Friday, August 28, 2009

And on the 7th day.....

She biked. For about an hour and a half on Thursday afternoon. It felt good. Nothing hurt.

And now, this morning, after all of that deprivation and relatively good-humored despair, my leg hurts. Just a little, but still.

This is starting to get me down. I really did think a week of No Running would take care of this problem. Obviously I was wrong, because here I set with an ice pack on my leg and no prospect of EVER RUNNING AGAIN.

Yes, I'll run again. I'm just having a few moments of weakness, after all. But when?

Having not run for most of the summer, I am still trying to understand the lure. Why this need to constantly move forward? To feel the ground under my feet in that very specific thump-thump way that nothing but running provides. I yearn for the thump-thump under my feet. For the pleasant, stare-inducing exhaustion that comes after a good, long run. Just for the feeling of moving at a decent pace across the earth for hours at a time.

No, this isn't life or death. Yes, I am whining. I have so very much in my life to be thankful for, and Not Running has highlighted much of that. And assuming I do return to distance running (yes, for goodness sake, you will), I will be ever so grateful for that first long run.

I saw a new physical therapist this week, because my usual PT, Bill, is on vacation. She said this to me: "You're almost there. It's getting much better. You should be running again in two, three weeks!"


Okay, breathe. You'll live. You'll run again.

The upside of all of this is that I have finally gotten myself into the weight room. I saw a trainer this week for an hour and she showed me some great stuff. And my book arrived (thank you for the tip, Helen).

It's called The New Rules of Lifting for Women. I like the premise: forget toning, forget spot training, don't worry about bulking up because it probably won't happen, just get into the gym and go for it. The authors present six to eight months of great workouts to be done in succession, highlighting the big muscle groups. Once I can safely do a squat (I'll have to ask the PT about that), I begin the regime. I'm actually, weirdly, looking forward to it.

And now I feel better. Just walked around and let the dogs out and my leg feels fine. I want to go back and delete all of that whining up there, but I won't. Let it stand. I hope to go back some brighter future day and see how ridiculous I was. Move on.

Up side: I wasn't out running when this happened. (Yes, we have a bright plastic Slip n Slide in the yard. Sorry, neighbors!)

Or this. (The Country Fair for Nell's last day of camp at Terra Firma Farm.)

Or this. (How do these children survive each day intact??)

AND I cleaned the house and got some of our homeschool stuff in order. Who needs running when life is as rich as this?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 5

For twenty minutes yesterday morning I fell off the wagon: I ran.

Well. If you want to call slinking amoeboid-like around the block at a snail's pace running, then I ran. Around and around the block, maybe eight times. My foot/ankle/shin felt fine, but my head did not. That little bug is still holding on. It was not what I would call a great run. I don't even think it counts. Let's forget it ever happened.

I stopped, felt much better and headed back to the Y for some more weights. I got to the weight room around 7:30. There were a few elderly women working the machines and that was it. The free weight section (usual hangout of the grunting, banging mass of muscled humanity) was empty.

I started through my circuit: twelve reps at each machine, three complete cycles. I noticed that the other ladies spent more time at each individual machine. They did two or three sets at a time, resting for up to five minutes between each set. This seems very inefficient, time-wise. And it tends to gum up the system. I had to move past them as they sat at their machines staring into space, thinking about God-knows-what.

Here is what I learned from the experience: I am weak!

As I moved from machine to machine, rarely did I have to change the weight load pin. And when I did have to adjust the load, more often than not it was to a position of Less Weight. You know what this means, don't you?? This means that these soft, innocuous, elderly women are as strong, if not stronger, than I am!

I got to the lat pull down machine just as it was being vacated by a waddling, gum-chewing geriatric fairly bursting out of her polyester pantsuit. I sat down, grabbed the bar above my head, prepared to pull it down and to my horror discovered that I COULD NOT BUDGE THE BAR!


On my way out I made an appointment with a personal trainer to meet me tomorrow morning for a one-hour weight session because clearly I need some help.

Bob said yesterday that I should probably take more than a week off from running. He thinks I should take a month off. I wonder what that would be like: not running for a month. Before this summer it was rare for me to take even a single day off. Running has become such a staple in my life over the years. The idea of taking a full month off is unimaginable.

But then, I used to think that taking a week off would send me to the loony bin. Maybe it still will!

Is running an addiction or a lifestyle? I have often tried to imagine what I would have done with myself if running had not always been such a mainstay in my daily routine. What would I have done with all of that time? What kind of person would I be? What sort of friends would I have?

It's a moot point, obviously. But still......

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Days 3 and 4

Day 3: Weights!

I do not belong in a weight room. I have no idea what I am doing in there, because I have never made the effort to learn. I have read enough to know that proper form and appropriate weight load are essential, but my knowledge ends there. I know just enough to make a trip to the weight room at the Y intimidating, almost a fool's errand. Everyone in there seems to know exactly what they are doing. I look at the free weights, the balls, the mats, the machines and it all feels like an insurmountable Everest of unexplored terrain. Perhaps I'm just too dumb to be a weight lifter!

I should probably try to hire a trainer, but that sounds crazy to me: expensive and time-consuming for a person with very little time or money to spare.

Where does one BEGIN?

I slunk over to the Y on a beautiful Sunday afternoon because I figured the weight room would be sparsely attended and I was right. There were just two women on the machines and a couple of bulky lunkheads grunting over the free weights. (You see my level of intimidation: those lunkheads are probably Rhodes Scholars, but I must take comfort in age-old stereotypes just to get myself in the door.)

I opted for the machines, mostly because the seats and straps more or less force you into the proper position. This was probably the best place to start. I did 3 complete cycles of the Cybex machines: abs, arms and legs. I worked efficiently from machine to machine and the whole business took about 45 minutes. By the last round I felt shaky and weak, but not overwhelmingly exhausted.

While I was working out, our local Gym Rat (GR) came in and started chatting. Every gym has one of these guys: he is ALWAYS there. He chats up all the ladies and makes buddies with all of the young weight room studs. GR had heard that I ran the VT 100 and he started asking me about it (as I was laboring intently under the Lat Pulldown) in a voice loud enough to be heard around the gym. This caused a small sensation among the lunkheads: "Dude, that's a WHOLE 'NOTHER LEVEL!" Nice people, really. Definitely helped me feel much more at home.

I was not as sore the next day as I would have imagined. If I can get out today, I may go back and try another round on the machines.

Day 4: This Not Running business is getting harder. My ankle/shin/foot feels much better. I really, really, REALLY want to get out and give it a test run.

Mornings are the most difficult. Typically, I am a morning person and thus a morning runner. I hoof through town in the pre-dawn dark while the kids are sleeping. I absolutely love this time of day. And I feel safer running early in the morning than late at night (my other option). I figure all the axe murderers are probably home sleeping it off by 5 a.m.

But I persevered. I got up early, got some good writing work done, and resisted the urge to tie on my running shoes and head out the door. The boys, as always, came bolting down at 6, eliminating the possibility of escape.

Brian goes back to work this week (Waaaa), so he is trying to pack in quality kid time before school starts (he's a physics teacher). All three kids are currently obsessed by musical instruments. Simon in particular spends every waking hour drawing instruments, playing orchestra with his Webkinz, and incessantly asking anyone and everyone: "What instrument do you want for your birthday?" and "What's your favorite instrument that we don't have?"

Simon, for some reason known only to him, really wants a trumpet.

So Brian decided that this was the day to take the kids to the Caruso Music in New London. Caruso's is a wonderful store with a tremendously indulgent staff. They do not freak out when the kids bang the drums, strum the guitars, shake the tambourines and play the pianos. I decided to go along as well, because I knew if I stayed home I would run.

We spent almost an hour testing instruments, mostly drums. I am always hyper-vigilant with the kids in this place because I do not want to test these good people's patience. They really are amazingly enthusiastic and good-hearted. We fitted Nell for a violin (she desperately wants to play the violin) and they will call us when a good half-size instrument comes in.

Simon kept eying the trumpet in the window.

"Can I look at the trumpet?" has asked me over and over.

"Yup, " I replied over and over. "Go ask the guy at the desk if you can see the trumpet. He's very nice."

I do want these kids to learn to ask for what they want. I am terrible at this. I figured this was as good a place as any for a little assertiveness training. Simon, however, disagreed. He wanted me to ask for him. We went back and forth like this until he finally summoned up his courage and requested a few toots on the trumpet.

"That's a very expensive orchestra trumpet," the man at the desk explained, "but let me see what I have over here."

He pulled a dusty case from the shelf and handed it to Simon. "This is a trumpet that a friend of ours refurbished for some kid interested in music," he told me. "He (indicating Simon who was very excitedly spinning the trumpet in his hands) seems to fit the bill. I don't feel right trying to sell it."

He turned to Simon, "You can have it," he said.

Nell just had to verify: "You mean we can bring it home for FREE?"

"Yup. Enjoy!"

Wow! Simon was beside himself. He thanked the man on the way out ("Thank you for giving me this trumpet!") and preened proud as a peacock all the way back to the car, trumpet case swinging by his side.

This is how he spent the rest of the day!

Not Running in the afternoon and evening was amazingly simple. Brian and I both seem to have come down with a little bug. We both had sick bellies and sore heads. And we could barely keep our eyes open. So we put on an Emergency Video.

(I never do this. The last time I put on an Emergency Video was last Christmas Eve when I was desperately trying to finish my annual Buche de Noel cake for Christmas dinner).

Brian and I crashed out for an hour, ate Raman noodles for dinner and called it a night. I cannot believe I have not run, biked nor swum for four days. So weird that this is something to be proud of!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day 2

Not Running was easy today. Staying Awake, more difficult. Man, I was sleepy all day. I finally gave in at lunchtime. Brian was home, so I slunked up to bed and slept for 2 solid hours. I probably could have slept more, but enough was enough. I think my body is shutting down. This healing process is exhausting!

I took Eddie for a 3-mile walk on mostly flat ground. (Hills give me trouble.) My ankle and shin were a little achy at the end and remained achy for most of the day. I iced it quite a bit and tried to keep stretching my calf.

I went grocery shopping in the Saturday crowds with all three kids. Pushing a loaded cart with one boy hanging off the side, another boy riding underneath and a girl tossing stuff in is an endurance event all by itself!

I looked in my book The Lore of Running by Tim Noakes.

He says that complete rest is not necessarily a good thing. His logic: any injury that heals during complete rest is likely to recur once you resume running, because your newly healed injury is not used to the stress of running. I can see his point. He recommends running to the point of discomfort and then stopping. I may try this in a couple of days. Run around and around the block until the first glimmer of pain. See how it goes.

But first I do think I need to stop everything for a while, get all the kinks out of my leg. Every muscle along the outside of my right leg from ankle to hip is knotty and tight. Not good.

I am trying to strengthen my core. Today I did a bunch of sit ups and push ups (hard to do with a four-year-old hanging on for the ride) and tried to do some pull ups. I can't even do one. Pathetic. When I was a kid I could do 50. Ten years ago I could do 3. Now I can barely pull myself half way up to the bar. So I pull myself up as far as I can and try to hold it for 10 seconds. This is tough.!

We have a chin up bar hanging above the basement steps. I'm going to keep at it until I can do 3 again. Brian says my arms are getting soft. Not flabby, he says, but soft. He never says stuff like that. (He knows which side his bead is buttered on!) Hmmmmm. I may have to go to the Y tomorrow and try some weights. This is a radical step for me. I hate lifting. All those lunky meatheads grunting and slamming scare me silly. We'll see.

Late in the afternoon we headed to East Beach in Watch Hill, RI, which is about 20 minutes from our house. We are not beach people, unfortunately. We are more mountain people. I had a long talk with Brian about moving to the mountains last night. We are going to start looking into it. We need a cool town with good schools for Brian (and possibly me) to teach in.

Burlington, VT anyone?

But we did go to the beach last evening because Hurricane Bob out in the Atlantic is kicking up some killer surf. (I had the good camera with me, so click on the photos to see them Really Big.)

We were greeted by an ominous No Swimming sign, but the lifeguard was letting people hang out in waist-high water. The waves were not Hawaii big, but they were incredibly strong and unrelenting. One after the other: Boom, Boom, BOOM. The undertow was fierce. You can see all of the foam in these pictures. This is not normal.

Brian is a big, strong guy and it was all he could do to stay upright in some of this surf.

Nell and Simon had a blast getting tossed and rolled in the shallow water. They want to go back again tonight.

Ben was content to stay by the surf's edge and play in the sand, even though castle after castle got washed away. I have never seen the tide come in as fast as it did during the hour-and-a-half we were there.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Personal Challenge!

It's six on a Saturday morning. I have been up for a couple of hours working in the early morning quiet before the house buzzes into action (which will happen very soon). Normally at this time on a Saturday morning I would already be two hours into my weekly long run.

Alas. This has been the Summer of Injuries. With the exception of the 100 miles I ran in July I have not done a long Saturday morning run since June. Here I sit during my all-time favorite run time, early Saturday morning, doing my desperate best to NOT RUN, to REST and to HEAL.

My current trouble is tendonitis in my anterior tibialis (tendon that connects the big shin muscle to the inside of the ankle). This is the tendon that pops out and looks like a bridge between your foot and the front of your ankle when you flex your toes.

The pain started half way through the Vermont 100. The last 30 miles of that race were excruciating and slow. I aggravated it by running the Ocean Beach 10-miler two weeks later, and then further aggravated it by carrying 45-pound Ben up and down the lovely trails of Crawford Notch last weekend.

At this rate this thing is never going to heal. SO. I have set myself a new and difficult challenge. I am going to attempt total rest. I am not going to run, bike or swim for a week. And to keep myself accountable I am going to have to bore you here with daily updates of my PROGRESS.

Not Running is not so difficult. Running hurts. I never thought I'd say this, but I am actually getting used to Not Running. I see people running down the street now and I think, "Stop! STOP! Don't you realize, you idiot, that you are absolutely ruining your anterior tibialis tendon! You could be doing PERMANENT DAMAGE!"

I realize that I am projecting here. I know that I am forcing my own jaded solipsism on guiltless and unsuspecting innocents. But it helps.

Not Biking, it turns out, is tougher. Biking itself does not hurt, but I don't think it's doing me any good. My whole shin feels achy and out of sorts for a few hours after biking. So I am going to stop to see if it makes any difference.

Not Swimming will be easy as pie. Starting today at noon, the pool is closed for a week for its annual scrub down. All I have to do is tie myself down until noon and I'm home free. Easy peasy lemon squeazy!

My new Total Rest regime started yesterday, and, as it turns out, not well. The boys and I walked the mile and a half to their six month check-up at the dentist. Of course, they insisted on taking along their favorite animals for moral support. Simon brought his spotted dinosaur (Spotty) and Ben brought his twin cardinals (Cheeky and Sinky).

Because Ben kept dropping his cardinals, I suggested that he put them in the side pouches of my backpack, facing out, so they could have a nice ride and view the passing scenery. Ben uncharacteristically agreed.

When we got to the dentist's office, Simon proudly showed off Spotty to Ruth the receptionist. Not to be outdone, Ben pulled out Cheeky. And when he went to pull Sinky out from the other side of the pack, he came up empty. We had dropped Sinky!

Out jutted the lower lip. Brave tears popped into his eyes and fell. Ruth and I looked at each other. "Go," she said. "They'll be fine here."

So I was forced, FORCED, to run back along our route looking for the little red cardinal in my street clothes and my four-year-old Mary Janes.

Sinky was not on the half-mile stretch of Main Street with all the stores. I went part way up the steep hill back toward home. I told myself I would get as far as the library before giving up. At the library, I squinted up the hill, and there at the top was a tiny patch of red in the street.

I found Sinky!

But now I had to hoof it back though town because I had five minutes before the drawbridge was scheduled to go up. Getting stuck by the bridge would be a disaster. The whole process of putting the bridge up, allowing all the boats to go through and putting it back down can sometimes take fifteen minutes. And my wee boys were waiting for me back at the dentist's office!

Reader, I made it. I was roiling in sweat and all out of breath, but I made it.

It was a grand reunion. And I must say that running in the Mary Janes was not that bad. No support. No cushioning. No pain! Maybe those barefoot folks are onto something after all.

Later in the day we went to the Y to swim in the pool because we don't have air conditioning and it was hot enough here to melt lead. Brian did laps and I played with the kids.

Well. Maybe I did a few laps. But just because I was cold. I was freezing. Shivering. I had to swim to warm up. Otherwise I may have died of hypothermia and left my children bereft and scarred for life.

Oh, and I may have done a bit of aqua-jogging. But I hated it. So it doesn't count.

And I spent three hours constructing a peach pie (we picked peaches Thursday), which turned out not okay, but not great. I'm not a big fan of cooked peaches. They remind me of leaner times.

Can't wait to see what today brings in my new life as a slug on the big couch of life. Any suggestions?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lotta Livin' in 3 Days

Why don't we live in the mountains? Why why WHY? I have been asking myself this question incessantly all summer. Indeed, I have been mulling it over for years. Brian teaches physics (not one of those jobs that requires a specific location) and I pick up a few writing jobs here and there. We homeschool, for mercy sake. We could live anywhere!

Yes, I love Mystic, Connecticut. I love my friends. I love running along River Road every morning with Eddie. But, man, I miss the mountains. We spent the last few days in Crawford Notch in the heart of the NH's White Mountains. Oh, darling reader, my soul, my soul was singing.

It all started when Nell's swim team clinic got cancelled this week. No coach; no practice schedule; no clinic. I had just spent a week of mornings writing a newspaper piece for the New London Day about Not Camping. It was a whiny piece about the difficulties of camping with kids, and yet and yet......

And yet, we had to go. We scrounged for pet sitters, packed up the car, plucked the sleeping children from their warm beds, and Sunday morning at 5:00 pointed the car north and drove.

First stop: Franconia Notch.

My goodness gracious, we hiked the Flume Trail. Those of you familiar with the Flume Trail will know what I mean when I say, "Oh, how the mighty have fallen!" Ten years ago you would not have caught us DEAD on the Flume Trail. Brian and I were hardcore. We were young, fit and free. We knocked off 20 mile days with everything we needed for a week strapped to our oaken backs.

But those days are gone. Why pretend? Here we are on the Flume Trail.

Yes, it's paved. Yes, we paid for tickets and went through a turnstile at the "trailhead." Yes, my children are "hiking" in crocs.

But never mind all that. We are in the mountains and we are making the most of it! The Flume Trail is actually quite dramatic, and a perfect starter hike for these flatland children.

On the way back down we found a couple of cool caves to explore and a few massive boulders to climb. All in all, an excellent way to start the day.

We stayed at the campground behind the Crawford Notch General Store. Our site was secluded (as promised!) and close (but not too close, please) to the Saco River. With the kids' help, we got the tents set up and the car unloaded in just under two hours. Each boy wanted to put the big tent up All By Himself. This required quite a bit of doing and un-doing and re-doing and patience. Neither Brian nor I am much for patience. We're learning. Believe me.

We found an amazing swimming hole with a little rapid that drops you into a deep-ish pool. Nell and Simon had a blast zipping through the cold water. While I was rooting through our bag for the goggles, Ben escaped and slipped into the water for a ride. Ben can't swim. Ben went under. Brian and I looked at each other for a split second (you, no You, no YOU!) and Brian took the chilly plunge to save him.

You'd think Ben would be terrified after that. But no. He cried for 30 seconds and then went right back in. I ended up treading freezing water and saving him every time.

Monday we hiked to Arethusa Falls. This was the deal I made with the kids: Hike with me on Monday and I'll take you to Storyland Tuesday. The boys spent every waking moment pouring over their Storyland map. Nell spent all of her time trying to get a fire started.

On the way up (and up and up) to Arethusa Falls we took the Bemis Brook Trail, which led to some lovely cascades and pools. I carried Ben a good bit of the way up, which felt okay at the time, but has now hobbled my poor ankle tendon which was finally starting to get better after VT. Alas. Still not running. Lots of ice.

We stopped by Bemis Brook again on the way back down. What started as tentative feet in the water

quickly devolved to this

and then this.


We spent the rest of the day at a different swimming hole back at camp. This one was a bit less dangerous for Ben and a more off the beaten path. There was a large pool with a big rock dock. We had it all to ourselves.

Ben wasn't too sure about swimming out to that rock. He put on his goggles and watched the proceedings for a long time from the safety of the pebbly shore. (Yes, his suit is on backwards.)

Finally, he agreed to be towed across and propped onto the rock.

He really is a brave soul. Off the rock he went!

And he lived to tell the tale.

After a long day, this was the perfect spot for a little quiet time. The kids stacked rocks in the sand, Brian strolled down the river, and I just sat soaking my poor tendon in the cold water.

Tuesday we opened Storyland and we closed it down. Eight hours of unmitigated fun! I was too busy keeping track of everyone to take any pictures. These places make me antsy and fidgety and nervous, not to mention dizzy and sick. But the kids had an absolutely stupendous time, and they slept all the way home in the car.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The times they are a changin'

It was probably silly of me to run that 11.6 mile race last weekend, because here I am now, once again hobbling around, unable to run. The tendon that connects my shin muscle to my foot is swollen and sore. What happened up there in VT last month? Why are so many of us injured now? It's weird.

Is it because there is so much road running in the VT 100? Too much pounding? I think I am going to try for the MMT next spring. Mix things up a bit here.

I have decided not to do the Grindstone 100 in October. Boo hoo. My parents (crew) have planned a trip to China. My pacer is injured. And my in-laws (childcare) are going to be in Scotland. Grindstone has scattered my family to the four winds! With all of the injuries, I have not realistically put in the proper training. I am taking my VT finish and calling it a 100-mile day. I'll do some of the New England 50s and 50K's. Save Grindstone for another year.

So this is what life is like when you are not running at least once, sometimes twice a day, every day. You find other stuff to do.

I have been out on my road bike quite a bit, and I am happy to report that I am finally getting some of my old biking legs back. The first rides were a bit rough. My arse was not used to sitting on a plank for hours at a time (felt like the bones in there were poking through the skin) and my legs were not used to moving in perfect circles (as anyone who has seem me run can certainly attest). For a week or so, biking was awkward and uncomfortable and slow. But I am gradually getting used to being on the bike again, so high up off the ground. I am finding a good rhythm and my leg muscles are firing in sync. More or less.

I'm lucky to live in a bike-able place. There are no bike lanes on the streets, but many of the roads are wide enough and seldom-traveled enough to accommodate cyclists. Ten minutes out of Mystic, I'm on rolling farm roads with lovely scenery. I used to recognize everyone that passed me on a bike going the other way. But biking seems to have taken off around here. I don't recognize a soul. I can't take pictures from the bike (need both hands on the handlebars!), so you'll just have to take my word for it. It's divine.

I have been swimming as well. Swimming was my first and best sport and I have always loved it, though I have not swum much in the last year. It's fun to be back in the pool on a regular basis. Generally I warm up 2000 yards, mixing up the strokes, then do 5 sets of fast (sort of) 200's. Right now I'm doing the 200s freestyle, but I hope to move on to IMs soon.

I have been injured quite a bit this year, which is odd because I have never been injured in my life. I think many of these injuries come from running too much, cross training too little. This is the first year I concentrated just on running, to the exclusion of everything else. Obviously not a good idea for me. Lesson learned. Cross training stays in the program. Maybe I'll even do a triathlon this fall. Just for kicks. For old times' sake.

And I have been eating too much meat. I feel full of meat. Gross. One night last week, halfway through a cheeseburger, I put down the meat and said, "Bleh! ENOUGH!" So I am on a meat vacation. I'm not saying I'm going completely vegetarian (as I did in my 20s), but I'm not cooking any more meat for myself (what about the rest of the family?) or eating any more meat at home for a good long while.

Here's my favorite new cookbook: The Passionate Vegetarian by Cresent Dragonwagon.

The book is friendly and informative, full of great recipes and engaging stories and food lore. So far I have made the oatmeal buttermilk pancakes and the tamale pie, both to raves and kisses.

SO that's me. Slightly altered but generally recognizable. Hope to be back out on the trails soon!