Free for 57 Minutes and 54 Seconds

In my RunChat post this month, I fretted about my most recent recovery week: how I didn’t really want to take a hiatus from hard training days to “recover,” how I wasn’t sure I really ran as “free” as the “free” runs my coach assigned me.

In the post, I asked how “free” I really ran, since I still took my smartphone (to run the Charity Miles app), utilized the Map My Run app, had a watch on, and was listening to music via an iPod. And my glasses to be able to see all those electronics at work.

My recovery week came and went; it’s back to the hard stuff training-wise now, but last night’s 4 mile Gulf Winds Track Club Pot Luck prediction run gifted me with the freedom I never really found during recovery week. It was a race and not a “run to remember how much you love it” (which is what we’re supposed to do on our recovery week free runs) but by its nature it stripped me of all the things that can dilute a free run. It was free of:

  • Heart Rate Monitor (the strap and the watch)
  • Watch (yes, I wear a second, “plain” watch)
  • Smartphone
  • Armband for smartphone
  • iPod
  • Anything technical that could track mileage, calculate time, give to charity, take a picture
  • My glasses

It was hot. It was hilly. It was beautiful. It had bugs. It was mystifying (no mile markers). It was perfect.

This runner who usually prefers running alone had to be with 237 people to find the freedom that eluded me a few weeks ago. As I crossed the finish line, I looked back to see what my time had been (the clock is obscured because of the prediction nature of the race). What did I see?

I saw that I had just experienced 57 minutes and 54 seconds of freedom.

Photo credit: Fred Deckert

Photo credit: Fred Deckert


Adjustments To Make

I have been working with Coach Jeff of PRS Fit since April. Through his coaching, I was able to run my first half marathon (September 16, 2012), feeling mostly in control the whole time. Even though my time was slower than many half marathoners, I felt steady and enthusiastic to do more distance running events in the future.

However, my primary running goal for the past three years has been to break 30 minutes for a 5K, and the first thing I told Jeff after the half marathon was that it was time for me to get seriously focused on that goal. After five months of coaching, Jeff sent me the request that I had known was going to eventually come: “take a quick video of your running so I can look at your form.”

I could spend the rest of this post sharing my angst about form. How I know my form isn’t classically elegant (and therefore not classically efficient), how an ongoing issue in my marriage is my spouse’s belittling comments about form (the word “waddle” has been used ….. and here’s a piece of advice if you are a non-running spouse who doesn’t get his or her butt off the couch and run ….. don’t use the word “waddle” ….. EVER …… even if it’s true. Coaches can use it. Spouses can’t. That’s the rule there.)

I can’t tell you how many blog posts I have read about form. Podcasts I have listened to (one of the best was the RunRunLive featuring Jessi Stensland of Movement U). How I injured myself doing a drill I read about in a blog. About the best advice given to me by Gary Droze, who runs the weekly Gulf Winds Track Club intervals sessions. Gary isn’t long on words but I think “stay tall” and “light feet” are pretty good pieces of advice if you’re only going to get two.

So that leads to the dreaded video. Since my life is pretty much an open book via my blog and social media presence, I am sharing it with you even though I hate it.

If you are a runner, have you ever tried to change your form? Any thoughts on the subject?

Happy running. Waddling even.

Running Free

“A woman who surrenders her safety pins need not surrender her dignity.” 
Okay, okay, the line from Wally Lamb’s “The Hour I First Believed” is actually:
“A woman who surrenders her freedom need not surrender her dignity.”
…..but in the case of the women I ran with yesterday at the Gadsden Correctional Institution in Gretna, Florida, safety pins held a lot of symbolism for me.
I am not sure why I end up writing about safety pins so much (such as this post and this guest post on Running Toward The Prize.) I suppose someday I will own a race number belt and won’t be writing about safety pins anymore.
I didn’t think much of it yesterday when I pinned my number on at the inaugural Gadsden Correctional Institution 5K. I’ve pinned numbers on for races countless times before. Let me give you a little background to explain why I was standing inside a correctional institution in the first place.
Less than a month ago, David Yon wrote an article for our track club about a visit that he, Mary Jean Yon, and Elizabeth Stupi had made to the Gadsden Correctional Institution to speak to the members of the prison’s running club. (I really encourage you to read the article.) One of the things David said in the article was that the warden (who is a runner himself) wanted “to see the 12-week training session culminate in a 5K race, with members of the community invited to participate.” 
I immediately emailed David after reading the article and told him that I would be interested in participating in the 5K if it ever came together. In true Gulf Winds “get it done” fashion, it came together rapidly.
As it turns out, it takes quite a process to get 20 civilians (some of whom were men), into an all-female correctional institution. “Quite a process” includes completing a background check form, heeding instructions about what to bring (driver’s license or no entry), how to dress (men must have shirts, no “sports bra only” styles for women) and how to pay our “entry fee” (donate a new or used book about running).
After we went through the initial security checkpoint, we were taken to the recreational field. This field is the only place at the facility where the women are usually allowed to run. 10.5 times around makes a mile.
The women were in uniform shorts and tshirts. I learned later that they have a choice of three styles of athletic shoes from a specific catalog. For all the time most of us spend obsessing about heel lift, motion control, arch support, and other intricacies of running shoe design, it was a sign that these women love running that they will run in the only shoes available to them, shoes that do not appear to be specifically designed for running.
You could argue that a 5K is a 5K. Distance is what it is. But I witnessed more than a group of runners traversing a typical race distance yesterday.
Things I heard along the way, either overheard or in direct conversation:
Wanna know where I was at this exact same time last year? Receiving chemo.
It was so nice to run on the pavement! (For this race only, the group was allowed to run in a different area of the facility. We ran around their usual recreational field loop once, then ran four laps of a route around the perimeter of the facility but inside the secured area, of course.) The route ran past groups of women/staff cheering us on, past the gorgeous flower beds created and cared for by inmates in the horticulture program, past the most determined-to-hydrate water station volunteers I have ever seen at a race.
The real magic (for me) happened after the race. Completing this 5K was a very big deal for these women. “I did it!” was the exclamation of many of the finishers. One woman had never run longer than 1.5 miles and had gotten added to the race roster at the last minute. She was so proud.
I had an extended conversation with a woman named Michelle who plans to be a fitness trainer when she gets out later this year. She said, “the day I get out, I am doing yoga at the beach, either at sunrise or sunset.”  (There is yoga offered at the prison, along with aerobics and other wellness activities.) She couldn’t wait to write her family to tell them about the run.
I talked at length with two women who had lots of basic questions. How long is a half marathon? How long is a marathon? How do you do a Disney race? What do you listen to when you run?  (They all had transistor radios and headphones; they said they hope to get mp3 players.) Do you have to belong to a running club to do a race?
I talked with a woman who is my age (47) who talked about recidivism and minimum mandatory sentences. She said she has seen women return to the institution 2 and 3 times. She talked about the 5:30 a.m. wakeup of fluorescent lights coming on overhead. She said once she returned home, she would hope her family understood when she just stood in front of the refrigerator and cried, happy to be able to eat what she wanted when she wanted to.
I learned a lot in a couple of hours about the impact of prescription drug abuse and minimum mandatory sentencing.
As usual, I was toward the last of the finishers, but I still got to hear a few ecstatic cries of “I did it!” I also heard “This was my first marathon.” Who am I to correct? It may not be 26.2 physical miles but this feat was a race about more than movement of the feet.
The women shared about the programs they are involved in at the prison. There are several programs that involve animals, including greyhound rehabilitation and training dogs for Canine Companions for Independence. The inmates who work with these animals explained what a sizable privilege it is, and that they are held to extremely high standards behaviorally in order to maintain that privilege. 
When the warden presented awards (watches) to the top three inmate finishers, he gave a concise and impassioned speech to everyone who had participated, reminding them that even if they didn’t win a prize, they should be proud of what they had done; he talked about expanding the running program so it was easier for women to keep up with their progress. He reminded them that they had their race numbers as keepsakes.
If I as a community member was thanked once for coming, I was thanked a hundred times. 
I would go back in a heartbeat. Such incredible conversations. Such testimony to the ability of running to empower people. 
I heard the women reminding each other to return the safety pins that had been holding their numbers on. They weren’t allowed to keep them. My friend Elizabeth said she had returned hers too, so I decided that if they couldn’t keep theirs, it was probably a good idea to turn mine in also. By the time I came to that decision, there was no one left to turn them in to.
I arrived home with four extra safety pins. 
Along with the safety pins, I brought home images firmly burnt into my head of women who have surrendered their civil freedom (for now) but found freedom of body, heart, and mind as they traversed 3.1 miles.
(We weren’t allowed to take our cameras in (although some of the staff took pictures so I 
hope to see some of those). I took this picture right before we drove away.)
Follow up addition …… this is a group photo that we just received (4/25/12):

Not Your Average 5K (A Mama Kat Writing Prompt)

This week, handed me Mama Kat prompt number three: A favorite Thanksgiving memory.

Every Thanksgiving, thousands of my fellow Tallahasseeans (along with visiting friends/family) and I gather to run 5, 10, or 15 kilometers (or the 1 mile “gobbler”) to kick off the day.

I had no illusions of running a “fast” (for me) Turkey Trot last year; I had been injured for several months and had barely been running at all. When the race started, I began a slow jog. Within a few hundred feet, I ended up falling into conversation with Charlie Yates (who was 85 at the time!) and my friend Judy Alexander (our Gulf Winds Track Club president).

Charlie is a true institution in Gulf Winds. Back in the mid-90’s when I started running races in Tallahassee, I thought of him as “one of those older runners.” I don’t know what that means now that almost 20 more years have elapsed, but he’s still out there – maybe a little slower but still putting in the miles.

As we traversed the course it was Charlie who made us feel like rock stars (I think the exact words were “two beautiful women”). Our pace allowed me to enjoy the surroundings, such as this autumnal vista that turned into the following week’s Wordless Wednesday: 

More importantly than the scenery, I had an opportunity to spend time with someone who has done so much for our sport locally*.

Judy Alexander, Charlie Yates, Me
November 26, 2009
Photo Credit: Samantha Corbin
A sixty-eight minute 5K may sound incredibly slow compared to the average runner.

But this was no average day.

And for that I am thankful.
*And lo and behold I was having a good hair day. A double bonus!

Breakfast on the Track – Solo

Every year, Gulf Winds Track Club has a “Breakfast on the Track” (BOT) mile run in mid-August. On the plus side for my experience yesterday (8/20/11), my best time in the past six years that I have been running the event (10:49:95). On the minus side, the fact that my “favorite young runner” (my 12 year old son) was not with me because I didn’t even ask him if he wanted to come. Here is a picture from last year.
Breakfast on the Track 2010

There was one other BOT when I was alone, but that was because Wayne Kevin was participating in a kids’ triathlon, not asleep at home on the couch.

At a Kids’ Triathlon

As I have watched his exercise activity decline over the past year and a half, I have grown increasingly sad. As I told my friend Leisa,

“I am a little heartbroken about this but Wayne has hit that intersection where any natural ability to hang with sports has been outweighed (pun sort of intended!) by his weight gain and lack of training. For so many years he participated in everything, including kids tris, and although he was never really a “contender,” he enjoyed himself. Now he gets so short of breath he really can hardly complete a mile and had to drop out of the kids’ tri in May in the middle of the swimming portion. We thought it was exercise induced asthma but it’s really mainly being out of shape and not training. I haven’t been a drill sergeant about it b/c a) I am so slammed working as much freelance as I can due to economic issues and b) I am concentrating on my own running goals — he has to want to do this himself – I won’t handle him with kid gloves anymore. Although he did do RealRyde [spinning] with me some this summer and that was good.”
An Easier Year (2005 maybe?)
Photo Credit: Tallahassee Democrat
Wayne Kevin is the barefoot runner
I still recall the embarrassment of the President’s Physical Fitness assessments of my elementary school years — lumbering through the “dash,” attempting (and completely failing to do) chin-ups, and some other athletic “tests” that I didn’t remotely succeed at. That is why it was such a relief when my daughter, Tenley, succeeded at many of the the active endeavors (gymnastics, cheerleading, dance) she tried and when Wayne enthusiastically embraced so many athletic activities — tennis, running, kids’ triathlons, one season of Pop Warner football, two seasons of  flag football, and recreational gymnastics. During summer of 2010, the “shortness of breath” episodes started kicking in, and the pediatrician prescribed an inhaler. That same pediatrician, when Wayne Kevin had his physical this year and listened to my description of the strenuously difficult time Wayne had with his most recent mile, and the DNF during the swimming portion of the kids’ triathlon, introduced the idea that this was not asthma, it was …… out-of-shapeness (thorough diagnostic representation on my part, right?). In a kid who did not train between events, how could I argue?
Springtime Tallahassee Mile 2009
I can’t make him train. I am responsible to a degree for a summer spent primarily in front of a video screen while I was freelancing at night instead of making him walk a mile or even a yard … of course he does have two parents but between his dad and me, neither of us succeeded (much) in reinforcing any type of physical activity.
And although I am ecstatic to be moving closer to my goal of running a 5K in under 30 minutes, I am bereft at seeing the road to physical fitness growing longer and rougher for my son.
When Leisa responded to my message, she said this:
“At some point we can’t push and have to focus on ourselves. You keep getting to your goal and hopefully he will come around. The more active he sees you hopefully it will make him turn another corner sooner rather than later!”
Have you dealt with a child (or, heck, with yourself) losing motivation and sliding backwards? Any tips?

Why Volunteers Are Like Mortar

Note:  I was honored to be featured in the “Volunteer Spotlight” in the September 2010 Gulf Winds Track Club newsletter (the Fleet Foot).  Here’s what I wrote:

I appreciate being featured in the September “volunteer spotlight.” This is exciting because, besides being honored, I get to write something. Getting to write something is almost always a plus for me, and even more so when I get to talk about something I love.

I often joke that running is the price I pay to be around such great people. That is sort of contorting my feelings about running, because I do love running for its own sake (usually), but runners and the people who support them have a spirit of supportiveness (and fun) that is difficult to find elsewhere.

Volunteering provides an insight into the running world that can expand your perspective, help you increase your skills, and provide rewards both tangible and intangible. I wish everyone who races could see the event from the volunteer angle at least once. In Tallahassee, we have gotten used to being able to roll out of bed and show up at a race shortly before race time, throw some cash and the registration form at the table and go. Well, behind every “show up and run” race is a cadre of people who spent hours behind the scenes securing sponsors, designing tshirts, marking the course, coordinating logistics — the list goes on and on. Having stood at the Palace Saloon 5K finish line being on the “receiving end” of hordes of sweaty guys hustling out the last of their adrenaline (and being in charge of slowing them down/keeping them in line), I got a whole different feel for race energy than I do from my usual spot at the mid to back of the pack!

Another task that I really enjoy is helping with club communications, in the form of being one of the volunteer proofreaders for the Fleet Foot. On the one hand, runners just want to run, so many readers may think, “what does it matter if a comma is out of place or Susan’s PR was listed as 25:43 instead of 24:53?” The thing is that we show we care about our club by paying attention to this kind of thing, and Susan worked hard for that 24:53 so why should we short her 50 seconds? Charles R. Swindoll said it well: “The difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.” I want to be a part of keeping the club something great.

Lastly, I have had the joy the past three years of serving as Captain of the club’s Relay for Life team. In the most recent year, we raised almost $6,000 for the American Cancer Society. Everyone in this club has been touched by a family member or friend who has battled cancer, and we have quite a few survivors in our midst. Our team gives us a chance to bond for a cause, and, being us, gives us an excuse to go round and round on a track.

I sort of look at the club’s athletic pursuits as bricks. As volunteers, we provide the mortar that holds it all together.

Will Run for Pancakes!

Gulf Winds Track Club holds a mile track race each August, accompanied by pancakes, and punctuated with the “Hamstring 100” race.  I was fortunate enough to participate in all three this year:  the mile, the pancakes, the 100 (not in that order!).  As a souvenir, each of us got this sticker, which reminded me of this recent blog, which questioned whether a “3.1” car sticker had been sufficiently “earned.”  I can only imagine how the writer would feel about a “1.0” but I love mine!

I had hoped to make a quantitative amount of progress between last year’s BOT and this year’s BOT.  Here’s last year’s time:  11:20.61.  Here’s this year’s time:  11:14.91.  An entire year’s worth of intervals, training runs, and cross training for a measly 5.7 seconds of improvement.


This summer, which started off with me vowing to work so hard I would look spent, has ended up with me limping in to the figurative finish line.  Right around the time I started doing turnover drills in early July, my plantar fasciitis started to act up.  Weeks later, a chiropractor who eventually said “go get different inserts at the running shoe store” after sucking up several copays for ultrasound treatments, and many ice packs/heating pads later, finds me without any drastic improvement to brag about. 

But I do have this great memory of yesterday’s mile:  finishing neck and neck with my son (he was so psyched to have found used racing flats at Play It Again Sports):

photo credit: Fred Deckert

and this great memory of being invited to participate in the club’s annual “Hamstring 100 Invitational” (I still don’t grasp the math/logarithm that got me invited but it was a thrill to participate, to come in 4th (yes #’s 5 and 6 are in their 70’s but let’s not split hairs here!)), and a lovely bouquet of roses (the male competitors in the Hamstring 100 get hams). 

photo credit:  Fred Deckert
Lastly, people who don’t know her story won’t know what a big deal this was, but my friend “K,” who was brutally attacked in her front yard, in daylight, several months ago, made her re-entry to running at BOT yesterday.  In the pictures taken yesterday, you can see joy on her face — what a testament to the restorative powers of running (and friendship). 
Another takeaway from this last half of summer, dealing with heel pain, is that I have branched out in my cross training, which used to be walking.  I have pulled the bike out of mothballs and gotten some swim coaching from the fabulous Revolutions Triathlon Coaching.
Is my goal still a sub 30:00 5K?  You bet.  Am I bummed that I made so little progress toward that goal this summer?  Yes.  But I’ll get there — I have told too many people that is my goal and they’re all helping me remain accountable to myself. 
Once I do, I may just have to get myself a “3.1” sticker.  I’ll know why it matters. 
I’ll “run” into you next week, readers!

7.45 Miles in a Flash

Some people see a series of 6’s and think “evil”; at the “Flash” races yesterday, what mattered more to me was the color (red), signifying I was a 12K runner (6K runners had black numbers).
When I started blogging weekly, I focused on the topic that was prominent in my head (and my weekends) at the time:  running a 5K in less than 30 minutes.  Along the way to that goal (which I still am working toward), I have wandered into a critique of convenience store bathroom decor (and gained a couple of friends out of it), swept up auto glass off of a major highway (and felt better for it), and confronted the reality of parenting a teenager head-on (or maybe it was keyboard to keyboard).  This week brings me back to running.
When I ran the “Flash” 6K last February, I was about two months into my return to running.  It was great to have an unusual distance — 6K (3.73 miles) — to run on a weekend when my training program had me progressing to a 4 mile distance anyway.  Although last year’s event was the 21st annual, it was my first time participating, and I quickly grew to understand why this somewhat low key race with its unique quirks lures people back year after year.  One “draw” of the race is that it is run in memory of  Tim Simpkins.  Having been around in Tallahassee in the mid 80’s when it was not unusual to see “Superman” (aka Tim) flying down Tennessee Street in front of Jerry’s Restaurant, it is nice to keep the memories alive of someone who always made running interesting (while doing it very, very well). 
When 2010 came around, I found myself in a different place running-wise compared to 2009.  I may not be running my 5K’s in a sub-30 time yet, but I have gotten faster (34:27) thanks to my nighttime Hawk’s Landing runs in all kinds of weather, the speed-inducing influence of Gulf Winds’ Tuesday night “tortuvals” sessions, the slow and steady weight loss that has come with consistent running, and increasing my weekend run mileage.  I have read that there is a positive relationship between running longer than the distance at which you are trying to excel and running that distance faster, which is why it took about ten seconds to say “yes” when my sister-in-law Laurie asked me to run the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC, on March 27 to celebrate her 40th birthday with her.  I figure training for a longer race will positively influence my 5K goal, so longer runs on the weekends it is. 
Which gets me back to the Flash 12K/6K.  I could have run the 6K again this year, but my training plan called for me to run 6 miles.  If I had run 6K, I would have had to tack on a few more miles after the race.  If I ran the 12K, I was risking returning to the absolute tail end of the pack of runners, where I have not been in a while, as well as the old “last banana status” (although in the case of the Flash the post-race snack is black beans and rice (yum!). 
I went out on President’s Day and ran the 12K course, to get some idea of how long it would take.  I pored over previous years’ results to see what the longest time had been each year.  I sent the director one too many emails asking if I could switch to the 6K distance on race day if I lost my nerve. 
With my slow but “completed” President’s Day run checked off the list, I proceeded to run the 12K, and I am so glad I did.  Thanks to the cold, race day adrenaline, and the sight of venerable Robert Morris a minute ahead of me throughout most of the last half of the race, I finished in 1:32:00, which is about 11 minutes faster than my practice run.  This will break no records (except on my own PR list), but the sense of completion and accomplishment I took home with me were reward enough. 
The other thing that strikes me about the Flash race and makes it one of my favorites is how its “out and back” design, and the fact that the 12K’ers interface with the 6K’ers at the middle of the race, facilitates the encouraging words that are shared between all different paces of runners.  When this picture was posted last year, I thought it was hysterical that Tony Guillen (2010’s Gulf Winds Track Club Male Runer of the Year) was “behind” me.  He was actually almost done with the 12K while I was still working on my 6K. 
This year, like last year, I was reminded how one key to overcoming my horrible memory of faces and names is working directly with people, getting to know them, and sharing experiences.  So many people who have made this past year of running such a great experience, both from a running perspective and from a “life lessons” perspective, passed me on the trail yesterday (or helped manage the race).  It sounds so minor, but not having to say, “what is your name again” less and less often is as energizing to me as a good run (well, almost!).
The opportunity to share a beautiful day honoring Tallahassee’s running “super hero” while participating in a sport we all love so much made 7.45 miles go by in a “flash.”
I’ll “run” into everyone next week.