Rest and Recovery
Having seen more than my share of incoming college freshman runners struggle with the hydra that defines becoming an independent adult while holding down a full class load and a constant and demanding training and racing schedule, I can say with some confidence that one of the biggest mistakes a lot of burgeoning athletes of all strengths make is skimping on their sleep.
And I wasn't the only one who noticed; in 2009, researcher Cheri Mah, M.S. at Stanford University's Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory launched a study that observed (beginning with basketball players and swimmers and extending to competitive athletes of numerous other sports) the effects of sleep extension on athletes' mood, coordination, alertness, and overall strength of performance both in competition and daily practice. When asked to bump up their usual sleep regimen to a goal of approximately nine to ten hours a night for six weeks, athletes in the study showed a little under a 1% improvement in their performance of a series of drills performed before and after the 6 week cycle.
That's a 17.56 second sprint post-sleep adjustment versus a 19.12 second sprint pre-adjustment. That doesn't seem like a big deal on paper, but apply that near 1% to something a distance runner can appreciate a little better, and you're looking at a 17:19 5k versus a 17:30. Yeah, that's nothing to stick up your nose at.
I know, I know...“But Stumpy, all the fun stuff happens at night!!” As the progeny of a veteran swing-shift night owl and sister to a similarly oriented sibling, I understand that sleep-cycles can be difficult to reconfigure. And hell, if you spend the primary 12 to 18 hours of every day working, studying, tending the kids (of the human, furry, or in some cases, the spousal variety) when else are you going to get some “me time” if not by the light of the moon? Furthermore, since this is a running blog, let's consider that maybe evenings are the only open slot you have in your schedule to, you know, actually train.
I won't chide or dissuade you from your nocturnal expenditures in either case, but I will warn you that a seemingly small deficit in rest can snowball into something much more dire very quickly. And no, I'm not just talking about performance. It should come as no surprise that being better rested not only helps keep you sharp and perky when you're on your feet — it keeps you on your feet period. An additional study published by the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics in May of 2014 demonstrated that adolescent athletes who slept less than 8 hours a night were 1.7 times more likely to experience an injury than those who slept 8 or more. Older athletes with the same poor sleeping habits were subsequently even1.4 times more likely than those sleepy, already-at-risk youngsters to develop an injury.
Young or old, professional or amateur, I don't think I'm alone in the sentiment that the only thing worse than a bad race or workout is one ended prematurely or withdrawn from entirely due to injury. If something as small as exchanging that extra half-hour of Netflix binge-watching for an earlier dive into bed or an afternoon nap could keep your Achilles tendon or IT band from wreaking havoc on your training schedule, isn’t it worth the sacrifice? I mean, come on, I love Game of Thrones as much as the next person (Tyrion FTW!!!) but I love my sport, and keeping myself physically intact enough to engage and progress in it, far more. Besides, postponing some mindless audio-visual indulgence is about as much of a sacrifice as saving your dessert until after you’ve eaten your chicken and veggies. You know, the kind of delayed gratification your Mom taught you?
So go ahead and sleep in a little, HRC brethren — just don't be late to practice!
Lurker-Loo/Running Urban Legends
Alligators in sewers, little green men, and ghost brides on highways. Everywhere a handful of human beings has worked and lived retains some zany bit of dubious history that circulates by word of mouth until it's considered nothing short of common knowledge. In the spirit of bodily humor and, coincidentally, a recent Runner's World article discussing healthy bowel movements, I thought I would share my own bit of supernatural hilarity that only fellow harriers could appreciate. This curiosity, as the title suggests, I have dubbed “The Lurker-Lou”.
Like Big Foot or El Chupacabra, the Lurker-Loo is regarded with the same incredulity by patrons of running folklore: those who have heard of it curiously pick at its implications for the laws of science and reality TV marketing, and those who have seen it are, well, considered a few marbles short of a set. I suppose you could call it a runner's equivalent to the Room of Requirement — a roaming, unanticipated but always appreciated port-a-potty that appears randomly to runners who find themselves in GI crisis while far from more civilized facilities. The following is an account of one such encounter with this curious phenomenon:
Some years ago, two eager young runners (whose names have been withheld for, you know, legal purposes and stuff) ventured forth upon the trails abreast the American River to participate in our holiest of sacraments: the Sunday Long Run. Cue choir of cherubim.
On that summer's morn did fair the Two,
'neath the pitiless sun, their endorphins a-brew.
As they galloped the road one did turn to the other,
knowing full well that such things they could share with each other;
“If you please, mine bowels do call for relief,
Might we scout for a spot to squat – I'll be brief!”
The respite was planned
and the winding road scanned
for some outpost befitting the odorous mark of one's clan.
Miles were scaled with nothing in sight
until, rounding some bend, their pubococcygei (its a word, Google it) held tight,
Our Twain beheld what ere few could recall
In pristine neon halo, The Great (vacant!) Stall
As you might imagine (or perhaps have hoped for in fruitless expectation) discovery of some form of dignified facility where none had existed previously was its own form of special miracle.
Crass as it sounds, I like to think of it as a freak-condolence of the running Gods for having to deal with the embarrassing dilemma of relieving oneself outdoors in fear that the unlucky passerby will not be traumatized by a flash of one's nether-regions. More importantly, this loony bit (and my real reason for sharing it with you — beyond enjoying some harmless poop jokes with friends) serves to remind us that the stories we have to tell post-run are as much a part of our subculture's narrative as the work itself.
Word to Yo Mama: Running Foremothers
With Mother's Day well underway (yes, it is that time of year and yes, if it's taken you this long to dawn on you, then you are most definitely screwed) every restaurant, florist, and confectioner's shop on the map is bracing itself for the barbarian horde of last-minute gift-givers, specialty gift basket orders and weekend brunch enthusiasts looking to make the matriarchs of their families feel appreciated (or, in some cases, call a temporary truce via effusive peace-offering). While the HRC crew certainly won't raise a hand to treating su madre to a sumptuous lunch on her way to, I don't know, helping her pick out a sharp new HRC women's team jersey, or partaking in any other conciliatory gestures, we will ask you to pause and take a moment or two to recognize the mothers you never knew you had (no, you're not being “punked” or surreptitiously dragged onto the set of the Maury Show, don't worry). We're talking about the mothers of our sport, from the bygone days of the ancient arenas across the Wine-dark sea to the Yankee soil under your own two feet.
Mythic Mamas (because I'm a nerd and I can't help myself)
Many runners are acquainted with the story of Atalanta, the Greek huntress who wouldn't agree to so much as first date with her many suitors unless they could best her in a foot race (talk about high standards). Many young men died in the attempt to meet her demands (probably forgot to hydrate) but the crafty Hippomenes managed to distract her with a handful of irresistible enchanted apples provided by love's leading lady, Aphrodite, and throw her off course enough to steal the win — and thus her hand.
The quintessential figure of feminine runner badassery (and, coincidentally, of mothers you don't want to mess with) is the ancient Irish goddess Macha Mong Ruad (“Red Mane,” fer ye non-Gael speakers). Thanks to her mortal husband running his mouth during a chariot race with an awful pun about her skill at a very different kind of “quickie” the king of the local province put Macha to the test by forcing her to race his best horses despite being heavily pregnant with twins. The joke was ultimately on them, however; Macha not only won (giving birth right on the finish line, no less), she cursed the men of the realm with birthing pains whenever the province should find itself under military siege.
Nicknamed “the Tornado,” though a specialist in sprints, Wilma Rudolph contributed to the growing presence of and enthusiasm for women's track and field events as a whole in the United States when in 1960 she became the first American woman to earn three gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics. The only thing more impressive than her accolades is the adversity she faced in getting there. As a small child, Rudolph suffered from infantile paralysis due to contraction of the polio virus, and was required to wear a leg brace and orthopedic shoe to correct a twisted leg and foot in the aftermath of her recovery.
Fortunately, no amount of distraction or adversity imposed by male peers deterred Kathrine “Kathy” Switzer from running the 1967 Boston Marathon, five years before women were allowed official entry into the event. Though she was not the only woman who wouldn't take “no girls allowed” for an answer that day (unregistered lady harrier Bobbi Gibb finished an hour ahead of Switzer), her act of defiance was met with the placement of a ban by United States Amateur Athletics Union that barred all women from competing in any amateur running events in which male participants could be entered (effectively all of them). The AAU and the then Boston Athletic Association director, Bill Cloney, passed off the harshness of their reactions as stemming not from any misogynistic principles but out of disgust at Switzer's sheer disregard for the rules and regulations of the competition as set forth by the Boston Marathon's committee, deeming her actions as unsportsmanlike conduct that would have disqualified any competitor, regardless of sex or gender. Whether or not the higher-ups in sports politics deemed her a wrongdoer, Switzer instantly became a hero in the eyes of countless women runners across the nation.
Another ground-breaker in the marathon distance, when the women's marathon was finally introduced as an Olympic event at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, America's very own Joan Benoit Samuelson took home the gold, despite having had arthroscopic knee surgery in March of that same year.
With all the ultra-runners in the HRC circle, no homage to the female road warrior would be complete without mention of the inexhaustible (seemingly literally) Pam Reed. Reed was the first female overall winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon. She set and continues to hold the women's record for the USATF's 24-hour track run and, among other incredible longitudinal feats, in 2005 completed 300 miles of running without sleep in just under 80 hours (more than 3 straight days). That's nearly 4,800 minutes of running at a rate of 3.75 miles per hour or a pace of 16 minutes per mile.
With so many incredible women out there more than worthy to fill the ranks of this category, I thought I'd hone in a little less on the records and championship bling and a little more on the combined merits of brains and brawn in the sporting world.
While it was nothing short of controversial for women to be toeing the line in a male dominated sport even on the doorstep of the civil Rights Era, 50 years later, ladies like Sally Bergesen and U.S. 5,000 meter champ Lauren Fleshman have taken on running not only as a profession, but as a catalyst for a new and burgeoning businesses that is marketed toward women by women who run. I'm talking of course, about the emergence of Oiselle an up and coming brand that also supports women in the sport with sponsorship and a national team presence.
Clearly those with double X chromosomes have enjoyed running (and been damn good at it) for a very long time, and show no signs of stopping. So while you're throwing back mojitos with Mom/Grandma/ the lil' missus, raise a toast to some of the fastest and fiercest matronae that history has ever known.
All Things Great and Small
I meet a lot of people that smile and half-jokingly insult themselves when they ask me how much or what kind of running I do. “Well now you're just making me feel bad!” and “I couldn't run half that much and still be in one piece.” are common responses, accompanied by some chuckling and down-putting of their own exercise regimen. I'm all for having a solid sense of humility, but whenever I have this type of exchange with a friendly stranger, all I want to do is give them a hug and a Mama-Stump motivational speech, but I realize that might be a little too personal or long winded a venture for someone I happened to bump into in the pet food aisle at Safeway. I mean, you just wanted to say hello and grab some Advantix for Rover on your lunch break, not invest in a 45 plus minute sermon from a bald chick with a bottle of fermented tea who looks like she got into a knife fight. But you're here now, taking the time to read this (hopefully not while milling the shelves at the super market), so consider yourself invested.
Here, good citizen, is what I really want to say:
Do what you can, as often as you can, with the best effort that you can in the given moment. Anyone who gives you smack for that? They have bigger problems (like a fragile and unsympathetic ego) and clearly aren't investing any energy in solving them by bullying you. It doesn't matter what you do — walk, run, swim, bike, lift, retrieve kites and stranded animals from trees — or why. It matters even less where you do it (granted, I would not necessarily encourage testing your climbing prowess by scaling the wall of a state prison to visit your old pal Andy Dufresne, unless you fancy sirens and a confetti of bullets to commemorate your achievement). What matters is that you do it. If said exercise of choice improves your general well-being and makes you happy (though the two, as you have likely discovered, need not be mutually exclusive) then you have no reason to apologize for or belittle yourself, much less shrink in apprehension of the critical appraisal of others. The world is as much yours as it is theirs, and I am happy to see you moving and doing in it, whatever it is.
Now to step off the soapbox for a moment; why am I so emotionally invested in telling you something that you can find on page one, chapter one of any self-help book ever written? I'm saying this because I'm not Oprah, or Dr. Oz, or Jeff Galloway (Gods bless the man, I owe him one). I'm your neighbor. I lumber down your street at the same time every day, I know your dog's name (hell, I may even have given you an affectionate nickname of my own in the absence of our being introduced — hello, Tube Sock Man!). In short, when I say that I see you, I'm not being rhetorical. I'm an active witness to your efforts to better yourself (in whatever sense) and I want you to know that your commitment does not go unappreciated or unsupported.
Admittedly, a more raw and perhaps more self-involved tangent to my urgency here is simply that now, more than any other period in my life, I know exactly what it is to want so much to be well, and to continue on with that which is so much in my nature to do, only to have illness or injury (or in my case, the combined fallout from both) push and pull me around in some way that I cannot simply "buck up and ignore" past a certain point. So please believe me when I say that no small thing that you do is insignificant, and it certainly is not wasted.
Soldier on, and be unafraid.
"Every Day I'm Shufflin'" — Running with Music
Runners, like most other varieties of human beings, are great lovers of music. And why wouldn't we be, when the very nature of our craft is based on the interaction of a series of rhythms and injunctions of power and motion, with the body serving as the instrument. It makes sense that when technology graced us with the gift of portable music, runners and active folk galore started hitting the streets with Walkman radios, cassette players, and eventually hand-held CD players and mp3 players. I was no different.
I used to dive into the many a summer sunrise with Eddie Vedder crooning "Black" into my ears as a world that had truly "all been washed in black" rinsed to blue and porcelain in the light growing somewhere, it seemed, from underground. That sounds like a load of sentimental hooey, but there is something beautifully surreal about scaling the gently-waking earth with a soundtrack to highlight its every detail. On the weekends and during competitive "off-seasons," I ran with my clip-on mp3 player religiously.
It wasn't until college that I was introduced to a culture in which running with headphones was actively frowned upon, if not outright banned (at least during official practice, anyway). No joke — jewelry and hair ties on wrists were blessedly no longer contraband, but heaven help you if a meet official or a coach caught you jamming to Soulja Boy (complete with dance!) during your warm up. I don't recall if any formal explanation was ever given as to why the act was considered so taboo beyond obvious safety hazards — don't come crying to Starter Bob (or bleeding all over his new tennies) when you've been impaled despite a javelin thrower's frantic shouts to DUCK! that were muffled by Katy Perry's latest bubble-gum sex anthem. Risking mortal flesh-wounds aside, if you had two ears and a head that was committed to team and training, the cons of always being "plugged in" became quickly, though often begrudgingly, apparent.
For one thing, it can be received as antisocial if not downright rude in a paired or group setting. I doubt you'd be terribly thrilled to meet a friend to chat over coffee only to have them nonchalantly pecking away at their Smartphone for the duration of your venture, or find it very tasteful for a coworker to be perusing Pinterest during a business meeting. Same thing applies to a group run. Whether oblivious or intentional, "tuning in" to your jams when you are supposed to be making a concerted effort toward something is basically choosing to "tune out" of your partner's/partners' voice in the matter (literally).
That being said, I think my intro demonstrates that I'm in no way anti-music when it comes to training. I've fought through more than my share of gut-busting runs, workouts, and races clinging to the verse of some recently heard song like a tiny mental life raft in the surge. Turns out you can flip getting a song stuck in your head from a common annoyance to a pretty nifty psychological tool; pick a catchy jam that fits your mood or the tone of the run you're about to go on (hint: Sarah MacLachlan is probably not the best choice for an all-out sprint workout), blast it on your car stereo or your headset a few times before heading out, and roll with it as you go. It may take a few tries to retrain your brain to be its own DJ, and more than a little difficult to part with your ipod on the way out the door (change is hard, we know). The result, however, is the best of both worlds: you still get the mantra-like effect of your music but now have the benefit of two open ears that are free to pick up important environmental cues, like the sneakily quiet Prius that's creeping up on your left — yeah, we know you're breathing a small sigh of relief that you were able to catch that just now. Plus, no more pesky wires getting caught on low hanging branches or the swipe of a hand that rips your ear-buds clean out of their canals.
Rock and roll sure ain't noise pollution, but like anything else in a first-world context, the convenience of having it constantly at your fingertips shouldn't take priority over your (or anyone else's) overall well-being.
Lost and Found
For the greater part of my running career, I have suffered from a chronic affliction that has made training in new and challenging environments particularly formidable. It affects my coordination, spacial orientation, and propensity to panic, and has left me in more than a few situations in which I was unsure as to whether I would make it safely home in one piece, if at all. Yes, Sonoma County harriers, I am Directionally Challenged.
Aww, come on now, you thought I was going to tell you something really awful, weren't you? It isn't exactly at the top of my list of "actual medical stuff that I've had to miss several HRC events for (sorry for that, by the way)," but it's a pain in the glutes for sure. You know you're "special" in the less flattering sense of the word when your first day of high school cross country results in half the veteran boys team forming a search party to retrieve you from a mere three blocks away from the HHS track. Yes, that really happened; and yes, I do know where the fire hydrant on the corner of north and second street is, thank you very much.
I suppose I find it ironic that I have a GPS watch that can tell me how far I've traveled, what pace I'm moving at, and for how long I've been running, but until technology has evolved enough for little Gustaf the Garmin (yes, I name my belongings — my former laptop was an Enrique, by the way) to be able to tell me where I am or which direction to take when I hit an inevitable fork in the road, I am doomed to rely on my own shaky instincts. So how the hell have I survived the past twenty-odd years without my sorry mug on the back of a milk carton? Or better yet, if you have been diagnosed with this frustrating deficiency, how do you deal?
First of all, I'd like you to remember the following quote (kudos, James!): "You aren't lost if there's nowhere you're supposed to be." Unless you have a starting line to report to or find that your 45 minute out-and-back between work/appointments has turned into two hours of perambulating aimlessly around the same set of streets, take your trigger-finger off the panic button. Consider it an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar area or an off-the-grid trail you've been curious about but have never taken. Columbus didn't exactly have great navigational chops and look what he blundered upon. Okay, so the guy is not someone I'd encourage you to emulate beyond that point (we here at HRC do not endorse colonial oppression or its instigators) but the point still stands.
The key to success in this very special field of "loss prevention," like most anything else in life, is to be proactive. Do you have a "memorize-all-the-street-signs and county road grids" kind of brain or are you a "go by landmarks/visual memory" person like myself? Or maybe you prefer the Paleolithic approach: "Big ball of fire in sky...come up there...EAST!!!" Whatever your strategy, actually taking the time to determine what works for you in the first place, and holding yourself accountable to it (bread crumbs in your pockets, leave your compass by your car keys, or psst — write it in your log!!!) is nearly as important as the running itself. Know thyself, and all that.
One For the Books
Not long ago I chimed in with a few words about the necessary evil of acquiring a new pair of running shoes (preferably before your toes come jutting out the ends). What I didn't quite get to, and what was recently brought to my attention by our fearless leader (yes, Skip, I'm going to be the nagging Italian grandma you never had here) is the importance of keeping track of the miles you put on your fancy footwear. The easiest way to do that? Keep a good old fashioned running log.
I know, I know, it's just one more dag-nabbed thing next to laundry lists and taxes you've gotta keep on the books (or stop procrastinating on) so the IRS doesn't come with a federal sledgehammer through your front door. But never fear! If you have an opposable thumb, a cheap notepad, and two minutes between the front door and the coffeepot, you can afford to put your workday routine on pause just long enough to jot down a few details about your day's run.
A running log can be as bare-bones or nerd-alert as you want or need, but the basics include the date, type of run (long run, speed workout, etc.), duration and length of the run (if you don't have a Garmin or other GPS watch, mapmyrun.com is your friend), and a few notes about how you were feeling that day. Was the run/workout a success? Any part of the body particularly stiff or in need of some extra TLC? Consequently, a log can also serve as a handy way to pinpoint both high and low points (a new PR or an injury) in a training cycle so that you can make smarter choices in the future regarding what elements of training you can change or improve. Any further details, such as average minutes per mile or heart rate, are totally up to you to include, but mileage is a must in order to keep tabs on the lifespan of your shoes. Protip: In order to maintain the best shoe performance, as well as the best support for your feet you should trade out your trainers after they've clocked between 300 and 500 miles. The range is fairly generous to accommodate a wide variety of runners and type of terrain covered,
Maybe you're still not sold on the idea; not because of the (minute) inconvenience of keeping some sort of daily record, but because all this data and number crunching might derail your perspective on training. You fear becoming a mileage whore or a slave to your splits such that the essential joy that compels you to run at all, let alone any achievements made throughout the course of you career, will be overshadowed by the implacable face of the Almighty Clock. You don't want to lose "that lovin' feeling." We don't want you to either, so we'll suggest a few things you can do to help prevent that.
First off, try ditching the watch from time to time. With no particular goal or destination and a bare wrist that won't tempt you to fall back on your usual mental gymnastics, it can be helpful to take an occasional "mental health run" wherein you simply run for the sake of running. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, keep a window of your day open for other interests or activities that you enjoy outside of work and/or training. Even those who don't hold running as a primary occupation can develop Training Tunnel-vision, meticulously reorienting all the facets of their life, right down to their very sense of self-worth, according to training demands and results. If cooking, reading, playing an instrument, or filming epic rap videos starring your pug are the simple pleasures that remind you that you are more than the sum of your scheduled activities, then they're worth making time for. You are a human being, after all, not a kitchen appliance.
Much of the beauty of running is in its simplicity, and while this business of logging can seem a bit at odds with that principle from a beginner's perspective, keeping a record of your progress without losing your sanity is possible — with balance.
Red. The Nine Circles of Hell. The Big Hole in the Ground. The Oval Office. With whatever level of affection you choose to refer to the track, the season for paying homage to the universal 400 meter arena is upon us, and with it the need for a recap on how to keep it classy when you hit it up.
• Two-step (or dally with its ugly step-siblings, listed below) — you know that friend who is so competitive that he literally must have at least one foot ahead of you for every stride you take during even the most low-key training runs? That's a two-stepper. Don't be that guy.
• Side-hug — A more aggressive version of the above. To be fair, this is sometimes an unavoidable consequence of crowded conditions on the track. Ever run a 10k (25 laps on the track, btw) with 51 other women crammed into one heat? There's enough sweaty-body-rubbing and inadvertent hand-to-boob contact in the first mile alone to make a night club look tame. Special circumstances aside, however, if there's plenty of room on the track and you're riding the person in lane one so hard that they're nearly tripping over the track-railing, you may want to reevaluate your definition of personal space.
• Heel-clip/cause flat tires — Also an often innocent offense that can happen on a crowded track. The only thing more jarring than having your shoe repeatedly stepped on by the person running directly behind you during a race/workout is having them actually trip on your heel, sending you both reeling forward to either crash into or be trampled by the rest of the crowd. Please, for the safety and sanity of everyone, give yourself a step or two of breathing room when approaching or pacing off someone from behind. Think of it as the two-second rule for bipedal traffic.
• Play cat-and-mouse — If you're gonna pass a brother, commit to it. If you make a surge ahead of someone you think you can or should be faster than, only to park your butt in front of them and slow down significantly — and then do it again when said competitor passes you back — you're not proving anything, just throwing a wrench in the pace. Harsh as this bit may sound, I'm not discouraging running with confidence or pushing past personal expectations in a competitive setting, just asking that you have the humility to recognize when you have underestimated your target and instead focus on finding a pace that you can maintain.
• Use one of the outside lanes (5 through 9) of the track if you are unsure where best to place yourself when sharing the track with someone else. Whether you're walking, running, or jazzercising, a quick rule of thumb is to give anyone moving at a noticeably faster pace than you priority access to the innermost lanes. The only exception is during high school track practice or home-meets, in which case, the track is off limits entirely. While the Healdsburg public is lucky to enjoy use of the high school track as a part of a mutual use agreement, its primary purpose is for the use of HHS students and student athletes. Street-speak:They get first dibs.
• Look both ways before crossing the track — Just because you're not currently using Big Red for your own devices doesn't mean someone else isn't. Trust me, you do not want to make the mistake of taking a leisurely stroll toward the infield only to narrowly avoid being pummeled by a sprinter barreling down the homestretch. Interestingly, it's often track spectators ("yes Grandma, that hurdle is supposed to be there, come back!!!") that are most guilty of this offense.
• Support the HHS team by donating to the Healdsburg Boosters Club (you can request that your donation go directly to the Cross Country and Track and Field program) or becoming a Boosters Club member.
When we come right down to it, I could feasibly write a book on all the tithes and taboos of our private nine-lane highway, but all you really need to have when you arrive is this: a little tact and a lot of respect for what you do.
"But These are my Work Clothes!"
We've all experienced it. Little old ladies shake their heads and cluck disapprovingly, small children gawk and loudly point out the obvious as their parents attempt to corral them, all the while giving you the leery side-eye. And all this fuss because you strolled into your local market/cafe in your favorite flaming pink bun-huggers hoping to grab a quick snack in between your nine-to-five and a morning workout. You have just fallen victim to the infamous Checkout-Line One-Up.
Now, while I would normally advise keeping it a tad more conservative when entering a place of business (throw on a pair of sweatpants, food joints get nippy anyway) no one can deny that sports apparel brands have a pretty liberal [read: kooky] hand when it comes to choosing some of the cuts and pattern and color combos that end up on retail mannequins. No haters here, we love the stuff, but when your outfit looks like a drunken Teletubby picked through your clothes hamper, you may raise a few eyebrows. That being said, there are certainly some positive aspects to our flamboyant business attire:
The neon color schemes may have their volume turned up a little too loud, but they at least make us more visible to passing vehicles on country roads or in dark or inclement weather conditions.
RELIVE YOUR FASHION HISTORY
In the 80's it was leg warmers and headbands, today HRC carries compression sleeves and rad Oiselle head/sweat bands. Twenty minutes with a glue gun and some sport gloves and you could even pull off that Michael Jackson one-glove schtick. Only complaint: no Hammer pants?
GENDER NEUTRALIZATION (Because we're progressive, man...)
Where else except in ballet is it okay and even nearly obligatory for men and women to wear tights? Any ladies out there with larger feet who need a little more room in the toe-box of their women's trainers? I've worn my share of men's running shoes. In fact, male runners are just as likely to have huge, color-coded shoe collections as women such that it's even considered a point of pride. Fess up, fellas, which one of you didn't just have to have a pair of Sketchers after Meb conquered the Boston?
Gone is the social stigma of wearing matching socks, and with it (don't tell Mom) the need to do laundry more than...well, whenever you get around to doing it. When it all looks "so wrong that it's right," you can't throw together a tacky outfit, right? We'll leave that one to you folks.
When all is said in done, the zaniness of what we wear when we work out is one of the more lighthearted accompaniments of the running lifestyle. We are committed enough in our approach to training that sometimes that pair of cheetah-print spandex or a "wear-your-(functional)costume-to-work" themed recovery run helps to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.
Love hurts. Your Feet Don’t Have to.
You've been dreading this moment for weeks. You're a stickler for commitment — when you make an investment in something, you make it to last. But this morning, rolling over to face the cold indent in the bed beside you, and beyond it the cozy nook where a certain set of belongings has left a sad ghost of an imprint in their absence, you know it's really over.
That's right, your girlfriend snuck out of bed and threw out your favorite tattered-ass trainers while you were asleep. And it's Garbage Day.
Now, as much as this sudden act of betrayal should grieve you, the lady wasn't exactly in the wrong. Those things STANK. And they were pinned and duck taped in a few places, and — oh yeah — the Styrofoam was sticking out from that one spot where you were showing off your best Emma Coburn impression and didn't quite make it over a barbed wire fence, and....you know the rest. But the heartbreak remains. Like so many pairs of running shoes before them, you spent months bonding with those babies through blood, sweat, ventures over mountain tops and moonlit strolls (some of which, come to think of it, you probably should have spent with the aforementioned girlfriend) along sleepy city streets. King Arthur had his noble steed and you have your trusty Asics. The thought of interring them seems downright disrespectful, yet it has to be done.
Breakdown: you love your shoes and you don't wanna leave 'em (cue Bruno Mars and tiny violins). Smack-down: you love your feet/legs more and you're gonna bust something if you don't leave 'em (eventually).
Smack-down: you love your feet/legs more and you're gonna bust something if you don't leave 'em (eventually).
PSA: We here at HRC offer quality counseling in this very sensitive transition period, and resources to help you get back on your feet (literally; if we don't have the shoes, we'll help you find them. You can even bring your girlfriend).
Chasing the Wave
One of the first topics I was asked to consider for the HRC blog was an homage to the term "trail surfing". I won't lie, I love me some natural terrain, but I think I left any aspirations for a career in trail-running in the dust of the last Salt Point 26k before the Pacific Trail Runners disbanded a few years back. That being said, the type of experience the phrase implies is one that I think anyone with a passion for the sport can understand.
Perhaps it's more than fitting that my very first coach and longtime running guru is himself an avid surfer. Having grown up with the beaches of Southern California as his playground, HHS's own beloved literary aficionado, John Linker, brought the wisdom of his sea-legs ashore to share with generations of Healdsburg teens looking to run cross-country. His "hang ten and go-with-it" approach to training encouraged us to embrace running as a full-circle experience. In addition to the grind and the thrill of competition that we all thrived off of was a simple but primal communion of land and human animal. Okay, so for some of us it was more about the happy debauchery of tearing up a hillside and getting sweaty with a herd of other half-naked bodies until someone chased you out of their vineyard with a shotgun. Either way, the point hit home for each of us in its own way; running was fun and gritty. Running was fun because it was gritty. The grittiest, in fact. Your body, the land, and your own aspirations; nothing else. You hit the right rhythm at the right time and you could cruise up and around any mountain or over any stretch of road with the same rush as any boarder who landed the choicest wave.
In all seriousness, there are some definite zen moments that can take place when you take to the open road. Asphalt, dirt, sand, or sea, when the air in your lungs and cadence of your limbs seem to fall in line with the rhythms of the world around you, it puts a whole new meaning to being truly alive. Give in, and ride it all the way home.
Come on in, the Water’s Fine!
I have but a few superstitions that enough life experience has deterred me from abandoning. Never cross the finish line before you've actually completed the course on race day, let your legs (not your mouth/ego) do the talking if you find yourself being badgered about performance in an upcoming race, and NEVER curse the weather. Come hell or, in light of our county's current events, high water, don't doubt that the powers-that-be will jump at the chance to prove that yes, they can in fact throw much worse at you. Seriously folks, keep the grumbling about a few scattered showers in those well-roofed noggins, because Thor and Tlaloc are about as trigger-happy with the cosmic super-soaker as Rambo at an NRA convention. Bottom line: the rainy season has returned, and you've just gotta deal with it.
Besides, running in the rain doesn't always guarantee a miserable experience. Sure, the shrapnel-in-the-face, soaks you til you're numb in the nuts variety of downpour can make any workout seem like a nightmare, but you've got to admit that you feel that much more bad-ass blasting down the homestretch plastered in nature's own muddy war paint. Lost in a buzz of relief and post-traumatic adrenaline, you're already framing the chapters of the epic narrative you'll be relaying to friends, colleagues, or the dog — whoever awaits you when you return to civilization — when you finally come lumbering in the door. Bonus points if the sun decides to make a fashionably late appearance (nice timing, dude...) just as you emerge from the eye of the storm, bathing you in an apologetic shaft of light that highlights your battle-hardened physique for all to see. That's some Spartacus-level material there, people, and you sure as hell won't find that on a Hallmark card Easter morning or behind the brightly-lit monitor of a treadmill. It's the stuff legends ultimately get their substance from.
Embrace the rain (albeit with some caution), Sonoma County warriors, and go write your own legends.
Oh Runner, Where art Thou?
Whether swift of foot or pedal or butterfly kick, competitive athletes are few and far between in this northernmost realm of Sonoma County — or so I thought. Pounding my way across the streets, trails, and naked roads of Cloverdale and Healdsburg, it's a rarity to see more than a handful of cyclists on any given day, let alone fellow runners, if I see any at all. When it comes time for an event like the Healdsburg Half and Wine Country Half Marathons, or the beloved Fitch Mountain Footrace, however, harriers, tri-athletes, and all varieties of active folk flood in from every nook and cranny of the area.
So all this begs me to question: "where y'all been?"
To be fair, maybe you only have time enough to be a lunch-break or weekend warrior when it comes to getting in a solid chunk of running — you still have to put food on the table, after all. Or maybe you just prefer to fly solo. I'll be the first to admit that I've done the bulk of my training alone since running became a staple of my life. Like many, I relish the solitude and the temporary release from the 9 to 5 song-and-dance, and above all else, the sense of independence and accomplishment that comes from "getting it done" on my own.
Whatever the reason for our apparent lack of interaction, even the most hermitic or sporadically active amongst us get lonely out there. The weather turns sour, you hit a slump in training, or you'd just like the company of another warm body to share the novelty of exploring a newly-discovered trail. Solidarity — it's something we all crave when we've found an experience or activity worth sharing, and it's what binds a community together. Runners are no different in that capacity, from the sprinter to the Clydesdale.
A great deal of my excitement in becoming involved with the Healdsburg Running Company is generated by the opportunity to create a space for local runners to come together in the flesh, whether for a quick chat and a snack or an event to help bolster support for the sport in our own backyard. HHS cross-country boosters, anyone? Running camp on the coast? We can help one another make that happen, and more.
Come share your voice, and your adventures with us at HRC.
As a wee freshman in college, I was tasked with composing an essay (for perhaps the upteenth time in my life, but I'm a sucker for mythology, so I bit) on the "greater human significance" of Odysseus' perilous journey in Homer's The Odyssey. You know the story; man leaves home, man fights in war, rustles the jimmies of a few deities and has his trip home rerouted by monsters and loose women enough times to make a layover flight in the middle of a hurricane look like a walk in the park. The question posed to us: "what gives the idea of home such power that Odysseus risks everything and anything to get back to it?" You'd think a guy with that much wit and luck with the ladies (queens and goddesses, no less) could easily have dug his heels in the sand and retired to a sunny life as Athena's cabana boy rather than put himself through that mess.
The answer seemed as evident in that story as it was for me in relation to my own home. Odysseus was determined to get back to something more than security and familiar pleasures; after more than a decade of war and (mostly) involuntary exile it was the center-point of his being that he was grasping for. Ithaca was his place of birth, the threshold of his kingship, the soil on which he consummated his marriage, and the hub of all who knew and loved him best in life.
I may not have had to brave perilous oceans or enchanted cop-outs to return here, but Healdsburg and its surrounding area are the point of origin from which I draw such strength and restoration of identity, no matter how far or long estranged I may have been. The land itself seems to embrace and rejuvenate me, runner and human-animal alike.
For all those folk who call Healdsburg their home, be ye runners, hikers, or mildly-active meddlers (we love you too), I say to you: give the valley your heart and she will give you your legs.