Getting Back on the Horse if You Don’t Own One

Circa 1966.  I was spending a few weeks at a Girl Scout camp outside of Prescott, Arizona.  Ten years old, ridiculously tall, gangly, and bespectacled, I had tried my best to get with the whole Girl Scout program.  I ate the cookies, memorized all of the inner workings of my GS swiss-army-style knife, and even had an official GS flashlight, which came in handy when traversing the woodsy path to the Pine-Sol-reeking outhouse in the dark.  And being girls, we all were supposed to be totally in love with horses, so the trail rides were very popular, along with The Beatles and Cheez Whiz.

I didn’t have much horseback riding experience, but I knew the basics.  I knew, for example, that I preferred the horse to walk rather than to trot, because all it seemed to do was jiggle my skinny body around.  These horses were seasoned Girl Scout transporters, and they knew it.  We weren’t there to do anything exciting.  These horses were destined for a summer life of soul-crushing boredom.

When you’re a tall girl, you get the big horse.  Period.  I wound up with a gigantic, black horse named Tony, the proverbial Italian Stallion.  Never mind the fact that I had marginal strength and riding skills, the short nag named Madge went to my miniature friend, Mindy.  I am also fairly sure that Tony, given his name, was Italian, and thus began a lifelong karmic thing between me and Italian men/horses.  But that’s a subject for another day, you’ll be pleased to hear.

This was the last trail ride of the summer for us.  Tony and I were near the front of the long line of fidgeting Girl Scouts on this wicked hot, summer day.  We meandered down a dirt road, where we could see the softball field of the nearby Boy Scout camp, verböten territory to us.  Suddenly, a stray softball pierced the outfield and flew across the road.  Tony took this to mean that this was the start of the apocalypse he’d been worrying about, and he took off like the proverbial bat-horse out of hell.  Head high, he quickly passed the horses in front of him to lead the full-on stampede, away from the stray ball’s deadly range of impact.

Tony had instantly moved from a pathetic lumber to a full-on gallop, leaving me to hang on for dear life to the reins, my skinny calves hugging the saddle as best I could.  I had no experience with this kind of situation, since the only things I had been that physically scared of up until this point of my life were Mr. Kennedy, (my fifth-grade teacher) and my father.  Physical danger of this sort was not in my lexicon.

Tony showed no signs of letting up.  I hung on for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually probably just a few minutes, and eventually ran out of adrenaline and strength.  I fell off the horse, hit my head on a rock in the road, and blacked out.

This could explain so much.

When I came to, one of the camp counselors, Finessa (her camp nickname, which came from being a good Bridge player, which we didn’t think qualified her for camp counseling, but what the hell did we know) was bent over me, asking me if I was OK.  I was rattled, bleeding, but otherwise, yes, I was OK.  After few stitches in my head, my parents were called, and I got an extra dessert that night.

Not a bad day, overall.

A few days later, I went back home and tried to put Tony behind me until the next year, at a different, co-ed camp, where horses pulled carts, which I much preferred over the unpredictability of a trail ride.  I had a crush on the cart-horse instructor, who taught us how to hook up the cart and ride in circles.

Now, there’s a life skill for you.

So, bottom line, I did not get back on the horse for a while.

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This has proven to be a problem, like for instance, now.

Because of some combination of poor planning, laziness, karma, and irrational exuberance, I injured my right hip after a half-marathon last July.  I won’t bore you with the details because you’ll probably start to cry and that would make me even more cranky.  It’s not like I’m some über-runner who freaks out if she can’t run for a day or two.  In truth, my already-waning running mojo after ten years has completely tanked, when forced to sit on the sidelines for six months.

And then we had such a ghastly winter here in Boise, that it was a blessing to be limping around for months instead of running:

  • Our driveway was so full of ice for so many weeks that only a Navy Seal could have made down it to the actual road to get the mail.

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  • The amount of snow we had to shovel was roughly equal to the McMurdo Ice Shelf in Antarctica, so who could run after shoveling all of that?

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  • Our dogs audibly sighed every time they had to go outside and navigate the feet of snow/ice that accumulated and made it impossible to find a good-smelling place to poop.

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On top of the unprecedented snowfall was an unprecedented, soul-crushing workload, which I won’t bore you with, except to say that the only exercise most of us have gotten is using a corkscrew within five minutes of arriving home.  I mean, it’s something, right?

Most of us in Boise are very tired of the word “unprecedented.”

And let’s not forget the election, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ unexpected deaths, and a bad bout of the flu over New Year’s.  Even the simple and wonderful things, like meeting a good friend for lunch, became a life-threatening act, having to navigate the ice-covered parking lot.

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Long story short:  I have fallen off of a veritable stable of horses:  Running, eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, writing, studying Italian on a regular basis, enjoying quality time with anyone except my colleagues, if that.  Life’s just been stupid for months.

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So, now it’s March.  The snow is finally off the ground, but the temperatures most days are still suspect.  It’s not like I’ve never run in the winter before.  But I found out that I really need the gradually-decreasing temperatures of fall running to make winter running tolerable.  And, alas, there were none of those.

By this time of year, I’ve usually got our plans in place to run a 62-mile relay from Stanley to Ketchum, Idaho, or at least put a half-hearted training schedule together for running a half-marathon in May or June.  But not this year.  My whole cycle is off.

Thanks to the brain surgeons who specialize in data analytics and bombard my email and Facebook accounts with tantalizing advertising, however, I’ve been able to keep up with lots of other fantastic opportunities like:

  • Groupon trips to Bermuda and Belize – the perfect ads to see when working 60-hour weeks in the dead of the worst winter on record.
  • The 21-Day Goddess Workout – really? I firmly believe it will take a bit longer than that. But maybe I should pay the $99 so I can have one more horse to fall off of?
  • The Bikini Sale at Zulily – and you are sending this to me because…?
  • The “Be Here Now” program – like I really want to be here even more than I am?

Just so you know, it’s not like I didn’t try…a little.  Before the snow fell, last fall, after I got my hip diagnosed, I decided to return to lap swimming after a 30-year hiatus.  I bought a new swim cap and goggles, had a long talk with myself, found out when the pool would be at its emptiest, and jumped in.  Once.

It wasn’t awful.  But even if I could have survived the 15 miles of icy roads to the gym and safely traversed the parking lot after winter hit, there was no way in hell I was going to remove my three permanent layers of polar fleece in a chilly locker room, struggle into my bathing suit, cap, and goggles, and jump in the pool.  Seriously?  And then I tweaked my right shoulder and haven’t been back since.

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Gary survived the winter better than I did, but only because he’s an irrationally exuberant skier if, that is, he could actually get out of our driveway.  He has no SAD tendencies, so my daily grumpiness wore on him as he realized the odds of him getting a cold salad for any meal had finally dipped to zero.  He got even by buying endless numbers of bags of tortilla chips and more phubbing.  Can’t say as I blame him.  I finally understand the whole “snowbird” mentality.  Maybe heading south with the geese is the way to go.

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But there’s a tiny smidgen of hope on the horizon.  We’ve had a few 50-degree days, always when I had to work (of course).  And then the weekends would be back in Antarctic territory which, if I wasn’t working, would mean I had time to make more heavy, caloric food to nourish my inner, cranky goddess instead of my outer one.

In a pathetic attempt at self-motivation, I fell prey to running shoe marketing from Brooks and actually bought a pair of shoes at full price, because they pay homage to the NYC Marathon – I mean, it’s something, right?  I’ve run on my treadmill twice in them to test out the ol’ hip.  I did OK, happily.  I think I’ll name my treadmill Tony.  That might help.

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In spite of my ridiculous thoughts of running in a down coat, ONCE, a few weeks ago, when the Sunday afternoon temperature topped 45, Claire and I went outside for our first run in many months.  And, again, it wasn’t awful.  Claire was thrilled, in a way that only a Border Collie can be.

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I was happy enough afterward to schedule which days I would run after work the next week…outside!  And then the weather tanked again.  More stew and pasta.  Great.

I drove by our local grade-school track the other day and saw that the snow was finally gone.  Maybe it’s time to get out there for a few laps, even if they are, as Old Broad Running would say in her blog:  Wimpervals!

Somehow, it’s now vividly clear to me that my life frays at the edges pretty badly if I’m not running, so damn it, today is the day.  Let’s check the weather, shall we?

Saturday:  A 50 percent chance of showers.
Cloudy, with a high near 56. Southeast wind 9 to 14 mph.

Not bad, all things considered.  So, this afternoon, after ingesting some magical combination of caffeine and anti-inflammatories, I’m going to lace up and head out with Claire for a couple of miles.

I’m tired of not showing up.  Time to get back on the horse.  And Tony the Treadmill just doesn’t count.  Time to hit the road.

Thanks for reading.  I know how busy you are.

Everything I Needed to Learn About Running I Learned From My Dog

I signed up for a local, July half-marathon a few months ago, to force myself to increase my mileage so I would have a decent base for training for my first marathon on October 30. This is when you should assume that I probably was dropped on my head as a child.

Early on the morning of the race, as I gathered up running gear, our dogs, Henry and Claire, assumed I was going to go for a run with them.  Claire followed me around and sat on my running shoes.  Henry stayed on the bed, looking bright-eyed but concerned. Continue reading

35 Weeks to Go: The Oval Highway to Hell

They say you should never make big life decisions in the middle of the night.  Well, thanks to two vodka martinis and a bad case of monkey mind, several weeks ago, I found myself reading “Marathoning for Mortals” again during the wee hours.  (It was either that or clean up the 4,132 unread emails in my inbox.)

As a direct result of this madness, I had another lapse of sanity and signed up for my first full marathon — the inaugural running of the Onward Shay! Marathon in Boise this October 30. In an attempt to survive the experience, I am mostly following Jeff Galloway’s run/walk/run marathon training program.  I say “mostly” because I am only doing the “run” part of the program, for now.  When I started running, almost ten years ago, I began by using his program for a couple of years and then switched over to just running.  I plan to switch back over to run/walk/run once the heat of this summer kicks in and longer runs are the norm.

I’ve never been much of a walker mostly because I’m impatient (unless it’s on a beach with the right company and a glass of something delicious). My on-again, usually-off-again backpacking career has been more like the Bataan Death March than anything, since my pack is always too heavy and I’m never in shape for it.  But I’ve learned to occasionally incorporate walking into some of my runs, like races with big-ass hills in them.  Given that baby ducks can beat me up a steep hill when I’m running, fast walking the hills has seemed like a great alternative, to keep me from complete exhaustion and out of the sag wagon.

duckling in road

Anyway, this week in Galloway’s program, the weekly long run is replaced by what he calls the Magic Mile. At regular intervals, I’m supposed run a timed mile on a track and, over time, hopefully see improvement from the previous time.  The results, overall, are a solid predictor of a person’s half-marathon time, after multiplying the results by 1.2.  Or a full-marathon time if you multiply by 1.3.  Sounds good to me.  Who am I to question?  If you’re curious about this calculation, check out Jeff Galloway’s site:

Jeff Galloway Magic Mile Calculator

In our tiny little town of Star, northwest of Boise, Idaho, we have a 4-lane, asphalt track at the local grade school. I drive by it almost every day and think about how I really should do speed work; but then I feel guilty, drive home, open a bag of tortilla chips, and look for the corkscrew instead.  But today is different.  Today, I am going to get on the track and run my first Magic Mile.  I’m not sure I feel the magic, but I’m pretty sure I can survive a mile.  And then I’ll come home and search for the corkscrew…

In spite of signs warning us to the contrary, we take our running dogs, Henry and Claire, on the track with us. Every back yard that lines the perimeter of the schoolyard has a chain link fence and at least one manic, barking dog in it.  We soldier on.

My mission for the day is to warm up for 2.5 miles, do one more lap of walking and four acceleration-gliders, and then do my best to run a full mile with intent. It’s a vaguely cloudy, early spring day, when a light jacket feels pretty good until you’re a half-mile in, and then off it goes.  So, in other words, I have no excuses for running even more slowly than I fear I will.

In almost ten years of running in my very mediocre and unimpressive way, I can count the number of times I’ve attempted speed work or a timed mile on the fingers of one hand. It always sounds like a great idea, and I even enjoy it when I’ve done it (although the memories are dim), but for some reason, I just haven’t managed to get ‘er done.  This is probably for why I do not run like a Kenyan, even an 87-year-old Kenyan, with bad knees and pneumonia.  Ah, but today will be different.

Full of enthusiasm and caffeine, we start running on the track and the perimeter dogs start barking at the four of us. A German Shepherd starts the canine symphony, soon followed by two Killer Chihuahuas, a lazy Lab (lying down at the fence line; the official state dog of Idaho), an athletic and reasonably manic Cocker Spaniel, and then, to my surprise, a rooster.  With each lap we run, the same melody ensues in the same order, much to the frustration of the owners on this Sunday afternoon, who run outside to yell at their dogs, glare at us, and disappear inside to watch people running on fields/courts on ESPN.  (Note:  No one yelled at the rooster to shut up.)

lapping everybody on the couch

It should be noted here that I have a very low tolerance for repetitive tasks, like running in circles, eating salad, or vacuuming. Within seconds, my brain leaves my body for more interesting and exciting places like, uh, Belize:

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See? It just happened again.

So, running 10 laps on a track means that I could wind up running 8, 10 or 17, depending on how distracted I get. I still cannot fathom doing much track running for this very reason.  But years ago, my friend, Judy, trained for her first marathon exclusively by running on a 400m track.  When I asked her how she kept track of the number of laps she had run, she said she had the right number of toothpicks in one hand and after each lap, transferred one toothpick to the other hand.  May I also say that she ran a very successful first marathon, at a steady pace throughout.  She clearly is wired very differently than I am, since today I lost track between laps 1 and 2.  But it’s SO great to be running on a flat surface, for once.  I could do this forever, as long as forever didn’t last too long.

Anyway, I ran my 10-ish laps and then another ¼ mile of walking and acceleration-gliders, which I don’t quite get yet, but am sure I will someday.

Then the moment of truth had arrived: I have to run one mile, pushing it, whatever that means.

Let the overthinking and negotiations begin!

Magic Mile – Lap 1: I put our two dogs in the car; time to get serious.  I turn on my Garmin watch and head down my Oval Highway to Hell.  According to the instructions, I am not supposed to try to run as fast as I can, right out of the proverbial chute, but I am supposed to run this first lap faster than my warmup laps, so I do so.  No problemo; all systems go.  All of the perimeter dogs and the rooster cheer me on.  I take the suggested 10-second fast-walk break after the lap, muster my meager amount of running mojo, and continue on.

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Magic Mile – Lap 2: The German Shepherd  no longer considers me a threat and is lying down in the sun, which is probably what I should be doing.  I pick up the pace a bit and make eye contact with the Killer Chihuahuas.  Now, I am what you call a serious dog lover, but I’ve never met a Chihuahua that didn’t try to attack and kill me, regardless of what I was doing.  But I get it; if I looked like that, with those little legs and that yappy mouth, I’d be pissed off too.  It was just some weird genetic fluke that they didn’t become racing greyhounds; kinda like I feel.  I too “coulda been a contender,” in some parallel universe where potato chips are a superfood and single malt scotch is good for you.

The Killer Chihuahuas run along the fence line with me as I pass by their yard, fantasizing about being faster and greater than they are. Wait, no, that’s what’s in my head.  I try to channel my running idol, Deena Kastor, but realize that I shouldn’t bug her now.  I think I’ll need her during the last six miles of my first marathon instead.

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We have so much in common, Deena and I; I too broke my foot and have a black running hat. (And I just have to say that I am so sorry that she wasn’t able to compete in the recent Olympic marathon trials; she is so amazing and I was really rooting for her to qualify.)

So I lumber on, thinking how good it’s going to feel when this mile is over, especially when I ditch this weird skirt/tights thing that I thought I liked when I bought it, but I was wrong.

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Magic Mile – Lap 3:  I pick up the pace a bit more, still completely ignoring my watch.  I’m not gasping for air, but I’m realizing that my legs haven’t moved like this in quite a while; it feels good.  My stride is lengthening, my arms are working harder, and I realize that the dogs are no longer barking.  The rooster is no longer crowing.  Actually, I think that they were all so terrified from watching me run that they took solace inside on the couch, with their ESPN-watching owners.

Damn it; now I’m alone with the thoughts in my head, the same thoughts that tell me that I really should exfoliate, floss my dogs’ teeth, and drink more water than wine. Oh, and that the presidential race is actually just a “reality” TV show from a different parallel universe, directed by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.  How else can you explain it?  And then, happily, I’m back in Belize.

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OK, wow, I just finished the third lap. That was kind of fun, actually…

Magic Mile – Lap 4: OK, this last lap is when my Inner Olympian needs to kick in.  I am truly, madly, deeply looking forward to this lap being over.  I start negotiating with myself about how I will feel about my time for this mile.  I have no delusions of grandeur; I figure that if I come in at anything less than an 11:30 pace, I should be as happy as if I had survived hang-gliding across the Grand Canyon.

As I continue around the track and pick up the pace for the last half-lap, I am startled by the sound of my own gasping. I hear an ambulance in the distance and wonder if it’s coming for me.

If I collapse on the track and no one is there to hear it, will I still make this terrible, wheezing sound?

I can no longer feel my legs. I wonder if that is a bad thing.

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The sand on the beach feels great between my toes.

I hit the one-mile mark, stop my watch, and say one final prayer to my pathetic, running ego before looking at it: 10:00 on the nose.  That means, in theory, according to Jeff Galloway, that if I were able to run a half-marathon today, I would run it at a 12:00/mile pace.  Sounds about right, based on my past experience.  That Jeff Galloway is one smart cookie.  OR, if I were running a marathon, I would run it at a 13:00/mile pace.

I frankly am, for once, pleasantly surprised.  While I know that I could have run that mile faster than I just did, considering how little running I have done in the last year and how rarely I have pushed myself to run faster, ever, I am a little THRILLED.

Maybe there’s hope for me after all.

But joy is fleeting; I still have so many improvements and changes to make before I tackle my first marathon.  Like, for example, today’s lunch of Nilla Vanilla Wafers (left over from Gary’s pie crust) and a double-shot cappuccino probably aren’t the best things for me to eat before a run, or maybe even ever.

The good news is that I just received some dietary advice from my good friend, Sharon.  You never know where you will find important life wisdom; in addition to bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets, you can also find it on socks:

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We drive home from the track and I’m all giddy about my first one-mile test, like a puppy with a new stick. As I recover for a few moments in front of my computer, I wonder…just for fun…if a 13:00/mile pace could ever be a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.  You can check me on this, really, here it is:

BAA Qualifying Times

Well, the bad news is that no, it wouldn’t. BUT IF I can shave a mere 30 seconds off of today’s Magic Mile time (easy-peasy), my expected marathon pace would be 12:21 and that, my friend, would allow me to qualify for Boston when I am 80 years old!

Wow, now there’s some good news, right there…

Twenty years to Boston! I wonder if it’s too soon to buy my airline ticket.

Maybe you can come and cheer me on?  You don’t need to decide today.

Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.

Week 1 of 37: Show Up, Sign Up, and Buy New Peas

Running quote about overcoming obstacles

I vividly remember the exact moment, in fourth grade, when I looked at my classmate, Lori Garrison, and realized: I am deeply flawed and inadequate.  She was a beautiful girl and an amazing volleyball player.  Medium height, blonde, pretty, and coordinated, she was the Gwyneth Paltrow of nine-year-olds.   However, watching me try to play volleyball would make your eyes bleed.

I come from a long line of athletic underachievers. Nothing athletic could come from my Continue reading

Just Another Reason Why I Would Make a Lousy Superhero

One of the best things to do in January, when the weather is usually crummy and there is no thought of warmth and summer, is to sign up for the Sawtooth Relay.  It’s a 62-mile, 6-person running relay that goes from Stanley, Idaho to Ketchum, Idaho in mid-June.  While this isn’t a Hood-to-Coast level of relay, it is challenging enough for Gary and me.

Continue reading

Running Beats Kale Any Day

About halfway through my 50th trip around the sun, I ran into my friend, Chris, who is slightly older, much thinner, and far wiser than I am.  In spite of these traits, I like her very much.  I had no idea she was a runner – a runner/walker, actually.  She had this vest on from a recent marathon; I knew she was a cyclist and vegetarian, but a marathoner?  Hmmm.  Food for thought.

Continue reading