Book Review – Run Like a Girl by Mina Samuels

Run Like a Girl Book

By the sound of it, I’m probably not part of the target audience. However, my library doesn’t have many books on or about running on the shelves, so when I came across it…. I figured “Why not? Just because the book’s target audience is women doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from it.” So I checked it out.

It was… okay. Not great, but not terrible. A quick, easy read with some really good bits.

This is minor quibble, but I was instantly annoyed by the frequency of the block quotes featuring the runner girl silhouette. The block quotes appear on at least every other page, sometimes more. It felt like an attempt to pad the book and/or a poor substitute for pictures. (Most of the books I’ve read on running feature at least a handful of photos; the only photo in this book was of the author sporting an uneasy smile. What they should have done was put the runner girl on the top/bottom of every page, and turned her into a flip book action heroine. That would have been cool. Heck, that’s my idea. Hands off.)

The overall theme of women’s’ struggle and empowerment was lost on me, since I’m a dude. But the main thing was I didn’t care for Samuels’ writing style. It was a loosely structured, semi-conversational train of thought with examples randomly sprinkled throughout.  But there were a few nuggets of wisdom to be found that inspired me.

The first nugget was when Samuels talked about how one identifies oneself can become a problem:

“When we are attached to our identity, we begin to measure ourselves in the same way…. be careful, too, not to set that identity in stone or we risk becoming confined to a narrow prison instead  of feeling free to define ourselves with new richness of every day.”

This provided me much-needed validation for my transition of identifying as an artist to identifying as a runner. No longer am I an artist (who happens to run) struggling to produce work. Now I am an active runner (who happens to paint) training for an event. I don’t worry about producing new work or getting a show, I run and sign up for races. I don’t sit alone in the garage slaving away on my “masterpiece,” I join a bunch of other runners and grind out some miles. Since I’ve made this mental shift, I feel much happier.

The second nugget asked: “What could I be capable of, if I tried?”

We all should ask ourselves this question regularly, or at least every once in a while. It makes you reassess your abilities and rethink what is possible. Imagining new possibilities means leaving your comfort zone and confronting one of the greatest sources of fear – the unknown. Because trying or doing unfamiliar things can be scary, it’s too easy to get stuck in the familiar.

It’s like running trails. Running the same route makes you feel comfortable because you know exactly where you are. Which is not a bad thing, but it’s good to mix things up. Take a new path and see where that goes. You might get lost, but that’s okay. Next time, you’ll have that experience to help guide you so that you don’t get lost again.

The third nugget was a quote from the poet Rumi: “If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”

It’s such a powerful, direct thought. I’ve never heard of the poet Rumi, but now feel somewhat obligated to do some research. I doubt the poet was talking about running, but the quote seems especially relevant to both beginning runners and ultra runners.

For the beginning runner, it’s intimidating to get started running. You have fears about  how difficult it’s going to be, you think that you can’t do it , you think people will judge you or make fun of you. The best thing to do is to try to put those fears aside and take the first step and start. If all you can do is walk down the street, well, start walking. The thing is to take action, however seemingly small and insignificant, and keep moving toward your goal.

The challenge for ultra runners is usually not starting, but finishing. Undoubtedly, there will be rough patches where your legs are so tired you feel they can no longer carry you, you want to stop and call it quits, and you question why you are doing this in the first place. That’s when you have to dig deep and tell yourself, over and over, “I will fucking crawl to the finish line if I have to.” The thing is to keep moving, keep your momentum, however slow it might be. Do whatever you have to do, but do not give up.

Who am I? What am I capable of? And (essentially) Never Give Up. Those are three awesomely inspiring ideas for both women and men. And definitely a good payoff for a guy reading a book written for girls.

Role Models and Revelations

Speedwork course
Speedwork course

I didn’t see the email until late in the afternoon, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. There was going to be a speedwork run at 6. But I’d already run in the morning, and  I didn’t want to overdo it. I was on the fence, leaning toward not going…

But then I thought to myself, “Uh dude? You can run twice in one day. It won’t kill you.”

Yeah, I know it’s possible and people do that. Other people. But what the hell. Go. Run. Hurry up, it’s almost time. So I drove out to Valero.

When it’s time to take off, there are 5 of us: Liza, Stefan, Elizabeth, and the guy who’s name I can’t recall. The pack is off with Liza and Stefan leading the way. I lag behind because I forgot to “acquire satellites.”

Once I get the beep, I catch up and chat with Elizabeth. She’s very friendly, but our conversation quickly evaporates. We pull up to the other guy. Thankfully, he starts up some chatter, and I leave the two of them to their conversation. Elizabeth runs at “her own pace”, and the guy is just recovering from the flu. I didn’t come here for an easy run, I came here for a speed workout! I hustle to catch up with Liza and Stefan.

I have a slight set back in that I have to ditch to perform a gastrointestinal transaction. I pop back onto the path only to see Elizabeth and the guy rolling up. I yell, “Spicy food – no bueno!” I’m not sure if they heard me or not, but I’m sure they knew what was up.

I push harder to make up the increased gap, and then I catch up…. because they turned around. We stop and wait for the other two to arrive to begin the actual speed work. The plan is one minute hard, one minute jog. Repeat 10 times. Sounds easy enough. Liza counts us down, and then we took off.

Fast.

It felt awesome. I love running fast.

But I’m huffing and puffing to keep up with them. Meanwhile they are just chatting away, telling jokes! How can they still have a conversation at this intensity? They must not even be pushing! STOP!

Whew! Catch my breath. That was a really long minute. Which is weird because the following recovery minute is really shor- GO!

It’s rough going at first. My legs are trying to settle into the rhythm. It’s been awhile since I’ve run this hard. Last time I ran this hard was last week at the Alamo Ranch Meetup. I was sort of racing Christian. We pushed up the pace the last two or three miles. STOP!

He was pushing it well, but I outpaced him just slightly. I am overly competitive and want to be the fastest. Which really sucks because now- GO!

Because now I am not the fastest! But I am determined to keep up. I am determined to show that I am worthy to run with the group. I am determined to not get left behind. I try to relax. Feel my form. Remember, rapid turn over. STOP!

I relax. I feel good. I am having a great time, despite how hard this is. And after a few rounds, all I want to hear is “GO!

We finish the speed work and head back. The “jog” back is pretty intense. It’s an effort for me to keep up so I’m trailing, listening to their conversation about their upcoming races. It amazes the races they’re doing – the big races, the “real” ultras. And this is only two people out of the group!

I think to myself how great it feels to run with strong, fast runners. I want to be fast like them; I want a 7:00 min pace to be cake, I want to run the same big races.  I really admire these two runners and want to be like them. Then it occurs to me – they are role models!

Role models? Hmmm… Then it occurs to me: in my life as an artist, I’ve never had a role model. There was never someone, that I knew personally, that I looked up to. No one that I respected and admired. No one to teach me or to learn from.  And after I left school, I didn’t even have any peers. It was just me, community of one. Talk about isolation! Furthermore, creating art never did anything for my competitive spirit.

But now, entering the ultra running world and joining the Rockhopper group looks to hold much more promise than my artistic life did. The people I’ve met so far are awesome runners. They run ultras on a regular basis. And they seem pretty casual about it, talking about 50 milers and 100 milers like they were 5K’s or 10K’s.  And some of them are fast.

I started to think, as sad as it is, maybe I should give up trying to be an artist and just be a runner. This is a pretty radical thought for me since all my life I have identified myself as an “artist.” But, if I really wanted to be an artist, I would throw myself into it. But I haven’t. I’ve been struggling with it my whole life. I haven’t painted in… three months? I’ve been working on my art website for how long? I am however, throwing myself into this “running thing.” I run four times a week and I started this blog for crying out loud!

In the future, I will come back around to Art.  But for now, I am going to focus on running. I have some new role models that I want to learn from, and there’s a lot of ground to cover.

See You Tuesday

An actual "runrise". Phuket, Thailand.
An actual “runrise” in Phuket, Thailand

I just found the best way to get up early and bang out a few miles first thing in the morning: “See you Tuesday.”

On one of the local running groups’ message board, a guy was looking for a running buddy in my area. I messaged that I would be up for a run, even at the ungodly hour of 6 am. I could stand to get up early and run with a new person.

The great thing about meeting someone is that they are expecting you to be there. Thus, you obligate yourself to: go to bed at a reasonable hour, set your alarm, actually wake up when the alarm goes off and drag yourself out of bed, get dressed, and walk out the door.

It can be done!

I set my alarm for 5:10 and went to bed relatively early. I dreamt that I overslept and didn’t show up; I dreamt I was that guy. I awoke from my slumber, unsure of what was going on. I looked at the time. 4:42. Ugh. Just enough time to fall back asleep and then have to wake up. Well, at least I could stay warm for a little while longer.

But not much longer. It seemed like I’d just closed my eyes and the alarm went off. Getting out of bed was the first hurdle. I got ready quickly and was out the door.
Having cleared the two biggest hurdles, I was ready to pat myself on the back. Then I realized how cold and dark it was outside; I shivered and wished I’d worn a jacket. And gloves. And maybe a parka. I was slightly miserable thinking about the warm and cozy bed I’d left behind. Turning on my headlamp only reminded how cold it was – I could now see my breath. I thought to myself, “Why did I agree to this?” and then, “[The other guy] had better show up or I am going to be PISSED! ”

(Note to self: sending a confirmation text the night before would be an effective reminder.)

Once I got moving, and the blood started flowing, I warmed up a bit. See, it’s not that cold. And then hey! I’m awake! This isn’t so bad. Oh and look, a family of deer!

Since I was meeting this guy for the first time, I was neurotic about being on time. I arrived early. I paced around trying to keep moving so I wouldn’t get cold. Looking at my watch in slight annoyance, I wondered, “Where the hell is this guy?!”, despite the fact that it’s still eight till. Why can’t everyone be early?

Then my stomach let me know it was ready to do that thing that I tried unsuccessfully to do earlier. The upside to this notification was it just about guaranteed that the guy would show up, probably at the worst possible time.

My business completed without interruption, (Hallelujah!) a second wave of relief washed over me when a car pulled into the lot. I couldn’t be certain it was the guy I was meeting, but  I was sure.  How many people go to this park at 6 in the morning? (Actually, there was another runner  that ran by earlier.)

“Hey man are you_______? Nice to meet you, I’m_______.”

And then we ran.

* * * *

Depending on the time, you may reap the finest reward of running so doggone early: the “run-rise.” What is it about running and seeing the sunrise that makes you feel so good? Is there some sort of magical chemical reaction between the run and the sun that makes you certain that today is going to be a good day? Is it Vitamin D?

Seeing the sunrise, enjoying the cool morning air, and the satisfaction of knocking out a workout first thing of the day is a great start to any day. If only everyday could start like that… Oh right, it can. You need only four words, “See you next Tuesday. “

OMG WTF?!

angry brain

My brain is super pissed at me.

Yesterday, my usually cautious decision-making process was blind sided by over-excited enthusiasm. Now my brain is freaking out. And not in a good way.

For some reason, I thought the Nueces race was towards the end of March. Nope! I should have looked at the calendar. Then I would have seen that the race is a mere 5 weeks away. Now my brain won’t stop yelling at me, telling me what a dumb idea it was to register for a 50M without being able to properly train for it.

It might be disastrous attempting this run on such short notice: I could injure myself, or be unable to complete the run and DNF. The idea of a DNF is somewhat terrifying. I know there will come a time when I will have to face that, but so soon?

My brain knows at some point in time, I will be able to run a 50M. Possibly even in March. But it just wants to make sure that I am ready for it. My super logical brain really just wants what’s best for me.

At the same time, the (somewhat dampened) enthusiastic side of my brain is telling me, “Dude relax. Don’t be scared. It’s going to be okay. Just because you can’t train for it the same way you did for the last race, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just train the best you can. Lots of other people run 50M. You can too. That’s what this is about, to see what you are capable of. You won’t have a fast race, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about just finishing. And you will finish.”

I swear, that side of my brain is a really good salesman. And that last bit is the part that really intrigues me: Can I run my first 50M on 5 weeks of training?

Lesson learned: Always consult your calendar, aka Look before you leap.

If You’re Even THINKING About It…

logo_nueces_sm

I ran with a few of the Rockhoppers today at Government Canyon. Stefan, Cara, and Elizabeth. I talked to them about some of the races they’ve done. It seemed like they’d all done numerous “real” ultras, which made me feel a little out of my league running with them. I was envious of their accomplishments, but inspired to make my own.

“The Nueces 50K.” That’s what I told them I was training for. “My plan is to do a few 50K’s and get some experience under my belt. Then try and tackle a 50M.” Or that was the plan anyway.

About halfway through the run, Elizabeth had to turn around and head back. She was nursing a knee injury and had a half marathon the next day, so she wanted to take it easy. So the rest of the run was with Stefan and Cara. Stefan lead the whole way, with Cara following him and then me. He kept a brisk pace. There were times I couldn’t see him and I crossed my fingers I was following the same trail. I had no idea where I was so getting lost would have been super sucky.

Somewhere along the way, we ran into a runner who was kind of lost. He asked about directions and struck up a brief conversation about Bandera, Rocky, and Nueces. He said he’d just run Bandera and planned to do Nueces. We began to go in the opposite direction, and then Stefan said, “We’ll see you at Nueces!” a minute later, I heard Cara say, “You should do the 50 Miler.”

I was watching the ground, so I didn’t know who she was talking to. Was she talking to me? No, she was talking to Stefan. But then I started to think about that. What if she had been talking to me?

Stefan kept up the pace and if anything, got quicker. We were running well. The hills were cake, the rocks endless, and the temps perfect. I kept up just fine, but Cara started to slow down a bit, so she let me take over the second spot. I did my best to shadow Stefan, I wanted to show that I could run with the big kids. They noticed and gave me credit for keeping up.

We ran into Miguel from the R-U-N group. We stopped and (they) chatted. He asked how far along we were. Neither Stefan or Cara was wearing a GPS, and I’d been having trouble with mine -somehow the display had switched. Instead of showing the usual distance/ elapsed time/ pace, it was showing calories/ something else/ something else. I felt really dumb because I’m pretty sure Miguel noticed I was wearing a Garmin, I think the same as his, in fact, but he didn’t say anything. I put my arms behind my back.  That was a lesson for the day: learn how to operate my watch.

We stopped at a crossroad. I asked Stefan how much harder it would be to do a 50M vs a 50K. He said, “If you’re even thinking about it, you should do it.” That was just the sort of crazy positive advice I wanted to hear. Despite the fact that he doesn’t know me or my capabilities (other than the run we were on), he suggested to just do it. I like this guy.

Later, I asked Cara the same question and I think I got pretty much the same response. So my brain started percolating crazy ideas… We eventually finished our run. My watch showed only 13.7 miles in 2:23 for a pace of 10.25. They guesstimated 15 or 16 miles. I had problems with the starting and stopping, so I know my data was short. Ugh! Nothing worse than being outsmarted by technology.

On the drive home, I thought to myself, I should do the 50 miler. Normally, I would take a more cautious approach. Like I said before, do few 50K’s and build up some confidence. But I already feel pretty confident about my ability to do 31 miles. What will doing another prove? Why not do a 50M? Are you afraid to fail? Maybe?

Well if I’m going to consider doing this, I need to commit myself to the idea of actually doing a 50 mile run. OK. And that’s when I decided, Fuck it! Why mess around with another 50K? I know I can do that. Nothing to it. Let’s bump it up and do what we came here to do. Let’s run the big stuff. Let’s start with a 50 miler!

I AM GOING TO DO THE 50 MILER.

I got goosebumps. Straight up gooses bumps, and not just once, it was a wave of them. Part of it was fear, part of it was excitement, but all of it was joy.

So that’s what happened today: I made a big decision. And it feels good. Now I need to sign up and start to figure out training…

My First Pair of Nike Free’s

My First Pair of Nike Free's

These are my very first pair, about 4 or 5 years ago when I was living in Portland. The first time I wore them was on a run home from work. It was one of the most magical runs I’ve ever had. I felt really… free. (Sorry) I’ve since become accustomed to the sensation of minimalist shoes, but that first run, wow! I wore them at work in the paint department, which is why they are covered in specks of magenta. The laces don’t stay tied worth a damn, even with double knotting, they smell funky, which is weird because my feet don’t usually stink, and they probably have at least a million miles on them, but I can’t bring myself to throw them out. I even did a painting of them. I’ve since bought 3 other pairs, though one pair got thrown out of a train window in Viet Nam because I’d gone swimming in them and they never got to dry out because I wrapped them up in a plastic bag along with my running shorts, and they began to smell unbearable….

But these ones, they’re still here with me. In fact, I’m wearing them right now.
Yeah, I think I’ll keep ’em.