Tin Man Running

These guys are ready to run.
These guys are ready to run. And, no, that's not blood.

That’s it. No more training runs. I’m shutting it down until Sunday. Tonight I ran one of my regular 4 mile neighborhood circuits at a steady, gentle pace. I wasn’t out to set any records. I just wanted to get my final bit of mileage in without sustaining any new injuries or aggravating any existing ones. I didn’t bolt out into any intersections to catch lights as they changed from yellow to red. I walked around pedestrian clusters instead of darting out into traffic. I stopped short if I thought my path would intersect that of a cyclist. Throughout the run I felt a little stiff, so the next few days off will hopefully allow my body to relax and unwind so I’m loose and ready to run on Sunday.

This has been a long training period during which I’ve run hundreds of miles. It has been interrupted three times by nagging injuries which healed relatively quickly. And it’s been interrupted by a couple of deaths in the family, wounds which take a little longer to overcome. Now though it’s time to move on. To get the heart beating faster, the blood flowing, and the legs pumping. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to participate in this weekend’s Napa Valley Marathon, and I’m going to leave it all out there on the road.

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And The Oscar Went To…

The Castro in all it's neon glory.
The Castro in all it's neon glory.

flickr photo by Stephane Delbecque

Now that the Oscars are over, the honey and I finally got around to seeing Milk. I wanted to wait until it came out on DVD, but she insisted we take the movie in at the Castro Theatre situated in the heart of where most of the film takes place. I don’t want to offer an in-depth review of the movie here, since that ship sailed a long time ago, but I will say I liked it well enough. Milk’s story is vitally important to the struggle for gay rights in America, but his life as presented in the film wasn’t terribly dynamic. Given that, however, I did enjoy how the director, Gus Van Sant, recognized that and made a very personal, almost quiet film.

And the honey was absolutely right about the opportunity to see the movie at the Castro Theater. I enjoyed sharing the experience of watching that particular film with so many people whose lives were shaped by Harvey Milk and what he and others did to win their legal rights. And it was kind of fun sitting and watching the film in the theatre which appears in the background of so many shots in the movie as well as walking out into the neighborhood and down the same sidewalks Milk walked down so long ago.

Does This Look Infected?

Turn your head and cough.
Turn your head and cough.

flickr photo by stopnlook

Today was my first experience with an institution which strikes fear in the heart of many Americans: a health maintenance organization.

Since I’m a freelance worker, I’ve paid thousands of dollars each year to purchase one of those “gold-plated” health insurance policies we heard so much about during the last presidential campaign. And even though my premiums went up almost hourly on a policy with a sky-high deductible (I basically had to fall down an elevator shaft to get my money’s worth), at least I didn’t have any government bureaucrat telling me which doctor I could or couldn’t see. No bean-counter in Washington denied any of my health care claims. I had a cadre of guys and gals down in Oxnard, California denying coverage for me instead thank you very much.

After years of paying all the costs of private health insurance though, my spouse took a job which offered health benefits, and I ditched my plan shortly after selecting a new plan. After looking through the choices on offer, I selected an HMO. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How can I go from my “gold-plated” free-market health insurance plan which will limit my freedom of choice and cares only to push the maximum number of patients through the system quickly and cheaply. Believe me, visions of having my choices limited swirled through my head as I approached the building housing my HMO. This is what happened next.

After paying my co-pay, I was called from the waiting room by a nurse who weighed me, asked me how tall I was, measured my blood pressure and heart rate, checked my body temperature, escorted me to a room, and left me to wait for a doctor. The doctor arrived, asked me a few questions about my health, looked down my throat, felt for my lymph nodes and thyroid, otherwise examined me, and recommended some labwork.

Shocking. I know gentle reader. Compare that account to what happened the last time I visited the Physician’s Assistant-Certified (the doctor must have been too busy to see me) from my pricey freedom-of-choice loving health plan.

I was called from the waiting room by a nurse who weighed me, asked me how tall I was, measured my blood pressure and heart rate, checked my body temperature, escorted me to a room, and left me to wait for a doctor. The doctor arrived, asked me a few questions about my health, looked down my throat, felt for my lymph nodes and thyroid, otherwise examined me, and recommended some labwork. Oh, and then I paid my co-pay.

Now, I know I’m lucky since I’m still relatively young, and I’m in pretty good shape. I haven’t had a lot of experience with using the health care I pay for, and I’m sure the HMO will figure out some way to steer me toward high priced drugs or deny me coverage in due course. But right now I’m not seeing the difference between types of health insurance, and I’m beginning to wonder a little bit more about what those politicians mean when they say government-run health care will take away my freedom to choose a doctor and get the care I need. Is that really what they’re worried about?

Om Shanti

It's not always to the swift.
It's not always to the swift.

Over on the Dailymile web site, user Jim W. asks,

Do you use a running mantra? If so, and you care to share, please post and tell us What? Why? When? and How? you use it.

This is a terrific question touching on one of my favorite facets of running-the mind/body link. Running is no doubt an intensely physical act. We feel the impact of every foot fall; the thudding of our hearts beating faster; and the burn as we move air in and out of our lungs. There are blisters, shin splints, IT band issues, and the occasional fracture as well as GI tract problems and dehydration. But running is not all hamstring pain and plantar fasciitis. On the positive side of the ledger there’s weight loss, an increase in muscle mass, and improved cardiovascular health.

When I started out as a runner, it’s these physical aspects of the sport on which I focused. But I soon learned how important it was to engage my mind as I ran to “trick myself” into sticking with running and pushing myself to run farther. One of the ways I do this is to use little running mantras to keep my mind occupied and keep my body moving. But what have I been telling myself all this time? Jim’s question prompted me to examine my inner voice, and in doing so I found my mantras fit into two categories-technical and motivational.

I use the technical mantras to try and maintain proper running form. I remind myself to breathe properly with “big breath…into the belly”; posture reminders include, “head up…head up…head up” and “head over feet…head over feet”; and there’s always the general, “relax…relax…relax”, which I should learn to follow up with, “enjoy!…enjoy!…enjoy!” And, since I sometimes find myself hitting the ground flat due to some discomfort, I say to myself, “heel toe…heel toe”. I also call to mind running tips I’ve picked up when I encounter specific situations. For example, there are lots of hills to run up and over here in San Francisco , and I find myself repeating some of Bernard Lagat’s advice when I start up one of these slopes, “stand up straight, shorten your stride, keep your arms pumping”. I say that over and over, and soon I’ve crested the hill ready for what’s next.

Then there are the motivational mantras. I get a chuckle repeating, “I am a machine…I am a machine” a favorite of Haruki Murakami’s I gleaned from his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I also internalized something I heard an elite runner say when he acknowledged, “running is not fun while you’re doing it”, a phrase I now use to get me through awkward patches. Toward the end of a long run when I feel my energy fading and the muscles in my legs are rebelling there are the traditional chants of, “keep going…keep going…keep going” and “you can do this…you can do this”.

Outside of these repeated phrases I have two favorite motivational mantras, which have helped me many times when I’ve wanted to quit and give up. The first is to remember, “This is the thing you’re doing today.” I’ve found this mantra especially powerful because it reminds me to focus on running and not think about what else I’ve got going on that day. If I start to think about doing the laundry, or cleaning the house, or any number of mundane but important chores, I find I begin to pick up the pace and start to rush through my run to get on to doing other things. Instead of “running my race” I get distracted and my breathing and form begin to break down as my anxiety to get things done grows. Telling myself that running is “the thing I’m doing today” brings me back into balance and focuses my mind on the road before me.

I’ve been asked, “What do you think about when you’re running?” The short answer is, “I try not to think about anything, especially what I’m doing!” The longer answer involves invoking these mantras at various points on the paths I take so I can get to the finish, rest up, and start out again. And the second of my two favorite mantras?

“You can’t brag about it if you didn’t do it.”

Leave a comment about what goes through your mind.

flickr photo by g.rohs

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Two Weeks To Go

The author enjoying the recent Kaiser Permanente Half
The author enjoying the recent Kaiser Permanente Half

A quick glance at the countdown timer I’ve set up on my homepage let’s me know I’ve got just over two weeks to go before running the Napa Valley Marathon. After all the weeks of training runs I only have two more double-digit mileage runs mixed in with some low mileage days before I toe the line in Calistoga. I’m anxious and excited, and I’m doing everything I can to avoid injury.

I still train alone, running in the evening on city sidewalks without music following the same mileage build-up schedule I used for the San Francisco Marathon last August. Even though I’ve only been running for a year and a half, I already have some ingrained habits. I always do the same stretches pre and post run; I carry water on runs of certain distances; and I eat the same flavor GU on all my long runs. Despite the seeming rigidity of my routine though, there have been some changes, and I’ve learned a lot about this sport and myself by connecting to other runners and listening to their advice. I’ve learned to “listen to my body” and incorporate more recovery time in order to minimize injury. I understand more about the importance of strengthening my core, and I’ll try to incorporate some of those stretches and exercises into my training. And perhaps most importantly I’m now more open to altering my mileage schedule if it allows me to participate in a race or run with others.

Running is a solitary pursuit, and training for my first marathon I was concerned with the possibility of receiving contradictory, confusing advice. So I kept to myself and didn’t even think about participating in marathon training classes or joining a running group. During this training period, though, I’ve received advice and encouragement from many other runners and athletes, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the times I’ve taken the opportunity to run with others, and I’ve entertained the idea of joining a marathon training group. I still don’t own a heart rate monitor, and I don’t know a tempo run from a hill repeat, but as I scoot down the Silverado Trail in a couple of weeks I’ll be a different runner than the one I was only a few months ago, more open to the new experiences running provides.