Monday, November 26, 2012

Are you there runners? It's me, Scarlett.

I've decided to start writing here again. I've missed recording my thoughts about running. It's been months and many things have happened here in the Mediterranean, but through it all I've kept running.

And running has kept me calm, it's been the stabilizer in a year marked by constant change and instability. 

Right now I'm preparing for a half marathon on December 16th and the Barcelona Marathon on March 17th, 2013. It won't be easy to train for the full: my job ends soon and I'll have to search for a new one, but somehow I think having another (out-of-work) goal will help me stay on track during the job search. 

New things since I last wrote: 

* massage has done wonders for my back. But I still think Pilates and swimming can do more. 
* I ran an awful half marathon in October. I had a great mileage and going into it and I fell apart at mile 8!  2:08: bleh!  At first I blamed the humidity, but now, with more time for reflection, I've realized it was mental. A woman I know socially was right behind me and once she past me I fell apart. Her husband was pacing her and somehow seeing him guide her along, just made me feel lonely and lost whatever it is that usually pulls me along.
*Then, three weeks later, I ran a great 10k and conquered the hills with my mind.  

* I've started tracking calories on My Fitness Pal and I've learned so much in just 3 months about nutrition and diet. My whole life I thought counting calories sounded horrible, but it turns out it makes me feel great, more in control and aware. Some days (like yesterday: Catalan elections + ex-pat Thanksgiving) I go overboard, but for the most part I'm quite good. If you're on MFP, let me know and we can be friends. 

*I've become a morning runner, which is absolutely the best decision ever! Never in my life did I think this possible, but I wake up at least three times a week at the crack of dawn and get out there and go and it is LA GLORIA. 

So,  this week holds:

Monday 4 miles easy 

Tuesday 5 miles hills 
Wednesday: tempo run 
Thursday 6 easy / swimming at midday
Friday 4 easy or rest
Saturday 16 
Sun 4 easy 

unless I decide to run a half-marathon on Sunday, which might also happen. 

Oh, it's hard to stick to a plan...

Monday, May 7, 2012

On Tortoises

Let’s take a moment to celebrate the victory of Francois Hollande in the French elections. I fully understand that he’ll probably disappoint not only the French, but the vast majority of Europeans, just as Zapatero did, but we’re living through a dark period over here and it was nice, yesterday, to have a ray of light.

Hollande won this race slowly but surely. He’s soft in the middle and patient like me! A true tortoise. (Yeah, I know in a few months he’ll be like all the rest and I feel like an ass for celebrating him, but just let me use him now as a personal hero for the sake of a running metaphor.)

Since Easter this here tortoise has been having some real problems with her shell.Thankfully, Charles forced me to go to the doctor instead of just hobbling around town with my hand cupped over my kidneys like an 80-year-old. I’m not a fan of doctors, as you may have already sensed from my birth-control post, but after two visits, I’m warming up to Dr A.

Now, he’s a low talker so there are important parts of what he says that I may miss completely, but basically I left my second appointment with this new information:

1) There is nothing actually wrong with my hips. My pelvis is slightly crooked and I do have a small sack of liquid at the right hip, but that doesn’t mean I have hip bursitis, it just means there’s some liquid there. Nor do I have an SI alignment problem, but I might if I were to say, have kids. See? Bodies are complex and everything is relative. (I already knew that, before having paid 120 € for an appointment with a private doctor, but it’s nice to have a professional say you’re right.)

2) My spine is crooked, especially at the top. That might be from scoliosis, but that part was explained in a very soft voice and does it really matter why? It’s crooked and that’s that. Dr A said with a straight spine I would be una mujer 10, but with this one I'm una mujer 9. Such corny Spanish humor, but hey, I'll take it.

3) My entire back is very contracturada.(Do we have a way making that word into an adjective in English?) The contractures are causing the lower back and hip pain. This doesn’t necessarily come from running. I blame my lifelong high anxiety and the current economic crisis. Dr A blames my posture and my sexy standing position: one hand on hip, all weight shifted on to one leg.

What to do? (Some of these ideas are common sense, others surprised me.)

1) Massage. I went on Friday evening, just two days after my trip to the doctor, and it was worth every cent. Why didn’t I go before? Well, because I’m Irish Catholic and was taught to think massage is, well, dirty or perverse. I will change though, little by little. Dr Arquer seemed to think that two sessions would be enough to get the tightness out and then I could just do a massage once a month. The massage therapist suggested a month of once-a-week sessions and then maintenance and I’m really going to try to stick with this.  It’s expensive, yes, but I feel much better.

2) Back exercises everyday at home on my own. I like that he reinforced the need to be autonomous here. There is no need to rely on a PT when there are so many things we can do on our own. He insisted on the idea that these exercises must be a daily, lifelong practice and so making them on contingent on having a PT or trainer or gym available is just silly and counter-productive because life is long and messy.

3) Stretch the gluteus. Don’t worry too much about strengthening.  (Strange, huh?)

4) Pilates. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed when he said, “You should really think about doing some Pilates.” Because I do Pilates every Monday and it’s expensive as all get out! I want to learn to be autonomous with this as well.  I’m going to try to do Pilates at home three times a week. Just 15 minutes, but three times a week.  Any tips on this would be greatly appreciated. All this body work is so expensive and I want to figure out what I can do on my own and what I need to pay for.
5) Work on the upper body at the gym. No need to go crazy strengthening the legs, but some serious weight work on the chest and arms could help. I’m committing to this. Tuesday and Thursday are about the arms this summer.

6) RUN! Almost daily. Not too far. Not too fast. But don’t stop. And that’s what I did last week. I had a 36-mile week with no run over 8 miles and I feel fantastic. Hip is tender, but doesn’t hurt and my back is feeling much better. Strange advice, but I like it, very much.

So, what do you think of this Tortoise Running for Life plan? Has Pilates saved your back? Do you get massages? Did running become suddenly very expensive?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Back in the Barri

I haven’t been running a lot. I’m injured, I’m tired, I’m taking my time. Following instructions. Trying not too read too many running blogs. 

I broke down in a little ball on my terrace just once. I cried like a crazy person and claimed that this was like losing someone you love. Not being able to run hurt just as much, and in that similar no-one-can-understand-this-pain-sort-of-way that a broken heart does. 

However, the tragedy was short lived since the doctor told me I could do some short runs. (I almost hugged him, but then he said, "until we see the xrays, at least" and then I sighed inside.) Oh but those few short runs have been fantastic, I haven’t been able to stop smiling. Just grateful for each step.I won't be running my A race, the Empúries half this weekend, but this fall I will run faster, better halves than ever before. I'm dealing with this hip head-on: strength training and eating better, resting and stretching. Running is about daily practice, a way of life for the rest of my life. Slowly but surely.

Last Thursday I headed out quite late, around 10:30 pm, and as I ran past the corner store at the top of the little hill on Carrer Lledò, my biggest fan, a young shop clerk, was just pulling the heavy metal shutter down, finally closing up for the night.

“Glad to see you,” he said, his face slowing opening up into a full grin. “I was worried.” 

And with that I cried the last few hundred yards home.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Pilates and Poetry

Running, as Murakami tells us, creates a VOID, which I really like. That empty, blissful feeling that is just contentment. "What did you think about on that 10-mile run?" Well, nothing and everything. The thought process is fluid and ephemeral. I write the ending to novels in my head and then they slip away. That's why you want to get back out there the next day, to find the void again. 

Pilates, on the other hand, requires (at least for me) acute concentration. I can't bliss out because I have to count and coordinate and think about my body. The thoughts, the beauty, come in sharp little phrases. It’s like hammering out a vision. Small poems. Each line pulled from a tiny muscle I’d never even heard of. Pilates tires me out mentally in a way that running just doesn't, but it also calms me down. Makes me think about the beauty of bones and tendons as opposed to the EPICness of the sea, or the highway, or human strength, or family sagas, which are the kinds of things I think about when I run. 

Running lets me out of my body, Pilates forces me in.

Does each type of exercise hold a different mental space for you? Allow for a different kind of reflection?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

All the Places I Would Run

I didn’t discover the true secret to happiness until I was thirty-years-old so I have a whole list of places where I wish I had run. Of moments in my life when I wish I had had the emotional maturity to make running a part of my everyday.

If only I had known how calm and confident running can make you.

1) Towson High School

Instead of staying up late talking on the phone or sneaking cigs before school started I could’ve, should’ve been running! God, I would have been beautiful! So young, so skinny! So tan! Instead I was an art-house goon: pale, red-eyed and brooding all the damn day.

2) In college in the beautiful Hudson Valley. Instead of drinking 40’s and arguing over Marxist theory, I could’ve been running the trails. My mind would have been sharper for studying, my poems however might have suffered a bit.

3) Those first lonely months in Madrid, when I discovered slowly and then ever so quickly what it means to be a woman in this world. Instead of feeling my lip quiver as a man named Jesus taught me how to dance, I could have been exploring the Retiro park. I could have gotten strong instead of skinny. But then again, I may never have read so much Bashevis Singer and Cormac McCarthy all alone in the subway if I’d been running…

4) Granada. Ah, the hills, I walked them back in September 2004, but how I’d like to have run them. In that crisp morning air you get from the Sierra Nevada just before the sun comes up. And I would have enjoyed all the food I ate so much more.

5) Philadelphia. That hot summer of 1999 when I was broke and broken hearted. Sure I got strong from selling cokes at Veterans Stadium and riding my bike all over town, but god if I had started running that summer I would have been on top of the world.

As you can see, I’m back to believing that running keeps me steady. This past fall I was afraid to admit that because my hip hurt and I thought that happiness might just slip away but after this weekend’s post-injury PR in a 10-k I’m feeling like I’ve kept a hold of running, clenched it just tight enough.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Goals 2012

Short & Sweet

1. Get back down to 53 kilograms / 116.8 pounds and stay there!

2. Publish a story from Other People’s Daughters.

Of course there are a lot of other things I hope to do (get more sleep, be a better daughter wife and sister, travel, swim once a week, run a marathon, host some great dinner parties), but for now I’m just betting on these two goals which are at once simple and seemingly impossible.

2011 Highlights

There were many, but here are a few.

1. January: Starting my new job as a political advisor and getting a half-marathon PR

2. February: Sitting in a packed house while my boss delivered the first BIG speech I’d written

3. March: Enjoying a wonderful, if all too-short, visit from my mom

4. April: Celebrating my birthday in Horta with lots of tapas and wine and a very funny, diverse group of friends

5. May: Discovering our terrace in full bloom and doing a 15-mile hike to Cabrera

6. June: “Working” in Venice

7. July: Running (lots) from the mountain to the sea with my dad in BCN

8. August: Having seven days in paradise, with my family in The Outer Banks

9. September: Running the Sabadell half even though I was exhausted and it was hot and hilly

10. October: Dealing, calmly, with injury

11. November: Finding Pilates

12. December: Celebrating Christmas in Baltimore with all the family and meeting Ruby, pictured above.