“Why don’t you still run full marathons?”

A co-worker asked me this question and made me pause, in part because while I’ve had a short answer on hand the past couple of years, there’s a little more to it than that. The short answer is that I gave them up in 2013 when I went back to graduate school and I didn’t have the time to properly train for them. Training runs in the 14-23 mile range eat up a lot of your time, after all.

What I think people who don’t run marathons realize, though, is that it’s not just the time for the training run, but rather the time surrounding it. On Sunday morning I ran a half marathon, which meant that I had to go to bed early the night before, eat some fairly bland foods, and then be prepared for being low-energy the rest of Sunday. It also meant that I left one celebration early on Saturday, and then by the time I’d rallied for another one scheduled for that afternoon, it was getting too late in the day and I’d run out of “free” time before I had to start eating that bland dinner and getting ready for bed. And similarly, I knew that I would need to skip a convention I’d planned on attending on Sunday entirely because I would be tired enough that the potential stress would be magnified.

This was a half marathon. Now turn that into a 20 mile training run. It’s exhausting, only even more so. In my 20s and 30s it was tough. Now the idea of running 20 miles makes me want to just collapse. I hate missing my friends’ big moments, my own downtime, and so on. Having that happen every other weekend when the training runs get longer just eats up my life that much more. And as I grow older, I value that free time so much more. I feel bad that I missed a good friend’s birthday, that I missed seeing once-a-year visitors at a convention that I used to run, that I cut out early of another celebration. Heck, I feel bad that a lot of things I wanted to get done around the house on Sunday didn’t happen (but not THAT bad).

Every now and then I think about tackling “one more marathon.” And maybe if it was a really special race (one friend has talked about the London Marathon, for example), I’d consider it. But right now, I just can’t muster up enough enthusiasm. I think this weekend was a good reminder for me on why I had to, sadly, give them up for a while. Fortunately, the trade-off of seeing friends and having more free time is incredibly worth it. I’ll take friends over a new full marathon in a heartbeat.

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 17)

Back from Bogota
As hinted a few months ago, I went on a work trip to another country… namely, Colombia (in the city of Bogota). Because it was a work trip the majority of it involved watching training at a government-run facility and being driven between the facility and the hotel in an armored van. But! I did get some sight-seeing in on the weekend, including a trip to botanical gardens, a huge park, a hop up to the peak of Monserrate in a cable car to see the sun set over the city, and (best of all) a bicycle trip around the city for three hours. All in all, a lot of fun and a place I’d have almost certainly never gone to otherwise.

I’ve heard for years and years (you probably have too) that Bruce Springsteen puts on some of the best concerts out there. My friend John A. back in his heyday used to hit multiple stops of a Springsteen tour as it went up and down the East Coast. And now, having seen him perform on the Wrecking Ball Tour at Nationals Park in Washington DC? I get it. I totally get it. It’s funny because while I like Springsteen I am by no means an uber-fan. I don’t have half of his albums. I don’t know the words to a lot of the songs. Heck, I didn’t know half of the songs he played. But it didn’t matter. He performs every song from start to finish like it’s the last song of the night and therefore has to put all his energy into it. Just an amazing performance, and when your concert runs over three hours (who needs an opening act when you’re on stage that long?) you need to be at the top of your game. Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite Tour might still be my all-time favorite concert, but I think this will be a close second.

Aimee Mann’s Charmer
If I remember the chronology correctly, it was right after hearing Aimee Mann’s solo music courtesy the Magnolia soundtrack (and then ordering a copy of Bachelor No. 2 online) that my friend Felicity helpfully pointed me to her earlier two solo albums. By that point I’ve been hooked. But with her last album being a little disappointing, I found myself a tiny bit wary about her new album Charmer. Then I heard the title track courtesy a hysterical video co-starring Laura Linney (seriously, I just about lost it I was laughing so hard), and NPR streamed the album leading up to the release, and all was forgiven. Sure, the second half of the album isn’t as great as the first half, but the 1-2-3-4-5 punch of Charmer, Disappeared, Labrador, Crazy Town, and Soon Enough is strong enough that the second half could have been static and I’d still be happy. (In a rarity, the bonus track I got from buying via Amazon—Brother’s Keeper—is a real bonus and just as good as the first half of the album.) In a year with a lot of disappointing albums from returning artists, this one did just what it needed to.

Adele’s Skyfall
Not to be a cliche, but I’m an Adele fan. I also like big brassy James Bond theme songs (and not just those by Shirley Bassey, but those are at the top of the list). So when I heard that Adele was performing the theme for Skyfall, I was tentatively hopeful. Could this be it? The heir to Bassey’s Goldfinger theme? As it turns out… yes. Thanks, Adele. This is just what I needed.

Double-Digit Milegage
After far too many months off due to injuries, I returned to running recently. And last weekend, I got back up into the double-digit distances again with a 12-miler. I got to run it with most of my running buddies (Ben, John, Stephanie, Steve) and not only was the company great, but I felt fantastic afterwards. No marathons on the horizon (I’m playing it safe, probably won’t go higher than 14mi for a while) but it’s nice to know that this amount is once more available.

A Perk of Early Morning Running

In addition to my Saturday morning running date with my buds most weekends, for the past year and a half I’ve also been running with some of them before work twice a week down on the National Mall. When I lived in Arlington it was a quick hop over to meet them and back. Now that I’m in Takoma, it’s a little bit farther and there’s a new twist where instead of going home I pop over to the gym and shower there before heading the rest of the way to work.

There are a few reasons why I do this even though it’s not necessarily that convenient. First, the company is great; I love catching up with Ben and Steve and John; we hear about each other’s weekends, chat about television shows and movies, even have the occasional political discourse. Second, having a preset time to meet means that it gets me out of the bed and exercising, something that when I’m on my own is much easier to put off and/or skip entirely.

And third?

Well, the view is occasionally spectacular.

(I keep telling myself I need to bring an actual camera with me this time of year. The mid-point of our run is down at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, and the view towards the Washington Monument with the newly-restored Reflecting Pool has been jaw-dropping as of late. Until then, this quick cameraphone shot is better than nothing.)

Five Things That Make Me Happy (part 16)

Back to Swimming
Despite swimming being “highly recommended” as exercise while recovering from my stress fracture, the last time I’d actually gone to the pool was back in January. Happily, Charlie gave me the nudge that I needed to finally start moving forward again, and we’ve been hitting the pool 2-3 times a week before work. My overall speed isn’t where it should be, but that’s what happens when you take six months off, right? All in all, though, it’s felt great to finally get back to the pool and start swimming some laps. My mile time might need some improvement, but I’m also glad that I can swim a mile without stopping again.

Ceiling Fan
There are a lot of things that I love about our condo, but one of the few things that has driven me crazy since day one was that there’s no air-return on the upper level (where the living room/kitchen area is located). With an 11-foot ceiling, that’s meant that hot air easily travels up there and then just stays put. We’d bought a fan to turn on when it gets too warm as an emergency measure, but this month we finally sprung to have a ceiling fan installed. I’m not going to lie, the installation was problematic and actually took two appointments with an electrician (plus someone to then repair drywall and re-paint) but now that it’s done? It’s fantastic. It’s been a transformative shift to our upstairs. Just having the air moving has made all the difference, and the fan itself looks great to boot. (Amusingly, when I first turned it on, for about five minutes it blasted hot air down at me, to the point that I almost started to majorly freak out. Later it hit me that it was finally getting all that trapped heat out of the top of the room that a fan on the floor would never touch.)

The End of Physical Therapy
I actually really enjoyed my PT sessions, which I often joked stood for “personal trainer” rather than “physical therapy.” Jackie definitely worked me over good each week, and she’s pretty great to boot. But I won’t deny that I’m glad it’s over, because it means that the long saga of the stress fracture appears to be finally over. I got a six-mile run under my belt towards the end of July, and finishing it with no problems was a huge relief. Of course, in an effort to remind me not to be too cocky, I then went and broke my little toe at the end of the month by stubbing it on a chaise lounge, so I’m back off running for the month of August. Ah well!

Rediscovering Debbie Dreschler
Debbie Dreschler’s two graphic novels from back in the day—Daddy’s Girl and Summer of Love—were hard to read. Not because they were badly created (they weren’t) but because the subject matter was rather disturbing and emotionally raw in places. Since Summer of Love Dreschler more or less vanished off of the comic book scene, so I was pleased as punch to recently discover her website and her blog. Her website shows the professional illustration work she’s been producing since then, and it looks great. Even better, she’s also got some adorable greeting cards for sale. (I might have bought a set.) Her blog has been serving up some sketchbook drawings of hers involving local wildlife, and all I can say is that she just gets better and better with time. (Debbie Dreschler: a fine wine of cartooning.)

Much-Needed Vacation
We went on a short vacation near the end of the month to Lost River, West Virginia, where we did… absolutely nothing. It was marvelous. Lots of sitting by the pool reading books (E.M Forster’s Howards End and the amusingly-named Showcase Presents: Showcase Vol. 1 were both read, plus another large chunk of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar), some swimming, a massage, and eating all sorts of foods that are perhaps not great for me. But it was vacation, we got to relax, and the only schedule we had to worry about was when we’d scheduled our massages and what time our dinner reservation one night was set for. (And when I say “worry” I mean “we didn’t worry one iota.”) Any trip where you can accidentally break a toe and still think, “What a great time” is a good one.

Helping a Little Old Lady Across the Street

On most Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I have a fairly set routine. Drive down to the National Mall and start running around 5:50am. A mile in, I meet two or three other friends and we run four additional miles. We all head our separate ways there, and I usually run another mile and a quarter before heading off to the gym.

For some reason today, I changed the route of my last, solo mile, and ended up passing by the National Museum of the American Indian right as I hit the 6-mile point. In other words, I was almost done. And as I was heading by, I saw an older woman waving a cane at me. It took a couple of seconds for it to fully register, but then I slowed down to see what was going on. (My immediate thought was that she was lost and needed directions.)

“Excuse me,” she said, “but this cane isn’t enough today. Can you help me across the street?”

I blinked for a second or so and then, “Sure, of course.” How often do little old ladies actually ask you to help them across the street, right?

So, she took my arm and we started heading slowly across the slate sidewalk in front of the museum, and then crossing Jefferson Avenue. “My son normally drives me to work,” she said, “but he had to go in early this morning.”

“Oh, ok,” I said. “And this can be a little slick with the cold weather.”

“My legs aren’t very good,” she confided to me. “I have sickle cell and it makes it hard to walk. My doctor told me I should retire because I’m turning 70 this year but if I just sit around the house then my legs will get stiffer and then I won’t be able to walk at all.” (Later, I realized that she might have said something different than “sickle cell” but it’s what I heard then.) A minute later she said, “I’m so sorry if I ruined your run, but I’m glad you stopped. Several people just walked right past me.”

By this point we’d crossed the street and were still going strong. In the back of my head it hit me that she had wanted help for a little further than just across the street. And so we kept going, up 4th Street and all the way to Constitution Ave. She paused and said, “I’m almost there,” as if to let me go, but at that point I was in it for the long haul. I said that Constitution wasn’t an easy street to cross under the best of circumstances, and she agreed and we went a little further until she insisted that she was good and had no more streets to cross and was on her block. By this point we were just around the corner from the DC Courthouse, a third of a mile from where we’d started.

The whole time we walked there, we talked about the weather, she told me about her son’s job, and even pointed out a building he’d helped construct. She mentioned that sometimes she took the bus all the way in from Anacostia but it was too cold to wait for the line that would have taken her all the way and she’d thought she could walk the rest. And all I could think about was if it was my mother or grandmother (she reminded me so much of Grammy that it brought some tears to my eyes) and everyone had walked past either of them, how horrible I would have felt.

It made me think, how often do all of us (myself included) just hurry past someone who needs help, assuming that someone else will step in? And if she’d said, “Could you walk me to the DC Courthouse” would I have done so or would I have been more worried about the last quarter-mile of my run, or the fact that at 7am the parking meters would click on and I’d be skirting the edge of getting a ticket? I can pretend that I would have not worried about all of that. But you never know. There’s a good chance I might have kept going.

(I also like to think that if I’d initially realized how far it was, I would’ve had the good sense to just say, “Let me get my car” and run over to it and picked her up. By the time we were at Constitution I was kicking myself for not driving her over so that she wasn’t on her feet the whole way. Hindsight is 20/20.)

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I think there’s something particularly arbitrary about them and they’re just not for me. But I might make an almost-exception here. I am going to try and remember this down the line, and be more observant for those in need that I can assist. A couple minutes out of my morning is ultimately not that big a deal for me, but it can be huge for someone else.

I might not know this woman’s name, but I am going to remember her for a very long time. I’m sharing this story because hopefully, I won’t be the only one to do so.

(Oh, and in case you were wondering: I got back to my car at 7:10am, and there was not a parking ticket on the windshield. Thank you, universe.)

Not Doing So Well, In Terms of Shoes

I think I pissed off the patron saint of athletic shoes.

About a week and a half ago, I went to buy a pair of cycling shoes at a local bike store. When I did so, I also asked for a pair of cleats. “I want to use these at spinning class,” I said, “so all I need is a pair of cleats to go with these.”

“No problem,” the clerk said. “A pair of cleats for spin class.” It wasn’t until I got home that I looked at what he sold me, and it was in fact a pair of pedals (that came with cleats), which cost $70 more. (And also explained why the overall price was higher than I thought.) I ended up returning the entire purchase (the manager was extremely apologetic the second I explained what happened), and I’ll try another store in the area this week to get my spin shoes and cleats.

Later in the week, I called up a (different) local running store and asked if they had my running shoes in stock. Because I need to get them in a 2E wide size, they sometimes don’t have them in and need to order them. They didn’t, but they said they’d call the other stores in the chain and get back to me. After about 20 minutes, they called back and nope, didn’t have them in, but they’d be glad to order a pair for me when their weekly order to the distributor went in on Monday.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning (today), I get a call from the running store. A different employee called to say that because this was a type of shoe they didn’t carry, they wouldn’t order it until I came in and paid a $20 deposit. And in my head, I’m thinking, “…which means the order won’t go in until next week. Great.”

So, I told them that meant I wouldn’t have the shoes in time, and to not bother. Went online and in less than 2 minutes I have a pair of the shoes heading my way and they’ll be here by Thursday, because I no longer have time to play these sorts of games.

None the less, I can’t help but feel that I have pissed someone off. If my next attempt to get my spin class shoes goes equally awry, I will get the hint. (I do have four pairs of my old running shoes in the trunk of my car right now to drop off at the recycling bin at one of the local shoe places. Maybe I need to sacrifice one of them?)

Ten Important Lessons From Running Marathons

My friend Doug had recently posted something about his own marathon training experiences, and it got me thinking about my own experiences; I ran 10 marathons between 2001 and 2010, and I have often joked that each year I “learned” something that I probably should have figured out beforehand. (Isn’t that how it always is? Hindsight is always 20/20 after all.)

So in the vain hope that someone else down the line will find these words of “wisdom” (because who am I kidding, this is all looking rather obvious now) and not make the same stupid mistakes/assumptions/errors that I did.

2001: That I could, in fact, finish a marathon.
2002: That I could improve if I worked at it.
2003: That if I slacked off on my training, the results would be worse than expected.
2004: That dropping a lot of weight without shifting to a faster training pace would mean my “easiest” marathon ever.
2005: That it’s better to start off slower and run alone than start off too fast with a group.
2006: That I don’t like training alone.
2007: That I can make it through a training program without including walk breaks.
2008: That eventually, everyone has to cancel a marathon due to illness.
2009: That training for three marathons within eight months of one another will result in burnout.
2010: That by knocking out a tenth marathon in January, it will feel truly wonderful to have a year off from a fall marathon.

Goals for Sunday’s Race

This Sunday I’m tackling the Columbia Triathlon up in Maryland (.93mi swim, 25.4mi bike, 6.2mi run) and I have decided that I should have some goals in mind throughout the weekend. Some are carry-overs from running in general, but there’s no reason why they can’t apply too. So here we go…

  1. Finish. Always the #1 goal of a race.
  2. Don’t throw up. Not that I am planning to. But that’s always a very important rule to put out there. I’ve made it 10 years now without breaking this one.
  3. Maximum number of times to get kicked in the head during the swim: 2. I did get kicked in the head when I did a super-sprint tri last year, but it was also only about a quarter of the distance. So if I can limit the number of head-kicks to two, well, that will be a victory.
  4. Don’t swear too much during the bike course. I cannot promise this goal will be met.
  5. Remember to take OFF the bike helmet before I start the run. There are some awfully funny pictures out there of people who forgot. I would like to not be one of those people forever immortalized.
  6. Find winning lottery ticket. Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I thought this was the “pipe dreams” list. Never mind.

We shall see how many of these actually happen. Famous last words, I’m sure.

Frozen Florida

*blows dust off of the website*

Er, yeah. It’s been a busy month. But I suppose I should at least briefly mention my trip to Florida two weeks ago, to run the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge at Walt Disney World. It probably would have been an unremarkable trip (aside from running 39.3 miles over the course of a weekend), except for one little problem… that horrible cold front that ripped through a lot of the country, including Florida.

When we signed up for these races a year ago, I honestly didn’t imagine us bundled up with three layers of clothing, winter hats, gloves, and still being cold. Which is, of course, exactly how we felt.

Brrrrrr (pt 2)

Yeah. Cold. Very cold. So cold that on Sunday we bought additional pairs of gloves, rain parkas, and towels for additional insulation for before the race started. (Once you’re running, it doesn’t so matter that it’s 25 degrees out. And sleeting. No really, it sleeted on us on Saturday for the half marathon.)

On the bright side, we did get to pose for all sorts of silly photographs with various Disney characters; for the full marathon we stopped at literally every single one we saw. We figured it would be a good way to combat having run the half marathon the morning before.


I mean, hello, it’s Stitch! Only from my favorite (non-Pixar) Disney animated movie Lilo and Stitch, after all. As the race went on, we got a little sillier and punchier, too. So we ended up with photos like this:

Launchpad McQuack

So yeah, we froze during the races. But it was a ton of fun. And the other days were nice, too. We went to all four parks over the course of three days, which was a blast. We ate at two of the nice restaurants in Epcot (Le Cellier and Teppan Edo), something I’d never done before and quite enjoyed. And thanks to an iPhone app that tells you wait times for rides, we went on a lot of rides.

Oh yeah, even when it wasn’t 6am, we still froze. Oh well. It would have been nice to wear t-shirts instead of coats, but it was none the less a great trip. But now I need to go back sometime when the weather is a little more cooperative, right?

The Gang