Running Dark

Early mornings, late evenings: running in the dark has permeated my running life. As a neophyte in the late 1970s, I ran before dawn (and work) at the local high school track in a small town in northern California. My dog was my companion, barking at any strange smell or movement, pulling at his leash. At the track, he was free to roam, to scamper beside me, to run ahead and quickly return, making certain I was still there. Occasionally, someone ran up alongside and then past me, unannounced but for the crunch of his shoes hitting the gravelly ground of the oval track.  We said our hellos and continued alone. I wasn’t scared; I knew the men who also ran solitary in the small town.

Years later, I lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where I bundled against the cold and snow and ice of winter, a California girl confronted with the harsh northeastern winters. I dared not let temperatures in the low teens impact my daily time alone running in the elements. I ran on sidewalks lit by street lamps. I didn’t feel threatened except for the almost daily angry dog on the opposite sidewalk, his owner yelling, “He won’t hurt you,” at the same time as the dog tugged violently against the leash, ready, I was certain, to bolt across the road and attack me, pulling his owner with him. I didn't know how to protect myself against this danger, other than to try different city streets. I had no options but to run in the dark.

Back in California, I ran in the dark before dawn, on sidewalks, through a lit park, before waking up two little children, getting them ready for the day, then taking a train commute for a long day of work in San Francisco. A few times I wondered if the car that slowed alongside me would stop, the driver would yell at me, or worse, would grab me, perhaps do unimaginable things to me. At some point I decided to try the high school track where a number of runners circled (safety in numbers, yes?) in the early dawn. Running track can be boring, especially if you're not doing intervals or speed work, but the risk of tripping on a broken sidewalk or being accosted by a stranger diminishes.

I ran in the Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve, a pristine nature preserve surrounded by urban cities of San Diego. Again, because of work and children, I ran at dawn, or in the winter months, before dawn. I carried a flashlight to show me the trails, careful not to trip on a tree root, boulder, or undulation. Signs warned of fox and mountain lions; I hoped a flashlight would protect me against them, too; mabye I'd see them first in the light and be able to outrun them. Magical thinking! If needed, maybe the few other morning walkers and runners might hear a call for help. Clearly, I wasn’t yet smart about walking or running in the dark.

And then there were a number of years when I worked part-time; able to run at a more hospitable time, I took advantage of daylight and warmer temperatures. Yet, when I trained for a December marathon, evening runs again became my mid-week staple. By late September/early October, I was running in dusk, then in the dark. At the time, I lived in a subdivision in a rural part of the California foothills. On weekends, the miles and miles of country roads surrounding our neighborhood were a runner’s haven; in the dark the narrow winding roads became suspect. Drivers wouldn't expect lone runners at the bumpy edge of the road, often hidden by oak trees. The subdivision loop road became my track. Almost exactly a mile in distance, it gave me protection from the lurking dangers of running dark on country roads. I strapped a headlamp to my cap, leftover from my Mt. Whitney climb the summer before, which started in a very dark forest just after mid-night. I wore reflective clothing as the subdivision had no streetlights, only the amber glow of lamps from individual houses. Although there were fox, skunks, raccoons, and an occasional deer to scare, I felt generally safe until thick ground tule fog caught me one night. I became disoriented after turning on one of the cul de sac roads off the main loop. I was blinded; I couldn’t discern left from right; I began to cry. Frightened, uncertain which way to go or what to do, I huddled at the side of the road until a few cars passed me, their fog lights briefly illuminating the bushes and trees along the side of the road. I finally decided to turn right, knowing I would eventually find my way to my house—or else continue looping endlessly.

Lessons learned: running dark is dangerous and scary. If it’s the only choice you have to get in a run, wear a headlamp and reflective clothing. Know your route. Carry a cell phone in case you need to call someone; you may become hurt, lost, or scared. Run with a friend. Stay on lit roads or paths, if possible. Tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. If you can, after all these safety precautions, savor the peace, solitude, and moon shadows!

 

Life Aboard Ship: The Pacific Theatre 1944

My father served in the Pacific Theatre aboard a destroyer during WWII. After the war, he became a coach, with the majority of his career spent as Director of Athletics, basketball, tennis, and sometimes swimming coach at Whitman College. Like so many of his generation and the veterans of other wars and conflicts, he spoke little of his time in the service. We laughed that he was called "Gramps," as he was almost ten years older than many of his "men." He wrote letters to his mother, his sisters, and my mother (at the time, his fiance), about life aboard ship, at least those things about which he was comfortable speaking. Only much later did we learn about the kamikaze attacks, listening to men caught in crashed plans (he was with the radio crew), seeing Japanese mothers and children jump from cliffs at the end of the war, fearing the Americans victors. His destroyer was one of many surrounding MacArthur's ship at the ceremony when the Japanese surrended in 1945.

But back to his men: whenever there was ANY possibility of going ashore, even to tiny atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, my father, as officer but also as concerned colleague, encouraged the boys (as he called them) to swim, play basketball or baseball "as there is no space [aboard ship] to play a game." He lamented his "poor condition," a man to whom sport was his salvation, whether as a young boy trying to find his way after his father died, a teenager "banished" to a high school far from his friends (and being forced to play the violin) with no time to play on the high school teams because of the long commute, to finding camaraderie at Springfield College, where he was a natural, a tennis and basketball star, and finally, a beloved and revered coach, friend, and mentor.

Dad cherished the men with whom he shared the horrible years of war. Even after the war, they played a large part in who he was...I honor my father, his men, and all the men and women to whom we are so grateful for their service to our country.

This photo is a letter my father sent to his sister, Tartie, in August 1944, celebrating a few hours ashore, asking her to purchase a "few things," like khaki hats, cloth watch wrist band (as leather doesn't do well in salty air), and three bars (j.g.) as he was expecting a promotion soon! I read it occasionally, remembering his penmanship, appreciating his concern for others, finding his voice that I miss so much.

Fall Day Appreciation

We drove from Boulder to Indian Peaks Wilderness area's Brainard Lake; we intended to hike for a few hours then return on the Peak to Peak Highway to view the typically stunningly golden quaking aspen trees. Except: the entrance leading to the Lake was closed for the winter; there was snow on the ground, covering the trails and icing the roadway; the aspens were already stripped of their leaves. Although a few hearty walkers and horseback riders ventured through the snowy paths, we returned to the car and drove home.

I needed to shake out my legs; although still hurting from my half marathon race of several weeks before and impeding my movements, hiking seemed a good thing to do. Colorado's Chautauqua National Park is minutes from our house with miles of trails yet to be explored, so I turned my attention south.

The Mesa Trail starts at the entrance to the Park as a wide strolling dirt road, past the cabins and the lower meadow, and south alongside and eventually into the Flatiron Mountains, craggy peaks often dotted with rock climbers. Runners and hikers have choices once they past the lower trails: to go to the trailhead about 6.7 miles ahead; to climb the several faces of the Flatirons; to follow alternative paths to McClintock Meadows, the NCAR, Woods Quarry (where benches have been carved from rock for lovers and friends to pause and consider the view toward the Plains), or a multitude of other trails, some clearly marked, others more isolated.

The afternoon sky was grey, with a pale sun occasionally brightening the shade and clouds portending rain. I walked quickly but stopping occasionally to take a picture of the changing shadows on the mountain edges, the wondrous light playing hide and seek with the crevices and peaks. A few walkers waved "hello" as they passed me coming and going; a man named "Skip" talked backwards to me as he slowed his jogging to give me directions (not that I'd asked); a few dogs lightly sniffed my legs on their journey with their owners.

Here, several thousand feet lower in elevation than our morning along the Peak to Peak Highway, a few trees showed their autumn colors, red berries contrasted with their grey branches, and the glowing green of the pine trees shouted "Look at us!" The mountains, though, were the reason for this walk: cathedral-like specters, I listened to the quiet, only a few birds twittering in the afternoon silence. I saw Skip again, who admonished me to savor the moment before heading back home. I did, smiling inside the entire walk back down the trail to the road.

The Albatross Slayed: A Successful Sunday Run

I last ran a half marathon in February 2010 (F (55-59); third place; net time: 1:50:03) in Austin, Texas.  Shortly thereafter, I tore my left hamstring at the attachment point. Running came to an abrupt halt. I’ve written about my more than five-year attempt to run with the concomitant frustrations, medical diagnoses, and tears. My clearly stated goal when I started writing for Salty Running was to run a half marathon in August equal to or better than my 2010 time.

The statistics are basic: October 4, 2015, I ran the Portland Half Marathon. Age category: F (60-64). Rank: 2/93. Net time: 1:49:23. The facts, however, belie the journey behind that morning run.

I started training for the Windsor Green half marathon in January using the Run Less Run Faster program. Days before the race in early May, I scratched the run as well as the Water to Wine Half Marathon in August, reluctantly, but smartly (in retrospect), as my chronic injuries prevented me from the training at full strength. The Portland Half Marathon, on my schedule primarily because my husband planned to run the Portland Marathon and the trip gave me an opportunity to visit one of my sisters, was more of a stand-in or possibility after the other opportunities were converted to 10k races.

I duly recorded my daily runs: tempo workouts, track speed work, long easy runs (some with a few miles at half marathon pace thrown into the middle), and cross-training on alternate days. I continued Pilates twice weekly, except when traveling, and had deep massage therapy every two weeks. My right hamstring and gluts were the primary culprits impeding my progress, but I vowed to continue, to be patient, to cut-back occasionally on the longer runs, to skip a few track work-outs, and not to run the recommended 14 miles as my longest run. I did not believe my body would be able to recover from the longer runs in sufficient time to run a half marathon.

About a week before the race, I read an article about pre-marathon preparation. I panicked: yes, I wanted to run the race even though I continued to downplay, in private and in public, my capabilities, but was I really prepared? My anxiety skyrocketed. I not only had to be physically prepared but I also needed the proper nutrition and hydration pre-race day, race day morning, during the race and post-race. I needed to be mentally prepared, reviewing the course maps, maybe walking part of the course, paying attention to weather forecasts, planning my taper, etc. 

The week before race day didn’t portend well: everyone recommends NOT doing major changes during the week pre-race. That makes sense, but during the five days before race day, we moved, lived out of suitcases, stayed in several different motels, visited family, and sat too long in airplanes. My taper plan was interrupted, my eating was less than stellar, and my foam roller was lost in some box on a moving van. Three days pre-race, I received news from my functional medicine doctor that I was deficient in several key nutrients, had very low testosterone, and suffered from potential anemia. He expressed surprise that I was able to do as much running and other physical activities as I was doing. The mental aspect of my race preparation flew out the window.

Yet, despite or because of the setbacks of the past few years and months, I wanted my half marathon goal. The real accomplishment would be to cross the finish line, something I hadn’t been able to do for more than five years; why, for several years I couldn’t run at all. I tried to convince myself that this goal was good. Truthfully, though, I decided on plan A (please, run under 1:50), plan B (1:52), and plan C (under 2:00). I did not share these three targets; I only worried aloud whether I’d start the race Sunday morning. I didn’t know Saturday afternoon when I was viewing a women’s collective art show at Washington Park in Portland whether or not I would run the next morning. My stomach ached with the indecision: to run and increase the pain in my legs; to once again scratch a planned race; or to start the race and, if things weren’t going well, to stop and have DNF beside my name. After all, who really cares? It’s only a run. Right? Yet, my internal competitive drive is working hard these days; so what if it only matters to me?

All the drama and anxiety aside, I woke early Sunday morning, an hour before the alarm, excited to get started. And most everything fell into place. It was sunny in Portland with only a hint of wind while we waited in our designated corrals. Cool at the start at 7:00 a.m., about 50 degrees, with projected 60 degrees for those who finished by 9:00 a.m. I drank lots of water mixed with lime Nuun tablets on Saturday and justified a pumpkin scone as “more carbs.” Sunday morning pre-race food was another scone with almond butter along with more Nuun-water and a coffee. I walked to the start, only a few blocks from my hotel. I gathered at the C Corral, where the 3:45 marathon pacer was stationed. The day before I’d talked with the pacing team who suggested I run just in front of this pacer to target a 1:50 half marathon time.

We had to wait a minute before our corral started for a light rail train to cross the road in front of us. Then we were off.  I was immediately behind the two pacers who were steady and increased/decreased pace depending on hill grades (the pacers and marathoners would turn right around mile eleven of the course while the half-marathoners continued straight for the final miles to the finish). After mile six, I moved slightly in front of the pacers and ran in my own rhythm, not looking at my watch, feeling strong, with good breathing, focusing on tightening my pelvis periodically, swinging my arms purposely back and letting them fall forward, and leaning slightly forward from my Chi Running lessons.

I enjoyed the bands, musicians and pirates along the course, even catching a glimpse of the sun rising in a slight haze above Mt. Hood at about mile three. I smiled (a plan with my massage therapist) periodically, making this run not only about finishing, but also enjoying the day. I didn’t feel any major exertion until mile ten when my right hamstring started to grab and bite, weakening my stride. Oh, no, not again! I began the mantra to keep my form, to breathe deeply, to consider each mile at a time, only three to go, then only two to go, then running beneath the underpass with the finish banner around the corner. The race photos show my form starting to bend and weaken at this point; and, if one had a telescope, maybe a few tears welling in my eyes.

But no mistake, I finished this run and to my absolute delight, I’d completed it just under 1:50, 1:49:23 to be exact, a PR! I placed 2 out of 93 women in my age group. How seriously wonderful that 93 women in their early sixties ran/jogged/walk 13.1 miles! I hobbled along the long finishers’ path, collecting a tee shirt and a rose, foregoing the tree to plant (I was soon to be on an airplane to another hotel), and savoring the medal, the medallion and the pin while deciding against another photo. I made my way back to the hotel and coffee. Relief, joy, pain all flooded together. I texted my husband and sons and sister, “I finished. More to come after a shower.”

I am now paying the price for this albatross's disappearance, but it is worth it. I can now run (once the pain subsides and the weak legs stop buckling) for the pure joy of it--until, perhaps, maybe, I decide to do this again!

 

 

Sr. Marion Irvine aka The Flying Nun

Sr. Marion Irvine with Dominican Sisters. Photo courtesy of Orbis.

Sr. Marion Irvine with Dominican Sisters. Photo courtesy of Orbis.

When you think of the Olympic Trials, you probably don’t picture a fifty-something nun lining up on the starting line, yet in the first U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials in 1984, there was Sister Marion Irvine anxiously awaiting the gun in the crowd with Joan Benoit Samuelson and other younger – much younger – speedsters.

“There was the grey of the overcast skies and the hair of 54-year old Sister Marion Irvine.”

So wrote runner and author Jack Welch, describing the first American women competing in the marathon distance at the 1984 Olympic Trials in his popular book, "When Running was Young and So Were We."

I recently met with Marion, the Flying Nun to talk about becoming a runner in middle age and how she became the oldest participant, not only in the women’s marathon but also in ANY event at those Olympic Trials!

We’re all familiar with Joan Benoit Samuelson, who rose to stardom and a permanent place in our hearts by winning the inaugural women’s marathon at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games. Some of you remember the Flying Nun, who broke onto the running scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Northern California, as recognized for her age and religious vocation as for her speed. Marion, though, also has a special place in my heart for reasons other than her running accomplishments: she is the aunt of one of my dearest friends, Jill Irvine. "First Friends: Love, Loss and Life in Humboldt County."

Marion’s Running Start

Jill, in fact, cajoled Marion into running in 1978 at the age of 47.  Marion was overweight (almost 200 pounds by her reckoning), a two-pack-a day cigarette smoker, and sedentary. Jill had recently rediscovered her passion for running, reminiscent of her childhood days in England. She spoke bluntly to her aunt: if Marion wanted to live to see her nieces and nephews, maybe even grandnieces and grandnephews, she needed to change her lifestyle. Jill was inspirational and convincing.

Marion took Jill’s arguments to heart: she started running Memorial Day weekend of that year. She measured a mile’s distance with her car, put on some old shorts and red tennis shoes and ran the out-and-back course. Well, she mostly walked because it was hot, maybe 100 degrees that day: she walked in the sun and ran in the bits of shade. Still, when she finished, she wanted to try it again. Marion quickly discovered she had an incredible gift: SHE WAS FAST. She kept running, farther each day. As Jill gathered her friends and family to run, and eventually to train for marathons, Marion became part of the group. The Flying Nun ran her first marathon at the Avenue of the Giants in 1980 (3:01). Marion soon outpaced everyone,  reveling in her physical transformation, finding a way to express her competitive nature, and gaining recognition as a serious, competitive masters runner in that golden age of running.

How Marion Trained to Qualify for the Trials (in her mid-50s!)

What did the aspiring women runners (especially one in her mid-fifties) do to cut her already impressive marathon best down to 2:51:16 and qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials? I was surprised to learn that Marion’s process was like so many of us long distance runners of that era: we had no idea about incorporating speed work into our training program; we didn’t hydrate, training and racing without fluid intake; we didn’t focus on nutrition, except for carb-loading on huge plates of spaghetti the night before a race; we didn’t have much experience, other than perhaps in Marion’s case, of winning long-distance races.

Marion, until then uncoached, picked up a running book by Arthur Lydiard, the legendary New Zealand coach, who focused on establishing a strong endurance base. His book outlined three levels of runners, including different goals for each group: beginner, intermediate, and elite. Marion reasoned she’d already done much more than was suggested in the first two categories, so decided she must be an elite runner. At that time, the common notion was to run at least one 20-mile run during the training months leading up to race day. If one 20-mile run was recommended, Marion surmised, then four or five would be even better. She began running 80-mile weeks (one four-mile run at 4:00 a.m. in the dark, before morning prayers, and a longer run in the afternoons, after her teaching day was completed). She mostly ran long runs, even marathon distances, during her training. By 1983 she was running four or five marathons a year. During one of these pre-OTQ runs a man at the finish line quipped, “You have really bad form.” She laughed him off, but when she realized she’d need to become serious if she wanted to qualify, she called and asked him to be her coach! He accepted and they had a long, sometimes tumultuous, other times supportive, relationship.

Coaching Marion was far from ordinary, as nothing is about Sister Marion: she wanted to race, often favoring the three-day weekends of Memorial Day and Labor Day so she could race all three days. She wanted to go fast, always, not pacing herself, not agreeing to run more slowly (at that time, slow for her was 7:00 min/mile pace). She didn’t listen to her body, until she DNF’ed a 10-miler in the Presidio, then running across the Golden Gate Bridge shortly thereafter because she was ashamed of not finishing, and being totally mashed by the end. Marion realized that her coach did have her best interests at heart and reluctantly began some track work and hill repeats while the long runs were still her go-to for training.

The December 1983 California International Marathon was the race at which Marion set her sights to qualify for the Olympic Trials. At that time, her fastest marathon time was 2:56; she had to knock more than five minutes off that time to qualify. Race day was cold, yet she was on pace to hit her qualifying time when she started to “wither” at mile 23. Another runner noticed her fatigue, asked how she was doing, and what time she hoped to get. She replied, “I have to run 2:51.” The man said, “Okay, I’m hoping for 2:50. Stick with me.” As we spoke, Marion smiled, remembering her “road angel.” She and her unidentified unofficial pacer ran in rhythm until she turned the final corner during the race and saw the California State Capitol building in the distance. She closed her eyes, picked up her pace, and crossed the finish line at 2:51:01. Good enough!

Between CIM and the trials, held in May 1984, Marion continued to run long distances. She worried that she’d forget how to run a marathon, even though she was running 100-mile weeks. Against the better judgment of her coach, she registered for and ran the Napa Marathon. She was admonished to run at the 7:00 min/mile pace but Marion, being her competitive self, just couldn’t do it; even with a bicycle pacer, she ran hard. Finally, at the trials, Sister Marion Irvine aka the Flying Nun, competed with over two-hundred other women in this celebratory, exciting, historical event. She placed 131/268, pleased. As she says, the Olympic Trials were her Olympics. I love her attitude, her spirit, and her honesty!

Sister Marion today remains active, addressing the death penalty, affordable housing, immigration injustice and other issues.

I confirmed that Marion was fast, regardless of her unusual training regimen and without all today’s accoutrements. The US Women’s Marathon record for ages 50-54 is 2:37:36 (pending); it’s 2:52:16 for ages 55-59 (remember, Marion was a month shy of her 55th birthday when she ran her qualifying time, more than a minute faster than this age category). She was fast.

Marion’s story doesn’t end with the Olympic Trials: she had many more marathons and other race distances to tackle. She’s held many age-group records and has been inducted into several running halls of fame. She took up indoor rowing for awhile, competing in this sport, too. Until two years ago, she was still running; however, injuries now limit her to walking 30 miles a week with a cane. A 100k walk on the Camino de Santiago (St. James’ Way) is scheduled for spring 2016 when she’ll be almost 87! She is forever grateful to her niece and my friend Jill for her encouragement, inspiration, and indomnitable spirit. I can only believe that Jill was the wind behind Marion’s back all those years, ensuring her aunt would find joy, health, and happiness in her beloved sport even as running took Jill from us, too soon, too young.

The Running Retreat Weekend: Community From the Inside Out

I'd waited with anticipation to experience my first running retreat, having written about it previously in the abstract. Like summer camp as a child, I was slightly nervous during the days leading up to the actual weekend of the Women’s Run, Yoga and Wine retreat. Could I keep up with the other runners? What about yoga, a practice I’ve only done a few times? Would the other attendees all know each other? What were the sleeping accommodations? Shared bathrooms? Silly, really, in retrospect. The weekend was all and more than I expected it to be on so many levels: venue, running classes and trail runs, Pilates core strength sessions, yoga, friendly community of women, talented leaders, and truly a retreat from the day-to-day life in which we too often get buried and short-sighted.

Walker Creek Ranch is the Marin County Outdoor Education facilities, located about 20 miles from Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean and 45 miles north of San Francisco. Typical California coastal hills, brown with sturdy oak and some fern forests, range cattle, fox, deer, rabbits, and all manner of birds. The facility consists of dining hall, the Boogie Barn (where we had our yoga and Pilates classes), small lodges for sleeping and gatherings (wine tastings at night), a pond for swimming, garden for meals (and free access to pick carrots and raspberries), and access to dirt roads and trails with amazing, panoramic views.

The schedule was full but with enough time in the afternoons to enjoy the area at our leisure, read and write, talk with new friends, and contemplate who/where we are at this point in our lives. Sally, the leader and organizer, is also my massage therapist. She teaches Chi Running (I had a morning session the weekend before the retreat to understand the core underpinnings of this running approach) and yoga. A former triathlete and corporate techie, she is passionate about helping others learn to be better persons in health, spirit and community. She set the tone with personal introductions and enthusiasm for the weekend and the opportunity for us to form a new community of women from across the country.

We worked on our running form before going on trail runs each morning and Saturday afternoon. The trail to Walker Creek peak was steep and slippery; after crossing a stream (in California, it is rare to see water in a seasonal creek this time of year), we ran/hiked (and huffed) to the peak. We were rewarded with panoramic, picture-perfect views of Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Marin County hills to the East. The five-mile round trip route took us down through Manzanita and Oak trees peppered with ferns along the forest floor. Reminiscent of my early running years ago on logging roads through redwood trees, the very steep downhill off the peak was slippery and rocky. Once we reached the forested trails, though, my heart sang in remembrance of those beginning days and all the places my life has taken me. The smile took me by surprise as it's not as common on my face these days as I'd like. So glad to see it captured even if digitally.

I'd attended a few yoga classes many years ago, so I was definitely a neophyte for the two sessions led by Sally. Some of the women had years of practice and while envious, I finally understand how it can help runners with greater flexibility and stretching. The sessions were held in the Boogie Barn, built in the early 1900s, a fitting setting in the valley of our rural spot.

Caitlin Smith, an Olympics Trial Qualifier in the women's marathon (2012 and 2016), was our Pilates instructor for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. She’d won the Tamalpa 50k Saturday morning, but still arrived at the retreat looking fresh and so young! Her coach/training partner is Magda Boulet, who I’d met in mid-July at the Napa Half Marathon expo here in Sonoma. It’s exciting to see the women runners from the Oakland area and learn their running tips, hear their personal stories, and imagine for an instant having this passion as both a vocation and avocation.

Deanna Micros, who leads scenic running tours in San Francisco, was our trailblazer. Intrepid and fearless, she tried out the trails we’d run to determine whether clockwise or counter-clockwise would provide the best views and the better running experience. Her enthusiasm about running after a legal career resonated with me. Fit and tan, she’s a vision for female runners over fifty!

The community of women was in and of itself a reason for the retreat. I’ve been a solitary runner since my beginning days, when I met wonderful friends with whom I shared this passion on a daily basis. ("First Friends: Love, Loss and Life in Humboldt County," my short memoir, highlights those golden days of running in the 1970s). Here again were women runners who are also mothers, professionals, and friends, open to meeting others, sharing experiences, lending support, and being each other’s cheerleaders. A number of women came together from Florida, several came with friends, and a few of us brought only ourselves. It didn’t matter, though, because by the end of the first night’s dinner, a community was building from the inside out.

The retreat targeted running, yoga and wine (tastings both nights), but for me, it was also a time to mark where I am with running, meeting new people (not always easy), and soaking in the peace and beauty of this spot in northern California. I am so fortunate to be able to do this sort of thing: not so different from sleep-away camp as a child, except that as an adult, my appreciation level overflows with gratitude.

 

Marketing my Self-Published Memoir: Not an Easy Task

I took on the task of self-publishing my little memoir, wanting to share my story but realizing it wasn’t going to be a blockbuster, riveting, must-buy book for the general public. Memoirs are very personal, sometimes controversial, always revealing. Having the nerve to write about and share a difficult, yet joyous, time in my life was only the beginning of this book journey. Marketing a self-published book has been another world altogether.

 The most critical question after the words are finished, the cover design is commissioned and created, the book is available by print-on-demand (definitely a plus since my first published book where I paid to have printed many more copies than were sold) and on Kindle, and a few kind friends write reviews on Amazon: WHO IS THE AUDIENCE?

Answering that question is like finding the needle in the haystack or Goldie Locks’ relief when settling down in Baby Bear’s bed after Papa Bear’s bed was too hard and Mama Bear’s bed was too soft. You might think it’s one group of people, e.g., runners or friends or wives who were betrayed by their then-husbands or single mothers, and find out that another group of people, e.g., men who’ve experienced painful divorces or former colleagues who are interested in your backstory, appreciate the book as well. All of this is good but it makes defining how to reach these diverse groups of people more challenging.

 Once the audience is identified, you must figure out how to get them to take notice of your little book. Social media abounds with ways to interact with the world or a subset of it, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. You could email everyone who’s ever been in your contact list or at least those with whom you have a more personal connection (who may feel compelled to purchase it in case you ever ask them about it). You could gather every ounce of nerve and walk into your local, independent book store and inquire whether they feature books written by local authors (I haven’t done this one yet), or would promote an author’s night where you could read excerpts from your book, or maybe a friend owns a book store (Eureka Books) and invites you to a book signing (Ah, how awkward to sit at a huge table at the front of the store with a few of my books only to have two people request a copy and a signature); maybe someone will write a review for the local newspaper.

Marketing venues are potentially infinite, so I started slowly and with what I was comfortable:

 My son created a website for me with discrete pages for and descriptions of my books, along with my other writings, and links to Amazon to be able to purchase them. http://www.paburgess.com

 I created a Twitter account to tweet about my book, running, musings, and post photos (yes, I probably should also have an Instagram account). A website-guru friend advised me to tweet promoting my book every several days, given the fleeting nature of tweets. Ah, easy enough to do but I don’t like to be saturated with the same stuff so I’m hesitant to do that to others. It is rewarding (for a few seconds) to see some “favorites” and “retweets,” but I’m not sure it’s led to any books being purchased. https://twitter.com/pburgess314

I have a Facebook page where I post musings about hiking, running, family, and ideas for future projects. It’s been one of my primary marketing sources along with Twitter for my book. Again, the goal is that something will spark one of my friends (or their friends if they share a post) to consider my book. Like Twitter, the posts soon scroll to the bottom of the page, and not wanting to overwhelm friends with the same thing (please buy my book), I find this is only partially useful. https://www.facebook.com/patricia.burgess.5496

 I reviewed a book for a women’s running website to which I’m a contributor. http://www.saltyrunning.com.  The author of the book emailed me and after a few exchanges, I mentioned my book and whether she’d be interested in reading it. Yes, “Have your publisher’s publicist contact me.” Ha, that’d be me! Maybe she’ll read it and recommend it on her website. That’d be great!

 That same son who created my website has recently created Connect A Book, a social community for lovers of books. I was the first guest author and delighted to have the opportunity to share books that inspired me in my writing. My hope with this connection (no pun intended) is another venue for marketing my book. Daunting given the audience and the talented authors but we all start someplace, right? http://www.authors.connectabook.com/patricia-burgess-on-first-friends/

I post longer writings on Medium, finding it a good platform to read other writers and to gain some readers to my writing. I haven’t yet determined exactly why certain of my essays engender better visibility and viewers than others, but I enjoy the task and tracking my readers and referrers. https://medium.com/@patriciaburgess

No matter what the marketing medium is, of course, there’s the smaller group that might actually purchase my book, read it, write a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or (the best) recommend it to a friend. I read an article recently about an author’s “dismal” sells of a book (500 copies): I’d love to reach that number! My bookstore owner friend says it only takes one person’s recommendation to spark the engine of interest in my book. Who will that be?

 

 

Mom and Dad: Together

August 5: On this day in 1916, my father was born. On this day in 2014, my mother died. They were married for sixty years, the two so much better together than alone. They found such happiness in this tiny corner of southeastern Washington with the Blue Mountains in the near distance. We were relieved when Mom, after a quick but difficult decline last summer, let go of this life to join Dad. We so miss having their presence in our lives that today, in our own hometowns, my sisters, brothers, and I will each find some butter pecan ice cream to eat in Dad's honor and watch a game of Jeopardy! in Mom's memory.

Functional Medicine and Me: The Diagnostic Phase

San Francisco Exploratorium: Swinging Apes

Are you satisfied with your annual medical physical? Do you hear “that’s normal,” “everything looks fine,” from your doctor without any details after the standard blood tests and blood pressure results are presented? Does she focus on the specific symptom you’ve described without considering your overall health, nutrition, and life style? Do you even know what is the basis for “normal” or “standard” within the US population: is it the fit and healthy adult, the slightly overweight person who walks occasionally, or the sedentary obese person?

I was intrigued after reading several recent books (for example, “Why We Run,” by Bernd Heinrich, “Older, Stronger, Faster,” by Margaret Webb, “Your Personal Paleo Code,” by Chris Kresser, and “Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain—For Life,” by David Perlmutter) that focus on evolutionary anthropology, and the hunter-gatherers’ physical movement, agility and diet as the basis for considering new approaches to health, fitness and wellness. The key factors driving these ideas are an understanding of the basics of the human body, going back to the core principles of human health, and stripping away much of what we consider today as appropriate diet. Much of this consideration falls under the umbrella “functional medicine.”

Functional medicine was a term instituted in the early 1990s by Dr. Jeffrey Bland. It’s a patient-centered approach to health care guided by certain core principles, i.e., an understanding of the biochemical individuality of each patient (e.g., genome, epigenetics (how an individual’s DNA is expressed), environment, and disease symptoms) and awareness of the evidence that supports a patient-centered rather than a disease-centered approach to treatment. [https://www.functionalmedicine.org]

The Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine physicians “spend time with their patients, listening to their histories, mapping their personal timeline, and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex chronic diseases.” The goal is to diagnose the root cause of illness and tackle it to eliminate or prevent disease, without over-prescribing pharmaceuticals, performing unnecessary hospital admissions or surgeries, or relying on life-long medical interventions to improve health outcomes. [http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/center-for-functional-medicine]

Although I often considered the fact that both my maternal and paternal ancestors lived very long lives, this approach reiterates the fallacy that genetics is the basis for our health, our longevity or being prone to certain diseases. In fact, how our genes express themselves (“epigenetics”) is likely a better indicator of our health. Focusing on my body as a whole system will likely improve the management and prevention of chronic disease. We are in the infancy of significant evolutionary biology and revolutionary focus on health care: chronic inflammation, food sensitivities, the link between the microbiome and the brain, the intersection between poor diet and lack of exercise/movement, crippling chronic, expensive, life-long conditions, the rising incidence of autism and other developmental diseases, the list is endless. This information is overwhelming at a macro-level but maybe manageable at an individual level.

After decades of “great” to “excellent” comments from my doctors (yes, my “good” cholesterol number is twice what is considered acceptable and my “bad” cholesterol registers far below levels of any concern, but are these scores even relevant?), I decided to take control of my health by scheduling an appointment with a functional medicine practitioner.

I don’t have any specific health issues of which I’m aware, but a few squiggly matters that I decided should be considered in a new light, i.e., long-term insomnia, chronic hamstring injuries (originally a tear at the attachment point, but after more than five years of physical therapy, massage therapy, autologous blood injections as well as plasma rich injections, core strength training, change in diet, it’s still bothersome), and post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy. My husband instituted a mostly-Paleo diet a few years ago and, although I have more of a sweet tooth than he does, I’ve generally followed it, too. I suppose our diet is ultimately a low-carb, low-grain/no legume combination, with the focus on vegetables, nuts, eggs, berries, Greek yoghurt, hard cheeses, chicken and fish, almond butter, cocoanut and/or almond milk, and dark chocolate (in small doses).

 My personal foray into functional medicine began at the California Center for Functional Medicine and includes three steps: an initial consultation to determine what, if any, are my health issues or concerns, an abundance of diagnostic tests (with an astounding breadth and depth of information for the doctor to discern, including SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), comprehensive hormone profile (assess my daily cortisol rhythm and cortisol metabolites to assess my stress response), testing for wheat/gluten reactivity and autoimmunity, a comprehensive blood panel, and a dysbiosis evaluation (the balance or imbalance of the microbiology of the gut)), and finally, an in-person debriefing of the test results and, if necessary, steps to take to remedy any noted issues. [http://ccfmed.com]

The process is not simple or for the faint-hearted (lots of blood drawn and with small veins like mine, ugly bruises on both arms; eating specific foods or fasting before certain of the tests; and following a 30-day Paleo Reset diet before my case review). It will take approximately three months from my initial consultation to the hour-long session to discuss test results and see where I fall on the functional health spectrum and what, if any, improvements I need to make to ensure, as much as I can, better health and fitness.

I have completed all the diagnostic tests and have started the Paleo Reset diet. Although the change in my diet will likely not be as drastic as for some people, eliminating cheese, yoghurt, oatmeal, and chocolate will take concentration!

 I do not anticipate major issues being found, but believe my greatest concern is from a nutritional perspective. I likely do not eat enough calories for optimal health and may need to focus on the panoply of nutrients that are critical to fighting inflammation and maintaining good gut health. Even though I am only a subject of one, understanding this “new science” and health approach is fascinating. Stay tuned!

The Sea Ranch: Long-time Favorite

One of my first vacations with my husband, several years before we were married, was to The Sea Ranch, an area that hugs ten miles along the northern Sonoma, California coast. Previously a sheep ranch, in the 1960s it was developed into an oasis of unique, architectural homes, a lodge with restaurant, and miles of trails. The drive is windy and, at times, scary along Highway 1 with its steep drops to the Pacific Ocean, narrow lanes becoming tight, hairpin turns, and the occasional cow or deer on the road. The area is remote for California, a hidden gem, a serene, quiet place.

We've visited it many times over the years, enjoying the diverse, yet from the outside, conforming, design of each home, whether set in the meadows with white water views, or the distant blue water views, or maybe on the forested east side of the highway, with steep roads to the meadows. Occasionally we've watched mother whales pass by on their way to Baja to give birth; other times we encounter squawking crows sitting so arrogantly in the windswept pines; still again, deer peer at us nonchalantly, claiming this place as their home. Regardless of the animal life, the constant is the ocean and the wind, sometimes sun, other times heavy rain or grey marine layer. The environment is harsh yet addictive. I can read books sitting at a window seat devouring the weather from inside, or bundle up against the shrill wind and walk half-bent along the trail. Some days the boys practiced bicycle riding around the cul de sac where our home was for a few days. They'd laugh loudly running to and fro the low surf, always careful NEVER to turn their back to the ocean. We'd comb the reefs during low tide for sea stars (star fish when I was a child), anemones, and clams (if not eaten by the numerous huge, but graceful, seals).

This place tugs at my heart; within hours of arrival a peacefulness and quiet befalls me. I could watch the ocean forever, with its innumerable shades of blue and grey and white, or at least until my family or friends beckon. I envy those who chose to live here full-time, yet I know that I seek more engagement than this solitude, even as I reluctantly pack our things for the drive back home.

Sage: My First Post as a Salty Running Blogger

I am now "Sage." I am so excited to join this wonderful community of Salty Running bloggers (www.saltyrunning.com). I started running when I was twenty-five years old, eight years before the women’s marathon was an Olympic event. I was self-taught. I wore baggy cotton shorts, tee shirt and Keds™ shoes. I was often the only woman in the male bastion of joggers at the Polo Field at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Regardless, I loved running, the freedom, the ease of movement, and the friendships made. Almost thirty years later, having raised two incredible boys (one with NYC Marathon PR 2:44, the other with Tucson Marathon PR 3:26), worked as a corporate lawyer, moved more than 12 times with my husband, and with the running world an entirely different beast than in the late 1970s, I ran my first marathon (California International Marathon) at the age of 58. I finished, qualifying for both the Boston and the New York City Marathons (in the Women’s 40 age qualifying category). I was pale, stiff, tired, and cold; yet, I couldn’t wait to run again!

I thought about my next goals. If I trained with a coach, focused on intervals, hill repeats, endurance, core strength and flexibility exercises, all those things I should have done the previous fall, I wondered if I might be competitive at local or regional events in the then grand masters age group. This was clearly magical thinking. Within weeks of more intense training, I suffered a debilitating, almost five-year, hamstring injury, a major hiatus for a life-long runner. I didn’t run for almost two years; three or four times I’d start again, slowly moving up to four or five, maybe seven mile distances, and then wham, the sharp, spear-like pain of my hamstring stopped me in my tracks. I’d start another round of physical therapy, massage therapy, new sports medicine specialists, Pilates, acupuncture, waiting, impatiently, to put on my running shoes and run!

Despite the setbacks, something deep inside compels me to want to excel at this sport, even with the constant rehabilitation, the progression to senior masters category, the additional time it takes to do strength and stretching, to warm up and cool down, to use my foam roller, to practice proper nutrition, to stay in tune with what my body is telling me. I see talented runners not much younger than, or even older than, me, running 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons, even ultra-distances. Could I do what they are doing? Or is it too late? Should it matter?

I am now in the W60-64 age group. Where did time go? Only a month ago I was training for a half marathon, the first in over five years, but decided to drop down to a 10k, concerned that my right hip flexor wouldn’t withstand 13.1 miles. My massage therapist, a triathlete, said to listen to my body, just like Salty’s blog! Shocked and surprised, I ran 47:07, a PR of over 2 ½ minutes! I don’t know if it’s repeatable but I’m going to try.

My primary running goal, besides staying reasonably healthy, is to complete a half marathon; truth really, I just want to run until I can no longer move. Each day that I can lace up my running shoes, head out the door to the trail and run with an economy of movement and steady breathing, is a good day. I would like to run longer distances, shave seconds off each mile, and make myself proud of what I can do. I wish I’d been a constant runner for the past almost forty years, but I am thankful I am a runner today, even if there are months in which I do not run. I read about running, I follow runners, I write about running. It is essential to my days. Ask my husband and two sons: my mood is significantly lighter when I run.

I joyfully embrace each mile run, as a runner, not just an older woman out on the narrow roads and trails of Sonoma and Boulder, in colorful running shoes with a green Garmin watch and red ID bracelet on her wrists. I look forward to sharing my progress with you, learning about your trials and tribulations, feats of willpower, and celebrations of successes. I hope I have some wisdom to share, gained through my many years of running (and swimming, bicycling and hiking) and friendships made while doing this empowering sport.

 

 

Running: The Beginning

I don’t recall precisely why I chose running and swimming as the counterbalance to studying for the bar exam. In high school I had practiced the 880-yard distance with the girls’ track team, but I’d been too slow to compete. During college, I had persuaded my roommate to jog the hills surrounding campus on Sunday mornings until the opportunity to sleep until ten had outweighed her enthusiasm for the sport. I hadn’t had the courage to run alone so I had put my sneakers away until the summer of 1976. Swimming was the more natural outlet for my mental stress, as I recalled my childhood days at the YMCA, family hours at the local public pool, synchronized swimming groups, and the lure of the rhythmic lap after lap of mile-long swims.

The gift of running found me at the three-quarter mile dirt track at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. In the early years of the twentieth century, the field was one of the key spots to cycle the one gear-no brake bicycles, then all the rage among daring cyclists (though apparently not yet called ‘fixies’). I wore flat-bottomed Keds sneakers, my husband’s khaki shorts from his days in the Marine Corps, and a baggy tee shirt. The first day was hardly memorable. I cautiously made my way through the pedestrian tunnel to the track, waiting until the other runners were halfway around the oval before I took my first step. I firmly placed one foot in front of the other, over and over, yard after yard, no finesse to my rudimentary form. Concepts of proper technique, hydration and nutrition were not yet part of my sport. Today, I would be considered “retro”; then, I was merely uninformed.

I slogged and huffed in relative obscurity, the only woman among the bastion of male joggers. I barely managed a full circle before I collapsed on the grass of the inner field. My legs burned, my calves ached, and my breath pounded. I was sore but I wasn’t discouraged; this endeavor warranted more time. Soon it became a noontime activity, interspersed, on rainy days, with swimming at the pool.

At the track, the number of laps I ran slowly but steadily increased during the summer. My concentrated foot-after-foot placement became more natural; my breathing less labored; my distance measured in miles rather than yards. I had only to compete with myself as I began to feel an incremental improvement in my running gait, speed and endurance. I also began to understand the nascent running movement, encouraging friends to try the sport, extolling the physical and mental benefits of the sustained activity. At the time, only one of our mutual friends ran, but he engaged in an extreme version of the sport, running barefoot (again, before the “natural running movement”), on roads, on hiking trails, on cold and rainy days. I wasn’t quite ready for that level of commitment, but running became a must-do for my days.

After about a month, I moved my practice runs from the narrow world of the track to our neighborhood, conquering hills, running across road median strips, and prancing at stop lights, waiting for the red to turn green. I waved to neighbors, to shopkeepers, to kids waiting for the bus. I began to rush through my studies, anxious to put on my shoes, grab the leash for our dog, and hit the road. Taking breaks to run or swim was critical to my concentration; my other classmates thought I was crazy to take two hours out of each day to do something other than study. I felt I didn’t have a choice; I needed the physical exertion to maintain the mental stamina the intense studying required. It worked.

I survived the two-and-a-half day bar exam at the end of July. My first thoughts after the fleeting “Did I do well enough to pass?” were to bicycle home, change clothes, put on my running shoes and tackle my nemesis, the steep hill just north of our apartment, the reward for the culmination of my twin summer efforts of studying and exercise.

Excerpt from "First Friends: Love, Loss and Life in Humboldt County."

 

A Letter to My Son on the Occasion of his First Father's Day

Father’s Day: June 21, 2015

To My Son:

As Father’s Day approaches and Doug receives cards and books from you and Alex (a family tradition), I’ve been thinking about your first official celebratory day as father to beautiful baby Solomon.  Your active engagement and absolute joy in your role as a father confirms all that I have wanted for you and your brother (as I imagine Alex in a similar position some day) as parents. Although our family life was, at times, unorthodox, you seem to have gleaned the best parts and incorporated them into the ordinary parts of your family life.

 The smiles on your face in the early pictures with Solomon and Kate, replicated in full in-person when we visited last month, reveal so much to me. I think “besotted” might be an apt description, although your love for Solomon must grow deeper each day than any words can express. I cherish the telephone calls (and of course, the pictures) with the details of your days and nights, learning of Solomon’s progress, his daily development, his quirks—and your awe (I must admit, I will always think of your college senior project when I use that word) at the constant changes in this little boy who has captured all our hearts.

 When Kate’s mother spoke with her a few days after Kate and Solomon were home from the hospital, she heard crying in the background. Kate said, “No problem, Christopher will take care of him.” And you do, swaddling your son, taking him for long walks in his stroller to the marsh and through the woods, even comfortably changing his diaper on the forest floor, not wanting him to be uncomfortable for the additional ten minutes before we returned to the house. You have embraced fatherhood completely even as your daily life is no longer under your control.

You and Kate have invited us into your lives with grace, knowing that holding and feeding your baby are two of the most intimate, loving, and incredible feelings we, as grandparents, can have. Your brother anxiously awaits his in-person introduction to his nephew and, although he doesn’t have as many friends with children as you do, I’m sure he will embrace this role with aplomb and flare. I only wish my parents had had the opportunity to meet this great-grandson. You were very special to them; especially to Dad, who would immediately see your quiet strength and intelligence in this little boy. He would hold Solomon in his large, slender hands and cradle him with love. I will think of them, your Nana and Grandpa, as models when we fill this role for our grandson.

 I am so thrilled that you and Kate invited me to share the Taiwan trip in January, which will give me unprecedented time with Solomon and some mother time with you: an adventure, I’m sure! Please know that we are available to help in whatever way we can; however you may need us; whenever the time arises.

 I tried to meet each day as your parent with wonder, amazement and curiosity: some days were difficult, some were sad, all were fulfilling. I look forward to seeing you and Kate experiencing all these different emotions with the family you have lovingly created. My son with his son: a perfect combination, always in my heart, forever in my mind.

Love,

Mom

The Road Trip: Post-Script

Ute Art Rock_Arches National Park.jpg

My family always went on road trips in the summers. We didn't have money for hotels and my parents, perhaps remembering their days as camp counselors, seemed to revel in the back roads, camping with tarps as shelter, later with old army tents and finally the latest in family travel, the tent-trailer! Of course, traveling with five children in a station wagon without air conditioning across the United States (we lived in southeastern Washington, our grandparents in New York and New Jersey) required planning and a sense of adventure. The stories are legend, at least among us five children: getting stuck numerous times in the middle of one of the mid-western states with a flat tire, our father hitchhiking into town to find help, our mother with five tired, complaining (and sometimes scared) kids at the side of some out-of-the-way highway; having a skunk sneek into our tent while we kids stayed as still as possible, yet screamed as loudly as we could, before it left; raining for weeks on end while we stayed in a campground with gypsies in the lower quadrant; exploring every stream and lake along the U.S. highway system. I was very susceptible to being carsick, so usually rode in the favored front seat, slightly removed from the havoc in the back of the car. Yet, the memories are strong, holding us together after so many years.

My husband, boys and me never went on long trips, perhaps a drive to Sun River, near Bend, Oregon (eight hours), or The Sea Ranch on the northern California coast (4 hours), or renting a car when visiting New England (never more than five hours/day driving). We did not really like being in a car, so when my husband suggested a road trip this summer when moving stuff back from our home in Boulder to Sonoma, I was apprehensive. But since he'd driven there by himself, I felt compelled to accompany him back west. We wanted to bring back our bicycles, cases of wine (movers won't ship) and some miscellaneous fragile things, so driving was necessary. We wanted to visit Moab and Boise, so we decided we'd do it, planning on breaking up the days with some hikes, off-the-beaten-trail sightseeing, stops along the way.

I do not like to sit still; my chronic hamstring injuries rebel after only minutes of car riding; my neck gets sore. Still, it was to be an adventure in how we would endure many miles of being together, different ideas about stopping (me: let's stretch our legs every hour. Doug: a quick coffee stop and back on the road), listening to books and podcasts on his iPad, quiet stretches of open highway. 

We drove about 1500 miles, stopping at Grand Mesa, Colorado, at 10,500' to spend the night in a tiny cabin built in 1932, perhaps a WPA project; hiking Arches National Park to see the incredible, red-rock formations, magical, really; experiencing vistas of enormous magnitude almost further than the eye could see; the brilliant, ever-changing sky of open space above Utah and Montana and Idaho; visiting my brother in Meridian and his exclamations of excitement about his new home, bright sunshine, new beginning; the last day's final push of ten hours broken up by listening to "How We Got to Now" by Steven Johnson, fascinating book about history from innovations perspective.

I do like routine and these past years, travel seems to have been the routine, never being in one place for more than several weeks. But I guess in many respects home is more important to me, preferring my travel in big doses: so I'm glad to have done this road trip, glad it's over, glad to be in the routine of my daily life here in Sonoma.

 

Remembering Bess: An Early Morning Hike

"Around the Mountain Trail" at Bogus Basin Ski Area, 15 miles outside of Boise, Idaho, at 6100' elevation. It was a perfect morning to write about the trail, still fresh from morning dew, perky buttercups, moss-covered trees, chirping birds. Instead I was awash in memories of my dear, beloved friend, Bess Harter, who passed away three years ago after more than a decade of valiantly battling pernicious, ugly breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain. We skied here during high school where a hotshot skier almost crashed into her during night skiing. We shared many skiing adventures around the Pacific Northwest, often driven at the crack of dawn by her gentle giant father, Gerald. I loved spending the night at their farmhouse surrounded by pea fields and the quiet of the rolling hills. I remember being scolded for talking too much with her in eighth grade algebra, unusual but Bess engendered that in me. We could talk for hours into the night, something serious or funny or profound to say. That spring, unbeknownst to each other we had almost matching pink dresses made (mine had lace on the collars) for our graduation dinner dance. Bess named her friends after fruits and vegetables, e.g., Rhubarb, Prune, Banana. I considered her my best friend as did many others. Although we didn't see each other much after college, we reconnected about five years before she died. She was often in such pain but still she wanted to read my stories. When I visited we chatted for hours about our children (how she loved Naomi and Daniel), her gardening, her heart- shaped rocks. She gathered and held on tight to her friends. She smiled with brightness, even in the depths of despair, so today this lovely early summer hike is for her.

Tempo Training Morphs into Scenic Trail Run

Boulder Creek 5-2015.jpg

I restarted my half marathon training this past week, having passed up the May 2 Windsor Green Half Marathon to run the 10k instead (and surprisingly, did PR of 47:07 (or 7:35 min/ml pace). I didn't feel quite ready for the 13.1 miles as my right hip flexor was a little weak. The Water to Wave Half Marathon is scheduled for August 9, a decent enough amout of time, I hope, to strengthen the hip flexors and related areas and run enough longer miles to accomplish this distance.

Today is one of our final days in Boulder; it was also an interval training day (1 mile easy/5 miles at half marathon pace+15 seconds/1 mile easy). The weather at 7:00 a.m. was exquisite, with expected highs in the 80s, a few cumulus clouds maybe gathering for late afternoon thunder showers. The record Colorado rainfall this spring has turned absolutely every free inch of the area into amazing carpets of green interspersed with every shade of purple, lilac, and lavender flower imaginable. I want to do well on race day; and while I run more slowly at altitude, I hoped to meet the scheduled pace.

I slowly jogged down Fourth Street to Pearl Street, turning right past the trails to Mt. Sanitas, through the underpass, and over the wooden bridge above the swollen, thundering Boulder Creek. I had planned to head east on Boulder Creek Trail, a slight downhill that helps my pace. My body turned right, instead, without any forethought, to the west toward the mountains. I could not resist the opportunity to run along the crashing creek, the sun dappling in and out of the fiercely spring green leaves of aspen, pine and sycamore trees, the wildflowers poking through every crevice in the boulders along the pathway, the welcoming trail soon no longer to be a part of our summer.

The tempo training disappeared; I let my body run free, up the slight incline to the turn-around, and then quickly down to central Boulder and Broadway Street. A few bicycles passed me, yelling "runner ahead" to the peloton, barely missing me in their glorious early morning ride on the trail. Birds were long awake from the early sunrise here in this part of the state. They sang joyously, loudly, trying to be heard above the roar of the stream. My heart lightened, the tight muscles worked loose, I cared not about training or schedules or pace. I ran with joy (thank you, Gilbert).

Runnng for Joy

Windsor Green medal.jpg

I had trained for four months to attempt my first half marathon in over five years, the almost exact amount of time since I tore my left hamstring (high hamstring tendinopathy or HHT) during speed training for another marathon. I endured several years of no running, almost no walking some days as the spiking pain overcame any sense of physical capability. I tried 'most every treatment imaginable, physical therapy, acupunture, chiropractic sessions, corticosteriod shots (eased pain for a month or two but masked the worsening injury), more physical therapy, autologous blood injection (twice; no improvement), plasma-rich blood injection (maybe a little relief), running gait analysis three-years post-injury when I was starting to jog slowly and for short distances, Pilates-centric core strength training, stretches, whey protein drinks, visits to highly-recognized academic sports medicine clinics, special glasses to help my body retrain itself to be in a more neutral position (the theory being less over-compensation by my hamstrings because I'd have to work the glutes and the quads more), etc. Needless to say, the depression and frustration during these past five years from not being physically as active as I wanted, almost needed, dominated my thoughts and my actions.

During several periods I slowly and carefully began running again, only to be thwarted at about the six to seven mile distance; and then, I'd stop entirely, try another physical therapist with new ideas about my injury and/or strength (or lack thereof) and programs to re-ignite recovery. Finally, last fall I began to regain some strength and better mobility and sensibility--trying to be smart about recovery and increasing speed, strength and endurance (the magic "three" that need to be synchronized for extended running to be achieved). I ran several 5k fun runs and finished first in my age group (although admittedly, by now, at my age (60-64) not many women are running). On New Year's Day I ran a 10k, the first since the fateful injury in March 2010. The morning was chilly but clear, perfect start for another year, if not another day. I surprised myself and finished without difficulty, although I experienced, again, the biting pain. Fortunately, it didn't last but clearly my body isn't as it once was. 

Hope springs eternal as I decided to register for a half marathon. I reasoned I had four months to train, the typical length for most any training program. I faithfully followed the structured days, using a method that alternated running with cross-training (for me, primarily bicycling and occasionally swimming), to lessen the overall stress on the legs. I started doing track intervals or short sprints, which I actually enjoyed. I began intervals, longer runs at faster than race pace with slow easy miles inbetween the faster ones. One day a week was alloted to longer ones, going from eight miles up to fifteen on the schedule (although at my start, my longest run was the 10k or 6.2 miles). Some days went well, others the stretch of old scar tissue gripped me in vise-like pain. I told very few people of my plan, not wanting them to think my recovery was complete and that I only needed to put in the miles to prepare. Each day was a question, in my uncertain mind, of my limits to doing what I so wanted to do. Jealous of the good runs, afraid to jinx them, I suppose, I kept most of my training and progress to myself. 

As the half marathon date approached, I experienced some new pain, really almost a weakness, in my right glutes/pelvic area after some longer runs. I hoped the previous five years had taught me some lessons so I backed off the tapering even more than recommended, barely running the last two weeks. And then, I began not sleeping, not uncommon for me, but exacerbated by my concern about re-injury if I ran the half. Oh, I could probably do it at a slow pace, but I wanted to do it at a "real" pace, not a "well, of course, you're older" pace. Funny the things we thing about when we think about getting older, having less capacity, seeing others decline or blame immobility or balance or sedentary life-style on "well, we're older." I refuse to take that attitude, although it is true that the body's recovery and strength (cellular and muscular) decline over time.

The day before the race I read a note about a runner who'd just turned 40, now in the master's category, and deciding that running for the long-haul was her choice, and not just maximizing the next run. Deep breath, yes, that is what I needed to do, what I'd told myself I'd do this time around as I started to run again. The decision: run the 10k, see how you do, how you recover, register for another half marathon when the ligaments and connective tissues are stronger and match the muscle strength.

The run was magical: cool but clear, along narrow roads next to just-greening vineyards, some rolling hills, but nothing overwhelming. I checked my pace on my Garmin watch, about what my previous 10k runs had been--or so I thought. I remember thinking the day before that if I wasn't going to run the half marathon I should try to beat my last 10k time. Well, that seemed like it wasn't going to happen. But somehow, somewhere, deep inside me, and seemingly unbeknownst to be, I found some strength and speed and raced to the finish in a time of 47:07 or a pace of 7:35 min/mile, something I'd only seen on my track workouts for 1000 yards at most. I was stiff and achy but inside, fireworks! How can I describe my joy at this simple yet marvelous feat for me? The world is in chaos and I cheer, silently, about a six mile run, fast for me, like molasses for elite runners.

I think of my father, his "run, run, stay light on your feet" admonishments to me all those early summer mornings many years ago when we played tennis on the junior high school courts before the town was awake. I was the least-likely of his five children to seek these goals; still, I think he'd be proud of me. My husband, who runs easily although with much concentration on mechanics, nutrition and form, believes in me. My sons were proud of me, although what must they think about this white-haired woman in shorts so obsessed about running? 

Friends congratulated me; some recognizing the effort over the past years; others in general for job well done; while others questioned what I was doing, aren't many our age already sedentary or arthritic? Am I taunting the gods with wanting to be better than my former self? I suppose in the end I want to continue to thrive, to challenge myself, to live the best life I can, whether it's running, helping others with my philanthropic work or being a loving, thoughtful, trusted mother, grandmother and wife. I can only be me.

Present Perfect

Avenue of Giants 5-3-2015.jpg

The correct English usage of “present perfect” is to describe an action that has happened at an unspecified time in the past. I can say, “I have run the Avenue of the Giants old highway many times with friends.”

 I spent the weekend in Humboldt County to promote my recently published book (“First Friends: Love, Loss and Life in Humboldt County”) and to run the Avenue of the Giants 10-k race, coincidental to the book-signing event. Perfect, in fact, in the present iteration of my life: books, running, and friends.

Life imitates art, I suppose, even for a small memoir written about a time in my life early in my first marriage and career as an attorney. I lived in Humboldt County, 250 miles north of San Francisco, an area shrouded by rain, fog and chill much of the year, which enables the mysterious, magnificent and grand redwood trees to flourish while also contributing to loneliness, economic hardship and isolation.

 It was a time of contradictions, the discovery of running and deep friendships, the shaping of my professional career, the disintegration of my marriage, the hardship of becoming a single mother within weeks of becoming a mother, the unimaginable love for my young son, the death of a dear friend, and the unveiling of strength of character that I didn’t realize existed deep inside me.

With some trepidation and many false starts, I chronicled this story of my almost seven years in northern California, engaged a colleague to help edit the story, commissioned my younger son’s girlfriend to design a cover, and published the book! The harder part, in some respects, is now marketing a self-published book in a genre ripe with celebrity memoirs, biographies of, and autobiographies by, important people, and the disdain, by some, of this category of writing. Still, it was a story that I wanted to tell, to celebrate my friends, to show others that despite adversity, we are stronger often than we give ourselves credit, and to reclaim my emotional tie to the beauty and harshness (one really doesn’t go without the other) of that place I called home for my formative adult years.

One of those long-ago, and still present, friends now owns a rare and used book store in Eureka and invited me to do a book signing on the first Saturday in May’s Arts Alive! I agreed, nervous but excited to head north, see friends, maybe sell a few books. As I made travel plans, I learned that the venerable Avenue of the Giants marathon, the race for which I helped many friends train during my time in Humboldt County, was the same weekend, and now included a 10-k and half marathon distance. A five-year hamstring injury continues to compromise my running dreams but I am training, with fingers crossed, for a half marathon. The 10-k race would fit in well with the training program.

 I drove north from Sonoma County mid-Saturday morning, quickly immersing myself in memories of so many drives north, after while my son, then two years old, and I moved to Sacramento, almost 300 miles away. Later, after my son became an adult himself, I continued the drive north to visit dear friends. But it’d been four years since the last journey, a sad one, to attend the funeral of the woman who was like a grandmother to my son and best friend to me. Other memories, intense, funny, singular, filled my head, as I made my way closer and closer to Eureka.

The spring sunshine turned to the proverbial fog as I drove past Fortuna, my first home, and on to Eureka. The area continues its slow economic decline, the shells of former shopping malls hulking by optimistic motels, capturing the travelers on their way north or south along the northern California coast. I remembered then another reason to leave this place: cold and chill in the months that should be hot, swimming weather. For a girl who grew up in sunny southeastern Washington, I never entirely embraced wearing sweaters on cool summer nights.

I was nervous for the book signing, not having done one before, realizing the book was not a best seller or a local history book (of which there seem to be many) or a manual about the continued-burgeoning marijuana culture. Still, Jack was kind enough to have several of my books lying on a huge walnut table surrounded by two leather chairs, ready for potential buyers. I had three hours and a modest goal to sell a few books while people wandered in and out of the lovely, Victorian-building bookstore. No guarantees, maybe a few former friends would wander into the store, maybe a few readers curious about the topic would inquire about the story, maybe someone would take pity on the middle-aged woman sitting behind the big desk—and buy a book. After several hours of sitting and wandering, chatting with several regulars, and great conversation with Jack, it was evident that the buyers were going to be very small in number. I packed my bag, hugged my friend, and returned to the motel. I was disappointed, but still, another experience to add to the book writing/publishing/marketing bag of mine.

Sunday I woke early to drive down to Dyersville, the staging area and starting point for the three runs. I was early, as usual, but reviled in the drive south among the trees, so integral to my life then and even today—one friend sent me a book of photographs of the oldest trees in the world, recently. She understands how comforting and drawn I am to them. My running is certainly not what it was during the time of my book as my chronic injuries plague me, almost daily. Yet, I strive to run through the pain and although at one time in my life I wouldn’t even lace up my running shoes to go five miles, today a 10-k race (6.2miles) causes me anxiety but also excitement. My husband and I have run in races with thirty or forty or even fifty thousand runners, so the not quite 500-participant Avenue of the Giants 10-k was extremely small in comparison. But the course is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The quiet of runners among the stately redwood trees and lush (although not so lush as usual as a result of the long drought) ferns was inspiring, each of us in our own world of nature and physical exertion. My head was flooded with memories of so many miles run along the same road with Larry and Terry, Lori, Gary and Jill. We ran and talked and solved the world’s problems, blending our lives for those hours each week when we laced up our shoes, ran out the door, and embraced, at the time, the nascent world of long-distance running. Today it was just me, running alongside strangers; but each step reminded me of them.

The present was perfect, while the past and present merged together; the future, not yet knowable, continues to beckon me to run, to write, and to gather friends, a perfect combination.

 

Matisse and Me: Why I Write

Matisse Cut-Outs: Blue Nude

Matisse Cut-Outs: Blue Nude

           The list of writing projects varies by day: musings from my daily bicycle rides, runs and walks; current events that interest me and for which I may have some ideas, suggestions, or frustrations; philanthropic activities, especially seeking out and vetting organizations who not only “do good,” but also “do well” with thoughtfulness, grace, and compassion; wondering how to engage with my time, intellectually, actively, and communally; wondering if my avocation of writing, especially book-length material, is for naught, given the tough world of publishing and self-publishing; seeking thoughts and perspectives on play, a critical component to our creativity and intellectual engagement, as well as the freedom, without restraint, to explore the world around us and to wonder, sometimes with awe, of the natural world, the created world, and the daily world. The topics are endless, my ability limited.

            Where do I take my interests? Where do I lend my expertise now that I’m no longer engaged in “gainful employment”, aka, paid career? Where do I allocate my time? Writing is a first love, from my initial letters to my family when I was a second-grader at sleep-away camp, to an fourth grader’s angst-filled poems, to documenting science experiments, to writing journals and diaries of my days, whether when traveling, as a single parent, or when the kids were asleep at night, to organize my thoughts and my weeks ahead.

            I am in the midst of the second month post-launch of self-publishing a short memoir. The book was in process for many years, not in its published format but as notes, short essays, half-worked pages, a mish-mash of what I wanted to say about a period in my life that helped craft who I am today. It is not a “tell-all” or a “woe-is-me, I’m a victim” story or the most important events in my life. But still, it was a story I wanted to write, partly to celebrate friends, to put away, finally, some open issues, to describe with words the beauty of a place and people that is part of my fabric. I am disappointed with the sale numbers but buoyed by the reception of the book’s intent, the meaning of friends, the ability to find one’s way out of disappointment and hurt. My readers are kind, mostly friends from different eras of my life; still, wider reception would be wonderful!

            This writing world is a puzzle: the effort to tell a story well, to have that story recognized and believed, maybe even complimented, is more difficult than one would think. I haven’t found the answer, yet. I am not a natural storyteller or fantasy creator; my genre is writing what I know, so it naturally is about my life and the events I’ve experienced. Maybe these pieces will remain without an audience. That should be enough, words to paper, but still, the absolute thrill when I read the reports and see another book sold or receive a note from a reader that my memoir moved them, helped them understand their own situations, or made them see a part of the country with which they are familiar, well, that is indescribable joy. And, I suppose, why I continue to hone this craft of words to print.

Spring Bursts Forth and A Grandson is Born

I never had a strong maternal pull to have children, yet when each of my sons was born, I became immediately, deeply, incontrovertibly in love. I would do anything in my power to keep them safe, healthy, strong human beings. I would do anything to shield them from the vagaries of this sometimes tough, unyielding world. Despite our many moves, the changes in environment, the new schools, new friends, new homes, they seem to have weathered their childhood, their teenage years, and young adulthood with aplomb, becoming kind, thoughtful, wondrous men. Of them I could not be more proud.

I suppose I felt the same way about grandchildren, no strong need but it would be nice, as one friend or sibling after another shared photographs of their grandchildren, expressing the share joy of the events, the cuddling with little ones, the fresh smell of babies. And then, a grandson, our first grandchild, was born three days ago. Over the past almost nine months, we waited expectantly for the results of doctors’ appointments, the childbirth classes, the putting together of recycled baby furniture, clothing, accessories, so many things for a little being. I listened to my son describe the ultrasound results, the consultations with specialists, the decision to have a natural childbirth if possible, he and his wife’s desire to have some weeks together as a new family before descended upon by grandparents or new uncles and aunts.

I wholeheartedly agreed with how they were approaching this new phase of their family, yet amazed and, yes incredulous, how my son embraced this new role, talking, contemplating, and planning for a child. I spoke with my daughter-in-law about her upcoming fellowship, how they’d coordinate child, dog and work. I was invited to travel to China with them next spring, to help with the baby, to spend time with them, to be part of their intimate family circle, even if only in short doses, given the nearly three-thousand miles separating our homes. I was honored to be a part of their journey together.

Thursday I received a text from my son: “Mom, are you back from New Zealand yet?”  I instantly knew in my bones, although it was April 9, not the due date of April 23, that he had news. I quickly, but with some hesitation, knowing there might be some health concerns, called him on his cell phone. It rang a few times, then a quiet, “Hello,” with some movement in the background.  “Do we have a baby?” (Yes; OUR baby). “We do. He is healthy, active, gentle.”

The emotions roiled over me, while the incredible, inexplicable joy cascaded through my body as my son continued, “Solomon.” Our conversation soon crisscrossed as he explained the past 24 hours and I asked how the baby and mother were doing.

I cannot, even today, stop smiling inside, the sheer joy and love for this little six pound, ten ounce, boy of whom I’ve only seen two pictures sent to my iPhone exploding whenever I even think of his being. Oh, he will capture my heart over and over, I am certain, when we meet in person. Every grandparent’s awe is mine, this cycle of life, this son of my son, this grandson of my parents, this newborn baby.