I'm having lunch today with friends from high school, Dave and Judy. We meet at Aroma's for a late lunch at 1:30 and still can't get a table, so we sit on the couches and eat off the low sofa table in front of us. I'm craving eggs. I already had a soft boiled egg for breakfast. I order a scrambled egg wrap for lunch. Dave, as usual, is eating a bowl of soup, and Judy has the "chicken salad salad," which makes us laugh.
I'm in the same agitated mood I've been in for the last two weeks. Mom says it's the change of weather, the rain and the way it's neither one season nor the other. Dave and Judy each have outrageous stories about their relatives; suicides, accidents, in-fighting. I don't envy their situations, but I can't think of a single story.
Today when I weighed myself, I was 135! That's ten pounds over my racing weight last year, and it has me plenty worried. I don't talk about this. Everyone has weight problems, and it's a downer. Moreover, after the last two 5Ks, it's beginning to look like I'm about to plateau for the season around the same race times I got the last two years. Even after this whole ambitious 12-week program! At least I got a nice 10K out of the season, and a lot more "speed-endurance" if not speed.
Back in early June, I was still at an off-season weight in the upper 120s, and I started strength training pretty hard. By July, my weight began creeping up a pound or two each month. Guys who work out think and talk about muscle gain as real weight gain -- real pounds on the scale -- and as a desirable thing, but women aren't prepared for it. I finally looked up stories and pictures of Hillary Swank, who, amazingly, gained nineteen pounds of muscle in ninety days on her tiny hundred-and-ten-pound frame, to play the female boxer in "Million Dollar Baby." (And that means she was up to 129 pounds; none of that magical "replacing fat with muscle" people talk about!) I figure if she could gain nineteen pounds in three months of intensive training, I might have gained a third that much in six. I'm still wearing all the same clothes, the same skinny jeans. I can't tell if they're tighter. Six or seven pounds of fat would be tighter!
Mom keeps insisting it's muscle. "You look great," she says, but she's my mom. "You finally have a butt! You didn't have any butt before at all -- it was completely flat."
She cranes her neck to look at my new butt.
"That's five pounds right there!" she says.
I had loose skin, too, after losing weight from running. Not like the Biggest Loser magnitude of loose skin, but some skin on my arms and stomach and back that just didn't want to retract. I figured it was age and gravity; but it looked flabby and old. After gaining muscle, that skin is smooth again. All the appearance changes are feminine and positive. Funny to think now, there was a time I prioritized strength training above everything else.
Still, ten extra pounds equals one minute slower in a 5K -- muscle or fat! And I still have ten or more pounds of fat I could lose. Elite female runners are, impossibly, under 12% bodyfat.
Back in 2008, a hypnotherapist I saw to lose the last irritating bit of weight had agreed readily to my goal of 130, but balked at a goal of 120 for my height. He joked about whether I thought I needed to be "an underwear model." He then very seriously told me that 130 was controllable with good habits, but that 120 means being vigilant, counting every calorie, losing freedom and possibly lowering the quality of life. Did I want that?
I'm beginning to realize it isn't going to be nearly as easy as I thought to move up from Regional to National Class in running through dedicated training alone. I need to monitor my weight, my bodyfat, and every single thing that goes into my mouth. Have you ever heard someone like Lance Armstrong describe his training? The focus is singleminded, exclusionary, and exact. For the part-time athlete, it can become another job! And this year, I terribly missed the fall hiking, the mountain biking, the outdoor things I couldn't even do because I was running so much. I'm worried about everything I love about it falling away. It was so fun at first! I'm not sure yet if these sacrifices are what I want.
This Spring, a guy I knew from going to school together told me to my face that my race times don't seem very fast to him.
We were having dinner at some Mexican place he'd selected, and he was quizzing me about my running with an air of agitation, when that sentiment popped out of his mouth. I don't know. Maybe it was payback because I wasn't as impressed with the eggplant-based nacho dip at the restaurant as he'd promised I would be. But it took me aback. It seemed like one of those things you don't say out loud, even if you're thinking it.
Mr. I. then went on to tell me that he himself had done a "twenty-minute" 5K compared to my 22:11, back in his late twenties, when he was in the Air Force.
Later, my friend Scott was incredulous. "He was comparing his time to yours -- across gender lines? When he was almost twenty years younger? And in shape for military service?"
"Yes," I confirmed.
I don't know for sure if twenty minutes means twenty minutes. Even the pros call 20:59 a "twenty minute" time. But, let's assume it does.
I've discussed age-graded times before in this blog. In addition, men have a roughly ten percent cardiovascular advantage over women. This is borne out in world record times, which are regularly separated by that much. (More for sprints and less for marathon distances, and none for ultramarathons, where women have endurance advantages; but I'm no ultramarathoner, so that doesn't really help me!) As most people know, testosterone produces more muscle mass and less essential bodyfat. In addition, testosterone also produces more hemoglobin in the blood to carry oxygen, and more enzymes in the muscles to process oxygen.
The end result is that Mr. I.'s PR in his twenties, at two minutes faster than mine, was actually nowhere near mine. He would have had to have run 17:36 to my 22:11, just to be at the same fitness level. Conversely, to be at his fitness level then, I would get to run my 5K now a full three minutes slower than I do, another whole minute on each mile!
That's not really the point, I guess. The point is that my feelings were hurt by a guy with a lot of intelligence and personality and life experiences and personal achievements who felt compelled to make that comparison, and moreover, to try to win the comparison.
I don't think all men are like this, and I don't think all people are like this. There are many people in my life, those I know well and those I know slightly, who are really proud of me. But there are also the twenty- or fifty-something-year-old guys who aggressively and dangerously push by me in the finishing chute at races to beat me by a second. There is the chunky woman in a triathlon who illegally blocked me with her bike for a mile to try to keep me from passing her, and the other woman at the same tri who tried to claim my time as hers, and briefly succeeded. There are Runners World articles about the epidemic of people who cut courses short to win or place and then claim the prizes for themselves.
I really don't get it. I don't want a prize I didn't win. I'm not going to block a faster person, and I'm not going to gloat over beating a sixty-year-old woman or a ten-year-old boy.
But someone I knew, not well but well enough to expect better, didn't care if he hurt my feelings, as long as he felt like he won.
I'm running the Jingle Bell 5K for the Arthritis Foundation on December 10. Most of the races I run support a charitable cause, and while I can't inundate my friends with that many constant funding requests, I'm fundraising for this one in particular.
Since I was a kid and my mom was only in her thirties, she has had arthritis in her knees and other joints. I would watch this woman who loves to play sports wince when jumping for the volleyball at our family picnics or running the bases on the St. Jude ladies' softball team, or even just going downstairs to do the laundry. She'd try heat, ice, wraps, orthotics, exercises, painkillers, supplements, creams, and nothing really helped. Only painful cortisone shots deep into her knee joint provide some relief.
She stayed active around the pain. She worked jobs requiring strength and movement, catering and managing the educational materials at St. Jude School. She was my catcher teaching me to slow-pitch softball in the backyard, and she had Dad dig post holes for a regulation volleyball net for us when I outgrew bumping the ball back to her over our fence. (Dad was the handyman around the house, but had little interest in sports himself.) For hours in the evening, Mom patiently practiced each team skill with me -- soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball -- the seasons of each rolling into the next. She swam with my brother and me at the Y and took exercise classes there. I later became interested in endurance sports, but all the skills that still come back so easily now started with her.
Dad and Mom, 1957
She was a leader of my Girl Scout troop, and half the reason (with Dad being the other half!) that every weekend of my childhood was spent at some campground. She took us on Girl Scout hikes to identify trees. She taught me to row a boat and cast a line accurately and silently to the spots where the fish hung out, and to clean a fish.
Carol Sue Welling was born in 1938, a Depression baby, third of four children. She was the daughter of a truck driver in a family full of farm people we visited even in my childhood. She grew up climbing trees. She went to St. Ursula High School, a Catholic girls academy in Cincinnati, with the rich girls, on an academic scholarship she claims she didn't deserve. In high school, she played every sport they made available to girls. They had to wear knickers under their skirts.
She couldn't run for exercise, not even to join me when I started at sixteen. But she managed the pain in her knees and walked for exercise for years. She recently told me she used to walk a 10-minute mile, even in her fifties and sixties! I know lots of runners who don't run a 10-minute mile. I was impressed with myself when I walked a 15-minute mile in a 5K last year!
Since Dad retired, I've taken Mom and Dad on trips to places like Mesa Verde in Colorado, where they had to descend stone steps into a canyon, crawl through tight clay structures, and climb back up 40 feet of ladders. She's hung in on many walking trips and tours. She had her left knee joint replaced last summer. Now she needs the other one replaced. I'm grateful this surgery is even available.
Mom is turning seventy-three in December. The other day she said: They still don't know what arthritis really is or what causes it.
Please give if you can.
Yesterday, I ran inside on the treadmill for the first time since Spring. I felt the tough headwinds would be too much for my interval workout, and I kept visualizing the 1974 tornado waterspout coming at me over the Ohio River. So I stayed in.
The dreadmill, runners call it. The classic metaphor for working hard and going nowhere. Last winter, the heavy snows started in December and the heavy rains ended in May. I adapted the series of hard off-season workouts from the Cincinnati elite running club, the Earth Drummers, running on the treadmill in my unfinished basement three days a week, and biking there on the trainer another two days.
It was Hell.
To endure it, I put on movies pilfered from Mom and Dad's house. Either decent dramas I'd already seen like "Ocean's Eleven" and "Walk the Line," or awful romantic comedies I hadn't with their favorite actors like Matthew Modine and Sandra Bullock that they keep picking up from the bargain bin at Meijers. I had to set them up with English subtitles because the noise of the treadmill at running speeds is too loud to hear over. I'd planned to take the opportunity to catch up on movies I'd missed -- except I couldn't concentrate or hear well enough to watch anything I was seriously interested in! What I needed during a series of five "over-under" miles was motion and distraction, not intellectual stimulation. My brother-in-law suggested that movies with explosions and car crashes are particularly good for workouts, and I have to agree. The "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" shoot-ups actually made a lot more sense during a killer threshold run.
Once, an entire full-length movie (a historical melodrama with Pierce Brosnan; don't ask) ended a full twenty minutes before my two-hour, 12-mile treadmill hill run did. I thought I would collapse of boredom and sore hip flexors before I was finished.
I got so desperate to be off that machine that whenever I could, I'd strap on yak trax (which I highly recommend -- you will not slip on anything), and run on the slushy, icy trails at Miami Whitewater and the Little Miami Scenic trail left that way for the cross-country skiers. Those were some beautiful runs in the snow, with the damp cool ice feeling rising up at you, and only the occasional other serious person out, greeting you like another friend.
My view for the next 6 months
Yet -- I do love my treadmill. It was the lone personal purchase I made from my third bonus from Quill. The lone personal purchase I made from my second bonus was an espresso maker, so the treadmill was a close second to caffeine, and that's saying a lot! I appreciate the luxury of having an $800 machine in my house just for exercise, and of having an entire floor of my house to devote to it. I appreciate that I can walk or run anytime, no matter the weather, without leaving the house.
Outside, I never play music. I love the feel of moving under my own power, with the air and sounds of birds and my breathing. The treadmill is so different, so grinding and monotonous. I've read that, counterintuitively, it's harder neurologically to keep up with the constantly moving belt than to power your own run. Yesterday I played the last Pearl Jam album ("Backspacer") while I ran. I hadn't warmed to it yet, but it turns out it makes great workout music. The hard songs kept me moving, and the slower songs, which I liked already, seem even more meaningful in an oxygen-compromised state. And just like outside this Fall, my paces came easier. A warmup working up to 7:36 miles (7.9 mph) and two "5K race pace" mile intervals at 7:04 miles (8.5 mph) were actually doable! I struggled or blew up on treadmill paces like that six months ago.
The weatherpeople are saying this year's winter is supposed to be at least as snowy and difficult as last year's. I'm not sure I can handle the same intense treadmill work this year, or the basement. But first, I've got the end of my 12-week plan in two weeks and races through mid-December, and then the holidays. Then I'll need to figure out a good off-season plan that doesn't drive me crazy.
Every November around the first or second week, there is that day that gets summer-warm, the one where you walk around in shorts and a t-shirt thinking maybe winter isn't going to be so bad this year. After that comes that other day in the second week of November, when just yesterday, the leaves were still beautiful on the half-covered trees, and now, overnight, there are suddenly nothing but bare branches against the sky.
Today was that day.
I went over to Miami Whitewater Forest to run the eight-mile paved Shaker Trail, and autumn was just gone. When I pulled into the parking lot in the late afternoon, not a tree around still had leaves, except for a few tiny decorative fruit trees in the landscaping. It was windy and damn cold. The tall forest around the lake was making those black witchy winter fingers against the cloudy sky. I started my run with the thought, "You're going to have to really look for beauty if you want to find it now." Which I know is unfair. The witchy fingers are beautiful, right? On the trail, the fields of wild grasses were brown-grey and drooping down to the ground and knotted up with each other.
On Shaker Trail at Miami Whitewater, November 2009.
Once or twice the sun came out and lit up the white sycamores by the creek like a photo shoot, and again made some funky sun-rays from the clouds down to the earth like those religious paintings of my grandmother that were supposed to be God talking to you. I fought my way against 25-mph headwinds. Driving home, the full moon was a giant at the horizon.
But all I ever want is evenings that last until ten o'clock and the ballgame on every night, and walking out of the house without a jacket. Not heat stroke weather, but a breeze that blows in through the curtains and dew that collects on the grass if you sit in it too late. I want to drive down the road with the sun so high and the green so lush and bursting it looks like the trees and bushes are going to ooze over the side of the road and absorb you into them like an amoeba. This summer, driving on State Route 128 between here and Hamilton, it was exactly like that, and I said to myself, remember this.
This is the day I know that the only way around Winter is through it.
Lately Mom has become interested in accompanying me on walks when I run.
Rybolt Road, looking toward Hayes intersection, 1941 (http://www.hamilton-co.org/engineer/historical.htm)
Saturday afternoon, we try to get access to the Oak Hills track. The blunt-faced, heavyset, former-athlete-type dad seated at the gated entrance taking tickets for some middle school event eyes me with annoyance when I launch into my track question. But he turns friendly and sympathetic when I explain that "me and my Mom want to walk" and indicate the 72-year-old woman in the green windbreaker behind me. Maybe I need Mom around as a prop more often! Still, no dice.
We end up at Fernbank Park along the Ohio River instead, the blazing red oaks and gold maples of this year's Fall against an impossible blue sky and those glassy waves and the barges -- so it's a much better choice. I run two miles and she walks most of one.
Today, Mom wants to check out the walking trails she's heard about at Story Woods Park in Delhi. We've never been there before. I stop by the house in the late afternoon, and we cajole Dad into going. "C'mon, the sun'll be down soon, we have to leave now!" I say, and he ends up in the car without time for the usual vacillations.
We find the park across from a skinny white frame farm house with a red door once owned by Dad's Great-uncle Henry and Great-aunt Sophie Gabelein, along with fifteen acres later sold and lost to the family. The surrounding area, rural and undeveloped, became a subdivision around Rapid Run School, and the house itself is now owned by St. Simon Catholic Church. Presumably the coal-burning furnace with the conveyer belt has been replaced! Sagging and set well back from the road with a few tall old trees still standing, it looks preserved from the Depression, simultaneously charming and haunted.
Mom and I convince Dad to try the longer "A" trail, 0.83 miles of crushed gravel and some hills, and we quickly find ourselves in a surprisingly remote area once owned by the Story's, a wealthy Delhi, Ohio family. A freely flowing stream runs through the property. Big old sycamores and walnut trees have been hollowed out by animals, or covered with wild grape vines, or fallen and stripped smooth, giving the area a mossy, untouched appearance totally different from our nearby Mitchell Memorial Forest, which was cleared land allowed to return to forest, filled now with uniform skinny saplings. Conversation turns to times each of us has gone to the bathroom in the wild -- Dad helping his Dad in the sod fields, Mom playing at her Grandma's -- and how to avoid wiping with poison ivy.
Mom hasn't been walking for exercise much since before her knee replacement last summer, and Dad dropped off with obscure excuses. My legs and body are sore from a 5K race I did yesterday for "practice" that ended up being a hellaciously hilly course. So we're all pretty evenly matched. On the big hill out of the park, Dad ends up ahead; my slow-motion leg swing reminds me of climbing out of the Grand Canyon with my cousin Erica in June. It takes us 25 minutes to complete the 0.83 miles.
Rybolt Road, looking toward Hayes intersection, 2011
On the way home, Dad reminisces. "I can remember those days so well," he says about taking his Great-aunt Sophie out for a drive as a young man after his Great-uncle passed away. Just recently, in a local welding shop, he saw photos on the wall of his old Rybolt Road neighborhood from 1941! He would have been four or five. The guy working there still remembered his dad, who died twenty-two years ago. Dad keeps giving me the website of the photos to look up.
Mom says they might be interested in going to Fernbank with me tomorrow, either walking or riding their bikes. I'll call them.