boots! Legit minimalist construction in a shockingly good looking package. This is important because I walk a lot to get places, and don’t want to walk into a bar looking like I just came from an REI catalogue shoot. They look super cute with rolled up skinny jeans and take all my outfits up a notch – I hadn’t even realized how lukewarm my style had become just by wearing trail shoes with my city clothes all the time. These boots are so much better.
They’re made by Vivo Barefoot, a European company that also does a lot to be sustainable, and happens to be owned by a member of the Clarks family. The fit is even roomier than the Merrells I live in, although they don’t hug your feet as nicely. There is a thin foam insole that’s removable; with the insole they were a little thicker than the Merrells, and without it they were incredibly thin, more than the Merrells. Brand-new the boots are comfy but a little stiff, though I think they will soften up with time, and I only noticed it after a long walk.
I found them at Pie Footwear on Alberta, which carries a bunch of various “barefoot” shoes, both casual and athletic, including a pretty good range by Vivo Barefoot, in women’s and men’s styles – casual sneakers, Mary Janes, trail shoes – all on the same ultra thin sole. Hopefully more people will find out about them and we’ll start seeing fewer people wearing toe shoes out to dinner.
Around the time of my last post I started gradually increasing my commuting runs and seemed to be making good progress for a couple weeks until – bam – I hit another roadblock. About three weeks ago, I ran to my BF’s house after work. The next day, I felt pain start to seep into both my ankles and lower calves, which stuck around and flared up the next time I tried to run, a week later. I knew that wasn’t good, and started diligently quadballing and stretching every night for an hour, and scheduled an appointment with the chiropractor. I stopped running, but after a couple days of rolling and stretching I started feeling a bit better and began walking one or both ways to work almost every day. I noticed that it hurt more when I wore my running shoes or chunky-heeled boots, so I switched to walking only in my Merrell barefoot shoes, which I wear standing up at work every day, and which felt much better to walk in with funky ankles. The pain gradually lessened to a mostly-normal level, but I still wasn’t sure what was up.
Two weeks after my ankles freaked out I went to the chiro and he said I was not injured per se but in some sort of “pre-injury” state because my calf muscles were so tight, so I could run as long as I’m careful and take care of myself (massage, stretching, rolling, gradual progression). What caused the sudden pain was probably the fact that my BF lives up a hill, whereas I had only been doing flat runs between my home and work, plus that day I had a backpack flopping around on my back and weighing me down, which certainly couldn’t have helped.
I have started running again, very carefully, and have switched to only running in the Merrells (before, I had started swapping them in for a few minutes on a couple of runs, but gave that up when I started commuting and it became impractical). While I don’t think my standard stability running shoes necessarily caused the pain in the first place (Asics GT-2160s, which I’ve used versions of for years with generally good results), the fact that they hurt my feet so much more when I was walking makes me want to take a chance on diving into minimalism. I’m building my mileage from the ground up again anyway, so it’s a good time to make that change.
I’m starting with one minute run/one minute walk intervals for the 1.5 miles between work and home, with a few minutes of walking to warm up. After the first time, my calves killed for about three days afterwards, but it was mostly just muscle soreness, nothing much in the joints and tendons. Two subsequent runs have yielded nothing beyond the usual mild soreness and stiffness I get after spending time on my feet, which faded quickly. I have to say, running in the minimalist shoes is REALLY FUN. They’re far lighter, nimbler, and smaller, and seem to encourage actual running whereas in normal running shoes I tend to jog. I feel like I don’t clomp and scuff and shuffle the way I do in my Asics. The movement is more natural and graceful, and all that other stuff people love to talk about when they’re trying to convert you to minimalist running shoes. I don’t really care what you wear, all I’m saying is I’m having a really good time in these and they don’t hurt my feet. Whether they have any effect on my tendency to end up injured and whiny remains to be seen.
After dilly-dallying around all summer, I’m re-motivated and refocused. All it took is a new goal. I don’t make a lot of goals because I consider them arbitrary, but I know I should embrace them, in all their arbitrariness, as a simple and effective tool to get more done. When I got injured and realized how long recovery was going to take, I abandoned all my goals of long-distance trail racing. My goal was just to get running again, period. I accomplished it, but progress was slow and I fell flat in performance and motivation. Maybe because I didn’t have any other goals.
This week I set a new goal: to run to and from work every day. I want to reach this goal by mid-November. Since figuring that out, my workouts have transformed completely even though I’m doing more or less the same thing – just split in two, because my commute is short, 1.5 miles: half the length of my regular runs. It’s such a different feeling running to get somewhere then running around the dumb neighborhood for the thousandth time. I knew that, but it had been a while, and I forgot. The weather also is changing, and running in the rainy twilight reminds me of other times, seasons when I was fit and focused and aggressive.
One of my reasons for committing to run-commuting is that even if I only run a couple times a week, it’s still somehow hard to get it done every time. There is always some extenuating circumstance, real or made-up, or something more interesting to do, and I skip workouts. With run commuting, I have to get to work, so I do it. Which brings me to my other reason for setting this goal: running, especially in the winter, is my favorite way to get to work. I’d so much rather run in the rain than ride my bike. I get really excited about running to work – it’s fun and satisfying, whereas riding my bike in sketchy traffic makes me nervous. So I get to kill two birds with one stone: guarantee a consistent running schedule, and bring more joy into my daily routine. Yay!
Hello, friends. Not much has been going on in my running world; I am still running only three miles a couple of times a week. Depressing in a sense, but I am also happy and grateful just to be out there. I am slowly getting better and am confident I’ll be able to do more soon.
One interesting development is that I’ve started using a Garmin. It is cool. I chose the Garmin Forerunner 210, which is a mid-range version that does everything I need it to and not a whole lot else: current or average speed, distance, laps, and it records cadence (with an additional foot pod sensor that goes on your sneaker), although it doesn’t display it during the workout. It’s one of the less bulky models, so it’s not too huge and ridiculous for me to wear on my small wrist. You can get a heart rate monitor too, but I didn’t.
The coolest thing is not having to tediously enter all the data into my online training log (Runningahead.com, and it also easily uploads to Garmin’s own interface, Garmin Connect). I do have to manually edit certain details the Garmin doesn’t record (or that I don’t know how to access; I am technologically inept and using it at a very basic level), like what shoes I’m wearing and the name of the route. The other super cool thing is actually knowing how fast and far I’m going, and being able to keep an eye on my cadence.
Since returning after my injury I have been using either Podrunner or a drum track I made on Garage Band set at 180 BPM to be able to maintain a steady, faster foot cadence. Now, as my robot tells me, I am averaging a 9:30 instead of a 10 minute mile, which is cool. Whether this is because of the faster cadence or because I was off-base in my estimates before I got the Forerunner, I have no idea, but it’s nice to at least know for sure what my speed is. The Garmin also helps me as I wean myself off relying on the drum track with the idea that my muscle memory will let me continue running at this cadence without it. On my last run I ran with the 180 BPM drum track for the first mile and Link Wray & the Ray Men for the second mile. Interestingly, even with the irregular, slower beats of the music during the second mile, I averaged a perfect 180 steps per minute without really thinking about it. So it’s really cool to be able to monitor that and know that it’s working.
In summary, I resisted getting a GPS watch for awhile because as I mentioned I am kind of a luddite and it seemed complicated, but I’ve found that not only is it pretty easy to operate, but it takes care of a lot of the math and data for me, and actually makes things easier. Oh and one other thing, it works great for bike rides too. I’m a fan.
By the way, if you’re thinking of getting one, DC Rainmaker has an in-depth review of the 210 as well as of a bunch of the other models and non-Garmin GPS options out there. Between his reviews and the comments there is a lot of really useful information there so definitely check out his blog.