Thursday, March 31, 2011

Get it, girl

There's this poem that I read to my students at the beginning of the year, you know, that time when we're all in the awkward getting-to-know-one-another phase.  I hate ice-breakers, but writing - I like.  Nothing but pure emotion scribbled in a spiral notebook, a safe-haven, where frustrations, triumphs and inadequate thoughts are hidden from the brutal confines of the "real world." 

Trust yourself.  Believe in your words - they have a purpose.  My lecture becomes somewhat of a sermon, students looking bewildered, like "What the hell, Miss?"  But then we read.  We read passionately.  And all the sudden, we unlock the doors to our hearts and let the feelings flow with our pens. 

Today, a students whined, "When are we going to write stuff like we used to write?"  For once, I was speechless.  Almost.  I blamed it on the strict curriculum.  Teaching to the test.  I placed blame on everything but myself.  But I knew I was the one who had failed them. 

"Get it, girl."  A quote from a poem a student wrote back in September.  I didn't get it anymore.  Or perhaps I just forgot that I had it?

So I went for a run.  Alone.  And I thought about what I had "missed" with my students.  I thought about the areas of my life where I "get it" all the time - is that possible?  Does it happen? 

I didn't come to a conclusion.  But I'll get there.  And in the meantime, I'll be content with the aspects of my life that, for the time being, I "get."  Because life is too short to over-analyze - that I get.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Minimalist or Maximalist?

Most running stores these days are zealously advertising the benefits of minimalist shoes, such as the Vibram Fivefingers. Shoes as such are supposedly going to "make your foot healthier by allowing it to move naturally and freely."  This idea of barefoot running largely gained popularity from McDougall's book, Born to Run. A fan of the book myself, I was definitely intrigued by the minimalist movement - the success stories from runners, the scientific research - in theory, it makes sense. 

But there is always an exception. 

Back in 1996, at my very first cross country practice, one might say I dabbled in minimalist running.  I threw on a cheap pair of Nike shoes that had about as much support as a training bra.  After four hellacious miles, my body felt as if it had been mangled by a combine (we had lots of those in the country, obvi).  Thus began my journey on the road to figuring out the perfect combination of support for my Forrest Gump appendages.

Dear Mom and Dad: WTF?!
Although I vaguely remember being in corrective shoes as a toddler, I'm living proof that the only thing those braces corrected was my curiousness.  And I'm sure my parents felt at ease having a two-year-old who was unable to get herself into much mischief due to her inability to run around with normal baby legs. 

Yes, somewhere along the way, a doctor noticed that my feet severely overpronated, a term I would not fully understand until twenty years later, when I found myself working at a speciality running store.  You see, in order to run virtually pain-free (or with as little discomfort as possible), one's foot needs to land in a neutral position.  For someone who overpronates, support is needed in order to achieve this. 

Medial posting = support
Support can come in many forms.  Some shoes have built-in support.  This is indicated by the gray area, otherwise known as "medial posting," on the side of the shoe.  The more gray, the more supportive the shoe is.  People refer to this as a stability shoe.

While some suckers can get away with only needing the support of a shoe, others (such as myself) need to double-up.  I'm talking about orthotics + a supportive shoe.  When I get the combination of orthotic and shoe correct, I am able to run long distances without much pain.  However, if my support is even slightly off, it gets ugly.  My knees hurt from too much support.  My hip hurts from not having enough support.  High-heels are my shoe of choice because they give amazing arch support.  Too bad I can't run in them... 

So when it comes to minimalist shoes, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon.  I am a maximalist, through and through, and no matter how much I try to "train" my feet by sauntering around the city in flip-flops during the summer, it always ends the same way - at my chiropractor's office.  Therefore, I'll keep my orthotics and thank my parents for trying to "correct" me at a young age.  Perhaps some things were never meant to be mended after all.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Race Report - Leprechaun Run

Baby run, cut a path across the blue skies
Straight in a straight line
You can’t get here fast enough
-George Strait, "Run"

From time-to-time, I'll find myself perched at my computer, unable to refrain from purchasing 99 cent country songs.  Sometimes while running, I'll repeatedly play these songs in my head.  And on a particularly spring-like day in March, I did just that. 

Perhaps being born and raised in America's "Heartland" taught me more than just how to navigate unmarked/unpaved roads in the middle of nowhere; it taught me how to cure my boredom with simple tasks.  Like memorizing lyrics to songs.  Only to randomly remember them some 15 years later.

So on a brisk, spring-like Saturday morning in March, I jogged to the start of the Philadelphia Leprechaun Run.  A five-mile race is not a popular distance, but I was eager to see how fast I could run, considering my training has consisted of zero speed work and an average of 20 miles per week.  I clocked the first mile in seven minutes flat, and it didn't feel that fast.  But I always go out entirely too fast in races.  So I focused on remaining consistent.

At the half-way turn-around I silently counted as the leading women passed me on the opposite side of the road.  I was number fifteen.  HOLY SHIT!  At this point, I knew I could break into the top ten. 

Although anxious, I continued to hold my pace.  Instead of focusing on the negative (thoughts like: my entire body hurts or why does that guy next to me keep blowing snot rockets? Ew.), I thought of something calm.  Something I could focus on for the remaining 2.5 miles of agony.  And that something was George Strait. 

Well, that's not entirely accurate.  Strait's song, "Run," for some reason or another, crept into my head.  And I passed one runner.  Then another.  Until, after a 7 minute and 14 second last mile, I crossed the finish line with a personal record of 36:52 and the twelfth woman overall.

As any competitive runner, I've had time to reflect on the race - what I need to improve/what I did well - and although self-satisfaction is sometimes hard accept, I do believe my days of navigating country roads somehow led me to the roads I face today.  Some are bumpy and some are smooth, but instead of running from them, I'm running with them, occasionally taking a beating now and then.  But every once in awhile, coming out on top, cutting my own clear path in the process.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Running line-up

Finding a good pair of running shoes is like watching bad reality television - you get hooked and right when you fall into a comfortable routine, almost to the point where you feel you can't live without it, the company snatches it away.

Thus has been my dilemma with finding a running shoe for almost a year.  Ever since the kind people at Nike decided to do away with my beloved Zoom Elites, I've been struggling to find a replacement.  And I'm sad to report, my luck has been grim. 

Still heartbroken over parting with five years of awesome memories that my Elites and I shared, I did what any runner would do - I bought some rebound shoes.  They were Asics.  They were soft.  I liked.  But after one steamy ten-mile run, my knees felt like I had torn both ACL's.  No pain/No gain?!  Yeah, right.  I threw those suckers into my closet forgot they ever existed. 

Frustrated and exceptionally sore, I did the inevitable - I scoured online websites in hopes of finding some back-ally store that would magically have some of my old Elites in stock.  Elated at the possibility, I went on a Google search frenzy, which ultimately left me with burnt thighs from my overheated laptop and nothing more.

About $600 of my hard-earned money...worth it.
Finally, I surrendered to the fact that finding the right shoe is going to be a trial-and-error ordeal.  And it's going to cost me quite a bit of money.  Hence, my lengthy collection of running shoes.  At my worst, I think that I'm never going to find one that works.  What would I do?  Stop running?  Spend thousands of dollars on new orthotics?  Sigh.

In the meantime, I'll continue my search.  And occasionally, sink my feet into an old pair of Elites for a short run, if only just to remember how amazing they feel.  Because, truth be told, there are some relationships that we can never quite tear ourselves apart from.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Runnin' old school - a race report

Persevere.  Ask any runner and he/she can probably give you an accurate definition of this word, along with several examples.  And while this may have been an S.A.T. vocabulary word that teachers tried to get students to memorize with some monotonous flash cards, a runner most likely learned the meaning of persevere on the track.  Or a muddy trail.  Or during one of those hellish practices where the coach made the entire team engage in an indian run on a ninety-degree day.

Persevere.  Despite my stellar vocabulary, compliments of Sadlier-Oxford and quality television shows such as "Jersey Shore", I didn't quite grasp the meaning of perseverance until I began running.  Even then, I don't think I could have prepared myself for the obstacles I would endure in my future - running related or not. But looking back, running indeed made all the difference.

Persevere.  If I think back to the first time I was insanely proud of myself for overcoming an obstacle, it would be the New Riegel cross-country meet in eleventh grade.  Being from the country, the course was flat and boring, and of course, included running around a man-made track in the middle of a corn field.  Aside from dodging piles of cow manure during the race, it was an egregiously hot day.  I was not in the mood for a 3.1 mile ass-kicking, which is precisely what happened the year prior. 

However, my dad had showed up for moral/parental support, as he generally did.  Sensing my negative (and bitchy) teenage attitude, dear old dad proposed a challenge - that I run without my watch.  The control-freak in me panicked; how will I know my mile splits?  I can't possibly run a personal record without constantly peeping at my sweat-infused Timex!  As I pondered whether or not I could part with relinquishing control, dad upped the ante and proposed a bet:  If I raced without my watch and improved my time, twenty bucks would be my reward.  To a broke teenager who worked at Hardees, this was all I needed to hear. 

Persevere. As the race began, I remember looking at my wrist several times, only to see a farmer tan where my watch used to be.  After a few panicked moments, I easily settled into a pace and, for the first time, felt a sense of calmness during a run.  Instead of worrying about mile splits, I set my focus on passing as many people as possible.  As I flew by numerous runners, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off of me.  In the end, I crossed the finish line two minutes faster and twenty dollars richer than I had the year before.  Perseverance felt damn good.

Persevere:  It comes in various forms and oftentimes, takes several attempts, as well as some blood, sweat and tears.  But in the end, conquering a goal, in running or life, makes it all worthwhile.