Category Archives: running

finishing strong-ish

Feeling good about today’s 20 and change mile outing.

 looking towards horizon. near empty beach, sliver of serene water, blue gray sky
Loyola Beach was the halfway point.

My average pace during these long runs has remained about the same… 16:50 min miles. Today that included stops to take pictures, retie my shoes, and alternately curse and give thanks for long traffic lights. It did not include my stops for iced coffee and a pee break at around mile 8.5, sitting on a bench at Loyala Beach to marvel at the lake at mile 10, or fueling up at about mile 13 (an orange and a hazelnut/chocolate croissant….the problem with being so pokey is that I am out for many hours which means I was getting a little woozy. I had snarfed my power bar pretty early on.)

retro (50's eta?) restaurant sign advertising Honeybear Pancake House. Sign is hanging off building.
Tasty iced coffee!

Since I paused my running app during those stops, I guess my real pace was much slower but that’s OK. Was a great day. Hot and sunny. The route I choose to head north has no tree cover (downside of running along a railroad embankment) so I ended up walking, massaging my feet, checking out gardens, and sipping iced coffee between miles 6 and 9.

My primary goal was to maintain a walk/run pattern for the last ten miles. I have walked the last mile or so of my last two long runs which is not what I want during the marathon. It’s more fun to finish strong.

looking at a river from a bridge. trees on right side of river bank. concrete arch level with river? old infrastructure? sewer related?
Took the shadier North Branch Trail part of the way home. Pleasant surroundings for suffering. Plus plenty of water fountains.

It was hard. By mile 15, my hips were hurting and the bottom of my heels were tingling. My bus card was at the ready in case of anything resembling a blister. By mile 18, I was a zombie. After each quarter mile walk, I had to imagine someone lifting up my knees by marianette strings to switch gears into a jog.

Wanting to avoid being in a world of hurt tomorrow, I asked the internet if a cold or a hot soak would be better. I was pretty sure I knew the answer but held on to hope. I hate being cold.

Alas. So I texted Michael to see if he would grab a bag of ice from across the street and start filling the tub with cold water.

mostly off white. picture of water in a white tub. ice cube barely discernable
Hard to tell, but there’s ice in there.

Easing into that frigid water may have been the hardest part of the day. I started in a kneel (good quad stretch?), thought about straightening my legs, realized I could not move my body, and simply expressed gratitude for a deep tub.

I am currently debating if I should sleep in my office to avoid the stairs to the bedroom.

I am a smidge disappointed that I’m not as strong as I hoped to be by now but I’m also enjoying the physical and mental challenge. We are all running our own race. Cheesy but true and my fried brain cells are OK with being hackneyed.

Oh and in case anyone reading this can spare anything for a donation the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, here’s my fundraising link. Thanks for considering!

reaping inactivity

pic looking down at a leg resting on a counter. light complexion. turquoise and pink sock
Pried myself off the sunroom chair to write while standing at the counter.* This is a nice glute stretch.

Tried running again today and legs felt like lead. I ended up walking. Total distance maybe 2.5 miles if I’m rounding up.

This is a potential problem.

I have been taking a cavalier approach to training  because I have managed to complete marathons  in the past despite undertraining.

Until the pandemic, I was active without thinking about it. When I taught, I twirled around the room. When I wrote, I stood at my desk. When we had people over, I bustled around the house. And when I had to get somewhere, I walked or biked.

I have written about this before but it’s hitting hard today.  Because I was part of the “help out by staying at home” crowd, the pandemic ground my body to a halt.

Instead of sweeping around the classroom, I taught from a chair. (I sway and fidget a lot  when standing. Then sitting became a habit.). No more biking to work.  Shopping needs were basic and easily handled via delivery.

In a backwards kind of way, I think I’ve been getting a taste of what it might be like to have a car and a desk job. There is no snark or judgment in this comment. Just recognition that it’s challenging to engineer movement into our days. I never had to make time for the gym because active transportation has always helped me maintain a baseline level of fitness.

Without any places to go, I atrophied in more ways than one. It’s a bit arrogant? foolhardy?* to think I can draw from a well I’ve let dry up.

My problem isn’t training for the marathon. It’s finding reasons to stay moving throughout the day. Right now that’s much more daunting than 26.2 miles.

chart of an 18 week marathon plan showing different mileage goals
Finally settled down to pick a training program. My ego asked me to level up from novice 1. But I am not going to try for 9 miles tomorrow. Six will be a huge stretch. Yeah, maybe i need to level down…

*Re foot on counter… that might gross some folks out. Be assured, this isn’t the food prep area and the kitchen surfaces are well wiped down. (The rest of the house may fall into a chaos but I hold on to the counters.)

**re foolhardy… looked this up bc what does hardy have to do with being a fool. Looks like hardy in this sense means bold.

daring to try

a graph showing running split times
First half of yesterday’s “run” was with our dog. Lots of sniff breaks. I’ve got 5 weeks to shave 18 minutes off this 5k time.

It’s been two months since I dusted off the treadmill and it’s been collecting dust since. Oops. So much for running a sub 2 hour half marathon by 50.

As the weeks ticked by, I considered lowering the bar to a 10k, but was not finding training plans to get me under an hour in six weeks.

Before I go any further, I should be clear that I am not fast nor have I ever stuck with a training plan. Those moderate time goals were a reach even when I was in decent shape. After two years of sitting and gaining 20 pounds? I’m sure I could survive those distances, but not with any speed.

I have a lot of experience with gutting out races on minimal training. Sort of a maladaptive tangle of hubris and self-sabotage. But I’m tired of being proud of a 5 hour marathon (one year my longest training run was 14 miles) when I know I could do a lot better with just a little more discipline.

So, I signed up for a 5k that falls on my birthday. As I confirmed yesterday and two months ago, I can already run/walk/jog that distance. The goal is under 30 minutes. I think I was close many moons ago. Not a blazing time, but a major stretch for me right now. But I’m pretty sure it’s achievable if I dare to try.

Follow the Water Fountains

I have an impressively poor sense of direction.  One of the many reasons I don’t drive is that it’s just not feasible to pause every block or so to wonder if I’m on track and to pull a U-turn all the times I realize I’m not. Biking, walking, and running are much more forgiving of these lapses. Thank goodness Chicago’s streets are mostly a grid with a very logical numbering system.

It’s curious that I have worked on so many bike maps as part of my professional life considering how much I struggle to use them. Heading south? Unless I can quickly turn the map upside down, forget about it. Left and right is confusing enough when facing forward. But for all my spatial bumblings, I do have solid skills for planning pleasant routes for self-propelled travels. The problem is just remembering them.


Yesterday, I turned a dreaded run into a fun exercise in map making (the time spent planning may or may not have also been a form of procrastination). I’m overdue for getting in some distance and decided to aim for 6-8 miles. As much as I adore the heat, it seemed prudent to avoid the elevated, unshaded Bloomingdale Trail on an 85 degree, sunny, and likely quite crowded day. I considered taking the bus to the lakefront and running on the path and then home. But the lake has no shade either, it would take more time, and the trip back would involve highway and river crossings on major streets.

Sticking with local, tree-rich, residential streets made the most sense. But I needed a route, or else there was a high likelihood of losing steam and sneaking home too soon. So I pulled up Map My Run and created an 8 mile loop that managed to avoid major infrastructure crossings and minimize time running into the westering sun.  I incorporated Drake and Avondale, some of my fave mellow biking routes.* It was a treat not to have to worry about one ways. Oh wait, oops. What about water fountains? A few tweaks looped in some parks and I was good to go. . . with a route I would never be able to remember. Thanks to modern technology, I sent it to my phone. And since I am in no shape to run 8 miles, I was glad for the built-in excuse of frequent stops to check directions.

Here’s some running commentary (see what I did there) and pics. I will definitely do this loop again. Hopefully with stronger legs and less need to look at my phone every few blocks.


A. Oh yeah, feeling strong. Hey, there’s the tween daughter of one of my running friends. Hi five! I’m heading out for 8 miles. Think I can do it? Thanks! Wait, why did I do that? I’m such a dork. And a big talker. Now I really have to finish this.

B. Ugh, I haven’t even gone a mile and am so over this. Oops, meant head over to Drake here. Is the app recording my deviations from the map?

C. Much walking (yay, a break!) while studying the Drake crossing of Milwaukee.

D. Water stop inside the Avondale Park Building. Should have checked if there is an outside fountain for early morning runs.

E. Avondale Ave! I love biking on this low-traffic diagonal hugging the Metra tracks. Major intersections are tricky, but otherwise you can go full throttle. Just be sure to veer off at Central Park unless you feel like hitting the highway. Time to take a bunch of pictures and catch my breath.

If you are barreling down Avondale and just follow the cars, you will end up on the highway. The turn off to Central Park is easy to miss. Exciting!

F. Avondale Ave! Have I mentioned how much I love this street? On this year’s Father’s Day ride, Kevin alerted us to a magical little spot with vegetation arching the sidewalk.


G. Is this the turn? Yes. (Also: Must. Stop. To. Catch Breathe.)

H. Is this the turn? No. One more block. (Also: Must. Stop. To. Catch Breathe.)

I. Private property?? What’s up with this map? Have these fancy folks blocked off the north end of the park? I misread the map. The scrappy park with its old school water fountain was right in front of me.


J. Woo hoo! The app had suggested a Metra crossing I was skeptical of, but hopeful for because it  dodges a tricky, detouring intersection. It was an easy scamper up a relatively short set of stairs and a short crossing of two tracks. However I was waylaid by a couple confused by the confusing signage. Hooray for an excuse to be helpful. . . and take a break.


K. Great, another water fountain! Oh, that person is washing their clothes in it. I’ll pass.

L. Love these little stretches of parkways. (I hadn’t been on Kolmar before.)

M. Ok, enough dawdling. There’s no way to get turned around now. One mile south. A mile and change east. Pick up your damn feet. Zip up the phone pocket. This is supposed to be a *run* not a stroll.

N-P. The final stretch. Time to start ticking off the building numbers. . . .Need to remember to look up why we have this section of streets that start with K. . . . Tripp Street? Hahaha that “trips” up the K pattern. Uh-oh. Getting loopy.

Q-T.  I hate this. Why am I doing this. . . .Oh good. Pulaski is up ahead. Maybe I will hit a red light. . . .Damnit, just a stop sign and everyone is yielding to me. Keep chugging. . . . Oooo, I love these old rusty train overpasses. That’s why I do this.

U. Hark! Mozart Park. I could just take a little water break. Really, Kilgore?!! You are less than ten minutes from home.

V-W. Avers. Running friend mom of aforementioned tween used to live here. Remember those days of regular runs with friends–many of whom don’t run anymore due to injuries and/or realizing they don’t actually like running. Hmmm, maybe they are on to something. . . .No, you are *not* going to walk the rest of the way home in the spirit of “injury prevention.”

X-Y. Just pretend you are close to the marathon finish line. Oh egads, no need to be so dramatic. . ..Just stop thinking.

Z. Home! Phew! No, don’t just plop into the house. That calf stretcher is by the door for a reason.


*Ever since I helped John Greenfield with this Mellow Chicago Bike Map, I have been taking the extra time to plan out bike commutes to avoid the “Oh crap, I’m stuck on Damen again!” phenomenon. For example, I am trying to sear into memory the Drake zig zag to minimize time on Kimball when crossing the highway.



Wherever You Are, There You Are*


“Woo! I am going to qualify for Boston next year!” This thought bubble was inspired by my friend from high school who just qualified. Since I will be in a new age bracket, I only need to shave 75 minutes from my marathon PR. (Yes, 75. Not 7.5)**

Sure, there are some differences between me and Julia. Most notably, she trains really hard and has many fleet races under her belt. She also used to be a competitive athlete; she’s got baked in grit. I hardly train, I ran no races this year, and have barely logged a hundred miles since last year’s Chicago marathon, below. My grit is patchy at best, sort of like the heat rash that sometimes flares on the back of my neck.


However, I do have tenacity. I don’t mean this in a braggadocious way, but I can bust out top quartile results when I really put my mind to it. Sometimes at the last minute, and with appropriately reduced expectations, but still. I can get shit done–especially when I am not Super Depressed.

Unfortunately, despite the gift of a warm fall and the Cubs still playing in October (!!!!!), I have been struggling lately. No need to go into details, and I am fine enough. Thanks to big pharma, better habits of thought, an amazing family, and a solid foundation in Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” my depressive episodes are now more akin to a slow grinding traffic jam than a siren inducing crash.


Still, I’d like to find an exit ASAP. If I don’t start exercising again, things will only get worse for the next few months. Writing helps, too. That’s something else I haven’t done in months. Textbook symptoms and causes of depression.

I put on running clothes this morning. (Bonus! This means I also got out of my PJs.) Maybe I will jog the mile to pick Miguel up from school today. I am definitely going to sign up for the 2017 Chicago marathon via Girls on the Run again.

But first, I need a nap. I really, really, hate being in this traffic jam.

*The phrase is supposed to be “Wherever you go, there you are.” That implies you’ve gone someplace. I’m having a hard enough time leaving the house!
**I am definitely not going to qualify for Boston, but–assuming I keep adding on the years–I will age into the qualifying time eventually.

It’s Not About Time

After Sunday’s pleasant 11.4 mile run, I’m finally on schedule with training for the Chicago Marathon. At least on paper. I should have entered week 5 of the 18 week plan with more base miles and fewer pounds, but so long as I can muster through the Long Slow Runs (LSRs), I’m not going to stress out.

This year’s aspirations are all about what happens before race day. Tackling the following long festering, pestering issues is more important than tackling a personal best on October 11.

    1. Breathing. You don’t know what you don’t know. The first time I used an inhaler, it felt like a performance enhancing drug. But I still struggle to consistently get a full gulp of air. Might pranayama before runs help?
    2. (NSF-PAT-DA-PAP)*Period Poops. Too many runs have been cut short by a sudden, knee buckling need to deliver a poop baby.  Inevitably, a few hours later, I get my  period. Since I get my period every three weeks, this really stinks. If I can’t eliminate this problem, can I better work around it?

      Losing 10 pounds suddenly seems very daunting.
    3. The Big Ten. It’s always a bummer when my doctor heartily agrees I should lose weight. “But I’m strong?” I whimpered as her finger climbed up the BMI graph, where I straddle the line between  healthy and overweight. Although she affirmed that BMI has limitations, she didn’t totally let me off the hook. Can I lose 10 pounds before mid-October while enjoying the late nights of summer?**
    4. Grit. Ah, the buzzword of education. Our kids need to toughen up! Tenacity wins the day! I’m not sure I am on board with sandpaper-based pedagogy for little ones (and too many little ones need grit just to get by outside of school), but I know I can up my brain game when it comes to physical exertion.
    5. Wooziness (unless collapsing is truly justified). Sometimes I almost pass out after running “hard.” At least two of my races have involved medical tents to get my bearings. Is it low blood sugar? Low blood pressure? Low grit? Should I strive to cross the line as a desiccated potato chip?***
    6. Preventative maintenance. I am ever grateful to start each day with no chronic pain or injuries, and I want to keep it that way.  How about trying all those “5 key moves to protect your knees” articles I’ve bookmarked?
    7. Noodles. Doing push-ups and crunches every other week is not enough to build the core and upper body  strength so critical to running form and carrying groceries.
    8. Gear. Running requires very little stuff. But I don’t have enough grit to run barefoot, or backwoods knowledge to dead reckon distance and pace. Will I ever get my Garmin to lock in to a GPS signal? Hack in an extender for my water belt? Three years after first writing about my belt, it still pops off when I bend. (See number 3.)wpid-CameraZOOM-20130904123352092.jpg
    9. Compliance.I need to refer to each week’s Training Plan for more than LSR distances. Refer back to this list to keep priorities in mind.  Follow some guidelines. Follow through! For better, and often quite worse, I’ve never had to worry about hobgoblins and foolish consistency.
    10. Blogging. I don’t care that these posts are tiny drops in an ocean of blogs about marathon training. They keep my inner writer warmed-up in case I ever tackle something bigger and harder. And I enjoy it.

*Not Suitable for People Averse to Discussions About Periods and Poop. Also, be grateful that I opted to avoid visuals. I would like to unsee the images called up when searching poop baby.
**I’m not bumming bout the bod. This is more about staying ahead of things before I hit menopause and sneaking a few seconds off my pace.
***The 1982 Marathon is famous for the Duel in the Sun between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Great story. Here’s a quote from an article about it: “You pushed me harder than anybody’s ever pushed me in my life,’’ said Salazar, who had Beardsley join him on the award stand before he went to the medical tent, where six bags of saline fluids were pumped into a desiccated body that the attending physician likened to a potato chip.”

3-1-2. . . Go!

Imagine that speed, not shoddy camera work, caused the blur. That is not me BTW. I dont blur. . .yet.
Imagine that speed, not shoddy camera work, caused the blur. That is not me on the track, btw. I don’t blur. . .yet.

After yesterday morning’s speedwork with the bad ass folks from ThreeRunTwo,  I predicted I was either going to take on the world or need a nap by noon.

My first sighting of this Logan Square-based running group was a few years ago at Dunlays. While we and a dozen other budget-minded families wrapped up a kids-eat-free-before-six dinner, the front of the restaurant began to fill with neon-footed, mango-calved, young (ish? er?) adults. Their conversations about upcoming races, goals for the evening’s paces and other serious sounding running topics drowned out the complaints of children impatient for parents to finish their last glasses of wine.*

By the time we rolled out, the bar was holding more water than beer bottles. A woman about my height who looked like she could lap me in minutes explained that they were going to do a long group run and circle back for drinks. My kind of people! But I concluded they were out of my league because they seemed to be engaged in more rigorous work than I was up for. By the time they were leaving Dunlays, I was already thinking about

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers dear friends from the swift completion of their appointed rounds runs.

Running magazines often suggest joining a group to improve speed, skill, stamina, and your social network. I am lucky to already have dear running friends with kids of the same age who will meet wait for me on the darkest, coldest, January mornings. But sometimes talking undermines training. Pausing by a garden disrupts pace. Tight schedules keep outings short. Some might call these “junk miles” because they lack specific performance goals. I call them joy miles, because I share them with friends I can share anything with.**

This summer, performance is more on my mind. The Chicago Marathon is only three months away. My first try in 2012 was about completing. 2013 was about suffering. Both took about five hours, which is not *terrible* considering how little I trained. Not counting long runs, weekly mileage stayed below 10; cross training was limited to short bike rides for errands; stretching involved an occasional downward dog. My longest run was 17 miles.

My son gave me a boost towards the end of my first marathon.
My son gave me a boost towards the end of my first marathon. “Wear something to make you easy to find,” they said. Wishing I had not been *that* easy to spot.

A decent baseline of fitness and perhaps lack of judgement have always allowed me to muster through physical challenges for which I am ill-prepared. Back in the long distance bike-camping/caper days, my recruiting slogan was “If you can ride ten miles, you can do a century!”*** I am not sure Lisa P. has ever quite forgiven me.

What would my running times look like if I actually followed a training plan, put in the miles, ate well, lost some weight, did some yoga, pushed my push ups into the double digits (or at least past three)–in other words, really tried?

Thanks, Nico (white hat), for getting me oriented.
Thanks, Nico (white hat), for getting me oriented.

When I learned that ThreeRunTwo was organizing a speedwork session a mere two miles from my house, I decided to overcome my nervousness about 1) meeting new people and 2) running poorly in front of new people.

The night before, I slept in my running clothes to increase the odds of getting out the door on time. After a brisk bike ride on near empty streets, I pulled up to the relatively new, bouncy track at Westinghouse High School. It was already dotted with people stretching, jogging, and sprinting. Per the event instructions, I found Nico, who explained the workout: 200m at 5k pace (25x) with a 60 second recovery between intervals.**** I was secretly thrilled that I finally know what that means. I ended up running mostly by myself, since I am not as fast on the sprints, but everyone was friendly and supportive. Towards the end, someone yelled “You’re working hard!” I’m trying, I gasped back. “You’re not trying, you’re doing!” was the encouraging retort.

I didn’t make it to 25 intervals because I had to return in time for Michael to go for his own run. But I worked a helluva lot harder than usual! I confess to napping instead of conquering the world. At least I am a little bit closer to conquering the marathon. (And, if you feel like helping me conquer my fundraising goals for Girls  on the Run, you can donate here. Thanks!)


*Which means we really aren’t so budget-minded after all. Hook me with free dinner for the kid, reel me in with the price of booze.

**In fairness, I am usually the one slowing us down with chatter. We also do long runs together to prepare for races, though not as often or as long as we would like. If I can sneak in some extra work on the side, maybe I will finally beat Clare and Megan!

***Here is a piece my now husband wrote about a hungry, 110 mile, with camping gear, bicycle journey from Starved Rock back to Chicago.

****run 200 meters at your current 5k speed (about 9.5 min/mile for me) and stop/walk for 60 seconds. Repeat 24 times.

New Training Partner

I've added the Bloomingdale Trail to my treasured running partners.
I’ve added the Bloomingdale Trail to my team of treasured running partners.

When the skies exploded Monday morning, each burst more intense than the last, like the final moments of fireworks on the 4th of July, I was glad to be on the Bloomingdale Trail. I had flipped off the forecast to finally kick off training for the Chicago Marathon. After a week of skipping runs due to laziness, busyness, and/or weather, I was overdue.*

I’ve always wanted to use the lakefront for training, but am not keen on adding a 12 mile round trip bicycle ride to 12 mile runs. In accordance with my hyper-local lifestyle, I stick to neighborhood sidewalks and parks. Nothing wrong with that, especially since so many Logan Square sidewalks flank grand boulevards and Humboldt Park and Palmer Square are no ordinary parks. But something about a trail elevates my effort. And, as of last Saturday, there’s an elevated trail a mere 12 minute (round trip) walk away.

Palmer Square is nice, by a 1/2 mile loop isn't the same as 5 1/2 mile.
Palmer Square is nice, but a 1/2 mile loop isn’t the same as a 5 1/2 mile there-and-back.

Almost 3 miles long, the Bloomingdale Trail is nearly perfect for a 10k run. The distance from my house to Drake, to the west end, to the east end, and back to Spaulding–with some forays into parks for water–was 6.08 miles. Only need to do four more round trips and I will be marathon ready. I could not be more thrilled about my new training partner:

mmmm, Juneberries. remember to leave some for the birds
mmmm, Juneberries. remember to leave some for the birds

  • No intersections: no excuse need to stop every 1/4 mile
  • No cars: no cars.
  • Blue running track: a boost for flagging energy
  • Access ramps: hill work. not easy to find in Chicago
  • Floating above the streets: cleaner air, real or perceived, and fewer puddles
  • Creative land and hardscaping: lots to notice.
  • Juneberries: mid-run snack
  • Fellow runners: motivation. I can’t keep up with half of the folks I’ve seen flashing by.
  • The Bloomingdale Trail as a whole: inspiration. A marathon is a nothing compared to the herculean efforts that pulled this project across the finish starting line.
  • Did I mention no cars and intersections?

However, there are intersection-type situations at the access points and overlooks, which means potential for conflict. Folks need to learn how to safely cross lanes and merge. Moving the garbage cans a smidge would help with sightlines. A few trees and shrubs are encroaching on the running strip. It would be nice to know where to find water fountains, especially those in access parks. Maybe more street signs to help with overall orientation?  Improved crossings of nearby arterials to improve access (cough, looking at you, Armitage)?

streets puddles
Water, water everywhere. The puddling on the trail was nothing compared to what we see at intersections after every heavy rain. And, the trail is not the only place where foliage is elbowing into “our” space.

Yes, there is work left to do on the trail, and much to dream and scheme about. But it is also wonderful just the way it is. Judging by the number of fellow runners laughing through sheets of rain, I am not alone. I’ve got a good four months of hard training ahead to see how it all evolves.

*My first two marathon times hovered around the five hour mark, reflecting a shameful lack of training. I drew more upon confidence from surviving longish distance bike-camping capers than miles of running. This year I *intend* to do better. If you are interested in supporting my fund-raising efforts on behalf of Girls on the Run, please click here. Thanks!

My son, (blue shirt) loves rollerblading up here and has promised to help me train.
My son (blue shirt) loves rollerblading up here and has promised to help me train. And the burbling water spigot has been fixed. The trail is getting better every day!

Fit, not Fat: How to Lose 20 Pounds in 20 Minutes

weightgraphic2Last summer, I lost 20 pounds in less than 20 minutes, and have kept it off without changing my diet or exercise habits. Read on to see if my free, easy, transformative system might work for you. Or just click on the flow-chart.
I have disliked my short, sturdy body as long as I can remember. Like so many other people of completely healthy weight, I have wasted more time than I care to admit moping in front of mirrors, sucking in, and berating myself for not fitting into clothes I wore in high school.

When thin, I wanted to be skinny. When trim, I mourned the loss of thin. Now, softer and rounder with middle-ish age, I want to shrink back to trim. I’ve “ballooned” from a size 4 to 8 in twenty years, feeling fat all along. I attribute about 93% of those ridiculous, unfounded feelings to screwed up cultural norms,* and 7% to being 5′ 1″. (Minor fluctuations in weight really do make a difference in how I look and feel, and they affect my athletic endeavors, such as they are.)

When I furtively buy magazines that promise dropping three dress sizes in three weeks, I always start at the back for inspiring stories of weight loss. It’s not so much their strategies that interest me; at the core, most are versions of calories in and out. I don’t need a magazine to tell me to cut down on sweets and ramp up the strength training. What intrigues me is that they often pinpoint a moment—big or small—that sparked a sustained transformation. I saw myself in a friend’s wedding picture. I got out of breath chasing my kids around. My dad died young of a heart attack.

Before the Catalyzing Moment, my first thought about this pic would be “I am so fat!” Now I think: “How cool is it that we can ride 44 miles with our** kids–and they still love us! Look at those smiles. What a great trip.”
Before the Catalyzing Moment, my first thought about this pic would be “I am so fat!” Now I think: “How cool is it that we can ride 44 miles with our** kids–and they still love us! Look at those smiles. What a great trip.”

My Catalyzing Moment happened this August, while on a muggy, 12 mile run with friends, during our annual takeover of Gary, Indiana’s Miller Beach. The overgrown limestone trail, once a railroad, was flanked by wildflowers, scrubby trees, and a slow river clotted with beaver dams. It was a welcome change from Chicago’s hard sidewalks and loud streets, but also a melancholy echo of Gary’s proud industrial past. Our lungs burned and legs churned in sync as we chased the ghosts of the Iron Horses that built both cities. I felt strong, and full of gratitude for the companionship and scenery.

Then, a familiar refrain interrupted. “I am fat, ugly, and a failure.” The words pounded with our footfalls, and I feared the moment would be lost in a squall of negativity. But something amazing happened. Other inner voices pushed back.

One wailed: “Why? Why are you *still* buzzing in my ear???!!!!  Pleeeease leave me alone!”

One cursed with anger: “For fuck’s sake! Right now?! In this beautiful place with these beautiful people??!  Shut up and get out!”

But the best voice was firm and logical: “I am not fat, I am fit. I am not ugly, I am loved. I am not a failure, I am alive.” Somehow that mantra melted 20 pounds of heavy thoughts by the time we wrapped up the run.

A new take on the before/after weight loss genre. Left: before a summer run, simulating the “I hate my body” feelings of the past. Right: a sweaty hour later, feeling pretty damn good about myself. Fit, not fat.***

I had tried before to stop obsessing about my weight, but ever since that afternoon, that mantra–fit, not fat–has kept the body-hating thoughts at bay. “Oh well, who cares” I declare when catching a reflection of three rolls of belly-smush while leaning over my handlebars. “Not the end of the world” I shrug when a favorite skirt won’t zip. “Behold these curves!” I whistle when donning a body-hugging dress I would never have worn before I started ignoring my “extra” 20 pounds.

Because, should I really call them extra? Does a 42 year old need to weigh the same as she did 20 years ago? Should someone with bi-polar disorder stop taking life-saving medication that contributes a bit to the chub? Should someone concerned about social justice waste time concerned with just looks? I eat well, can run over an hour, and can bicycle all day. I am not overweight, have never been.  I am currently a little pudgier than I would like, but until I am ready to take sustained, healthy action to get leaner and stronger, I refuse to waste time and mind worrying about my m(ass). According to a recent survey, 41 of my friends unanimously agree. ****

weightypollSure, I would like to slim down. It would help running performance, and I am not ready to give up the size 6 jeans that are my favorite, hard to find, shade of brick red. It would also be irresponsible to ignore the tight correlation to date between increasing years and numbers on the scale. Halting, let alone reversing, the trend is only going to get tougher. And  I have a wicked sweet tooth that can attack a pan of brownies in a day–one small “just one more” piece at a time. Regardless of weight, that’s just not healthy. But I am not doing anything about it today. Soon, but not today.

I just checked the mirror. The sweater and other layers make me feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. “At least I am warm!” And my butt looks cute, too. Fit, not fat.

marshmallow-man-ghostbusters-terri-hardin*Borrowing from my friend, Jessica: “Part of the struggle is that we have competing feelings. On the one hand we want to conform to a certain body ideal, so pervasive in media and culture. No matter how media savvy we are, and no matter how much we reject it intellectually, this ideal exerts a powerful influence, right? And on the other hand, we feel that it’s lame and shallow to care about this. We resent caring about it. We *know* that it doesn’t matter, and yet it matters.  That’s some cognitive dissonance.”

**Our is meant here in the collective sense. That’s my friend Scott, not my hubby.  But this gives me a chance to plug his wife’s awesome blog. Clare Fauke is my favorite contemporary blogger.

***I feel weird about all these “look at meeeeee photos.” But since this is a post about body image, I hope folks understand.

****I also asked the even sillier question: Do you think I am fat? I thought 100% would say no, but three stinkers said yes. I stick my tongue out at them and say:

Boone County was an important influence on my childhood years. I think I wrote about it in a college essay. And I still want Milo's hair style.

Marathon Checklist: Shoes, Bras, and Bars

imag4805.jpgThis is a cautionary tale of pre-race preparation gone wrong. On the morning of last year’s marathon, I deviated slightly from routine to both comic and painful effect. I hope others will learn from my mistakes.
CHANGE NOTHING. That is the Race Day Rule that trumps all others.

No new shoes, socks, shirts, sunglasses. . . .Anything that touches the body should be road tested to avoid blisters, chafing, and any other attacks on our largest organ.

No new gels, gummies, or Gatorade colors. Go with what you know to minimize gastrointestinal surprises, which, as regular readers know, is often at the top of my mind.

And for goodness sake, DO NOT change race prep rituals.

While not a seasoned race participant, I have enough “yay, you completed” medals to have a general sense of how to get to the starting line. With the aid of reminders strewn and taped all over the house (lip gloss! inhaler! check train schedule!!!), this is what has worked for me:

  • Two nights before: get a decent night’s sleep because I will stay up late the night before no matter how ready I am.
  • Day before: eat something involving a potato.
  • Night before: eat an early dinner and scurry around gathering stuff and checking off tasks. If done early, stay up anyway checking out FB posts on the marathon page and refreshing the weather report.
  • Morning of: wake up around 4:30, microwave yesterday’s coffee, get oatmeal going, get dressed, eat, hit the loo with hope, triple check that everything is packed, pedal briskly through empty streets to the California Blue Line stop, and head downtown.

Screech! Rewind to “get dressed.” At the last minute, before the 2013 Chicago Marathon, I decided to pack my running clothes and wear my post-race clothes instead. This small, unnecessary change snowballed into a chain of mishaps.

The nearly forgotten shoes
I wore floppy sandals so I would not forget to bring post-race foot liberation. Instead, I almost forgot my running shoes. Thankfully, I realized this before I was too far from home.

The nearly missed train
Set back a few moments by the shoe problem, I leaned in, shifted up, and pedaled like mad. Oh no! The roar of the inbound train hit me a minute from the station. I banked sharply around the corner and scanned the bike racks, half a block away. I skidded to the best spot then dug deep for the calm concentration needed to corral frame, wheel, and bike rack within a snug U-Lock on the first try–kind of like the two wheeled version of parallel parking.

Nailed it! I then charged the turnstile, my transit card out like a lance. Thud! Out of order. The station shook as the train approached. Move to the next turnstile. Out of order. !!!???

File photo–I def did not take time to snap this picture.

An older man was fumbling with the lone functioning turnstile. Behind, I squirmed with suppressed impatience: “Respect your elders! Your emergency is not his crisis!” When he, then I, finally got the green light, I (politely) pounded the stairs past him. I heard my knee crunch. “Hold the train!” We squeaked in. “Bing Bong–the doors are closing.”

The re-injured knee
I’d won the race against the train, but at an expense. My flip floppy sandals, while perhaps ideal for post-race swollen feet, were not at all appropriate for flying up the stairs. After my heart rate slowed, the static from my knee increased, echoes of old injuries. The silly thing was that I could have waited ten minutes for the next train, or even twenty for the one after. Knowing my tendency to cut things close, I always build in a buffer.

The wrong turn
My destination was not the marathon gear check, but rather Jones College Prep, just a few blocks away from the start line. One of the perks of raising money for Girls on the Run (yay!) is that they provide off-site gear storage, food, and other merriment so you don’t have to deal with race day mayhem.

When I emerged from the subway, I was disoriented.Even though Jones is about 10 steps from the stop, I ended up walking in the opposite direction for almost 10 minutes. Granted, it was still dark out, but since I still get turned around in my own neighborhood after 13 years, I should have checked a map. Good thing I made that early train.


It takes a special kind of spaciness to miss this connection.

The missing piece
Now things really started to fall apart.

At GOTR race central, I was thrilled to see Mindy volunteering at the food table. She was an acquaintance (now friend, and you will soon understand why) from my son’s school. I headed to the bathroom to change. As I dug through my stuff, a slow burn of panic crept from belly to fingertips. “Here’s the damn lip gloss, but where’s my bra?!”

Though I am no Victoria’s Secret model, my unfettered boobs can’t manage 26.2 miles of jiggling. I sidled back to Mindy, who is of similar stature, whispered my problem, and, er, asked if she happened to have a spare bra, or, if, er, I could borrow hers. She gamely offered the one off her back, but it didn’t quite fit. Time was ticking and the room was emptying of runners. Emboldened by the ridiculousness of the situation, I blurted out my predicament. Moments later, a GOTR staffer ran to me waving a sturdy, black bundle of hope. A runner from out of town had an extra bra in her luggage. It fit! The race was on.

But wait–there’s more.


The narrow escape
I could have, and should have, left the building through the same doors I entered. Instead, I saw a door leading in the direction to a courtyard I recalled using as an entrance last year. I proceeded, followed by an ominous click. No choice but forward. Past more doors that locked behind me. I started to get nervous for the umpteenth time of the morning. I finally reached the courtyard door, which opened into sunshine. . . and a closed gate.

This was a real pickle. I had no phone number for GOTR staff. I guess I could have flagged someone down and asked them to walk the half block to the entrance and then search for the GOTR crew. . . .but that seemed a bit much, especially since I was already wearing a stranger’s bra.

I finally decided to take inspiration from having witnessed countless children wriggle through fence openings half their width. First one leg, then a side contortion, sucking in, one butt cheek at a time, perpendicular limbo, grateful for flexibility. . .Freedom.


The extra mile
My race went poorly, much worse than the year before. By about mile 15 my knee was hurting so much I feared I would not make it, but I scraped along. So this is why just completing a marathon can be a big deal for people!* More than five hours past the start, I limped across the finish and made the slow, unsteady walk of shame and pride to the family meeting area. Which turned out to be an agonizing mile away! I should have studied the race map more carefully to arrange an earlier exit from the gauntlet. But this final goof seemed a fitting end to the day.

I decided to take this year off, but will be back in 2015 with my own bra. In the meantime, learn from me:

  • Leave the house/hotel wearing what you need for the race.
  • Study both ends of the map.
  • Stick with your routine,
  • but leave enough time for mistakes
  • and then be willing to laugh about them.

*It’s not that I think a marathon is a trifling thing, but the year before it didn’t feel like an accomplishment. “Oh, anyone with a moderate amount of baseline fitness can shuffle along for 5 hours!” Erm, maybe not.