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We all know what fall means: football, a crazy-quilt of leaves, winking jack o’ lanterns, and pumpkin-spiced everything. But to those of us lucky enough to have discovered it in school, fall also means cross country. Cross country is what happened when someone said, “Hey, I’m tired of racing in circles! Let’s run over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house and back.” Cross country is what turns an individual sport into a team effort, with its attendant bonding experiences. I discovered the sport early in high school and continued through my freshman year in college, when money troubles, injury struggles, and priority shifts led to a premature retirement. But the itch never really goes away. And once I started running again, I found myself newly hooked as a spectator. For a few years, Running Buddy Mark and I would make a pilgrimage to Mt. SAC to see the CIF Southern Section meet—that’s the regional qualifier for the California state high school championships. Both of our alma maters were regular contenders, so we’d root them on, check out the next wave of college talent, and then run a workout while we were still pumped up and remembering our old, faster selves. But last year the regional meet got moved to distant, dusty Riverside, so we skipped it. A week later, both the boys’ and girls’ teams from my old school won state championships—but that was even farther away, in Fresno. Clearly, we had to do something this year to get our cross country fix. And that’s when I turned my attention to the college scene. As I freshman, I ran for Willamette University in Oregon, making all-conference in my one and only college season. From time to time I check out their website, just to keep up with the latest, and that’s when I noticed the November 11 entry on their schedule. It read, “NCAA Division 3 West Regional, Pomona College.” Pomona College is only a half-hour down the freeway, and just happens to be in my old hometown of Claremont, California. Running Buddy Mark was game, so off we went. And as a bonus, we decided to run afterward in the same foothills where I trained in high school. The teams were setting up their canopies next to the Pomona College track when we arrived. We quickly spotted the cardinal-and-gold uniforms of Willamette on the sunny side of the field. Situations like this are always a little awkward; do you walk up and say, “Hi, I’m a faded black-and-white photo from the 1973 yearbook?” Or do you just fade into the background and privately call upon your memories? I mean, I’m not sure the Willamette coaches were born when I went to school there. Fortunately, I spotted a gentleman nearby who clearly looked like a parent. Now there’s someone from my own generation! So we walked over and I introduced myself. His name was John, and he had driven up from San Diego to see his son race. The son, Michael, was Willamette’s #2 runner, and had recently finished 4th in the Northwest Conference meet—just as I had. With the ice broken, we also spoke to a couple of assistant coaches, who were at least familiar with my own coach (now deceased), a legend in WU circles. Since I had procured a spare course map from one of the meet officials, John decided to hang with Running Buddy Mark and me as we pinballed among the good vantage points. The men’s race went first. A Pomona-Pitzer runner set a hot pace and quickly began pulling away from the pack. Running Buddy Mark and I marveled at their speed; even at the D3 level, college kids can move. We cheered for Willamette, winners of six straight conference titles and hopeful of a berth in nationals. Unfortunately, it wasn’t their day. Young Michael stayed doggedly in the top 20, with one other Bearcat in front of him. But the rest had fallen too far behind to keep the team in contention. In the end, Willamette finished sixth, leaving Michael to hope for a spot as an individual. He was 18th at 26:06 on the 8K course. Naturally, I did a little math in my head, comparing him to the ghost of my 18-year-old self. That year I ran 26:39 in our conference meet on a hillier course of 5 miles—almost exactly the same distance as an 8K. When age slows you as much as it’s slowed me, such thoughts are comforting. The women ran next, but the Willamette team wasn’t as strong as its male counterpart. One female Bearcat made nationals as an individual, and we had to wait until the next day’s announcements to find out about Michael. After wishing them luck, we got back into the car and headed three miles north to the Claremont Loop. When I ran in high school, we used quite a network of trails and fire roads snaking through the foothills above town. As I recall, none of them were designated as “official” trails—in fact some of them required us to hop fences, trespass, and outrun barking dogs. But in later years, one of those trails was christened “Claremont Hills Wilderness Park,” allowing us to feel rustic and frontiersy even as we availed ourselves of drinking fountains, port-a-potties, and a pay parking lot. I’d heard of this route from various people, including a couple of Loopsters. Alice in Running Land had used it before moving north and getting married. And a long-lost Loopster named LosLondonLaw, who had also grown up in Claremont, had written about it on trips home to see her parents. I didn’t recognize the trail, which was just as well, because I was too trashed to enjoy the homecoming. The first two miles are almost entirely uphill, and it nearly killed us. It’s supposed to be a 5-mile loop, but as we approached the 2-mile mark, I suggested that we turn around unless one of the many hikers could confirm that we were near the summit. One of them finally did, and we pushed on to finish the full loop. Running Buddy Mark said that he felt virtuous for having stuck it out. I was just glad that it was over. Then we went to the Claremont Village for a burger and beer in a restaurant that was really too nice for people in sweaty running clothes. But it was a good morning overall. The next day, we found out that Michael did indeed make nationals as an individual. And that left me with just one more task before completing my cross country fix. The We Run the City race is an annual charity event pitting UCLA against USC in 5K/10K competition. It’s the closest I’ll get to a cross country race, since you get to run for a team. You choose your affiliation upon registering; since I went to grad school at UCLA, I got a blue race shirt. And this time, it was the bad guys who wore cardinal and gold. Since the UCLA campus is fairly hilly, time isn’t much of a factor, and that allows you to focus on the team aspect. I resolved to start at tempo effort, then hope to speed up and pick off as many Trojans as I could. Unfortunately, the worst hill is in the first mile, and it left me struggling to hold pace and cursing the fact that I’d chosen the 10K over the 5K. I tried to maintain form and stay just this side of the puke threshold--which wasn’t hard, because my legs wouldn’t go fast enough to test my lungs or stomach. After an arduous first half, the 5K runners peeled off toward the finish, and the rest of us hardy souls began the second loop. That’s when I got the opportunity I wanted: a young woman in Trojan red, gradually fading back to me. I caught her around the 4-mile mark, but she seemed determined not to let a Bruin pass her. Perfect! We ran stride-for-stride for a while, feeding off the competition. But then, on another hill, she began pulling ahead and I couldn’t respond. And to think that hills used to be my best friends! Fortunately, her surge didn’t last. She began fading again, and when I caught her she couldn’t stay with me. There was a hairpin turnaround at 5 miles, and as I doubled back, I saw that she was well behind me. There was nothing left to do but look for more Trojans, but with the 10K field spread out, there was no one within striking distance. With about a half-mile to go, we made a left turn around Melnitz Hall, where I used to take film school classes. The rest of the way was mostly downhill. I tried to make a run at a Bruin-Trojan couple (it’s more common than you’d think), but they sprinted away from me on the home stretch. I finished in an embarrassing 55:20, but I did manage a negative split and won my age group practically by default. Strangely, I still haven’t found out who won the team competition. But it didn’t matter. I enjoyed a pretty day on a beautiful campus, got a solid workout, and finally felt satisfied that I had my cross country fix.
Advice wanted! I really miss not having a running event on the calendar. And I was mourning the fact that I probably won't have one there for a long while yet... until I remembered that autumn is the start of the holidays and therefore the wonky little local races that are perfectly acceptable to run/walk in. So how feasible do you think a Turkey Trot is for a 32wk pregnant lady? Good idea for motivation to keep me active or just asking to be disappointed again if I don't feel up to it by that point? NRR: I was talked into taking a weekly basic drawing class by a much more socially active friend and last night was the second class. I can't sing worth a dang or play any of the instruments that the band wanted so I took art classes all through middle and high school instead. That one hour a day was so awesome - we'd have periodic new projects and class discussions but for the most part, you could walk in, get your stuff, put your music in and work on your own for the whole class. Definitely a meditative practice. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I'd remembered from all those years ago! Class 1: spheres, eyes, shading, value scale "Homework": practice drawing an egg Class 2: a seemingly aggressive jump to sketching a bust of Socrates. The class is only 2hrs long and it drove me a little nuts to stop before this thing was finished. But it still was fun and at the end we lined all of the students' drawings up and discussed them. It's crazy how different people can be drawing the same exact thing and have them all look so different! This is mine next to my friend's, which I totally love because she made her Socrates look like an evil wizard on a Wanted poster, side-eye and all.
I wrote a draft of this a couple weeks ago, but never got around to proof-reading or editing or posting it. Given what I titled this and why, when I heard the news about Tom Petty today, made me want to get back to it. Which may have been a mistake on taper brain. Sorry Tom, you deserve way better than being associated with this sloppy thing. Also,I realized I put a race report not in the race report folder. Oops. A lot of people say they perform best under pressure, when the stakes are highest. Most of them are full of shit and are either stroking their own egos or justifying procrastinating until the last minute to do whatever the task at hand happens to be. Just because you get things done under pressure doesn’t mean they’re any damn good. I mean, if I pulled a knife on you and told you to draw a self portrait in 10 seconds you could probably get something on paper, but it would be terrible. Unless you’re one of those caricature artists on the street who failed out of Pratt or something and draws those things up as people walk past then harasses them all the way down the train platform trying to sell it to them for $10. But if you failed out of school you probably can’t claim to be good at performing under pressure anyway so the point is moot. Regardless, I fall squarely in the camp of procrastinators. I’m not lazy or anything, I just loathe most of what makes up my inbox on any given day and the things which I find least interesting or most unpleasant to deal with get handled at the last possible second so I don’t have time to dwell on the misery of the task in question. The ol’ rip off the band-aid technique. Now despite my admitted proclivity towards procrastination, I do think I have an uncanny ability to rise to the occasion when the stakes are high and the odds are stacked against me. As Exhibit A I submit to you my racing history, which is full of surprise PRs. You remember the beer and kimchi fueled 5K I somehow crushed (was gonna link to the bloop, but…). And there was the 5+ minute PR in the pikermi I ran on residual marathon training fumes and muscle memory (again with the missing link to the dead bloop). And this same race last year (oh yeah, BTW, this is a race report), where I went from too exhausted to warm up to channeling Raging Bull on the way to another unexpected PR (yeah...no bloop). None of these races should have gone well given the lackluster training or exhaustion or hangover, yet all were PRs. So even though my legs were still recovering from a 16 miler 36 hours before and I was awash in accumulated Hansons fatigue, I quietly held onto some hope for this year’s Big Peach Sizzler 10k (which was on Labor day, but procrastination remember?). The dead legs I had to drag to the train station for our ride up to the start line were a constant reminder that yes, I was in the middle of marathon training. Any commands to move my lower extremities felt like they were being transmitted south from the brain via tin cans and string. As we milled around the start line I eschewed all of my usual pre-race routines out of sheer exhaustion, not once thinking about paces or doing my neurotic shoe retying routine. When I had put my Chicago goal time into a race predictor it had spit out a 43:29 10K time, and even though this was supposed to be my fitness check race I hadn’t give pacing or goals much thought as we toed the line, waiting for the national anthem and countdown to the start. I was entertaining myself trying to turn “toed the line” into a Toad the Wet Sprocket joke when I saw the starter, without saying a word, raise his arm and fire the starting gun. Everyone looked at each other for a confused half a second, then took off like we were charging into a Best Buy on Black Friday. I guess we weren’t feeling very patriotic, which bummed me out because I’d worn my American flag socks. See? I avoided the mistake I had made last year starting too far back in the pack and was able to quickly find some running room for myself. I finally started thinking about pacing and remembered how this race had gone last year. I was equally exhausted and hobbled by worn out legs then and I had also not done much of a warm-up, but after a slow first mile I had somehow managed to crank up (down? whatever, make faster) the pace and even kick at the end to a big PR. So I decided to see if lightning would strike twice and tried to keep up what felt like a decent effort for the first mile. And for a moment, I started to feel almost good. The legs were still a little creaky but I felt like I was moving at a good clip and wouldn’t have that far to push to get to what should be 10K pace. Then the Garmin announced a 7:31 first mile. Well, the plan WAS for a slow start, so I guess I nailed it. Given the disconnect between what my pace felt like and reality, I started to do the usual status checks to see where the problem was and realized I wasn’t really working all that hard. My breathing wasn’t that labored, my heart rate wasn’t in the “racing” zone, and I wasn’t even hurting that much. My legs just didn’t want to respond. So I got mad and started swearing, because that’s what I do when I’m mad. Some of the runners around me didn’t seem to appreciate it. I didn’t appreciate their judgmental side-eye, so I figured we were even. To get myself going I started to pick out nearby runners and focus on reeling them in, one at a time. I concentrated on my stride, struggling to lift my legs out of the marathon shuffle and into some semblance of a running gait. First victim up was a hipster looking guy who in no way appeared to be in good enough shape to be ahead of me. He had the full Brooklyn barista look going, with the sides of his head shaved but long enough hair on top for a man bun, the retro looking sunglasses, and even a handlebar mustache. He definitely wore suspenders and sleeve garters to his job as a mixologist at a speakeasy with an idiotic password like “funicular” and rode his fixed gear bike home to the loft apartment his parents pay for while he “finds his path in life”. I passed him just before we got to mile 2, which was 7:01. I reassessed things, and still felt as if I’d go as far as I could drag my legs. (Brilliant assessment in a foot race, no? I was going to change this but it’s such a bad line I decided to leave it in as the highlight of this hack job of a race report.) So I kept pushing up the small hill in front of me and prepped for the mostly downhill mile 3. I had my aim set on an older guy whose graceful, effortless, metronomic stride was a far cry from my desperate uneven lashes at the pavement. As I passed him and looked for my next target, I saw the 45 minute pacer about 150 meters ahead. My first thought was I don’t recall ever seeing a pace group for a race this short. My second thought was DAMN IT I didn’t think I was going that slow. The sight of that 45:00 flag launched another wave of profanity, and further sharpened my focus. Properly motivated and riding the slight downhill I was hoping for a fast split in mile 3, so was disappointed to see a 7:06. I again checked my heart rate and breathing, and again neither was where it should be for a race. What the hell was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I get my legs and lungs aligned? I passed the halfway water station, but the temperature was only in the low 60s and I didn’t think I deserved water anyway, so I skipped it. I remembered listening to a recent interview with Des Linden where she talked about her upcoming training goals. She mentioned that with so many years of nothing but marathon miles and paces, she wanted to get some speed back into her legs and do some shorter faster running. I wondered if I was suffering from the same phenomenon, and if I’d just forgotten how to run fast. I looked up again and saw the 45 minute pacer, still well out of reach. I was at the bottom of the last little hill on the course running behind another hipster, but one who actually looked like a runner. I knew I was running out of miles and was apparently way behind where I should be, so I got mad again. Really mad. I released a new stream of violent cursing and pushed myself to what felt like an all out sprint. The mini-hipster tried to stay with me, and matched me stride for stride up the hill. I kept the hammer down as the course flattened out, and as the pace started to drop so did my mustachioed companion. Mile 4 passed in 6:58, and I momentarily cracked a smile. Then I became infuriated again when I realized it took me 4 miles to get to what should have been my goal pace, and I kept focusing on just driving myself forward, step after step. A new mantra suddenly popped into my head. They were playing Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down a Dream at the start line, which on some background channel in my brain behind all this other nonsense somehow got me thinking of the album “Damn the Torpedoes”. That’s not even the right album for the song, and I don’t know how my brain had the ability to subconsciously make that connection and suggest a wholly appropriate mantra in the middle of a race, so I just went with it and every time my legs would protest the pace, my inner monologue would scream back DAMN THE TORPEDOES. I closed in on my next target, and was right on his heels as we entered the high rise canyon of the Buckhead business district. The road here turns slightly to the left, and I maneuvered to pass him on the inside and keep the tangents tight. I ran through another status check and was happy that my cardiovascular system had finally joined the effort, but kept wondering if my legs could hold the pace. And then, the bastard I was passing moved over and cut me off, almost tripping me and even giving me a track-worthy elbow. I suddenly forgot about my legs, and vowed to destroy this sonuvabitch and feast on his withered soul. I moved right behind him, breathing down his neck and almost clipping his heels as we ran through the gentle turn. The road immediately curves back the other way, and I knew this guy would try to move over to follow the tangents. So as soon as we hit the inflection point in the twisting road, I moved to his shoulder and blocked him. He looked over at me with a clearly annoyed look on his face, to which I responded by throwing my own elbow, and pulled away from him. I didn’t realize that we’d passed the mile 5 marker in 6:54, and didn’t even have time to check my watch for pace because just as I passed the jackass, I got passed. I recognized the passer as one of the employees at our LRS who we’ve become friendly with over the years of biweekly visits. From The Wife’s stalking of race results I knew we were about the same speed, so I tried to hang on to him as long as I could. As we continued to weave through the canyon of post-modern glass towers, my LRS friend was slightly pulling away, but I noticed we were both finally gaining on the 45 minute pacer. I tried to do one last status check, but gave up when I realized that I didn’t have the mental energy for it. I was drooling on myself, my form was a disaster, and despite the 60 degree temps I was flinging flop sweat like a dog shaking off after a bath. So I swore out loud one more time since that seemed to be working and kept on the gas. We turned off of Peachtree Road and I passed mile 6 in 6:36. Both my LRS friend and the 45 minute pacer finally looked as though they were running out of steam, and the thought of catching them on the last downhill stretch helped me maintain pace. When I caught LRS guy I glanced over and nodded, and he looked at me and said “you got this”. Now, and I don’t know how or why, but when he said that I suddenly thought to myself “yes, I do” and took off. I had no idea where this extra gear came from or how long it would last, but it felt like I had jet fuel pumping through my veins and I rode it down the hill and through the last turn. Don’t run like this at home kids: I ran the last quarter at a 5:43 pace, passed the 45 minute pacer right before funneling into the finish chute, and crossed the line in 43:29. Which means the 45 minute pacer finished in something like 43:35. Perfect. This also means I really should get better at runner math if I couldn’t figure out they were that far ahead. I mean, it’s not like I took 6 semesters of calculus or anything. (It was only 5) I caught my breath and realized I had hit my predicted time to the second, and had repeated last year’s race almost exactly. Just faster. I stumbled around on gummy legs waiting for The Wife to finish and thinking about how I had somehow again delivered when I had no business running fast. In my post-race daze, all I could come up with was that I must have some kind of superpowers to keep pulling this off. When I told The Wife what I ran she got mad and started yelling something about perfect training never working for her but I can show up hungover or sick or so tired she has to help me tie my shoes and I somehow PR anyway. I tried to tell her about the superpowers, but she only yelled louder. Which meant that all the people trying to hand us flyers and sell us crap as we walked through the train station were terrified of her and left us alone, which I think might be her superpower. As a fitness check race, this was a resounding success. I finished right in the middle of the window which predicts a 3:20 marathon, and the remainder of training went extremely well, so I’d say everything is on track and we’re all systems go for Chicago this Sunday. I also thought about how awful I felt on race morning, and how awful I’ve felt for so many of my best races, and started planning for my pre-marathon routine. Deep dish with extra sausage for dinner the night before with a couple pitchers of beer oughta do the trick. Maybe hit the clubs a bit and roll straight from the velvet ropes to the starting line. That seems to be how I activate these superpowers, so I may as well go all in. Or maybe, ya know, it’s just the training.
I've decided to make it doubly confusing by 1) posting here for the first time in a while and 2) by changing my username. Oops. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I made christine.eliz way back when I was super new to running and didn't feel like having a weirdo handle as I dipped my toes into this community. Now that I know how strange you all are I have no problem with it! It might help that @tinkbot is also my Instagram handle so feel free to follow me if you want periodic reminders of who I am. So what's been going on? I know I posted in Loopville that DH and I are expecting our first child - a girl! - in January but I don't think I officially blooped about it. I'm almost 25 weeks (~5.5months) pregnant and entering the phase of discovering that the shorts that fit last week aren't quite swinging it today. I'm feeling really good though and partially attribute that to my OB being really supportive of exercise throughout pregnancy. At our first meeting I told her I "used" to run - meaning that I had been struggling with anterior tibialis tendonitis and then PF for a while, not necessarily because of the pregnancy, which is what she thought I meant - and she made a face and said, "Why'd you stop?" I like you! The first trimester wasn't horrible but I did have periodic bouts of morning sickness and didn't want to deal with the suddenly hot and humid summer weather. My outdoor exercise waned. I still had to walk the pup but he didn't like the heat either so we definitely enabled each other to be more lazy than we should have been. We would probably walk about 3-6 miles a week. About three weeks ago I started getting ominous email updates from my baby app about preparing for labor. Commence exercise!! The "runs" are really run/walks with varying average paces from ~15min/mile down to around 12:30min/mile depending on how I was feeling. My breathing was decent and I felt like my stamina was better than I was expecting; the things that were getting me were my poor feet and ankles were just like WHAT IS HAPPENING NO and going numb or seizing up. That'll happen when you add an extra 10-15lbs. I was getting some unpleasant side stitches too which is nothing new but I couldn't exactly stumble down the street holding the side of my obviously pregnant belly without feeling like I would get an ambulance called on me. Grin and bear it! Good to practice that, too... ugh. I also added in some light free weight arm exercises and core stuff. (No abdominals, but I can do obliques and those other supportive core muscles.) I've seen multiple recommendations of planks since they really help with core strength and also train your mind to endure 30sec-1min bouts of severe unpleasantness. I just can't escape you, planks, can I? *shakes fist* The weather has finally cooled down to true autumn temps so the plan is to do a nice hike with DH this afternoon. I'll be tracking it and adding it to my miles! Hope to see posts from people here. Happy running!