Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Evolution of a Runner - Part IV

In October of 2001, my brother and good friend from college both got married (not to each other!) Looking at pictures from those weddings, I realized all the eating and drinking and falling in love had resulted in more than a few extra pounds. That fall I had also had to buy a whole new wardrobe in the largest size I had ever worn. So, I made a New Year's resolution in January of 2002 to start exercising and lose some weight.

Al (the "runner" I met at new employee orientation, who is now my husband) took me to the Ford gym and got me all set up. I can't believe it took me four years to set foot in a gym I had free access to. I had never set foot in any gym, though. I think I was a bit intimidated by the idea. We started going a few nights a week after work. Mostly, I did the stair master or the stationary bike. Then, in February, I saw a flyer on a table at the gym for an indoor triathlon in Toledo, OH. I had secretly always wanted to do a triathlon. I had long enjoyed biking as a way to get my body moving, explore new places, clear my head. I had been a lifeguard and swimming instructor in high school. Then I started swimming a couple times a week in college as a way to relax and unwind. I hadn't swum since graduating and I was never a fast or strong swimmer, but I was a confident swimmer. And I knew I could run. This particular triathlon sounded perfect. It was about 12 weeks away. It was indoors. The distances were very reasonable, much shorter even than a sprint triathlon. Transitions would not be timed. I was sure I would be able to get in shape enough to do it. I knew having a goal like that would force me to keep up my resolution. So I signed up!

[An aside: As it turned out, signing up for that triathlon was a major turning point in my life. From that moment on, exercise and healthy eating have been a regular part of my life. I backed way off on my exercise routine after my girls were born, for about a year each time. And I did little exercise other than some yoga and walking while pregnant with my second. But I had laid down a great foundation that made it easy to get back in shape when I was ready and able to resume working out and training. That triathlon was the first of many races I have done over the last 10 years.]

I had already been riding the stationary bike, so I felt pretty good about where I was at with biking. I kept riding at the gym. I'm not sure if I ever rode outside before the triathlon. The ride was going to be inside on a trainer. I do remember that I realized just a few days before the triathlon that I had a 10-year-old bike (a Schwinn Criss Cross--which I still ride, incidentally. It's the bike I pull the bike trailer with. It has been a great bike) that had not been maintained at all in those 10 years. I think it still had the knobby tires it came with. So I took it to a bike shop to get tuned up and get road tires put on it.

I looked into places I could swim and started swimming at a pool in an Ann Arbor elementary school a couple nights a week.

It wasn't really warm enough to run outside yet, at least not in any clothing I had. I was very intimated by the treadmills at the gym. So I started running on the indoor track at the Ford gym. The Ford gym was pretty nice, but it was not big. This track was something like 1/12 of a mile or maybe even less. I know I had to run many, many laps to get a decent length workout.

The day of the triathlon arrived. I was nervous and excited. I loaded up my bike and headed to Toledo. It was not a very big event. Most of the participants were from the northwest Ohio triathlon scene and seemed to know each other. My bike frame and wheels were too big for the trainer, so I had to ride someone else's bike with this weird U-shaped saddle. I'm pretty sure I came in last in every event. But I had a great time! I was so proud of myself for registering and following through with my training! And just from talking to people, I learned a lot about triathlon. The organizers told me I should sign up for the "real" triathlon they were putting on in August. I couldn't wait.

Relevant to my story about considering myself a runner is a conversation I had with a guy at the indoor triathlon. We were standing around, waiting to start the run (which was on an indoor track.) This guy was asking me if I had ever done a triathlon and telling me his story, how he used to be a runner, but it was damaging his knees. On his doctor's recommendation he switched to triathlons. Then he asked me, "So what are you?" I looked blankly at him and said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, most people who do triathlons start out as swimmers, bikers or runners" then went on to describe characteristics of each. Still looking confused, I'm sure, I said, "Oh...well...I'm not any of those. That's why I wanted to do a triathlon."

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Evolution of a Runner - Part III

After college, I moved to Ann Arbor and found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I got home from work around 4, which left me with a good 6 hours to fill before bedtime. But, no, this is not when I took up running. I took up watching movies. A lot of movies. I could often catch the last matinee-price movie at the big new theater near my apartment if I went straight there after work. I also rented several movies a week, trying to work my way through the AFI 100.

This new hobby, coupled with sitting at a desk all day when my body had been used to walking all over campus, left me feeling very lethargic. So, when the weather started to warm up (I had moved to Michigan in the beginning of January 1998, so this was maybe April) I decided I was going to take up running. I went to Foot Locker and bought a pair of very snazzy Nike's with purple and lime green trim (which was the only factor in my footwear decision.) I also bought a matching t-shirt and shorts. And I started running a couple miles now and then. It was a great way to get to know the back roads around my neighborhood.

I had run some very small number of times (1-3?) when I started new employee orientation. And I sat next to this guy, who it turned out also lived in Ann Arbor. He asked me if I ran. I answered with an enthusiastic "Yes!" Things could have turned out badly had he been a hard core runner. Fortunately for me, he was a runner of approximately my caliber. Now, neither of us can remember whether we actually went running together. I'm pretty sure we did. It was a convenient excuse to get together after work without committing to real dates. But apparently it didn't take us long to realize neither of us was really a runner and there were many other things we enjoyed doing together.

We may have run on occasion over the next four years. It's kind of hazy now. I know we spent a lot more time playing Guns N Roses pinball at Pinball Pete's (an amazing arcade), eating and drinking at the many various bars and restaurants around AA and falling in love.

The Evolution of a Runner - Part II

After my failed high school track experience, I'm pretty sure I did not run again-not for exercise anyway-until my freshman year of college. Early in my freshman year, one of my first college friends somehow convinced me to get up and run with him 2-3 mornings a week. I do not remember how this came about. But I distinctly remember peeling myself out of bed at some ungodly (particularly for a college student who didn't have class before 11:30) hour and running through Rolla with him. He would run over from his dorm on the other side of campus, calling me before he left, at which point I would either get up, get dressed and go meet him or tell him he was on his own. Then we would run this winding route through town, about a mile, turn around and come back. I would go back to bed until my 11:30 class. I don't recall how long this ritual lasted, maybe until it got really cold. He went off on a co-op the next semester and, despite remaining good friends, we never ran together again, that I can recall. In fact, I don't think I ever ran again while I was in college. I had a few other friends who were runners, people who would just go out and run, for fun. I remember being perplexed by that. They weren't on the track team, though they all were in high school. They weren't being chased. Many times they were running alone. Weird.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Evolution of a Runner - Part I

Note: This was going to be one short post about how I will now admit that I'm a runner. But in writing it, it took on a life of its own. So now it is a series of posts (or maybe just two posts, who knows?) about my journey from non-runner to runner.

OK, so I mentioned in a previous post that I don't really consider myself a runner. I realize, of course, that this is absurd. I run an awful lot for someone who is not a runner. On my long run last weekend, I was trying to figure out how it could be that I don't consider myself a runner. Largely, I think it goes back to my one season stint on the track team in high school. My junior year I decided to go out for track. I had spent the previous summer, post break-up with my first boyfriend, going for long bike rides and lifting weights, a picture of Linda Hamilton circa Terminator 2 on my bedroom wall for inspiration. I decided I was so ripped I would be an awesome shot putter and discus thrower. (Stop laughing!!) Needless to say, that did not work out as planned. I didn't have a plan B. The other field events were out. I figured running couldn't be too hard. Everybody can run, right? I knew I wasn't a sprinter, so I started out at 800m. And came in well behind everyone else. The coach suggested I try longer distances, so I tried 1600m. With similar results. I don't remember if I ever ran 3200m. Possibly. Whatever distances I ran, I do know I always came in last. Except one race where I came in second to last. My teammates were always encouraging, but it was very humbling. Obviously, I was not a runner.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


OK, so this morning, before going out on my 11 miler, I dug around and found the arm band for my old iPod. I managed to fit my iPhone in it, so I downloaded the Nike+ GPS app and gave it a try. I was a little hesitant about wearing this big thing on my arm for the first time (well, I had worn it with my iPod on the treadmill back in the day) on a longer run. But, while I have never really felt unsafe out running by myself, I had gotten used to carrying my cell phone last summer and feel safer with it on longer runs. So safety overruled possible discomfort.

I have to say, I really liked it. I had been going back and forth since last summer about getting some kind of GPS watch or other device to use while running. Ultimately, I just wasn't sure I wanted or needed to know my exact pace at any given moment through my run. I mapped out my runs online and wore a watch to time myself. I could figure out my average pace and that was good enough. It probably still is good enough, but for $1.99 (the cost of the app), it's pretty cool to have a little voice telling me what my time and average pace is at each mile. I kept a pretty steady pace for the first half of my run, but when I started backing off a bit I knew it and got back on pace. The app has way more functionality than I need. I don't need to broadcast to everyone on Facebook when, where, how far and how fast I'm running. I don't need people to send me "cheers." I don't need to play tag or race anyone. I haven't even begun to learn all the things I can do with my data if I sync up to the Nike website.

The couple of downsides were 1) I couldn't easily see or reach the iPhone to pause it at stop lights. I wore my watch also and paused that when I stopped, but then I forgot to stop it when I finished. I can try adjusting my arm band to see if I can get the iPhone in a better orientation. 2) A couple of times I was kind of zoning out and "the voice" startled me, but I'll probably get used to that. A couple other times I think it startled people around me. I don't listen to music when I run outside and I'm not going to wear headphones just for this, so "the voice" is audible to anyone close by. There's probably a way to turn it off, but even with my phone on silent she spoke out loud. Plus, that would kind of defeat the purpose.

I'll probably keep using it on long runs for sure and maybe on shorter ones, too. It would be a nice way to log all my miles. I had started using the Daily Mile website at the beginning of the year, but I kept forgetting to enter my workouts.

Friday, March 30, 2012


Because I have not yet joined the 21st century when it comes to running technology and don't have a GPS watch or a GPS running app on my iPhone, if I want to know how far I've gone on a run I have to go old school and map it out online. I had been using the USA Track and Field site, but it's very labor intensive. You have to zoom way in and manually map the route, eyeballing it. A friend told me about gmap pedometer, which automatically follows walking/running paths. It is much faster and easier to map a run. But...I think it overestimates distances. I noticed this summer when I first started using it that a run I mapped at about 8.5 miles on the USATF site was about 9.5 miles on gmap. The straight-line calculations the USATF site uses would make routes map out shorter than they really are, but by a whole mile on an 8-9 mile route?

The last couple of runs I have done, if gmap is to be believed, I have run at a blistering (for me) pace. Today I ran a 3.9 mile route in 30 minutes, a 7:45 pace. I know I've dropped my pace by quite a bit over the past year with some changes to my stride and form, plus just a lot of running. And I was running faster than usual. This was the shortest run I've done in a long time and I was kind of in a hurry to finish it, get home and get on with my day. I hit a trail crossing that I usually pass at about 15:00 to 15:30 at 14:15. But I have a really hard time believing I ran a 7:45 pace.

Now I'm tempted to get the Nike+GPS iPhone app and see how it compares. But then I would need to carry my iPhone on runs. Running is about the only time my iPhone isn't within arms reach.

I'm not even really sure why it matters to me. All I can come up with is that running sub-8 minute miles on a training run might do what running two marathons, two half marathons, countless other races and 1000s of training miles haven't: make me consider myself a runner.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Things that make you go "Hmmmm"

Several weeks ago Al and I wrote letters to our congressional representatives. We wrote one letter to each, but both Al and I signed it. We have now gotten responses from all three of them. However, only one of them responded to me as well as Al. The other two made no mention of me in their responses. I find that interesting. Even more interesting to me, the one who responded to me is a woman, the other two are men.