Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolutions for realists

Each year, as we approach yet another dropping of the ball, I always wonder how many people actually stuck to the New Year’s resolutions they made the previous January. My guess is that the success rate is less than 10 percent. Possibly even less than 5 percent, due to the fact that a lot of people lie.

From my own personal observations, this is what I know: In January, everyone is a runner. By December, the trails and treadmills are all but deserted.

Seriously, watch for yourself. If you’re a regular gym-goer, you’ll be astonished by the sudden onslaught of new faces (and the invariably out-of-shape bodies that go with them) after January 1.

The problem is, despite the best intentions of all those naive newbies, their discipline will inevitably fade as their daily workouts become weekly, then monthly, then nonexistent. I hate to be a Negative Nancy, but it’s true. As the cliché cynic in me would say, “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.”

And precisely because I am a realist, I always establish a back-up goal for any aspiration I set out to achieve, especially when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. It’s a little self-esteem mechanism I came up with during my college racing days. Obviously, no runner has their best race every single time they compete. So, in addition to setting legitimate goals for each contest—time, place, championship qualification, etc.—I would throw in a couple of “fluff” goals that would be considerably less difficult to attain. These included things like don’t waste energy by passing too much at the beginning or try to put on a sweet game face as you’re gritting your way down the homestretch so you’ll look super-fierce in your media guide action photo.

It takes a long time to break an old routine. If your New Year’s resolution is to get in shape but your body isn’t used to working out, it will be difficult for you to adjust to regular exercise. This is where so many people go wrong. Instead of setting a realistic goal like I will start exercising every week, they go all-in from the get-go with resolutions like I will get up at 5 a.m. and bust out two rounds of P90X before allowing myself so much as a cup of coffee.

Although you might be able to sustain such a grueling schedule for a few days—maybe even a few weeks—you will not last. Such a dramatic change takes time, and you need to give yourself another option for the days when getting up at 5 a.m. just isn’t going to happen.

Here are a few examples of common New Year’s resolutions and some corresponding back-up goals.

Likely unattainable goal: I will run every day.
More realistic back-up goal: I will exercise every day. (Taking the stairs instead of the elevator and lifting dishes to the top shelf of the cupboard count as exercise.)

Likely unattainable goal: I will start cooking my meals from scratch using only fresh ingredients.
More realistic back-up goal: I will not eat more than two frozen pizzas a week.

Likely unattainable goal: I will not rot my brain with reality shows.
More realistic back-up goal: I will not rot my brain with stupid reality shows (which do not include Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Dancing With the Stars or Chopped).

Likely unattainable goal: I will not make fun of other runners.
More realistic back-up goal: I will not make fun of other runners out loud.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The torpid two

By this time of year, I have usually settled into my winter hibernation den—a.k.a. the gym—for some quality time on the treadmill and the elliptical machine.

But since my gym membership has expired and I plan to put off purchasing a new one for as long as possible, I have been spending more time exercising in sub-freezing temperatures than usual.

Here’s the thing: don’t tell Gov. Brian Schweitzer or his bolo tie, but I’m not really a true Montanan. I mean, I live here, and I love it, but when the mercury drops, I turn into a real pansy.

My treadmill dependence, it seems, has finally caught up with me. Now that I’ve found myself without access to one, I have been forced to confront my cold-weather wussiness.

I have been running outside in conditions I would never have dreamed of stepping out in as my former self. As a result, my body is not adapted to move normally in such an environment. My usual quick, efficient stride has devolved into a stiff, lethargic lope.

My “winter pace,” however, has allowed me the opportunity to take in my surroundings with more detail than ever before.

During the snowy months of the Montana winter (October through June), wildlife sightings are usually few and far between. So, on a particularly chilly day last week, I was surprised to see a squirrel scampering across the road.

Actually, scampering isn’t really the word. It was more like the squirrel version of a slow-motion jog. Like, if there had been a bunch of squirrels, you could have filmed a squirrel version of the beach scene in Chariots of Fire. (Do I hear YouTube sensation?)

My speed-challenged, bushy-tailed friend struck a chord with me. I wondered why he, too, looked like he was caught in an invisible vat of molasses.

So of course, when I finally returned home, I went straight to the Google to satisfy my curiosity.

Turns out, squirrels—along with many other mammals—drift in and out of a state of reduced metabolic activity when the temperature drops. According to Wikipedia—which means there’s about a 50 percent chance of accuracy—it’s called “torpor.”

When an animal enters a torpid state, its heart rate can drop as low as four to eight beats per minute—per MINUTE. That’s like one heartbeat every 15 seconds!

Every now and then, when temperatures allow, the animal can come out of torpor and resume normal activity. But it’s not like they just 1-2-3-snap! out of it. So my little nut-hunting rodent pal had probably just woken up from the deepest sleep ever. Who could blame him for being a little groggy?

And that, my friends, sounds like a pretty good idea right about now. I think I’ll take a cue from nature, go brush my teeth and settle in for some nice, quality torpor.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The run that put the Geo in ghetto

I was chatting on the phone with my mom the other day, mostly about my new job and my plans for Christmas. Then, completely out of the blue, she adult-ADD’d this into the discussion:

“Oh my gosh, Brooke, I couldn’t sleep the other night—I was just lying there wondering if you’ve been locking your doors at night. You should really have them locked all the time, especially in that neighborhood you’re in.”

I was taken aback for several reasons, chief among them the fact that our conversation about Christmas lights had somehow segued into a lecture on home security.

But I felt bad that I was the indirect source of my poor mother’s insomnia, so I patiently answered a barrage of annoying—though well-intentioned—questions.

“Yes, Mom, I always lock the door when I’m home alone….uh huh, and the deadbolt, too.”

“No, Mom, I really don’t think it would be necessary to install a panic room.”

“Uh-huh, I always stick to the main roads when I run…no, Mom, I would go insane if I ran on the treadmill every day.”

Although I put every effort into convincing my mother that I live in western Montana—not South Central L.A.—I secretly knew that her worries were not completely unfounded.

Mom, you should probably stop reading here. Seriously, if you want to sleep tonight, go back to watching Nancy Grace—I hear there’s an update on the “People’s Court Mom.”

The truth is, I’ve never felt completely safe in my new neighborhood. At first, I tried to get past its rough outward appearance by admonishing myself for being so judgmental.

Don’t be silly—I would tell myself—They can’t all be drug dealers.

When I was driving home for the second or third time, I saw a little boy out playing in his front yard. He appeared to be practicing his baseball swing.

See? It’s a family neighborhood. What was I so worried about?

Upon closer examination, however, I realized that the little boy was actually mercilessly beating a tree trunk with a large stick. That’s when I knew that if I was going to live here, I was going to have to toughen up.

On my first day in my new apartment, I decided to go on a timed run to explore the area and acclimate myself to my new environment. In 25 minutes, I passed two trailer parks, three junkyards, six stray cats, four front porches with sofas on them and eight Geo Metros. The farther I went, the more I found myself looking over my shoulder and clenching my fists—you know, just in case I had to go all Mike Tyson on some tweaked-out meth head.

When I got home, I felt like a snobby bitch for drinking soymilk and not having a mullet. But mostly, I felt scared, and a little bit guilty for making so many horrible assumptions about my neighbors.

Then again, everyone knows that an area’s crime rate is directly related to its per-capita density of outdoor sofas.

Still, I resisted the urge to log on to Family Watchdog to search my address, mostly because I knew that if I saw the results, I would probably stop running forever, and with the holiday season in full swing, that simply was not an option. There are too many hot buttered rums to be had.

I headed out the next day with an open mind, though I decided to stick to the roads with the most witnes—er, traffic.

About a mile into my run, I saw flashing red and blue lights up ahead. All I could think was: Drug bust.

In the 90 seconds it took for me to arrive at the scene, I tried reasoning with myself.

Don’t be ridiculous. It’s probably just a traffic stop. There are dozens of those every day. Even Geo Metros can get going too fast sometimes.

As I approached the police vehicle, however, I saw a large, handcuffed woman with a cop on either side of her. One was supporting her weight and holding back her hair as the other held an open vomit bag in front of her mouth. And yes—she was using it.

I made a loop around the block and headed for home at interval pace. At least living here will be conducive to speedwork. By the time spring rolls around, I’ll be in shape to PR in the 800.

In the meantime, maybe I will invest in some pepper spray.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stage fright

Every time I come back from an extended stretch of involuntary cross training, I must pass through the same series of stages. Experience doesn’t make the transition any easier; in fact, it’s almost worse to know what’s coming.

So consider this your warning. If you’ve never been injured (you lucky bastard), you might want to stop reading here. If you’re like me and have survived virtually every running injury ever, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Stage 1: It’s your first day back on the roads. The cold, gusty air is full of sharp bits of freezing rain that are stabbing you in the eyes. But you’ve never felt better. Your legs are fresh and pain-free. You are so happy to be breathing in fresh air that you don’t even notice the thin stream of half-frozen snot sliding down your face. You find yourself running to the rhythm of songs like “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “Celebration.” You would probably smile if you had remembered to brush with Sensodyne this morning.

Stage 2: Approximately 2.5 miles into that first run, you notice that your legs are feeling remarkably less springy. Your stomach hurts, your lungs are burning, and that happy-go-lucky soundtrack in your head has faded into a playlist of Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana songs.

Stage 3: You return home exhausted and unsure of how you ever did this on a daily basis. You stumble into the shower, where you stand motionless for five straight minutes, letting the hot water run over your cold, achy body. You momentarily consider going back to pool running—permanently. Then you slap yourself in the face for being so stupid.

Stage 4: You wake up the next morning feeling like you spent the entire previous day at a Jackass tryout. Getting out of bed hurts. Going down the stairs hurts. That box of Apple Jacks on the top shelf of the pantry? Fugetaboutit.

Stage 5: Against your better judgment, you somehow force yourself out the door for another run. You proceed to slog through four miles of pure hell. You’re pretty sure Paula Deen will start cooking with olive oil before you’re back in shape again.

Stage 6: The next day, you are able to put on your socks without audibly groaning. You are flexible enough to reach the peanut butter on the second-highest shelf in the pantry. You experience the vaguely familiar desire to hit the road. Instead of focusing on not vomiting, you are able to shift your concentration to your usual mid-run topics of thought: What should I make for dinner tonight? Is it “gray” or “grey?” Is Mitt Romney’s first name short for something? What is Tang made of? Before you know it, you’re back at your front doorstep, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. After a quick swig of water, you are inspired enough to bust out a few sets of planks.

Stage 7: Over the next few days, you gradually begin to incorporate other elements of your normal fitness routine—weightlifting, plyometrics, hot yoga. (Note: I’ve never actually tried hot yoga, and it sounds pretty disgusting if you ask me. But I’ve heard that lots of people enjoy it, so I thought I’d throw it in to show how culturally tolerant I am.)

Stage 8: Your injury is now a distant memory of a very dark time in your life. Unfortunately, since the sun now sets at approximately 4:30 p.m. and rises at 8:30 a.m., most of your life these days is, in fact, dark. So in the grand scheme of things, you’ve really only broken even.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Water fodder

If there is one thing I learned from the two-plus weeks I spent in the pool, it is that swimmers are not a very chatty bunch. I mean, why would they be? In the world of swimming, there is no such thing as “conversational pace” (for obvious reasons).

As I went about my daily pool running routine—which usually included a slow warm-up, an interval workout and a short cool-down—I noticed that I was often on the receiving end of some very confused looks.

None of my fellow pool-goers, however, dared to express their curiosity in spoken-word form. Luckily, I am well practiced in the art of decoding non-verbal communication. By that, I mean that one of my favorite pastimes is putting words in the mouths of unsuspecting strangers based on their actions and facial expressions.

So, in response to the slew of silent commentary I collected during my short stint in the water, I have crafted the following document.

An open letter to swimmers:

I know we will probably never understand each other. I never meant to invade your turf. (Or should I say surf? OK, lame joke, but I just had to.)

But alas—unfortunate circumstances have caused our paths to cross.

Over the last several days, I have kept a mental record of observations I would like to share with you.

First off: I know how to swim. But I am not a swimmer. No offense, but I would never voluntarily wake up at 6:30 a.m. to bust out 50 laps in a cement pit full of chlorine, bodily fluids and detached Band-Aids.

I am here because I have to be—because there are no other workout options available to me at this juncture, and I am pathetically addicted to my own endorphins.

Also, I realize that I’m not actually swimming—that’s the point. I’m not interested in learning the backstroke, or the breaststroke, or any other combination of bodily regions and strokes—I just want to have a shot at coming off of this injury in decent shape. Running shape.

I know this is a difficult concept for you to wrap your rubber-cap-covered head around, but it’s really quite simple. Instead of propelling myself forward in a horizontal, arm-driven motion, I move in a vertical, leg-driven fashion that resembles running.

So please stop looking at me like I’m some idiot who accidentally ended up in the pool on her way to the cardio room, even though that is basically what I am.

Yes, it looks strange. Yes, I am moving so slow that the old man with the snorkel in the lane next to mine looks like Michael Freaking Phelps on his way to another world record. And yes, I am breathing really, really hard.

Don’t toss me a pair of water wings, or a life vest, or even a noodle. I see your eyes nervously darting back and forth between me and the shelves full of flotation devices. I promise you I will not drown in this five-foot-deep, quarter-Olympic-size pool.

As for my workout attire—I do, in fact, own a bathing suit. It features purple bows and polka dots and is totally inappropriate for serious exercise. Therefore, I decided that this black sports bra and matching spandex shorts would be a much more comfortable, less wardrobe-malfunction-prone option. If you have a problem with it, check out what the pro swimmers are wearing these days.

Finally, I am fully aware that Aquacise starts at nine, so don’t get your Speedo in a bunch. I’ll be toweling off in the locker room before the instructor even hits play on the first Beach Boys song.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Well, I knew that knocking on wood wasn’t going to last forever. Eventually, my knuckles would get sore. Or I would get injured.

I am happy to report that all of my hand joints are in tip-top condition. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for my left Achilles tendon.

What really grinds my gears is that I’m pretty sure I didn’t hurt it running. It’s been almost a year since my college career—a.k.a. five years of walking a string-thin tightrope between peak fitness and serious injury—went off the air, and I have definitely dialed back both the quantity and quality of my mileage.

The last few weeks have been particularly jog-tastic, as I find it difficult to coax my legs into moving quickly when it’s dark and 21 degrees outside. (For real ya’ll—could I get some daylight savings up in here?)

So, as a mature, responsible adult who appreciates the values of character and integrity, I have decided to pawn the blame off on someone else. And that someone is TSA.

That’s right, folks—the Transportation Security Administration has it out for fit, active individuals like you and me.

Imagine the following scenario: You’re in line at airport security. You have all of your liquids organized and safely zipped inside of a one-quart plastic bag. You have your laptop out of its case and ready for examination. You even remembered to wear pants that don’t require a belt, just to speed up the process so you can hurry up and wait in line some more.

Of course, airports are big, and you anticipated having to walk a fair distance once you arrive at your destination. So in the interest of comfort, you wore your running shoes. Big mistake.

Now you’re jamming up the line as you scramble to untie your double-knotted laces. The man behind you sighs loudly in an attempt to inform you of the inconvenience you have caused him, as it has now been close to 30 seconds since he removed his Denver Broncos Crocs, and he still hasn’t gone through the metal detector thingy yet.

The TSA agent rolls his eyes at you as you carefully place your prized pair of Asics Cumulus on the belt. When you collect your footwear and the rest of your possessions on the other side of the Wand Squad, you cause yet another logjam as you bend over to put your shoes back on and re-tie the laces. You’re pretty sure Croc guy gave you the finger as he huffed off to the C gates with his backpack on wheels.

And to think, all of this could have been avoided by wearing a simpler—albeit less supportive—pair of shoes.

So guess what? That’s what I did. I wore a pair of flimsy canvas flats through the entire Las Vegas airport. Then I wore them through a giant Las Vegas shopping mall. And when I cruised up and down the strip with the rest of the drunken tourists? Yep, I wore them then too.

But Brooke—you might ask—why didn’t you just wear your running shoes once you got to Vegas?

Because I’m already a pasty-ass Montanan who has no business wearing shorts in a town full of fake tans and, well, other fake things. So I wasn’t about to make myself even more of an aesthetic misfit by tromping around in a pair of dirty sneakers.

Well, then why didn’t you just pack another pair of cuter, more supportive shoes?

Because I had to cram everything I wanted to take into a tiny carry-on bag, since I’m cheap and I refused to pay $40 to have the airlines accidentally fly my bag to India (again). Supportive shoes tend to be more bulky, which is why they didn’t make the cut.

So, by way of deductive reasoning, airport security is 100 percent responsible for the stinging pain I feel at the base of my heel bone every time something—including the back of a shoe—touches it.

Are you happy now, TSA? You got your way—now I can’t wear any shoes with straps, buckles or laces. I am confined to clogs and Ugg boots, which severely limits my workout options (last time I checked, my gym didn’t offer any Irish clogging classes).

I’m stuck in the pool until further notice, which, among other things, means I will have bad hair until further notice. Stand by.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Vegas vexation

You know how that famous scene from Chariots of Fire makes beach running seem like the epitome of fitness fun, when in reality it just gives you Achilles tendonitis and makes you smell like sweaty fish?

My weekend in Las Vegas was kind of like that.

Like many things in life, my Sin City experience didn’t exactly live up to all of the Hollywood hype.

I didn’t win a car. I didn’t get a suntan. I didn’t meet anyone famous (not even Criss Angel, Mindfreak). Wayne Newton didn’t invite me to ride horses at his sprawling desert retreat. I didn’t even get roofied or wake up with a jungle cat in the bathroom.

What I did do was:

(a) wander aimlessly down the strip, breathing in an ever-present vapor of cheap cologne and cigarette smoke.

(b) pay $12 for one freaking Mimosa, which I sipped while lounging on an upholstered poolside Chaise lounge that reeked of cheap cologne and cigarette smoke.

(c) run on a treadmill—despite the fact that it was 75 degrees outside—in a hotel fitness room that smelled like cheap cologne and cigarette smoke.

Why, you might wonder, would I resort to working out in such a respiratorily hostile environment, surrounded by greasy, hungover dudes in cutoff t-shirts?

Because if I had braved the streets of Vegas, I would not have gotten anywhere without running into:

(a) a horde of intoxicated tourists.

(b) a neighborhood where all of the buildings have metal bars over the doors and windows.

(c) Carrot Top.

To drive home my point, I have created the following chart. Do with it what you will.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Runner up

Forget all of that mental B.S. from my last post—after years and years of racing, I have finally found the key to motivation. It has nothing to do with state of mind and everything to do with tiny hands.

Last weekend, I let myself get roped into running another road race. OK, so I kind of wanted to do it anyway, mostly because I now have some sort of post-career complex that can only be mitigated by periodic racing ventures that prove I’ve “still got it.”

Since my last racing expedition was over two months ago, I figured I was sufficiently recovered and ready to go out there again and show everyone (read: no one who gives a good gosh darn) that I am still a formidable competitor.

Not to ruin it for you, but I ended up having my ass handed to me by over a minute. (The winner was a former teammate of mine and a nationally ranked track and field athlete, so I didn’t feel too bad. But still.)

Anyway, that is beside the point. Normally, I probably would have been crushed to suffer a loss by such an embarrassing margin. And normally, the time that I ended up posting—18:31 for 5K—would have required a fair amount of pain and suffering.

As I navigated the twists and turns of a rather hodge-podge course, however, I couldn’t help but smile. Yes, you read that correctly—smile.

The race was run in conjunction with the college homecoming parade. The gun went off just a few minutes before the line of floats, trucks and farm animals made its way down the spectator-lined streets.

I have to admit, at first I was a little nervous about having such a massive audience. In most of the road races I have run, the only people watching are course monitors and aid station volunteers speckled along the course at sporadic intervals.

But with this race, there were people everywhere. Cheering. Clapping. Foam-finger waving. Every now and then, a group of kids would step off of the curb and line up, arms outstretched, in hopes of getting high-fives from the runners. Hence, my smiling—I felt like a total rock star. Who cares if most of my fans were under the age of 10? They thought I was cool, and that was enough for me.

I didn’t even realize how fast I was running as I slapped hands with my droves of preadolescent fans, feeling like a slightly more feminine version of Justin Bieber.

Before I knew it, I was sprinting across the finish line and having a $50 gift card (hells yeah!) thrust into my sweaty hands as a reward for my amazing second-place performance.

Yep, still got it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pulling a fast one

Over the course of my career as a cross country athlete, one of the questions I have gotten most often is, “What do you think about out there?”

I’ve always hesitated to reveal the unglamorous truth, which is that, more often than not, I am simply thinking, “God, this sucks.”

Other runners claim to harbor only positive thoughts while racing. They are liars.

But really, isn’t a cross country meet just one big lie-fest? Do you really believe your mom when she yells, “Keep it up honey, you look great!” when you are 100 percent positive that you not only do not look great, but are in fact foaming at the mouth like some kind of rabid freak?

Unabashed lying isn’t reserved only for spectators.

Cross country runners almost have to be dirty, rotten liars to keep internal complaints (i.e. “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than continue to subject myself to this agonizing physical and emotional torture”) from affecting external performance (i.e. stopping).

There are many methods of mid-race self-deceit. One of my go-to approaches is the comparison argument. It involves conning yourself into believing that the pain you feel is not nearly as bad as _______ (fill in the blank with the most terrible, awful experience you can think of).

Some runners opt to employ a hypothetical version of the comparison argument—that is, they choose situations that, though obviously painful, they have not actually experienced for themselves. Common themes for hypothetical comparisons include childbirth, crucifixion, shark bites and, due to the recent popularity of the film 127 Hours, amputating one’s own arm.

I prefer to imagine things I have actually survived. It gives the comparison more depth, as I can recall real feelings and images from the selected incident.

For example: “The burning pain in my lungs isn’t nearly as bad as the explosive diarrhea I got after eating Applebee’s seafood.” Or: “If I could live through a night at the Newark Airport HoJo, I will live to see the finish line of this race.”

Once I’ve exhausted my arsenal of comparisons, I usually resort to making promises that I have no intention of fulfilling. Like: “OK, if I keep my average pace under 5:45, I will reward myself with _________ (insert guilty pleasure of choice, i.e. an Egg McMuffin, a Taylor Swift CD, an episode of Kate Plus 8).

By the time I’ve written myself mental IOUs for two dozen Krispy Kremes and a puppy, the finish line is usually within sight, and the only motivation I need to keep myself going is the knowledge that I am within seconds of being done.

After catching my breath, gulping down several cups of watered-down Powerade and pouring cold water over my head, I punctuate the lie cycle with one last fib to ease the anxiety of toeing the line again in the future: Well, that wasn’t so bad.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Spectators need electrolytes too

Last weekend, I had to—excuse me, got to—photograph a cross country meet for the newspaper. As I was scrolling through my shoot, I realized that my photos were basically a fragmented visual chronology of how the race played out. So I thought, what if I applied the same concept to a written account of my experience at the same event?

After several days of drinking herbal tea and not shaving my legs, I was feeling pretty artistic. So here you go—my experimental venture into the world of fragmentary literature:

Boom! There they go. A lot of skinny people. Click, click, click. Did I get him?
OK, where next? Follow the herd. The herd is too slow. This camera is heavy. Leaders already at the turn? Cut across to the hill. Good Lord, it’s hot. Am I sweating? Rhetorical.

“Bill, where do we go to see him next? Wait, I can’t move that fast in these shoes!”

Watch out for rocks. And holes. Bump. Was that a child? Oops, sorry kid. Up the hill—God, this thing is heavy. Hold it out in front. Are you an idiot? Worth more than your life. Three points of contact. Like a football.

Up we go. Am I out of shape? Huff. Puff.

“Must be a lot harder running with that thing! Take it easy!”

Shut. Up.

“I don’t see him! Oh no, shouldn’t he be closer to the front? What’s wrong with him?”

Just in time for the front runners. Click, click, click. They look tired. Hot. Uncomfortable. Tell me about it.

“That’s it, Brian! Right on pace—you’ve got a good one going! Stride it out, now—just like we practiced. 10:25, 10:26, 10:27…Good job, Gabe! Work your way up to Brian, that’s it!”

“Oh my gosh, Dave, do you see the kid in front? How is it possible that he’s that far ahead?”

“Hey camera girl, get off the course! Runners coming!”

Click, click, click. Got it. Side step. Time to spare. Settle down, Mr. Panties-in-a-bunch.

Downhill. Not too fast. Plenty of time. Finish line. Spot? Crap, the other photog stole it. I guess this works. Crouch down. Flags! Overzealous runner moms! Out of my frame!

“Woo hoo! Way to go, all the way through!”

Click, click, click. Boring. Blow out. No expression. Wait for the stragglers. Much more dramatic.

Whoa, turbo. Working hard for 58th place. Right on.

Gatorade? Thanks, I’d love some. Cheers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Talking shirt

Even though I ran cross country competitively for more than a decade, I will be the first to admit that it isn’t the most exciting sport to watch.

There are no big plays, no big hits, no juicy hot dogs and cups of beer. Instead, there are dozens—sometimes even hundreds—of competitors to keep track of on a course that is probably long, hilly and annoyingly spread-out.

The only thing giving cross country even the smallest iota of entertainment value is…the shirts.

Clever t-shirts have been making long distance running more exciting for competitors and spectators alike since Stop Pre.

Over the years, I came up with quite a few designs of my own, although they never seemed to catch on with my coaches or teammates, presumably because they were sort of counter-inspiring.

For example:

The problem is, my humility, coupled with my not-so-secret disdain for cross country, made it difficult for me to come up with catchy, positive phrases that would help build team confidence.

But when I was listening to the radio in the car the other day, I realized that during my competitive racing years, I had completely neglected a potential gold mine of ego-pumping wordage: pop artists.

Of course! Is there anyone more arrogant and self-absorbed than a young modern music star? I could just jack some lyrics, slap them on a t-shirt and…voila! Here are some of the samples I’ve cooked up so far:

Orders can be sent to my email address.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

There's a map for that

The advent of Garmins and TomToms has made the art of map-reading all but obsolete. Some might even argue—cough, Miss Teen South Carolina, cough—that the art of map-having is equally outmoded.

Much to the chagrin of cross-country runners across the…um…map, young America’s inability to comprehend basic cartographic concepts has led to countless moments of public embarrassment and disappointment.

In high school, we always arrived at cross country meets absurdly early, which gave us plenty of time to walk the course as a team and review confusing twists and turns. (It also gave me extra time to scope out the bathroom situation and look for “secret” toilets so I wouldn’t have to wait in line every time I had to go, which back then was about 25 times in the hour leading up to the start of the race.)

As we navigated each bend and curve, I always found myself making mental notes about various landmarks. Like: OK, remember to make a left at the big aspen tree with the yellow leaves. Or: Hang a hard right at the red tool shed.

Pretty soon, though, all of my directional breadcrumbs started to melt together. Wait a second—I would think—was it left or right after the stinky mud puddle?

Trying hard not to let my mounting panic show through, I would ask one of my coaches, as nonchalantly as possible, if I could borrow a copy of the course map—you know, just to go over everything one last time.

Then I would usually disappear to one of my previously-scouted secret bathrooms, where I would stare at the map for several minutes in a desperate attempt to make sense of the jumbled smattering of lines and arrows.

But alas, I knew it was to no avail. I could memorize the turn sequence all I wanted, knowing full well that in the heat of battle, all would be forgotten. Sometimes I even acronymed the dang thing. For example: (L)iberals (L)ove (R)epublican (L)eaders. But even my catchy-though-factually-inaccurate memory-joggers (ha!) were flushed from my brain as my leg muscles hogged the blood supply.

At the larger races, I could get away with following people the whole way, which took some of the pressure off. Plus, those courses tended to be fairly well-marked.

But at the smaller venues, the course markings consisted of a few directionally ambiguous arrows haphazardly spray painted on the ground. And during my last couple years of high school, there was always a good chance that I would be in the lead—which is how I earned the nickname “Wrong-Way Andrus.” (From my own father, no less.)

It is also how I ended up losing a divisional title to one of my biggest high-school rivals. Out of all my racing heartbreaks, that’s the one I still haven’t quite gotten over. It’s like a cross-country-themed version of the music video for U2’s “Stuck in a Moment.”

Anyway, I’m not exactly sure what the moral of the story is. Pay attention in geography class? Stuff a Garmin in your sports bra? Stop listening to U2 (which you really shouldn’t have been doing in the first place)?

I don’t know. Maybe I should ask Miss Teen South Carolina.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why I need to stop watching Nancy Grace

I do the majority of my runs close to home, in a neighborhood comprised mostly of retired couples and rich Canadians who think it’s super hip to have a summer home south of the border.

As such, I usually pass by several old people walking small dogs over the course of my usual route, but I hardly ever see other runners. Which is fine with me—whenever I catch a glimpse of another runner in the distance, my competitive juices start flowing, and I feel compelled to somehow “beat” them, either by being the first to reach a certain point along the road (if they are running towards me) or passing them before I reach a certain point along the road (if they are ahead of me).

So to be honest, I’d much rather smile and wave at Dr. Nelson and his bichon frise, Princess Beatrice, than enter into an involuntary speed showdown that, whatever the outcome, will almost certainly leave me feeling like a complete nerd/loser.

Today, however, was different.

As I exited the land of late-onset empty-nest syndrome and turned right onto the main road, a flash of motion jumped into my peripheral field of vision.

I turned my head and squinted into the morning sun, trying to get a better look at this mystery exerciser—the first one I had seen in days. But he was completely backlit, and all I could see was the distant silhouette of a…roller blader?

Hold the phone, I thought. Did I really just see a freaking roller blader?

As I strode along, I racked my brain for the last time I had ever laid eyes on a pair of roller blades. I finally decided that it must have been at least a decade, since everyone knows roller blades haven’t been cool since “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” was on the Billboard Hot 100.

No, wait—I thought—I think I saw a pair at that white trash garage sale I stopped at a couple of years back, the one where I almost got talked into buying a set of Harry Potter Happy Meal toys from a 6-year-old with a Kool-Aid mustache.

My train of thought was suddenly interrupted as an elderly gentleman zoomed by me on some sort of wheeled contraption that can only be described as the awkward lovechild of a mountain bike and a Nordic Track ski machine.

So it wasn’t a roller blader, I thought, shrugging my shoulders with an inexplicable feeling of disappointment—like I’d just seen Bigfoot but then realized it was only Jack Black with his shirt off.

I ran on, wondering why I had never seen this guy out on the roads before. About a mile down the road, I heard the faint sound of an approaching set of motorless wheels.

Then, from behind me: “You’re beautiful.”

My heart jumped. Oh crap, I thought. It’s finally happening. I’m going to have to karate-chop some pervert and make a run for the nearest dog-walking senior citizen.

I had reviewed my response to this exact scenario many times in my mind. The only problem is that, despite my best intentions, I still haven’t taken the martial arts self-defense class I’ve been meaning to enroll in for the last six years.

With no bank of kick-ass ninja moves to draw from, I picked up my pace and stole a quick look to my right to size up my attacker. He was skinny and at least 60 years old.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I could escape from him with nothing more than a swift kick to the crotch and a few hundred meters of sprinting in the opposite direction.

“Your form, I mean—it’s absolutely perfect,” he said as he glided past my right shoulder.

I think he knew he had startled me, because he kept a comfortable distance between us as he continued on with his somewhat flattering commentary of my gait.

“I just love watching you run,” he said. “I can see the winner inside you.”

“Oh, um, thank you,” I said, not knowing how else to respond to such an odd compliment.

The winner inside me? Was that some kind of cryptic sexual reference?

I picked up the pace another notch and made a sharp turn onto a small footpath that led to a narrow canal bridge, hoping it would prove too great an obstacle for his bike-ski hybrid.

“Oh, I see we have the same route,” he said, following me down the path.

I was on the verge of veering off into someone’s backyard and screaming, “Help! I need an adult!” But before I had the chance, he opened his mouth again.

“I’m Bob, by the way,” he said. “I ran competitively for 30 years, and I can always pick out the best runners just by looking at their form.”

After Bob introduced himself, the strength of his creeper vibe diminished considerably. I got the feeling that he was just like me—a lonely runner in a world of tiny sissy dogs with out-of-shape owners.

“My name’s…” I hesitated for a second, weighing the consequences of giving him my real name and ultimately deciding it probably wouldn’t hurt. “…Brooke. I actually ran in college, and my coaches always said I had good form too.”

Bob rode his ski apparatus next to me for another half-mile or so. We chatted about cross training and cartilage breakdown—you know, normal running small talk.

After we parted ways, I wondered if I had just seen a glimpse into my future. Would that be me someday, riding a funny-looking bike thing and striking up unsolicited conversations with young whippersnapper runners?

I can accept that as my fate, as long as I never reach the point where I have a miniature Schnauzer named Prince Charles.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Get real

Well folks, it’s that time of year again—the time when I usually start making frequent withdrawals from the excuse bank to make sure I never have to do that torturous uphill mile repeat workout. Yep—it’s cross country season.

Thankfully, my days of pounding the dirt for several long, unpleasant intervals are over—but that doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods (literally and figuratively).

When I heard that the local high school runners would start practicing this week, I experienced an unsettling emotional reaction that can only be described as a cross country veteran’s version of post traumatic stress disorder.

Suddenly, I was back at the trailhead where that miserable, hot, dusty workout began. Everything was so vivid, so real—I could feel my lungs burning as my legs struggled to carry my sweaty, exhausted body up the rocky incline. I could taste the turkey-bagel vomit spewing from my mouth as I bent over the edge of the trail, gasping for breath in between regurgitations. I could smell the men’s team as they grunted past me, leaving in their wake a hot, wet cloud of unwashed-running-shorts stink.

When I finally snapped back to reality, my forehead was dotted with beads of cold sweat, and my stomach was a knot of imaginary ill-digested turkey bagel.

How did I ever survive that sport?

Then it hit me—I not only survived cross country, I reveled in its status as a sport reserved for ultra-tough renegade badasses.

There is a reason sixty kids go out for soccer while only six go out for cross country. When it comes down to it, any semi-athletic high-schooler could kick a ball, but not very many have the guts and determination necessary to power through three miles of continuous pain and suffering.

So yeah, being on the cross country team made me feel special, even if the other kids didn’t exactly feel that way about it. I think I even remember one of my high school teachers asking me when I was going to try a real sport.

For the record, *Mr. Daniels, cross country is pretty much as real as it gets. I left a pile of bagel barf on the side of a hiking trail, for eff’s sake. And to the stupid football jocks who made fun of the awkward, skinny cross country athletes: I don’t really care anymore because you’re probably fat now.

* Name has been changed

Thursday, August 11, 2011

For the run of it

I don’t know if you, my loyal reader(s), have noticed this phenomenon, but the other day I realized that we runners have a totally sick and twisted self-reward system.

Last weekend, for example, I had a lot of writing to do. (Not the blog kind—the reporter kind that I am [poorly] paid for.)

As I hit the save button on my first of four articles, I thought, “If I can finish the second one before noon, I’ll reward myself with a run.”

I instinctively punched “command + W” followed by “command + N” as quickly as I could and got to work on crafting a passable lead for a story on the high school cheerleading camp.

With thoughts of spirit fingers and pompoms swirling through my head, I abruptly stopped typing and threw my brain into reverse. Had I just promised myself several miles’ worth of pain and suffering in exchange for several hundred words’ worth of pain and suffering?

Most normal Americans reward themselves with things like Starbucks lattes, pedicures or episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras. (OK, I reward myself with Toddlers and Tiaras too, but only because I feel obligated to do something productive in order to justify throwing away an hour of my life.)

But since runners generally get some sort of deranged satisfaction out of punishing their bodies for extended periods of time, we choose that over a cute new pair of shoes. (Unless said shoes happen to be the latest Asics Cumulus model.)

We do the same thing with our weekends. Everyone else spends the week slaving away at their jobs so they can cut loose Friday night and have some well-deserved fun. But what do we do? We get our TGIF on by enjoying a full eight hours of sleep so we can wake up early and—you guessed it—run!

I mean, think about it—how many times have you had the following conversation:

Friend: Oh man, it’s been a reaaalllllllyyy long week. What do you say to a pitcher and a few games of pool?

You: Actually, I was planning to have an early night. I have to get up at 6 a.m. for that half-marathon.

Friend: [Speechless with face displaying a look of utter bewilderment/disgust]

You: Sorry dude. See you Monday.

On that note, since I’m finished with this blog post, I think I’ve earned a nice five-miler. If I run fast enough, maybe I’ll reward myself with a bonus core workout.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Downward jog

Nothing says “dead meat” like a backwoods taxidermy shop.

So when I got off the bus at the starting line of the 10K I ran last weekend, I couldn’t help but feel like I was standing in the gravel parking lot of a bad omen in the form of a dilapidated, antler-encrusted log cabin. Still, as I made my way to the middle of a two-lane mountain highway in the boonies of Northwest Montana, I had a very exciting realization about the race ahead.

The good thing about driving six (point two) miles up a mountain road to get to the starting line of a 10K is that you will be running those same six (point two) miles down the mountain to the finish line.

“It’s all downhill from here, literally,” I thought as I did my final stretches. It was a stark contrast to the racecourse for my first 10K, which, you might recall, started with a roughly one-mile climb up a freaking mountain.

For my sophomore effort, I knew the key would be starting out conservatively. There was actually one steep uphill stretch in the final two miles, and the last mile was flat. If I abused my legs too much on the downhill, they would be totally useless by the time everyone else was starting their finishing kick.

When the gun sounded (and by gun, I mean some old guy shouting, “Boom!” with his thumb and index finger in the air), I let a lot of people sprint ahead of me. I fought off the urge to go with them, even though it definitely hurt my ego to be running behind someone in a skirt.

I flew through the one-mile mark in 6:10. Whoa. I knew I was running downhill, but dang. I immediately slowed down, afraid that even with my conscious effort to budget my energy, I had inadvertently screwed myself over.

Then I thought back on the rest of my experiences that morning: riding to the starting line in a rickety old school bus; starting the race 15 minutes late because there were clearly not enough rickety old school buses to handle the volume of race participants; peeing in the woods near the starting line and fearing an attack by a bear or a crazed hillbilly.

Obviously, the organization of this little fun-run wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of professionalism. I decided that whatever measuring device was used to mark the first mile was probably about as high-tech as the starting gun. Therefore, I opted to totally ignore my split. Instead, I kicked it up a notch and finally got around Skirt Lady.

I kept my pace even and manageable, slowly working my way up the field. Passing male competitors is my secret guilty pleasure, especially when they act all macho about it and immediately pass me back. This happened twice during this particular race, and I’m happy to report that in the end, I finished ahead of both the Bruce Willis look-alike and the sixteen-year-old cross country runner.

But those two were just the sprinkles on the cupcake. The woman who led the female field for most of the race started to fade on the hill. Before that, I had been content to let her go, but once I realized I was gaining on her, my eyes narrowed as I thought, “Game on.”

Amazingly, I still had some spring in my step after five straight miles of downhill pounding. I finally passed her with about a half-mile to go. I weaved my way down the final stretch, dodging 5K walkers and kids.

After crossing the line, my victory celebration was short-lived, as my quads immediately seized up. I limped around the finishing area in desperate search of electrolytes. Again, I thought back on the rest of the morning: rickety school buses; taxidermy shop; 6:10 mile split.

I was not going to find Gatorade anywhere near that finish line.

As I limped to the grocery store to purchase a sports drink, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Even with all of its quirks, this race was way more enjoyable than most of the races I’ve done. There was no pressure, I was relaxed and I didn’t overthink it.

Who knows—if I can talk my quads into it, I might even go back next year to defend my title.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

That's what she said

I’ve always been a fan of running in the summer rain, but when thunder and lightening show up to the party, I turn into a total scaredy cat.

So the other day, when the forecast called for an afternoon thunderstorm, I opted to employ my contingency plan: the elliptical.

I was about 20 minutes in to my plan B workout when…dun, dun, duunnnnnn…a mid-storm power outage killed the lights and all of the electronic exercise machines.

“Uhhhhhhh,” groaned the extremely tan, extremely wrinkly woman to my right.

Of course, this was the ONE time I didn’t have my iPod. So as the back-up generator kicked in and brought the machines—but not the lights or the TVs—back to life, I was forced to interact with Whiny Wendy.

Actually, I guess Whiny Juanita would be a more appropriate sarcastic nickname for this particular woman, since her accent would suggest some sort of Latino nationality.

“Oh jeeeeeeeeez,” she went on. “How loooooonggg is it gonna take them to feeeeeeex theeeees?”

I really wasn’t in the mood for conversation, so I tested out the “non-response method” for a few seconds. But I could feel her pleading eyes staring in my direction, and they weren’t going to move until I had supplied a satisfactory answer.

“Um, well, last time this happened I think it took, like, five minutes,” I finally replied.

“Fiiiiiiiiiiiivaah meeeeenutes? I neeeeeeedd my TeeeeeVeeeeeee when I workooouuuuutttt!”

“Me too,” I muttered under my breath.

I don’t know what it was about her voice that annoyed me so much, but I knew that if one more high pitched, overly annunciated word came out of her mouth, there was a 95 percent chance that I would involuntarily slap her in the face.

But at that very moment, I received a critical dose of comic relief from a pair of old-timers whose lifting workout had been interrupted by the blackout.

“Come on, Jerry, we don’t have all day. Martha’s aqua-cise class gets out in 20 minutes, and if she has to wait for me, I’ll be in big trouble,” said the first guy.

“Sorry Frank, I just can’t do it in the dark,” replied the second guy.

“That’s what she said!” quipped the first guy, with spot-on comedic timing.

I bit my lip as I tried in vain to suppress my giggles. But I just couldn’t help myself—it was the best-executed “that’s what she said” joke that I’d heard in a long time.

Guy number two, however, was not nearly as amused by his friend’s impeccable wit as I was.

“Frank, that was absolutely terrible,” he said in a tone that made him sound like a disappointed father. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

I almost piped up with something like, “Ah, relax Jerry. Don’t be such a buzzkill.”

But before I could say anything, the lights came back on and the latest episode of Sports Center was blasting into my headphones. I guess the sound on the built-in TVs automatically resets to maximum volume following a power outage.

Of course, not even that could drown out Juanita’s excessively emotional reaction to the electrical reboot.

“Well, thaaaaaaaannnk God,” she declared. “Eeeeett’s abouuuuuuuttt tiiiiimmee!”

Ay, Dios mio.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Little shop of horrors

Last summer, when I was still a poor college student desperate for beer—er, food money, I accepted a position as a part-time retail associate at a sporting goods store. (As a side note, I would just like to point out that using the word “associate” in conjunction with any job title really helps inflate its perceived professional value. Like right now, instead of referring to myself as a newspaper reporter, I prefer calling myself a “reporting associate.” See what I mean?)

I was thankful for the job, as I had spent several weeks trying to get hired for any of several positions for which I was massively overqualified. I was thrilled to beat out a slew of 15-year-old boys for an opportunity to acquire some valuable experience in the area of price gun operation.

The problem was, I may or may not have told a couple of little white lies to beef up my résumé. Gone are the days when any old Joe Blow could just walk into a business establishment and get a minimum wage job. Now you need things like “experience” to give you an edge over the competition.

I used my status as a collegiate athlete as a platform for my fibbery.

“Well, I’m around college athletes like, pretty much every day,” I told the manager. “So yeah, I definitely know a lot about sports and sporting equipment.”

It must have worked, because I got hired. In reality, I knew nothing about any sport other than running, so racing flats were pretty much the extent of my sporting equipment expertise. But I figured I could handle selling a glove or two to a few harmless little league parents. Wrong.

I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw her sprint through the front door of the store. She was visibly stressed, her face flushed and sweaty. She was decked out in baseball fan gear, culminating with the compact-disc-sized photo button pinned to her t-shirt. In the photo: a roughly eight-year-old boy posing with a baseball bat and flashing a smile that was short a few teeth.

“He forgot his bat, he forgot his bat!” she screamed as she speed-waddled up to the cash register.

Oh boy. I shot a pleading look to Tom, the other kid on duty that night. He just smiled, as if to say, “No way. This one’s all yours.”

“I NEED to buy Carter a new bat RIGHT NOW,” the woman said. “It has to be EXACTLY like the one he left at home—I don’t want him to be thrown off by something different. Hurry up! His game starts in TWENTY MINUTES!”

I led Psycho Mom to the bat section, where I calmly asked her what kind of bat she was looking for.

“I DON’T KNOW!” she screamed. “Isn’t that YOUR job?!?”

Before I had a chance to remind her that I was a minimum-wage retail employee—not an effing psychic—she was pulling bats off the rack like she was Lindsay Lohan and the world’s last Long Island iced tea was stashed at the back of that bat tower.

“No, no, no…” she chanted as she discarded each incorrect bat—on the floor.

I stood there in horror, unsure of what to do. What do you say to someone who is destroying your store and acting like a complete lunatic?

In my head, I said things like, “Oh, don’t worry about making a mess—I’ll get it. You just go right ahead and tear apart any rack and/or display you want.” Or: “Bitch, are you cuh-razy?”

When she finally found the one she was looking for, she abruptly stood up and proceeded to speed-waddle all the way back to the register.

She drummed her fingers as I cut the tag off of the bat and scanned it into the system.

“Will that be all for you today?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, just hurry and ring me up,” she said as she thrust a credit card in my face.

I swiped the card and handed it back to her.

“Receipt with you or in the—”

Before I could finish my sentence, she had shuffled out the door, bat in hand.

“Bag,” I said, before bursting into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

And that, my friends, is why I’ll never work in retail again, and my kids will run cross country.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quick quiz

This month, the folks at Runner’s World ramped up their effort to appeal to the Teen People reader demographic by including a multiple-choice personality quiz. (Really. See page 54.) So, taking a cue from the longstanding leader in running journalism, I too have developed a little quizzy quiz in hopes of drawing interest from some of the younger members of the running community. But don’t worry, even if you’ve never heard of Selena Gomez, I’m pretty sure you’ll find my questionnaire both entertaining and insightful.

What kind of runner are you?

1.) It’s Friday night, and your best friend is having a barbecue at the mansion she is housesitting while her rich neighbors are on vacation in Bora Bora. It has a pool—with a slide! You really want to go, but you have a 10K road race in the morning. What do you do?

(a) Respectfully decline her invitation. You know you’ll lose your racing focus if you are distracted by loud music, water polo and fruity cocktails.
(b) Go to the party for exactly one hour, limiting yourself to exactly one piña colada. Then return home in time to lay out your racing gear and go through your ritual visualization exercise.
(c) Pool? Water slide? Shirtless dudes? Screw the race—it’s time to par-tay!

2.) You are four intervals into a 10 x 400-meters workout. It’s 90 degrees on the track and you feel like your heart is pumping hot molten lava through your veins. If you attempt to finish the workout, you will probably either collapse or spontaneously combust. What do you do?

(a) Buck up and finish anyway. You always follow through on your workout plans, come hail or high water.
(b) Complete one more lap and then finish with a one-mile tempo run straight to the city pool, where you jump in fully clothed and drenched in sweat, scaring dozens of small children.
(c) Call it good and head to DQ for a lemon-lime Misty Freeze.

3.) One of your old high school cross country teammates is coming through town on her way to a Nickelback concert in Seattle. She leaves you a voicemail wondering if you would like to take her on a run while she’s there. You are training for a seven-mile trail race at the end of the month, and you were planning to do hill repeats this afternoon. What do you do?

(a) Make up an excuse and blow her off. She’s slow, and Nickelback is a terrible band anyway.
(b) Do a short hill workout in the morning and then take her on a leisurely jog along the river.
(c) Save the hills for tomorrow and take your friend on a “run” from bar to bar.

4.) It’s race day! What are you wearing?

(a) Bright green singlet (tech fabric, of course), matching green racing flats, black spandex shorts (for muscle compression and aerodynamic efficiency), arm warmers, hundred-dollar sport sunglasses, GU/water belt. Let’s. Do. This.
(b) Your favorite pair of Nike running shorts (which you scored for 12 bucks at the Sports Authority sidewalk sale last year), a black tank top and your Asics trainers.
(c) Basketball shorts, an old cut-off t-shirt and your cross-trainers from ninth-grade P.E.

5.) What would you do for a Klondike Bar?

(a) Nothing. I would never poison my body with a frozen chunk of sugar and saturated fat.
(b) Beg, borrow and/or steal.
(c) I don’t know, but once I got it, I would trade it in for an Otter Pop—the unquestionable king of summertime treats.


Mostly a’s – The Dashing D-Bag
You won’t let anyone or anything get in the way of your obsessive running habit. You are willing to trade your relationships, social life and personal reputation for training and racing success. Unless you want to end up alone, unhappy and/or in a loony bin, you need to seriously rethink your priorities. Wake up and smell the Klondikes!

Mostly b’s – The Middle-of-the-Road-Runner
You’re serious about running, and you enjoy being successful at it. You also realize that there are other enjoyable aspects of a healthy, balanced life—like piña coladas and social interaction.

Mostly c’s – The Shuffling Slacker
You’ll go for a run if it fits into your busy social calendar, but it’s definitely not at the top of your to-do list. Which is fine—although you might want to go easy on the beer and Otter Pops.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The idiot's guide to conversing with non-runners

As regular (or regular-ish) runners, we like to talk about running. A lot. Sometimes we even forget that there are, in fact, other things to talk about. Like the national debt crisis. Or the Casey Anthony verdict. Or, if you’re my mom, the Canadian neighbors’ growing collection of lawn ornaments.

While it’s OK to talk running with other avid runners, it is generally less acceptable to burden members of the non-running population with longwinded stories about your personal training and racing experiences.

Have your family, friends and casual acquaintances consistently avoided interacting with you in a social capacity? It’s probably because they cannot stand the thought of having to sit through one more of your extensive monologues on the merits of pace progression runs.

It’s not your fault. You love running, and you enjoy sharing that passion with people you know and care about. But if you want to reclaim your social life and shed your image as a total running geek, you need to ditch that pacing slide-rule and learn how to converse like a normal human.

I have created the following compilation of hypothetical conversations—complete with common mistakes and suggested alternatives—for your educational pleasure.

Scenario 1 – The marathon play-by-play

Runner: So I ran a marathon in Oregon last weekend.

Normie: Oh, wow. Those are, like, over 20 miles, right?

Runner: Yeah, 26.2 actually. And I’ll tell you what, that last .2 is a real doozy.

Normie: [uncertain of whether that was a joke, but forcing laughter just in case] Ha. Ha.

Runner: Yeah, but I’ll tell you what wasn’t funny—no water station after that 1.5-mile, 5 percent-grade hill climb at mile 18.

Normie: [rapidly losing interest and beginning to scan the room for someone else (anyone else!) to talk to] Uh huh, that sounds terrible.

Runner: Oh, believe me, it was. Especially considering I had maintained an average pace of 7:02 per mile up until that point. But then things really started to fall apart…shin splints, plantar fasciitis, nipple chafage—it was like everything that could go wrong, did.

Normie: [with a look of utter disgust] Nipple chafage?

Remember, once the phrase “nipple chafage” has been introduced in the conversation, there is little that can be done to salvage the interaction. Your poor listener will probably go to great lengths to avoid talking to you in all future social situations. Here is an example of how to properly handle this particular scenario:

Runner: So I ran a marathon in Oregon last weekend.

Normie: Oh, wow. Those are, like, over 20 miles, right?

Runner: Yep, it’s definitely not a sprint. Have you ever run a race?

Normie: I once lost a bet and ran a Halloween 5K in a Gumby suit.

Runner: That’s hilarious! How did it go?

Scenario 2 – The unsolicited nutritional advice

Normie: Dude, the hor d’oeuvres at this party are duh-licious! Have you tried the shrimp wontons yet?

Runner: Actually, I’ve been trying to stay away from fried foods. They are full of trans fat and have been linked to health problems like cancer and obesity.

Normie: Um, OK, but they’re tasty.

Runner: So are baked pita chips and hummus. Plus, the protein is great for muscle recovery.

Nobody likes a self-righteous food patrolman. Save your criticism about other peoples’ dietary preferences for a long run with your training buddies. You can sing the praises of Greek yogurt all you want without unknowingly projecting any judgmental undertones. Here’s a better way to navigate this kind of situation:

Normie: Dude, the hor d’oeuvres at this party are duh-licious! Have you tried the shrimp wontons yet?

Runner: Not yet, man. I sort of killed the veggie tray, and I’m feeling a little bloated.

Normie: Sweet, more wontons for me!

Scenario 3 – The extended injury report

Normie: So how’s the running going?

Runner: Not so good, actually. I have a stress reaction in my left tibia, so I’m out for at least three weeks.

Normie: Aww, bummer, dude. When did that happen?

Runner: Well, I’ve felt pain for awhile, but I finally asked the doctor about it a couple of weeks ago. When nothing turned up on the MRI, he figured it was probably a stress reaction instead of a stress fracture. It was my own fault, I guess. I had increased the length of my long run by 15 miles in three weeks, and I was bumping up my mileage by over 20 percent a week for a month straight.

Normie: [struggling to keep pretending he cares] Oh…

Runner: Yeah, but I’ve been able to do some cross training in the pool, which has been good for me—you know, working all those muscles that I wouldn’t use otherwise. I’m actually thinking about ordering my own aqua running belt and staying with it after my leg has healed. I figure it might be a nice training supplement, you know?

To someone who has absolutely no experience with running injuries, everything after “MRI” sounded like an Ozzy Osbourne monologue. Once you find yourself talking about things like the percentage increase of your weekly mileage, you have gone too far. Here is how you should have handled this conversation:

Normie: So how’s the running going?

Runner: Not so good, actually. I messed up my leg, so I’m out for a few weeks.

Normie: Aww, bummer, dude. When did that happen?

Runner: I just found out about it a few days ago. But oh well, I probably needed a break anyway, right?

Normie: Yeah, man, you run way too much! Your legs will probably enjoy the rest. Since you can’t run, we should catch a flick sometime.

Runner: Cool, I’ll give you a call this weekend.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Intentional facemask

In honor of the 2011 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which were recently broadcast on ESPN2 in the middle of the night, I have put together a little activity for your workday-diversion pleasure. (Just in case you get sick of playing Farmville.)

Based on the popular children's book series found in pediatrician waiting rooms across the country, this game pays homage to America's up-and-coming golden child of distance racing. I call it "Where's Galen?"

Now that it is abundantly clear that Mr. Rupp's creepy facemask was no one-time fix, I figure we better get used to picking him (and his new disguise) out of a crowd. Gone are the days when race spectators could identify the formidable U of O track product by looking for his signature Breathe Right nasal strip.

The strip has been replaced by a full nose-and-mouth shield that could easily be mistaken for any of several mug covers. This exercise is intended to help you learn to distinguish Rupp's "asthma mask" from a sampling of look-alikes. Good luck.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Inspiration part II: my nasal brainchild

So there I was, pounding out a seemingly endless treadmill workout with the world’s most fetid breather outputting a constant stream of hot, nasty stink approximately three feet to my left.

I tried in vain to distract myself from the foul odor I was forced to absorb with each inhalation. First, I cranked up the volume of my iPod and scrolled through my playlist in search of a tune that could carry me away from my miserable reality, if only for a few fleeting moments.

Somehow, listening to Kelly Clarkson belt out the lyrics, “Since you been gooonnnnnnnneee, I can breathe for the first time, I’m so moving ooonnnnnnnnn, yeaheeeeeeeyeahhhh,” just wasn’t as motivating as usual. (Come on, admit it—you love working out to Kelly Clarkson too.)

Using more force and energy than necessary, I dramatically ripped my headphone cord out of my iPod and shoved it into the plug-in for the built-in TV. My overly animated display of frustration did not affect my malodorous neighbor in the slightest. He was much too focused on an old episode of Gunsmoke that he had probably seen 26 times since it originally aired in 1964.

I furiously flipped through the channels in search of a program so fascinating that I would completely forget where I was and what I was smelling. You know, something like Cheaters or Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

I started with my old standby, the E! Channel: commercial. So I switched to my second favorite, TLC: commercial.

Growing increasingly angry and annoyed, I quickly moved through my list of choice cable networks: Food, Style, ESPN, Animal Planet—even The Weather Channel. And guess what I saw? Commercial, commercial, NASCAR, commercial, commercial.

Well, since rednecks wrecking cars—ahem, sorry, I mean “motor sports”—doesn’t really do it for me, I was forced to watch several minutes of television advertising.

I was in a very cynical mood, so every product I saw on the screen looked like the dumbest thing ever invented. I found myself thinking things like, “Tires? Who the crap buys tires? L-A-M-E!”

Then came an ad for a new DirecTV feature that allows viewers to pause their television programming in one room and resume watching it in a totally different room on a totally different TV. This service seemed to me, at first, totally ridiculous.

But as I rotated my head from Mr. Halitosis on my left, to the rows of empty treadmills on my right, to the partially completed distance on the display screen in front of me, I was suddenly struck with a brilliant idea for a more practical application of DirecTV technology.

What if I could pause my workout on my treadmill and resume running on a machine located several (dozen) feet away from Limburger-Cheese-Breath? I could call it DirecTM and market it to gyms and cardio equipment manufacturers all around the world! I could become a multi-jabillionaire and never have to work out next to anyone ever again because I’d have enough money to build my own private gym and stock it with as many treadmills as I wanted! And it would probably make me taller and tanner with less unwanted hair!

OK, sometimes my fantasies get out of hand when I’m suffering from the effects of excess oxygen consumption. But come on, look me dead in the eye and tell me you’ve never been in a situation where this might come in handy.

That’s what I thought. Contact me when you’re ready to invest.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Exhalation inspiration

There’s nothing worse than a cold, rainy Memorial Day weekend.

Scratch that—there’s nothing worse than running on a treadmill on a cold, rainy Memorial Day weekend.

Wait, it gets worse—there’s nothing worse than being stuck next to an old guy with bad breath while running on a treadmill on a cold, rainy Memorial Day weekend.

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there at one time or another. But just in case you’ve somehow avoided this treadmill rite of passage, take a moment to imagine yourself in the following scenario:

You’ve just passed the halfway mark on a grueling five-mile pace-progression run.

Your breathing is growing increasingly labored as you struggle to convince yourself that hey, it isn’t so bad. At least you pretty much have the joint to yourself, since everyone else is out trying to light their barbecues in the rain.

But then…dun, dun, duuunnnnnn…in walks the old dude with the most severe case of halitosis known to man. He has his pick of machines. He could literally have his own row if he so desired. But guess which one he chooses? Oh yeah, that’s right: the one directly to your left.

To make matters worse, he is positioned approximately halfway between you and the wall fan you have cranked up to maximum speed, so whatever disgusting odor comes out of his face is blown directly into yours.

You are flooded with feelings of utter frustration and helplessness as you think, “Dear Lord, why me?”

You wince as he repetitively presses the “speed up” button, finally settling on a rate of 4 mph—a blistering pace for a 65-year-old in jeans with an elastic waistband.

It’s only a matter of time before he’s sucking air—and then blowing it back out, infused with an odor that can only be described as a mixture of coffee, taco seasoning and moth balls.

And so, on that fateful Memorial Day weekend, as I desperately tried to invent a new breathing pattern that did not involve the use of my nose (an attempt which, by the way, failed miserably), the old wheels started a-turnin’ and the old light bulb started a-blinkin’. I had an idea.

More on my stroke of brilliance in my next post. Sorry, I know the suspense is killing you, but you’ll just have to wait.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Buyer's remorse

If you’ve ever been shopping in a supermarket, I know you’ve made at least one impulse purchase in your lifetime. My usual weaknesses generally fall under one of two categories: chocolate and Cosmopolitan Magazine.

This weekend, however, I expanded my repertoire of rash commercial transactions. On Saturday morning, I impulse-bought 10 kilometers.

Actually, to be more accurate, I impulsively agreed to register for a Saturday morning 10K race while (slightly) under the influence of a Friday evening microbrew.

As you might recall, I have never raced a 10K. In fact, six miles is on the far-right side of my normal training distance bell curve. One might even consider it an “outlier.” (That one was for my high school Algebra II teacher, who always insisted that math would eventually come in handy in my everyday life. It took eight years, but there you go, Mr. Hammond.)

What made my decision all the more surprising (and stupid) was the fact that I was fully aware of what this particular 10K race entailed: a roughly one-mile climb up a mountain trail just minutes into the race.

I know that many runners wouldn’t bat an eye at such a course. But I am not ashamed to admit that I am not that hard core. I don’t like dirt. I’m not a fan of rocks. And mile-long hills? Not really my style.

Remember, I’m an 800 runner. (Sorry…a retired 800 runner. I’d probably have to be a few microbrews in the hole before I’d agree to run one of those again.) The point is that I am naturally drawn to flat, hard, predictable running surfaces. Cement, asphalt and rubber are some of my all-time favorites.

Suffice is to say that Saturday’s race pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone. I showed up hoping to see at least one—just one—person at the starting line that I knew, for a fact, I could beat. But unlike my last racing endeavor, there were no old men in kilts, no middle-aged women in sparkly green tutus.

My heart pounded, and I started to feel a terrible twisting sensation in the pit of my stomach as panic set in. Suddenly, I felt athletically inferior to every Vibram-shod, GU-carrying, tech-fabric-wearing competitor in my immediate vicinity. That included the nine-year-old kid in the Transformers t-shirt and the eighty-year-old man in denim cutoffs.

I hung out near the front of the pack at the starting line, careful to allow any runners wearing singlets and/or racing flats to get ahead of me. I knew those people meant business, and I did not want to be the defenseless target of mid-race F-bombs when they had to go off-roading to pass me on the single-track trail.

I started out conservatively. My plan was to treat the mountain climb as an extended warm-up. You know, the kind of warm-up where you traverse several steep switchbacks while testing the structural integrity of your Achilles tendons.

Well, that plan fell apart about halfway up the incline, when I was forced to choose between walking and rupturing a calf muscle. During my walk period(s), I came up with a new plan that involved sucking it up and finishing while maintaining a safe and prudent pace.

On my way down the hill (and by hill, I mean nearly vertical and borderline-unnavigable mountain face) I made a quick assessment of whether I had a realistic shot at a come-from-behind victory.

In the distance, I could barely make out the form of a runner sporting a pink tank top and a bobbing ponytail. Using the basic rules of logic, I narrowed the possibilities down to two scenarios: I was either getting my butt kicked by some kind of badass-renegade runner lady or a dude who was incredibly comfortable with his sexuality.

I crossed the finish line and limped to the end of the chute, where I handed my tag to a race volunteer. (At least, I’m pretty sure I did. Apparently there was no record of me finishing, although I’m pretty sure the unrelenting pain in my back, thighs, glutes and feet provides sufficient proof that I did not imagine the whole thing.)

Then I sat down. Once my legs had stopped twitching involuntarily, I started stretching and massaging my calves. Even though the race had been, for the most part, pure hell, I was glad I made myself do it.

I finished (or at least I'm claiming to have finished) third overall for women, which according to my calculations, makes me 1/3 badass-renegade. (There you go, kids. Another practical application for math.)