Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A new "fun"tier

Still amped up on dopamine from my little Good Samaritan episode, I set out on a leisurely afternoon jog through my neighborhood. Although I had no intention of attempting another round of sprint intervals, I decided to take a route that passes by the high school track.

In the distance, I could see a crowd of people gathered in the stadium. As I got closer, I realized it was a group of high school track and field athletes. Track practice.

I stopped and peered through the chain link fence, overcome by the sort of wistful nostalgia Britney Spears might experience by looking at a wall calendar from the year 1999.

At that moment, I made the strangely painful realization that my days of reporting to afternoon practice were gone forever. I would never again be forced to complete crippling workouts that left me sore and fatigued for days. I would never again be expected to race so hard that I had to stagger to the bathroom and sit on the toilet with a puke bucket for half an hour. That made me sad.

But you know what? Britney (sort of) successfully revitalized her career, and I can too. You see, …Baby One More Time was the Britney equivalent of my high school and college racing career: the peak, the zenith, the I’ll-never-ever-be-that-good-again era of success.

Let’s be honest: Circus was no …Baby One More Time. But it was still a successful album, and you have to admit that Britney is still entertaining, whether she’s singing and dancing on stage or assaulting paparazzi with an umbrella. Circus is to Britney what 5K fun runs are to me. (I know, I know, it’s a terrible analogy, but I’ve been out of school awhile and my cognitive abilities have deteriorated substantially. Work with me.)

What fun runs lack in legitimate competition, they make up for in entertainment value and enjoyment. In fact, I might—scratch that, I will—even go so far as to say that fun runs are actually better than serious races. After reading the rest of this post, I think you’ll agree.

Why fun-runs are waaaaaaaaaayyyy cooler than school-sanctioned racing events: a post within a post (not to be confused with that dream within a dream Inception crap)

1.) Degree of pressure

When you and your teammates are getting reading to run a race that actually matters, everyone acts all serious as they silently change into their spikes, pin on their race numbers, and apply their Breathe Right nasal strips:

But at a fun run, the typical pre-race environment looks more like this:

(photo by Dawn-Pink Chick,

2.) Uniforms

As a member of a school-sponsored team, you must compete in a (yawn) team-issued uniform:

At a fun run, you are free to choose your own uniform:

(Photo by Stuart Chalmers,

3.) Expected effort

When you are competing for team points, scholarship money, or a spot on the varsity team, you are expected to look like this after you cross the line:

It is generally not encouraged to pass out, pee yourself, and/or vomit after finishing a fun run. That sort of behavior is frightening to young children and tends to put a damper on the festive mood:

Let’s take a look at a side-by-side photo comparison:

4.) Awards

If you win a race at an important meet (like conference or state), you’ll likely receive another boring medal or ribbon. (Woo. Hoo.):

But if you’re a top finisher at a fun run, you’ll probably get a supercool prize:

Like a trophy with a golden buffalo topper (a great conversation piece):

Or a beach glass sculpture thingy:

Or even a souvenir pint glass (perfect for drinking a much-deserved post-race bee—er, Gatorade):

On a completely unrelated note, today is my dad's birthday. Happy birthday, Dad!

Monday, March 28, 2011

And then I found $120

It’s the cliché add-on to the too-long, anticlimactic story that goes nowhere: “And then I found $5.”

Everyone has heard some variation of this story at least once over the course of their many awkward, who-invited-this-girl-to-the-party social encounters. It usually goes something like this:

You: Well, we sure are having some awesome weather lately.

Awkward girl: Yeah, I was thinking I was going to have to change out of my cropped pants before I left the house today, but when I opened the door and felt how warm it was, I decided against it. I rode my bike all the way to the café I work at, over on the north side, and I didn’t get cold at all. But I think I might have gotten a little sunburned, which reminds me, I need to stop by the drugstore to pick up some sunscreen…

You: [fighting to pay attention out of respect for whichever one of your friends brought this girl, but twitching involuntarily as you drift in and out of consciousness]

Awkward girl: [realizing that her tale is going nowhere and looking for a quick way to both end and justify her story] …so I decided to double-knot my shoelace because I didn’t want it to come untied again. [pause] And then I found $5!

OK, before this blog post turns into a story that would require the use of that line—which should be reserved for emergency situations only—I’m going to cut to the chase: when people resort to this phrase, it’s usually out of desperation, and it is almost certainly a lie.

I mean, it is not entirely implausible that a person would stumble upon an unintentionally discarded five-dollar bill, but how often does that really happen?

I never find money. I get excited when I discover a forgotten dollar in an old pair of pants. It helps ease the disappointment of not fitting into them.

A few days ago, however, my luck changed. Big time.

It was a warm and sunny day. (Relatively speaking, that is. In Montana, the first month of spring is usually more like the sixth month of winter.) It was probably too cold for shorts, but I was wearing them anyway. I ignored the red splotches that were beginning to form on the parts of my legs where long pants should have been, focusing instead on the clear blue sky and the greening front lawns.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a flash of green with…numbers on it? I stopped short and backed up. I lowered into a crouch and, blinking my eyes in disbelief, picked up not one, but two bills of U.S. currency—a hundred and a twenty. Together, they totaled $120 (see how I did that math in my head?).

I stood up, dumbfounded, and checked my surroundings. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t a soul or a hidden camera in either direction. I stuffed the cash in my sports bra and continued on my run, excited and amazed at my great fortune.

I smiled as I pranced along, dreaming about all the stuff I could buy—new running shoes, concert tickets, 120 McChicken sandwiches…the possibilities were endless! I felt like the Publishers Clearing House had just showed up on my doorstep with a giant cardboard check.

With each passing mile, though, my excitement gradually faded into guilt. That wad of cash in my bra—though soaked in my sweat and beginning to chafe my skin—wasn’t mine. I didn’t earn it, and it didn’t seem right for me to keep it.

I’ve always been a worrier. I hate to use the word “pessimist,” but whenever I’m faced with a troublesome situation, I find myself consistently fixated on the worst possible outcome.

When I got into trouble as a kid, for example, my mom would occasionally threaten to send me to bed without dinner. Looking back on it now, I’m pretty sure she never intended to actually follow through on her stern warnings. But as a budding worrywart, I was inclined to prepare for the worst. I found an old shoebox and filled it with an emergency food supply: a Ziploc baggie full of Cheez-Its, a couple of Chewy granola bars, a bag of fruit snacks, and a Capri Sun juice pouch.

Months later, when she was cleaning out my bedroom, my mom found my secret box of snack rations stashed underneath my bed. She felt horrible when I told her what it was, and I’m pretty sure she never threatened to starve me again, but that wasn’t enough to cure me of my chronic worrying.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that this $120 belonged to someone who really needed it. I definitely wasn’t thinking “botched drug deal” or “rich, careless lawyer on his way to lunch.” The backstory I imagined was more like “little old lady walking to the pharmacy to get a refill on her heart medication.”

I felt like I was stuck inside an episode of Full House. I needed to go home and have a heart-to-heart with John Stamos so we could figure out the right thing to do and then share an uncomfortably long hug accompanied by a collective “awww…”

But since John Stamos wasn’t answering his phone, I resorted to Plan B: calling my mom. For 20 minutes, we hemmed and hawed over what to do. I could hear my dad in the background yelling, “She found cash? Tell her to go out to dinner!”

My mom offered a slightly more ethical suggestion: that I monitor the lost and found ads in the local paper over the next few days.

Most of my friends thought I was crazy for hanging on to $120 cash. “No one is going to put out an ad for that, Brooke,” they told me. “They’re going to kick themselves for being so dumb, assume the money is gone forever, then suck it up and try to forget about it.”

I wouldn’t budge. I knew that for a lot of people, $120 could mean the difference in making ends meet. I put myself in the mystery money-dropper’s shoes. What if I, a broke and unemployed recent college graduate, had accidentally dropped $120 in the street? Would that be a huge, terrible loss for me? Darn tootin’. Would I at least try to recover it by placing an ad in the local classifieds? You betcha. Why am I suddenly writing like I’m from North Dakota? I dunno.

So listen up all you naysayers who assume that every human being on the planet has the same moral code as Bernie Madoff: guess what I found in the classifieds the following morning (besides an ad for a five-dollar “like new” purple lava lamp)? An ad for lost cash in the amount of $120.

Turns out, the money belonged to a college-age girl who baby-sits for a family that lives in the neighborhood where I found it. She had just gotten paid for the week, and the bills had slipped out of her pocket on the way home. The look of relief and gratitude on her face as I returned the money definitely made me happier than anything I would have bought with it (except for the McChickens). Plus, I knew I had scored some major karma points.

So there you go—a happy ending that surely left you feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Take that, John Stamos.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

V is for VICKtory

Are you a serious runner who does serious workouts?

Do you run insane combinations of intervals and race multiple events in a single day due to a psychiatric condition and/or merciless coach?

Do you live in Montana, a.k.a. Perpetual Winter, where you must train and race at excessive altitudes in dry, arctic conditions?

Do you constantly suffer from phlegm build-up and an annoying dry cough despite the fact that you are an otherwise healthy non-smoker?

Are you tired of scaring away fellow gym patrons who avoid using any piece of equipment within a 50-foot radius of you for fear of catching your death cough? Do said exercisers shoot you uncomfortably long glares of disgust as they gather up their things, as if to say, “Why aren’t you wearing one of those Chinese SARS masks?”

Are you beginning to suspect this post is actually a poorly written script for a low-budget infomercial?

If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these unnecessarily numerous questions, then you need VICKtory, the only mentholated ointment specifically designed to relieve the symptoms associated with runner’s cough—from the makers of Vicks VapoRub.

Cough syrup can lead to upset stomach, drowsiness, and drug dependency. Throat lozenges often taste like off-brand cinnamon bears doused in cheap whiskey and become a dangerous choking hazard when used in conjunction with vigorous exercise.

But VICKtory stops runner’s cough dead in its tracks—safely and conveniently. Simply open the tub, scoop the goop, and swipe directly onto the skin between the nose and upper lip. It’s that easy!

Still skeptical? Check out these testimonials from real* VICKtory users:

“From what I could tell, it was just regular Vicks in a slightly different container with a new label. But yeah, it worked, I guess. At least until I started sweating and it melted onto my lips and mouth.”

-Brian (Bozeman, MT)

“It was, uh, interesting. Like eucalyptus-scented Vaseline. It did help my cough, but I wasn’t crazy about having slimy goop all over my face. People kept looking at me like I had a booger hanging out.”

-Alan (Aspen, CO)

“I absolutely LOVED IT!!!!!! Truly a miracle product. I’m going to start using in place of lip balm, body lotion, toothpaste, cooking oil and peanut butter!”

-Vicky McVaporub (Vixingtonshire, Alberta)

So what are you waiting for? Don’t lose to runner’s cough—let VICKtory bring out the winner** in you!

* “Real” in the sense that unicorns are real because people write about them

**This product is neither affiliated with, nor endorsed by, Charlie Sheen

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I wanna go fast!

When I stepped outside the other day, I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with chilly spring air. It smelled like rain and mist and soggy dead grass. And that’s when I knew, without a doubt, that track season was upon us.

These kinds of days—the ones with still, foggy air and puddle-dotted sidewalks—were always my favorite for track workouts. I found the damp, cool air soothing to my throat, lungs and muscles.

When I set out on my run, I immediately felt a familiar spring in my step. At that point, I was no longer in control of my route. My legs took over, knowing exactly where they wanted to go.

I arrived at the high school track feeling fresh and ready to, in the words of Ricky Bobby, go fast. Without even thinking, I rolled into my pre-workout warm-up routine. It had been months since I’d last done my usual series of kicks, skips and leg-swings, but I was surprised at how easily it all came back.

I felt great. I knew it was going to be a banner day. I almost wished I had a coach or a friend or even a live studio audience to witness what was about to go down. I did a quick survey of the track facility and its immediate surroundings. There were a couple of groundskeepers working about 600 yards away from the stadium. I figured that since I could see them, they could probably see me. I decided that counted as an audience.

After doing a couple of strides, I made my way to the starting line. I was smiling, and I even thought about whistling the chorus melody from “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Then I remembered that I never learned how to whistle, and I made a mental note to search for an instructional video on YouTube later that day.

I still hadn’t gotten a new watch, and I had a feeling the oral counting method would prove ineffective in a track interval scenario. But I didn’t care—I was doing this work out, with or without a working timepiece.

I slowly approached the line, shaking out my arms and legs to rid them of any lingering kinks. I leaned forward into the starting position, and boom! I launched into a full-on sprint, marveling at the quickness of my feet and the power of my stride. The first 200-meter interval was smooth and almost effortless. I actually felt like an 800 runner again—I wondered whether my training hiatus had affected my speed at all. Perhaps I was just some sort of athletic super human.

Then I tried to do another one. This 200, though, was not so smooth, not so effortless. This 200 hurt—bad. From the twinge in my calf to the tightness in my lungs, my body screamed at me, as if to say, “What the crap? I thought we were done with running fast. You are a liar and a scoundrel!”

I was just about to protest about the scoundrel part when I felt a sharp pain slightly above the back of my knee. I slowed to a more manageable pace. Suddenly, my brain was inundated with hypothetical crisis scenarios.

I imagined limping into the high school and asking various teenagers with bewildered looks on their faces for directions to the school nurse’s office. I saw myself hobble into her little examination room, where she gasped and exclaimed, in a thick Minnesota accent, “Omigash! Did you just come from Coach Brown’s P.E. class? I thought you guys were just learning how to juggle beanbags this week.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head, expelling from my mind all images of myself as an injured, pathetic failure. No, I would not give up. I was going to finish this thing.

During my last few intervals, I was glad the guys on the mini tractors were too caught up in their work to notice me. I was also glad I had no way of knowing just how slow I was running—thank goodness for Wal-Mart and its cheap, unreliable merchandise. The feeling of invincibility I’d started out with had long since faded into stubborn determination. The last few hundred meters were anything but pretty, but I finished them.

As I jogged home, the intensity of my spontaneous little trip down memory lane started to settle on my bones. I noticed pain in places that hadn’t felt it in awhile—shins, arches, hamstrings. I felt like a true has-been, risking my health to prove to myself—and anyone else who happened to be hanging around (i.e. totally uninterested park maintenance personnel)—that I’ve still got it.

Then I realized that wasn’t the case at all. I had nothing to prove. I just missed the feeling that I had briefly experienced during my first interval—that inimitable sensation of quickness, weightlessness and power. I knew that sooner or later, I’d be back at the track for more.

Well, maybe after a few hot baths and a trip to the chiropractor.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

El paso (Spanish for "the paso")

I was driving along the highway the other day—slightly above the speed limit, mind you—when out of nowhere some crazy teenager in a bright red ’92 Blazer zoomed by and completely cut me off. She was so close to my front bumper that I was forced to hit the brakes.

And it’s a good thing I did, because she nearly sliced off my front grill and headlights as she executed a pass that looked like something from the movie trailer for Fast and Furious 5 (can you believe they are still making those?) To top it all off, after almost causing a major accident due to her dire need to get around me, she slowed to a speed considerably lower than my original rate.

Enraged, I squeezed my steering wheel and exhaled forcefully through my nose, half-expecting actual fire to come out. (It didn’t.)

For as long as I’ve had my driver’s license, I have compared the rules of the road to the rules of the track. In fact, I often intermix the two, which has both advantages and disadvantages. For example, I would never pull the close-cut stunt that had befallen me that fateful afternoon. It would violate the “one and a half strides” rule that governs passing in a track race. In my opinion, this rule should be incorporated into traffic law so drivers like Little Miss Vin Diesel are disqualified from being licensed to drive.

I will admit, however, that my racing instincts have led to some close calls with the law, and I’m pretty sure most highway patrolmen would not buy the old “surging-to-avoid-getting-boxed-in” excuse.

But let’s focus on the subject of passing. Of all the race-related driving maneuvers (or “manoeuvres” for all you Brits and Canadians), this is the one whose rules of conduct and courtesy most closely mirror those governing the track. With just days to go before the first races of the spring track season, I think now is the perfect time to review the rules of passing.

Passing: a comprehensive and unofficial (but not comprehensively unofficial) guide

1.) Location – Whether you are racing on an open course or on a track, there are certain places that are more suitable for passing than others. Initiating a pass in an inappropriate area could lead to wasted energy, lost time, and/or an angry post-race lecture from your coach. As with driving, it is not recommended to attempt passing on an incline, curve, or single-lane stretch of road. Wait for a long, flat, straight section—like a straightaway on the track—where you have enough distance to surge, verbally taunt your opponent, cut in, and settle back into pace.

2.) Timing – Nothing is worse than passing a competitor, only to realize that you have made your move too early, leaving them adequate time to regroup and respond. To return to the driving analogy, imagine the following scenario: you are driving a PT Cruiser. You’re doing 75, and the Honda CR-V in front of you is going about 60—which is 10 mph under the limit. You step on the gas and blow by him, well aware of the mountain pass just a few miles ahead. As expected, the Cruiser fails to maintain its speed as it climbs the hill, and you begin to worry that Sunday-drive-CR-V-guy is going to catch you. Your worst fears are confirmed as you glance at your rearview mirror. You shrink down in your seat as he rolls past you in a seemingly effortless motion. You steal a glance to your left and notice that he is, in fact, wearing suspenders and a turtleneck sweater at the same time. But come on, you’re driving a PT Cruiser—are you really in a position to pass judgment? Anyway, you are too embarrassed to make a second attempt on the other side of the pass, so you’re stuck moving at a senior pace for the remainder of your trip. Relevant lesson: in a racing context, a premature pass could empty out your energy reserves too early, leaving you vulnerable in the final sprint to the finish.

3.) Commitment – An appropriate, well-executed pass should be quick, clean and relatively painless. In short, if you are going to pass, then pass. Don’t come up on someone’s shoulder only to back down when they challenge your speed. Don’t make a pass only to settle into a slower pace than before. And for the love of God in heaven, don’t make one of those slow-motion passes where you’re going one second per mile (or one mile per hour) faster than the other guy. Watching one of those passes is like slowly peeling off a Band-Aid. I would rather watch a Lord of the Rings movie or listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” on repeat.

4.) Instinct – Many racers struggle with making the decision to pass. Although it is important to briefly consider the costs and benefits of making a move, you should avoid overthinking the matter. If you hesitate too long, you may lose your opportunity. So go ahead—take a risk, go with your gut. If you crash and burn, there’s always next time*.

*Car analogy not applicable in this case. Crashing and burning will likely result in critical injury or death. Adjust strategy accordingly.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

If tees could talk

From the moment you were old enough to understand the difference between designer denim and Lee Dungarees, fashion was important. If you were forced to endure the everyday popularity contest that was junior high, you might recall begging your parents for overpriced crap with brand names like Billabong plastered all over it.

High school was more of the same. You put considerable thought into choosing your daily wardrobe. You even packed color coordinated shirts, shorts, and scrunchies for afternoon sports practice.

Then you went off to college. With finals and papers and late-night games of flip cup, it was enough of a struggle to show up to class. Your fashion standards slipped, little by little, until oversized sunglasses, mismatched sweats and Ugg boots became your signature look.

And your workout attire? Well, since you were too lazy to do laundry more than once a month, you constantly found yourself fishing at the bottom of your t-shirt drawer. You would wear any clean shirt you could get your hands on, regardless of whatever logo or ridiculous slogan happened to be printed on it.

And that, my friends, is risky business. Sometimes, what you think your clothes say about you—if you have indeed thought about it—is very different from the actual message you are inadvertently communicating to your peers.

To better explain what I mean, I have provided paired examples in six different categories. The following is based on real observations at an actual college gym:

Category #1: The billboard shirt


What you think it says: “I am environmentally conscious. I now use this shirt—which I received as a birthday/Christmas/eighth grade graduation gift when I was 14—as a cutoff workout tee. Reduce, reuse, recycle!”

What it actually says: “I still feel guilty about letting my mom pay $84 for a white cotton t-shirt, and I am going to keep wearing it until it literally falls off of my body—which shouldn’t be too long, considering it was made in Honduras at a cost of approximately 17 cents.”


What you think it says: “Wings and beer! Yum!”

What it actually says: “Scantily clad girls with low standards! Yum!”

Category #2: The sports team shirt


What you think it says: “Long live the Who Dat Nation, ya'll!”

What it actually says: Same. You’re actually pretty safe with this one.


What you think it says: “I am a loyal fan who sticks by my team through thick and thin. I am a champion of underdogs everywhere.”

What it actually says: “I have become accustomed to failure. I don’t mind losing or being subjected to public embarrassment over and over again.”

Category #3: The sporting event shirt


What you think it says: “I completed an Ironman triathlon. That means I’m a legit athlete.”

What it actually says: “My training is more important yours. So get off that treadmill and do your power walking at the mall.”


What you think it says: “I am a kind and generous person. I volunteered my time for the benefit of athletes with disabilities.”

What it actually says: “I (might have) competed in the Special Olympics.”

Category #4: The concert shirt


What you think it says: “I saw Tom Petty live and in concert. It was awesome, and so am I.”

What it actually says: Same. Again, you’re safe here. (No bias whatsoever. I definitely do not own a souvenir t-shirt from Tom Petty’s 2008 summer concert series.)


What you think it says: “I don’t care what people think about me. Miley Cyrus is a talented artist and performer, and Hannah Montana should have won an Emmy.”

What it actually says: “I am secretly a 15 year-old girl. Or Billy Ray Cyrus.”

Category #5: The non-profit organization shirt


What you think it says: “I support the constitutional right to bear arms.”

What it actually says: “I have a house full of creepy animal heads.”


What you think it says: “I support the fight against animal cruelty.”

What it actually says: “We could never be friends because I would judge you for eating chicken McNuggets.”

Category #6: The cheesy slogan shirt


What you think it says: “I have a special affinity for the Lone Star State and the people who live there.”

What it actually says: “George Bush! Chicken fried steak! Yeaaaaaaahhhhhh!”


What you think it says: “Look at me! I have a sense of humor!”

What it actually says: “Don’t mess with (Walker), Texas (Ranger).”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Foot-gloves: the new sock-shoes

I grew up in a pretty athletic family, which meant we spent a substantial portion of our weekend shopping excursions perusing the aisles of stores like Gart, Foot Locker, Academy Sports, and Dick’s.

My brother, unlike me, was blessed with the gift of hand-eye coordination. His sports gear needs, therefore, were diverse and constantly changing. In the fall, he needed football pads, cleats, practice jerseys and mouth guards. In the winter, it was basketball shorts and high tops. Spring was the season for baseball bats, mitts, and another pair of cleats—because hello, you can’t play baseball in football cleats. Just ask the shoe salesman at Sports Authority.

I was never very good at sports that required hitting, shooting, throwing or catching, which eliminated pretty much everything except cross country. So for the most part, the only equipment I requested was a simple pair of running shoes.

Fast forward ten years—I know, it’s a big jump, but stay with me. This is the crucial part of the story. A few months ago, I started noticing a disturbing trend. People were wearing—and running in—shoes shaped like feet.

I know what you’re thinking—duh, Brooke, of course shoes are shaped like feet. That’s the point.

But these kooky kicks took the idea of a snugly fit shoe to a whole new level. Imagine dipping your foot in liquid rubber, letting it harden, and then using the resulting product as footwear. Welcome to the “minimalist movement.”

Before I knew it, I was seeing these glorified water shoes (actual name: Vibram FiveFingers) everywhere—on running trails, at road races, on the track, and at the gym. There is no way you could fit a sock inside those suckers. Every time I saw someone exercising in them, I couldn’t shake the image of the hot, sweaty, stinky mess that was surely brewing underneath that thin layer of rubber.

I never once considered jumping on the minimalist bandwagon—that would only guarantee me yet another notch on the old injury belt. Besides, I’m already sweaty enough. My minimalist footwear would have to be light and breathable—like a sock, but with a protective sole.

That’s when it hit me: I was a running shoe minimalist way before people started squeezing their tootsies into rubber foot-gloves.

Okay, now let’s rewind a bit—back to the world of my brace-faced, fuzzy-headed 14 year-old self. I had just started practicing with “the high schoolers,” which was a pretty big deal for a lowly eighth-grader.

To help me prepare for track season, my parents took me shopping for new running apparel. I picked out ten pairs of Soffe shorts in assorted colors (all the rage circa 2002) and of course, new running shoes: a bright red pair of Nike Prestos.

For those of you who don’t remember Nike Prestos because you were either too young or too smart to run in them, let me bring you up to speed: this first-generation minimalist shoe was, for all intents and purposes, just a thick sock attached to an utterly worthless foam base.

But forget about function—when you’re a nerdy middle schooler trying to make an impression on the cool high school runners, it’s all about fashion (as you can tell by looking at this photo from my early competitive running career):

Prestos became my signature. Everywhere I went, people asked me about them. At track meets, I was known as “the girl with the sock-shoes.” It never occurred to me that this nickname might have been intended as a diss, which was probably the case.

I began to think of myself as a pioneer of cutting-edge running technology. I was convinced that a more conventional shoe model would be too heavy and bulky. My Prestos made my feet feel light and fast. When I started winning races, I became even more certain that my featherweight footwear was giving me a competitive edge.

And then I got hurt.

It was my first of many foot injuries, and my doctor was appalled to learn that I had been logging 100% of my training miles in a pair of fancy slippers disguised as running shoes.

“But they’re so light,” I argued, desperately trying to change his mind.

“I know. And do you know why they are so light?” he asked in a slightly condescending tone. He paused for effect. “Because THERE IS NOTHING THERE TO SUPPORT YOUR FEET! YOU MIGHT AS WELL WEAR SHOES MADE OUT OF RECYCLED PACKING PEANUTS!”

And just like that, my blossoming minimalist tendencies were nipped in the bud. When my injury had healed and it was time to purchase a new pair of running shoes, I opted for the Asics Gel Cumulus model.

By normal running shoe standards, they were relatively light. Still, compared to my old Prestos, they felt like cinderblocks with shoelaces. Gradually, though, I got used to them. Soon I refused to run in anything else.

If it hadn’t been for the exploding popularity of the minimalist FiveFingers, I might have lived my entire life without the slightest remembrance of my fleeting love affair with Nike Prestos.

As an older, wiser—some might even say sagely—runner, I cannot think of a single argument for running in a shoe that is basically a modified scuba fin. People will say things like, “Oh my gosh, they are sooooooo comfortable.”

Well, mukluks are comfortable too, but would you want to wear them on a hilly five-miler? That’s a rhetorical question.

Today’s mainstream running shoes are the product of decades of scientific research. They have been carefully designed to accommodate the subtleties of human biomechanics. And best of all, they are super soft and cushy.

If running is your preferred mode of exercise, running shoes are really the only piece of specialty equipment you need. In fact, I would argue that running itself could be considered a “minimalist movement”—with or without stinky foot-gloves.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring running survival guide

It’s been months since you last saw the pavement on your street, so when you begin to notice patches of asphalt peeking through the melting layers of muddy slush, you can’t wait to reacquaint yourself with the pleasures of running on solid ground. With no more black-ice booby traps to watch out for, you are anxious to hit the road and run as fast and far as you please, throwing caution to the 35-mile-an-hour wind.

But while threats of frostbite and hypothermia may have dwindled with the coming of spring, the season of rebirth brings with it a host of new dangers. Here is a breakdown of the top spring running hazards with suggestions on how to handle them:

1.) Ill-behaved hillbilly dogs – It’s a sunny spring day, so you decide to head to your favorite park for a nice afternoon jog. When you arrive, you find that (literally) everyone and their dog had the exact same idea. Seriously, it’s like people have come out of the hills, venturing into city limits for the first time in months to buy horse feed and kerosene. If this is the case, it’s unlikely that they’ve read the paper in the last 15 years, meaning they are completely unaware of the local leash law. You round the bend and come up fast behind a pair of unrestrained hounds, spooking them and triggering their defense instinct. What do you do? Kick them? Mace them? No, the animal-lover in you would never hurt someone’s pet, but you’re about three seconds away from a dozen stitches and a rabies shot. They’re closing in fast…if only you had a way to redirect their attention. This type of situation is the precise reason why savvy spring runners have a few sticks of Pup-Peroni on them at all times. Reach for the treats, chuck them into the air, and make a break for it. Trust me, no dog—or even some humans—can resist these delicious nuggets of hardened meat product.

2.) Obese woodland creatures – After coming out of hibernation, the neighborhood squirrels made a beeline for your garbage can, where they ate themselves silly on pizza crusts and expired cottage cheese. Now they’re fat and on the verge of developing type 2 diabetes. They can handle only short bursts of physical activity, so after darting onto the sidewalk to claim a stray acorn, they become so exhausted that they cannot summon the energy to move even though you are about to trample over them. Luckily, you’ve spent the winter practicing speed and agility drills in preparation for this exact moment. Just as the chubby rodent comes into your field of view, you launch into a lateral skate jump, barely averting a messy road kill disaster.

3.) Discarded objects – As temperatures spike to near-tropical levels (we’re talking high 40s and low 50s) the layers of snow and ice will begin to recede, revealing an entire winter’s worth of lost and forgotten items. From unwanted Happy Meal toys (because hey, that Buzz Lightyear action figure looked way cooler in the commercial) to freeze-dried dog turds, the ground is littered with abandoned articles just waiting to ruin your day. This is not the season to zone out and attempt to Zen your way through a run—that’s an open invitation for poopy shoes and a sprained ankle. Keep all five senses on high alert, and you’ll avoid (literally) finding yourself in deep doo-doo.

4.) Potholes – It’s been a long, hard winter (curse you Dick Cheney and your weather machine!) and all that cold air and moisture has wreaked havoc on paved roads. Your city looks like a third-world country, dotted with craters so big they could easily be mistaken for UFO crash sites. The numerous pavement pockmarks are particularly unkind to low-riding vehicles—like the timelessly sexy PT Cruiser—but they present an even more dangerous situation to spring road runners like you and me. Losing your balance on a patch of uneven pavement could lead to any number of ailments, from a twisted ankle to lockjaw. So be aware of your surroundings, and stick to the sidewalk whenever possible.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kilts & kilometers: the movie

As promised, here is the race video from Saturday's Run For the Luck of It! If you have trouble watching this embedded video, click here to find it on YouTube.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The race that puts the "kilts" in "kilometers"

As I stepped out of bed this morning, every joint in my entire body produced some sort of snap, crackle and/or pop. My whole being was consumed by a single, all encompassing ache, and I wondered if this is what Charlie Sheen feels like every morning.

My hangover, though, was not of the hookers-and-cocaine variety. No, I had done something far more outrageous. I raced a 5K.

As you might remember from my previous post, I entered the race in hopes of reawakening my competitive spirit in a fun, friendly atmosphere. Well, that is exactly what happened…sort of.

In my college racing days, my pre-race ritual involved focused race visualization, an extensive stretching routine, a stomach-approved meal of plain noodles and water, and of course, an early bedtime.

After several years and countless repetitions of this boring regimen, it grew unbearably tiresome. I just couldn’t bear putting myself through it again, so I decided to establish a new ritual.

It involved thinking about the race as little as possible, eating a dinner of lamb stroganoff and beer, and ending the night with a concert fundraiser, another beer, and a scoop of ice cream. I went to bed feeling full, happy, and completely ignorant of the possible consequences of my irresponsible pre-race behavior.

I awoke feeling rested and calm as a cucumber. I ate breakfast, read the newspaper, played the free online version of Bejeweled—you know, all the stuff I’d do on any regular morning. I got dressed, laced up my shoes, and pinned on my race number. And that’s when—da dum (think Law & Order)—panic set in.

I started freaking out. I wondered if I could call in sick. Do people call in sick to races? My mind was spinning. I wasn’t ready for this. It was going to be a huge embarrassing failure.

I pulled myself together enough to drive to the starting line. When I got out, I felt an immediate sense of relief. How could I get worked up about racing people in green tutus and leprechaun costumes?

Then I spotted an old friend. She was completely hammered and slurring her words as she (loudly) proclaimed that she and I were going to “totally kill this thing.” So I would be racing with drunks, too. More relief.

She pulled me to the back of the crowd, where she introduced me to some of her friends, who I assumed were also drunk. Before I had time to push my way to the front of the pack, the race announcer was counting down to the start.

During the first few hundred meters, I cautiously jogged around men in kilts and women in sparkly shamrock skirts. By the time the crowd thinned out enough for me to settle into my normal pace, the leaders were well ahead of me.

But instead of panicking and attempting to make up all of the distance in one fell surge—as I might have done in the past—I just stayed calm, cruised along at a quick but manageable pace, and enjoyed the beauty and splendor of Missoula’s north side.

I was having a ball picking people off, when out of nowhere I heard a familiar voice calling my name. I looked to my left and was startled to see my parents driving next to me in their barely audible Toyota Prius. Electric hybrids might be good for the environment, but to unsuspecting road runners, they are really just a low-emissions accident waiting to happen.

Anyway, my cheer crew showed up periodically throughout the second and third miles, which provided me with a much-needed mid-race boost. “Go get those guys in front of you!” my mom squealed.

I was momentarily embarrassed, as I was sure “those guys” had also heard my mother’s comments. As I came upon them, I apologized for my vocal but well-meaning family. I moved past them, but as we approached the pedestrian bridge, one of them initiated a response-pass.

This guy—let’s call him Arm Sleeves, since he was wearing a pair of removable compression sleeves—blew by me as we started climbing the ramp to the bridge that spans the rail yard. As he made his move, he said something that was probably meant to be friendly and encouraging.

But I hate being passed, so it didn’t matter what Arm Sleeves had actually said, because to me it sounded like, “Ha ha, see you at the finish line, sucker!”

And just like that, my competitive fire was lit—and burning hotter than ever. In that moment, beating Arm Sleeves became the single most important thing in my life. As we spiraled down the ramp on the other side of the bridge, I took a moment to regain my composure. Then I moved in for the kill.

The final quarter mile was all grit and muscle memory. I ran faster than I’ve run in weeks. As the finish line came into view, I sprinted away everything I had left, convinced that Arm Sleeves was right on my tail.

When I finished, I spun around and realized that he, in fact, was not—but in my dash to cross the line before him, I had edged out a high school girl by a couple of seconds, which made me feel like a real bully.

Still, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t excited about earning the women’s title in the 2011 Run For the Luck of It. And in the process, I learned that racing success has nothing to do with eating plain noodles. It’s more about mental control, patience, and fabricated rivalries with otherwise friendly competitors.

Coming soon: RFTLOI race video

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mmm...dark beer and marshmallows

Attention everyone: I have an important announcement to make. I’m about to pull a Brett Favre.

No, not the kind that involves inappropriate text messages and an embarrassing national scandal. The kind that involves coming out of retirement mere months after hanging up your uniform.

The truth is, as much as I have enjoyed eating real food for lunch and being free from the obligation of daily practice, I have missed the thrill of competing. With outdoor track season rapidly approaching, the itch to race is stronger than ever. Online Scrabble tournaments just aren’t enough to satisfy my competitive urges.

Luckily, I have found the perfect event to kick off my post-collegiate racing career: an Irish-themed 5K in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. The only problem is that the race is this weekend, and I suspect that my fitness level has dropped significantly since the last time I crossed a finish line (at the Division I Mountain Regional Cross Country Championships last November).

To finish this race, I will probably have to rely heavily on muscle memory and the underlying threat of public humiliation. But since this is a St. Patty’s Day race, I will have one important advantage: my Irish family heritage.

You might find it hard to believe that I descended from the land of potatoes and leprechauns, considering my golden-brown complexion, long-legged physique and apostrophe-deficient last name. I anticipated your skepticism, which is why I took the liberty of conducting a meticulous scientific study to prove that my ancestors indeed hailed from the Emerald Isle. As you can see from the results, I was successful in my endeavor. I also inadvertently uncovered the reason behind my uncanny Chewbacca impersonation.

First, a pie graph representing my ethnic makeup:

Second, a photo of my shower. Yes lads and lasses, I even smell Irish:

So with the luck o’ the Irish on my side, I think my semi-pro debut has great potential. For an extra boost, I plan to eat a hearty pre-race breakfast of Lucky Charms and Guinness. I will also wear as much green as possible—perhaps an old Favre jersey?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who knew spandex could be so inspirational?

Well folks, it's that time of year again—the time when skinny kids run in circles and sharp metal objects fly through the air. Track season! With most spring season openers just around the corner, I thought now would be a good time for me to unveil the poster campaign I’ve put together to generate interest about a sport most people ignore—either unintentionally or totally on purpose. I realize this design has become quite cliché in recent years, but I simply could not resist putting my own tracktastic twist on the ubiquitous motivational poster spoof. Prepare to be inspired. (Note: all images are from my personal archives and albums unless otherwise noted. I don't want to get sued if this thing gets huge.)

(image from archives)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Solutions to common gym predicaments

We all wish we could have our own private gym à la Hulk Hogan, but for most of us, working out means sharing—and oftentimes, tolerating—the company of a variety of exercisers, many of whom are uneducated in the basic rules of gym etiquette. As such, your workout routine will inevitably be disrupted by the behavior of a fellow exerciser at one point or another. I have created the following guide to help you deal with such issues in a creative and timely fashion. Note: solutions have not yet been tested in real life situations. I hereby disclaim legal responsibility for actual outcomes.

The problem: The old guy with the Walkman is listening to a mix tape of his favorite 1960s folk songs as he goes through an extensive routine of resistance band stretches. How do you know this? Because he’s singing along. Out loud. You’ve maxed out the volume on your iPod, but you can still hear his tone-deaf karaoke rendition of “If I Had a Hammer” over the Justin Bieber play list blaring from your headphones. It’s really starting to affect your concentration, and you are seconds away from scrapping your entire workout to save your own sanity.

The solution: Scroll through your song library and find your favorite rap jam, preferably by an artist known for their indiscriminate use of profanity. Using a two-pound dumbbell as a microphone, jump onto the nearest bench and launch into your own impromptu karaoke performance. As you scream out lyrics containing multiple references to pimps and hoes, you will undoubtedly attract the attention of at least one gym employee, who will promptly escort you to the nearest exit. Before they can get you out the door, quickly remove your headphones, point to the still-oblivious geriatric crooner, and say, in a pleading voice, “Well what about that guy?” They’ll have no choice but to shut both of you up (if they don’t kick both of you out).

The problem: The guy on the treadmill in front of you is a seriously heavy breather, and based on the combination of smells wafting from that direction, you guess that his last meal consisted of a raw onion and two slices of garlic toast.

The solution: Take a mini fan (the one you had been using to cool yourself) and place it directly behind the odorous offender’s treadmill. That way, whatever stench he’s blasting into the air will be blown right back into his own nostrils. You might get hotter and sweatier after sacrificing your only source of wind resistance, but at least you won’t be suffering from stink-induced nausea.

The problem: Some clueless newbie is treating the lat pull-down station as his own personal gym locker, leaving his water bottle, sweat towel and clip board on the seat while he’s across the room doing calf raises. You politely ask him to move his crap because you need to use that machine. You thank him as he scoops up his things and mumbles an apology. You finish your lat reps and proceed to the bench press, where you find…his stuff.

The solution: Wait until he’s busy doing medicine ball tosses on the other side of the weight room, leaving his belongings unattended and vulnerable. When you’re sure he’s not looking, snatch up his stuff and stash it under a pile of stretching mats. Try not to act too smug as you watch him walk circles around the gym in search of his belongings. When you’re satisfied, purposely bump into him on your way to the water fountain. When he asks you if you’ve seen his stuff, hesitate for a moment as you “think,” and then tell him you might have seen something over by the plyo boxes…or was it the chin-up bars?

The problem: You’re in a time crunch, and you’ve got a four-mile tempo run to knock out. If you don’t make it home by 4 p.m. for Oprah, you’ll miss the TV debut of Celine Dion’s miracle twins. You beat cheeks to the cardio room, only to find that, in an effort to promote senior health and fitness, the local chapter of the Red Hat Society is having their monthly meeting on the treadmills. Every single machine is occupied by a female senior citizen; you’ve never seen so many velour sweat suits in one place. As Dorothy calls the meeting to order and Ethel seconds the motion, you realize that unless you act fast, there’s no way you’re catching the first glimpse of the world’s most famous French-Canadian babies.

The solution: Head to the front desk and wait around until the attendant is busy mixing up a protein shake. When you’re certain that they are completely distracted by the task of measuring out appropriate amounts of whey protein powder and Greek yogurt, slip behind the desk and grab the intercom receiver. Switch it on and announce that free prune-juice smoothies are being distributed at the snack bar—first come, first served. When the attendant is again distracted—this time by a rambunctious crowd of thirsty Red Hat ladies—make a smooth getaway and go claim your favorite treadmill.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Mississippi Mystique

A few weeks ago, as I was heading out the door to go for a run, I discovered that my watch had died. I stared at the blank digital watch face in total disbelief and started smacking my wrist in an attempt to jolt it back to life.

When my efforts proved futile, I was ultimately forced to accept that it had, indeed, passed through the pearly gates of timepiece heaven. I had already spent 20 minutes of my valuable time squeezing into multiple layers of spandex, which meant that canceling my run was not an option. So I laced up my shoes, pulled on my gloves, and set out on the open road—watchless.

It was my best run in recent memory. I felt light and free—liberated from the burdens of mile splits and average pace. It was as if I were running in a vacuum of space where time as we know it does not exist.

I returned feeling refreshed and energized—so energized, in fact, that I hit the ground to hammer out a spontaneous plank series. (Note: I normally hate planks almost as much as I hate running skirts. I mean, come on, a skirt? Really? Do you see dudes running in Polo shirts and pleated shorts? Just saying.)

So I got down on the floor, and just as I was about to go into my first plank of the series, I realized that—duh—I had no way of timing each exercise. I racked my brain for a solution. I knew that if I counted, I would surely count too fast because planks suck and I would try—even if only subconsciously—to get through them as quickly as possible.

I needed to come up with a way to control my counting speed—to ensure that I put just the right amount of space in between numbers. Ah ha! I had it—the old “Mississippi” trick.

I hadn’t counted in Mississippis since about fifth grade—right around the time, incidentally, that I procured my first digital watch. It was a sea foam green Little Mermaid watch with a bubble-shaped face and a blinking mermaid fin—much nicer than the piece-of-crap Timex that had just given out on me.

Anyway, as I swiveled over onto my left arm and started my counting over again at “One Mississippi,” I had a thought. Why Mississippi?

It’s one of those questions that would be perfectly acceptable to bring up in normal, everyday conversation—if you’re under the age of 12. For adults who have jobs, bills, and mortgages to worry about, it’s just not a topic worthy of serious discussion. It’s like bologna or Canadian football or Whoopi Goldberg’s eyebrows—we’re all curious, but nobody has the time or energy to indulge their interest.

I know what you’re thinking. “Who cares? So what if it’s Mississippi and not Tennessee, Nevada or Ohio? Does it really matter?”

Well, I certainly understand your argument, but I must respectfully disagree. I believe the arbitrary designation of Mississippi as the only state widely recognized as a unit of time measurement is consummately unfair based on the following logic:

1.) The oral recitation of a number (i.e. “One”) followed by a four-syllable word (i.e. “Mississippi”) requires an allotment of time roughly equal to one second.

2.) There are exactly 14 states, besides Mississippi, whose names contain four syllables.

3.) Of those 14 states, four were admitted to the Union before Mississppi: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Indiana.

4.) Like Mississippi, one of the 14 is also the name of a major river: Colorado.

5.) Finally, due to the rapid succession of “s” sounds in the word “Mississippi,” the exclusive use of this particular state name presents a distinct disadvantage to children (and adults, for that matter) who speak with a lisp.

And so, in an effort to remedy decades of discrimination against all other states that are equally qualified to represent a single second of time, please join me as I begin a counting revolution. Perhaps one day we will live in a world where children count in “Arizonas” and “Oklahomas” when they play games of hide and seek, where mothers with unruly children use “Minnesotas” and “North Dakotas” in their empty-threat countdowns to punishment.

So spread the word—and while you’re at it, remind people that running in a skirt makes them look completely ridiculous.