Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Where have all the runners gone? (With apologies to Pete Seeger)

Spent the day in Washington, D.C., with my two teens today and was surprised by the number of runners (and walkers and bikers!) we saw out and about. Granted, the nation's capital also has some 19 million visitors per year while the county where we live doesn't even have 300,000 residents.

Still, it made me wonder: What makes for a running-friendly community?

Lansing, Mich., is steeped in the auto industry. This is a town where we regularly get in a car -- often a truck or SUV -- to drive to the corner store a mile away for a gallon of milk. (Guilty!) The thought of walking, running or biking to work is so foreign that ... well, we just don't do that here. I see people who circle the block during the lunch hour just to get a closer parking spot at the downtown YMCA to go -- wait for it -- run on a treadmill.

Freedom isn't free.
Today, we saw runners at all times of the day. One woman was pushing a double stroller up a very steep hill. Several silver-haired men ran by in groups of three or four. Several 20-somethings ran by with their dogs.

Our town definitely has plenty of opportunities and beautiful trails for running, but, again, we have to drive there. Just this month, I discovered Hawk Island Park, just a few miles from our door. And I've run on city streets near the only running store in the area, on the Michigan State University campus and in downtown Lansing. Drove there, drove and drove.

Seeing a runner anywhere else is not as rare as, say, an open parking spot at Best Buy on Black Friday, but it is not common.

Runners are certainly turning out to the ever-growing a lists of local weekend races, but where are they the rest of the time?

What do you think? And where do you run? What would it take for you to run in more urban areas?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Newbie advice for newbies

Thanks for all of your nice comments here, on Facebook and in person. I'm encouraged that someone other than my parents will read this.

A few of you have expressed interest in getting started and have asked for my advice. While I have more than, ahem, two decades' worth of journalism and communications experience, my running experience is, well, not so broad. That said, I am an expert in what works for me, so I'll tell you all about that here.

I mentioned before that my daughter and I started out about two years ago using the Couch to 5K app on our iPhones. It has been integral to my success, mostly because it doesn't ask much of me. 30 minutes, three times a week? Sure, why not? Walking most of the way with very short periods of running? Done and done. Plus, you can go out at any time of day or night.

Because of injuries, I've actually used he app to start, then re-start my running at least three times. I've been grateful for it each time because the program is very do-able. I didn't take part, but they also have an online community where you can find additional information and support.

Even better...

Another option is joining a real-life C25k program. Our local running store, Playmakers, runs the classes here. I can see the appeal of having a built-in cheering section and coaches who presumably know what they're doing (I did mention I'm new at this, right?). I promise, other than your dog, there won't be anyone more happy to see you than a group of other runners. (Insert joke about both dogs and runners tinkling in the bushes here.)

By the end of the program, you'll be running 3.1 miles. If this slow poke can do it, you certainly can, too. 

But wait, there's more!

One of my favorite newbie resources is Hal Higdon, a longtime marathoner and running guru. He is probably best known for his half- and full-marathon training plans, which are on his website for free. I happen to currently be using his plan to train for my first half (13.1 miles) in September.

Hal, why do I love thee? His explanations of the different terminology are in plain English. His plans are flexible so that you can switch what you do each day as long as you do it all in the allotted week. And -- get this -- he has a walking plan. If you haven't exercised in a while or would really just like to walk instead of run, Hal's the guy for you.

I highly recommend that you print out his plan and post it somewhere accessible so you can cross out each day. Talk about satisfying.

Regardless of what plan you choose, please make a trip to your local running store to get fitted properly. I could have avoided two weeks of painful shin splints if I'd gotten the right shoes first.

Bonus content

If you ignore my shoe advice, here's another great newbie resource. The Runner's World magazine website has videos of exercises you can do to help with anything from shin splints to Plantar

Fasciitis (you don't want to know). Find it here:

And if you're fortunate enough to live near #LoveLansing, Playmakers has a free walk-in injury clinic most Wednesdays. You're welcome.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Digging deep, deep down

I'd given up on my run when I saw them. I got up early -- just not early enough, apparently -- to run on the Gettysburg battlefields tour. It was supposed to be my version of a "rave run."

The forecast called for a little bit of rain, which I expected would cool me. Instead, it was hot, humid and the sun cooked my scalp.

My water bottle, nearly empty, called my name. But not as much as my car, parked about half a mile away. I was ready to quit. I'd run three miles. Schedule called for 10k. I was OK with half that. Right?

Did I mention I was hot?

That's when half a dozen Army soldiers in fatigues poured out of their van and walked toward a monument right in front of me. The oldest caught my attention. "Great day for a run, huh?" His words struck me. They almost shamed me. Here I was, decked out in some of the best wicking gear I own, water bottle belt around my waist and perfectly good shoes. They, in long sleeves, hats, boots. Working. For my sorry butt.

"Yeah, it really is a perfect day, sir," I managed to croak. He was obviously a runner because he kept looking my way with a look that said he'd rather lace up. One of the other soldiers was already going through the location's defensive strengths, the others taking notes.

Batteries recharged

So I ran. The whole 6.2 miles my plan called for. I didn't regret it, even as I struggled.

That's not the first time I've had to force myself to go "just a little longer." Or "just to that tree." Or even "just to that lamp post."

Sometimes running is plain hard. It would be much easier to quit. But I won't. Because not running is worse.

When I first started running, I just hated it. Then I hated it a little less, but I didn't really like it. I ran only because I could no longer do tae kwon do. Then I had shoulder surgery. And I had to sit the whole running thing out for more than three months. That's when I really fell in love with running.

It was all I could think of. I even joined a gym so I could run on a treadmill when the doctor reluctantly gave me the OK.

I usually think about those months when I'm having a particularly tough run. Today, I thought about those soldiers in their fatigues. And I prayed for their safety. I got my rave run, after all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

5-oh-oh. Oh, my!

I hit the big 500 miles this weekend (she says and pauses for effect).

According to my Nike Plus app, I've run more than 500 miles since November 24, 2012 when I ran my first 5k, the aforementioned Turkeyman Trot in Lansing.

I've run as little as 1.5 miles at a time and as much as 9 miles just this past weekend. A few times, I ran without tracking my miles.

Some days, it was so hot that I had to dump a water bottle on my head to finish my run and so cold that I resembled the Michelin Man with my multiple layers piled on top of other layers. There were a couple of periods in there where I didn't run at all because of injuries (and one more shoulder surgery; yeah, that's three for anyone keeping count). 

What's been constant through all those miles is my cheering section. I can't manage all that I do -- the job, the family, the running -- without a huge support network. I wouldn't be here today without my family's and friends' encouragement and help.

What are you, crazy?

And yet, sometimes the cheering section thinks I'm a little nuts. Dear Husband has been known to shake his head upon hearing of the day's mileage. He's also seen me close to having heat stroke and shows a significant amount of restraint when I run at odd times (10 p.m. run, anyone?) or in less-than-ideal weather (it's only a few inches of snow. I'm sure they plowed the street by now!).

My non-runner friends at work are supportive, but they just don't get why I bring my running shoes with me when we travel when there's sleeping to be done after what can be 12-hour-plus days. (I once ran around the block until I reached one mile when the motel we were staying at didn't have a treadmill just so I wouldn't break my streak.)

My long-time friends smile and make polite noises. They've been through several of my phases (tae kwon do, Jillian Michaels, yoga). I don't think they believe I've found "my sport."

Frankly, sometimes, I wonder if my cheering section is plotting to have me institutionalized.

That's why runners need friends who are crazy like them

It takes a certain kind of personality to be a runner. I can think of some words to describe a lot of my running friends: Determined. Disciplined. Dogged. (Oh, look, alliteration!).

They're also generous, encouraging and welcoming. All traits that make for good friends and for good employees, for that matter.

A few of my long-time friends are runners. I even run with one of my dearest friends several times each month; it's usually my favorite run of the week. We're still working on solving all the world's problems, but in the meantime, we work through our toughest work- or family-related situations. And sometimes, we come up with crazy ideas (let's sign up for a marathon relay!). Regardless, the runs are always productive -- and not just in the mileage department.

I hope that you've been able to find some of these crazy folks in your life, no matter how far you've gone in your running journey. But if you haven't, stay tuned for another post about running groups that might just fit the bill.

Shake, shake, shake señora

This all started with a handshake.
Write a blog, she said. I’ll start a walking program if you start it, she insisted. I’m a sucker for those who share my passions. Currently, it’s walking and running and I have the jug of Tide Sport and the dripping running clothes on hangers in my laundry room to prove it.
In another one of my long list of obsessions, I began running late summer of 2012. A friend had regaled me with stories of his success with the Couch to 5K program. The pounds were coming off. His doctor was happy. He was doing a happy dance on the scale.
And then there were two
Enter our middle child, then 12, who expressed a vague interest in joining her school cross country team. I’d already had to give up my first love (tae kwon do) because of ongoing shoulder problems that required two surgeries. Why not try running instead? Shoulders aren’t really involved, right?
We promptly loaded the Couch to 5K app on our iPhones. We updated our Pandora stations. We pulled old sneakers out of the bottom of the closet. And we walked. Three times a week, we laced up and went outside after dinner.
First, we made the rounds around the blocks immediately near our house in a suburb notorious for neighbors walking their dogs all summer, then disappearing as soon as the weather gets nippy. Boy did those first few minutes of running feel like they would never end. I was panting. I was hot. I was tired.
My daughter barely broke a sweat. After a few outings, she exuberantly declared, “Now I know why people run!” She’d found the runner’s high. It eluded me. It taunted me. Then I got shin splints. Not to be deterred by pain (there’s a pattern here), I got new sneakers from the local running store. Then my knees started hurting. Bad. No biggie. Got orthopedic inserts in my third pair of new running shoes (by now I knew the lingo).
Turkey what?
We signed up for our first 5K: The Turkeyman Trot on Thanksgiving morning. It was a crisp day, the sky was blue and one of my friends was there running way ahead of me and waiting for me at the finish line to cheer me on. I have a picture of that morning on a shelf in my office. My daughter and I, our heads close together, with big smiles on our faces.
We finished the race together; ran the whole way. My Couch to 5K app log entry for that day says we ran it at an 11:51 minute pace. We felt like champions. I’ve been chasing that feeling since that day.
Most days, it’s there. Just getting out feels like a huge accomplishment after a 10-hour day at work. I want to share those moments with you. Reluctantly – albeit a bit of excitement-laced trepidation – I am beginning this blogging journey. May there be many more handshakes and steps taken because of it.