17 April 2007

Running Down A Dream

Before I get to my usual Tuesday Brain Dump, I need to point your attention to this piece on NPR, heartbreaking in its simplicity, about the shootings yesterday at Virginia Tech. Audio isn't available as I am writing this post, but will be later today. Judith Miller says so eloquently what I struggle to put into words. Give it a listen.

I'm thinking today about running, and the 'runner's high'

I'm still only able to run for 10 minutes out of the 35 that I'm on the treadmill. Some days are easier than others. I don't know why. My routine varies only by a small amount each day; get up, get dressed, go to the gym, come home, shower, get dressed for work, work, drive home, dinner, write, bed. Tuesdays and Thursdays there's an exercise class in between dinner and writing. That's about it. I drink a ton of water each day. I'm watching my portions and eating healthy. So why is it that some days are super easy and some so incredibly tough? I wish I understood.

I have been a runner for a very long time, but taken very long breaks in between times when I run and times when I don't. I was on the track team in junior high school, 7th grade? Or was it 8th? Too long ago to remember now. The junior high school in my hometown was on a tree-lined street, which has about 10 century houses on it, and in fact the original portion of the school is a historic building as well, was at one time a private college. A very, very, very small one. At the end of the school's street is a forest preserve, 243 acres of wild lands. I spent a lot of time there as a kid, and for conditioning for track, they'd have us run from the school, to the preserve, around the loop trail in the preserve, and back up to school. Then we'd have practice. I'm not really sure of the distance. Maybe 3 total miles, maybe less. It was tough, I'd get to the practice field dead tired, panting, and in no mood to do time trials or sprints. I hated it, but kept pushing myself because I wanted desperately to fit in somewhere, and since one of my closest friends at the time was a track star, I thought that this might be my niche. It wasn't.

I'm not a good runner, or a fast one. They stuck me with running the 400, and I never won. I did it for only one season of track, I remember saying frequently at the time that "The only GOOD thing about running is when you stop." I never felt that endorphin high that everyone talked about.

In the spring of the year I lived in Sweden, my best friend and I looked at ourselves and realized we'd gained some weight over the winter. Which is really ridiculous, she was 5'7" and weighed maybe 140 and I was 5'2" and didn't weigh over 100, but I was 17 and she was 19 and we thought we were 'fat'. We embarked on a very ambitious journey, swimming 2 kilometers in the community pool after school on Mondays and Wednesdays, and running between 2 and 5 kilometers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays and Saturdays we drank. Sundays we recovered.

We made a list, that I still have, of things we agreed to not eat. Nothing fried. No more stopping for something to eat on the way home from the clubs on Saturday nights. The town's cafe/bakery made these donut sort of things called munkar, which were square, filled with a wonderful apple/sugar/cinnamon blend, and I agreed to stop buying them when I got out of school every afternoon. No ice cream.

We did get into better shape, but what I remember most is coming to the back door of my host family's house, panting, opening the door and calling out to my host-mum, Snalla, kan vi har lite vatern? (Please, can we get some water?) We weren't allowed into the house without taking off shoes, and we'd stretch in the backyard before going inside. The route that we ran took us though farm country, and I had to really work to get the mud off of those running shoes. I still hated it, and I remember mamman asking me why we didn't just walk if we hated it so much. I would tell her how we'd look so cute in our bathing suits during the coming summer and she would roll her eyes at me. She ought to have smacked me one, considering what I weighed and my body image at the time. Not that it would have smacked some sense into me, but still, I wince when thinking about how I used to whine about being fat at 17. Someone really should have given me a beat-down.

Through most of my college years, I lifted weights, but did very little cardio, and my weight gain really escalated after I got married. Sure, I walked in our old neighborhood from time to time. I exercised never, though. I joined a series of gyms, but never really got off the couch. The thing that's different this time around is that I now recognize and understand that the working out has to be part of my life every day for the rest of my life, that once I've gotten to the goal, I can't just stop doing whatever finally works to get the rest of the weight off. I might be able to do 3 days a week at the gym instead of 6, but it has to be a part of who I am and what I do for the rest of the time I'm on this earth.

And I finally get that runner's high. Each day, when I manage to get to the ten full minutes running, I feel like raising my hands over my head and cheering. I want to jump up and down and shout "LOOK!! I did it! Ten minutes!!! GO ME!" I restrain the impulse, but it is there.

I'm still having trouble with cramping in the tibia muscles, and it hurts when I stop running. Which is a complete 180 degree turn from where I was, that it was good to stop. I have been trying for about a week to get up over ten minutes (woot! 11 whole minutes!!) but I can't quite get there. It will come, I know. Patience has NEVER been my strong suit.

What I love about running is that it is now very meditative for me. I can't focus on anything else but breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. I can't think about anything else, and considering the craziness that is going on in my life right now, a blank slate, a clear head, is a wonderful thing. It doesn't last for but a few minutes after I get off the treadmill, but it is nice to experience while it does last.

I was out of bed at 4 this morning, giving up the battle to sleep even a few minutes longer after watching the clock from 3:17 AM on. Can't sleep, can't focus, don't want to do anything, endless circles of the same thoughts chasing around and around in my head. I was at Dr. Hottie's office last week, and he encouraged me to continue to use the Ambien to get the sleep I need. Muscle repair and your body's regeneration happens in stage 4 sleep, and I'm not getting even a minute of that. Dreams occur during REM sleep, stage two. I have very little of those, either. The sleeping pill gives me exceedingly weird, disjointed dreams, but also about 5 hours of sleep as opposed to the three or so I get without help.

So I'm continuing to chase after that elusive fitness goal, and a good night's sleep. But looking in the mirror this morning, I can finally see some muscle definition in my shoulders, and when I turn around and look at my back, there are two fewer rolls of fat. Twenty-two pounds lighter, and that's all the difference I can see. Guess my self-image still needs some work.

Finally, I'm jumping on a bandwagon that I've just discovered. Searching for new music to run to on iTunes the other day, I found Podrunner, produced by LA's DJ Steveboy. Once upon a time, dance hall and trip-hop was all I listened to. And then I figured out that it can get pretty damn annoying. But I'm in love with the mixes that Steveboy produces. I'm gooving to Paintshaker, which was featured the week that Podrunner had its four MILLIONTH download. So yeah, I'm behind the times a wee bit. I haven't subscribed to the podcast yet because I'm running out of space on my iPod, a project for the coming weekend is to delete everything that I haven't listened to since uploading most of my music library in January.

I hope your Tuesday doesn't suck out loud.

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