Saturday, September 25, 2010

Alicia the Very, Very Slow Runner

In the beginning...

I started with the Team in Training program over a year ago, you see. The timing was typical me, which means it was bad and I suspected it was bad but, caught up in my enthusiasm, I tried to make it work anyway. I just graduated from law school. I was getting married smack in the middle of the training cycle. I got sick, though, and that was pretty much that.

I felt good that I'd done something good, but it nagged at me that I didn't finish the program. So when I got a call in August from my local Team in Training chapter encouraging me to get involved again, I thought "What a wonderful idea!"

And then I sat on it for a month.

This is not to say I am generally lazy. I'm not lazy. I am however absentminded on occasion, and when the call came I was visiting my family in New Hampshire for two weeks, not at home in northern New Jersey. As soon as I got home I had a number of other things to turn my attention to. It therefore took me until I was walking around trying to brainstorm Things I Could Do With Myself Besides Pace About In A Circle And Occasionally Kick Things In Frustration while I am in that fun transitional period where I both wait for bar exam results and prepare to sit the New York Bar that I went "Right. Team in Training. Excellent idea!"

They got me set back up pretty easily and now I am happily (?) training for the 2011 Disney Marathon in early January, the timing of which is excellent since it's not too close to the February Bar Exam.

There are a few things I think I should clarify about me as a runner at this time.

I've been running for close to two years with some consistency. So it would be, perhaps, incorrect to say that "I am not a runner." What I am not is a very good runner. Knock on wood, I am not prone to injury--I stretch, I take rest days like a good little girl, I do other fitness things to keep my little joints nice and limber, and such. What I am is slow.


At least, I'm pretty sure I'm slow. I have a nifty Garmin 305 with a heart rate monitor, which I use. My current blazing top speed that I can both maintain for a full interval (I tend to run-walk when I do distances) is between a ten and eleven minute mile. I'm pretty sure that's a snails crawl. I know people who run slower than that. I also know people who WALK faster than that (or close enough to.) I can hit faster speeds. I've clocked myself being able to hold a eight minute mile pace for half a mile or so. But I can't safely maintain that; my heart goes thuddy-thud like a hummingbird's. Maybe I will be able to, some happy day far in the future. But, uh, not so much right now.

When I was a little girl my mother used to tease me gently about being a slowpoke. I was a slowpoke not because I was particularly low energy (anybody who's had the pleasure or misfortune of meeting me in person can't possibly believe I'm low energy.) It was because I liked to amble about staring raptly at things. I was slow because I liked to linger to look at fascinating street debris. Alas, this is not why I am a slow runner. I am a slow runner because my feet just don't carry me that fast.

I was not encouraged to run as a child. I was encouraged to be active (thanks, Mom and Dad!) but not to run, exactly. I biked. I roller-bladed. I skateboarded. I skateboarded down a big hill and knocked out half of a tooth when I was nine, in fact (they put it back together. Modern dentistry!). I wore a helmet, and it's a good thing, because I was a daredevil and frankly without a helmet and padding I'd probably have scrambled my brains and broken all my joints before I hit puberty. I've had some epic spills.

Then I got into martial arts. I am the world's most advanced beginner martial artist. I hold late intermediate colored belts in both major styles of Tae Kwon Do and in a large New England school of Kung Fu. "Get black belt" (which is really only an advanced intermediate degree, but never mind) is on the lifelong to do list; I never have because invariably either I move or my teacher does after two years, and it generally takes three to make it to black. I can still kick higher than my head. It helps that I am a freak and I have, in the words of one doctor, "the legs of someone who's five seven and the torso of someone who's five one"--buying pants is always an adventure. My freaky limberness in the kicking muscles is a good thing, since I'm not sure I could outrun an attacker, even if I was wearing running shoes and they were teetering after me on six inch stilettos that were two sizes too small.

So yes. Not much running, except what they made us do in gym. Since I was "made to" run a mile and I generally resent it when large, mustachioed men in obnoxious shorts with a whistle (a particularly memorable gym teacher) order me to run in circles for no discernible reason, I generally did this in the slowest amble I could get away with.

"Alicia, it took you half an hour to go a mile!" Mustache-with-the-whistle said to be in exasperation.

Me, blinking. "Is that slow?"

Him: "A one-legged seagull could hop it faster than that!"

He then began to whistle at me every time he caught me drifting off to the side of the track to stare at dandelions (some things don't change). This negative reinforcement did not help.

Eventually he gave up and let me go play field hockey and lacrosse with the other kids. I was decent at such things not because I am all that skilled, but because I have relatively little fear of getting whacked or knocked down thanks to a childhood spent falling off wheeled things at "woah that's a big hill!" speeds, and lots of healthy sports aggression not often encouraged in females who are not athletes. I'm sure when he saw me run down the budding high school freshman basketball star, finagle the floor hockey puck away from him, and run away, he probably rolled his eyes. That or wanted to strangle me. Possibly both.

I got into running in my late twenties because my friend Amber did. That's pretty much why. She seemed to enjoy it a lot. I was bored with the elliptical. I discovered much to my pleasure that I did like running. I am just not very fast.

This is part of what fascinates me about distance running. In distance running, how fast you go matters less than how far you go (or so I keep telling myself; obviously the actual, like, athlete people can run 26.2 miles at speeds twice as fast as my little ten to eleven minute mile shuffle, and even most serious amateurs go a LOT faster than me.) I am not fast. What I do have is endurance and that counts for a lot when you're talking about distances in excess of five or six miles. You learn endurance when during the course of a two hour class a crazy martial arts teacher makes you do drills five hundred kicks per leg with a resistance band holding you to the wall, and then immediately starts to chase you around the martial arts studio with a bokken (that would be a wooden practice sword used in kendo, and since that teacher didn't know kendo, I don't know what he was doing with it exactly besides chasing me.)

The first time I did a five mile run it was a revelation. I ran five miles! And it didn't even take all that long! And I felt good after! And my legs didn't even fall off!

And I like to finish what I start. Especially for a great cause (more on that soon). So here we go again.

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