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I Did NOT!

In our mainstream culture, we are what we DO. Often, what we do for income. Sometimes what we do to feed our passions, what we do because we have to, or what we do to serve others.

This blog’s focus is no exception. Much of it is a journal of what I’ve done as a marathoner, yoga instructor and practitioner, and wellness educator. By nature blogs record their blogkeepers’  achievements, pastimes, and instructions for how to DO things. (In the case of mine in 2010, the lack of  regular updates may also imply how engaging and high-octane non-virtual life is lately. )

A big “I DID IT!” and the topic of my previous post, April’s Glass City Marathon, seems much longer than about two months ago.  Glancing back through  my athletic and wellness pursuits since that PR day in Toledo, the mental highlights reel plays out as a montage of what I Did NOT:

A month after Glass City, Lloyd and I went to Madison, Wisc., to serve as pace group leaders in that city’s marathon. It would be my first official pacing job, but I was confident thanks to practicing the very relaxed pace I would keep and to coaching from my more experienced husband. We also love Madison, one of my childhood homes, and were excited to spend a few days hanging out on the UW’s lakefront campus and seeing some local friends.

Madison's weather was more suitable for lakefront people-watching than marathon running.

The forecast, on the other hand, was nowhere near as friendly: We would be running under full sun and 80-plus temperatures. Out on the course I coped as best I could, guiding my group to every water stop and any available shade, but even at two minutes per mile slower than my race pace the sun blazing down and radiating back up off the road was grueling. Ironically, just as we reached Mile 22’s breezy, cooler lakefront section, race officials began shutting down the course due to a heat index over 100 degrees and countless distressed runners. Disappointed and confused, I opted to jog the mile back to our hotel rather than board the buses race officials told me were being dispatched, stopping to aid another pacer’s distressed and disoriented runner along the way.

My second marathon DNF (Did NOT Finish) reminded me how badly unfinished business stings. Though I felt I did the right thing by following race officials’ instructions and by aiding a distressed runner, I kept thinking about the three remaining women still hanging on with me, running on, trusting me to get them to the Finish as their pain and effort increased after Mile 20. We were moving forward collectively at that point, not as four separate bodies. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d let them down. It took a little while to feel better about that. Talking about it with our pace team captain Jim and more experienced pacers helped.

Although it had a low note with the race interruptus, our Madison trip completed a happy and busy month of celebrating birthdays and PRs, the end-of-semester madness that still doesn’t feel routine after six years, and two fun road trips that took us from North Carolina’s Atlantic surf through the Blue Ridge Parkway’s watercolor skyline to Chicago’s striking architectural profile.

I welcome adventure but thrive best with routine, and could barely lift my arm to wave hello to June after May’s happy mayhem. Seeking my own renewable energy source, I decided to DO another cleanse. Last year’s 11-Day Nutrition and Yoga detox gave me a major recharge of vigor and joy, so I figured the 21-Day Cleanse Oprah popularized would be no less than (organic, vegan) blissful rocket fuel. I bought and read the book, planned a menu, contributed substantially to Whole Foods Market’s bottom line and waited to radiate inner peace as I dined on gluten-free, sugar-free, animal-free, alcohol-free meals. (You are supposed to eliminate caffeine too, but this die-hard coffee addict compromised by cutting back to one cup of organic brew a day.)

Cleanse author Kathy Freston cautions that the detox process can cause unpleasant side effects, flu-like symptoms or emotional releases. Seismic stomach, check. (Though that could have been the vegan diet’s high bean content.) Scratchy throat, check. Moodiness, check. And also: a side of joylessness and deprivation with most meals, rather than the empowering feeling of self-care I’d had during the less restrictive 11-Day cleanse.

I was surprised. I’ve been curious about full-tilt veganism. I often prepare and enjoy vegan dishes because they are nutritious and just plain tasty. I share many of veganism’s values: humane treatment of other beings, sustainable planetary practices, opting out of our mainstream culture’s less-than-mindful status quo. I envisioned I would feel ultra-pure, uber-compassionate, and positively peaceful as a vegan.

Instead I was gassy and cranky. I had resentful thoughts about poor Kathy Freston, who comes across as a perfectly lovely and mindful person. And then, despite meticulous meal planning and smart supplementation, my energy plummeted in the cleanse’s third week. The shining eyes and glowing skin of last year’s cleanse were dark undereye circles and breakouts this year. Worst of all, I had never felt so weak during runs. After feeling like I was on the verge of collapsing for 10 miles, I surrendered.

Except for one wedding reception, I lasted a total of 16 days on the 21-day cleanse. While not especially physically rejuvenating for me, the experience did clarify some things in my mind:

  1. While I will enjoy vegan food regularly, I can’t go 24/7. Every individual’s physiology has unique and different nutrient composition needs throughout life, and my activities now demand a higher percentage of protein. The only way I could physically consume the tissue-supporting protein I need to feel and perform like a strong athlete would involve more beans than my poor gastrointestinal tract can deal with, or more quantities of highly-processed, likely genetically modified soy foods than I am comfortable with consuming. Many endurance athletes excel on meatless and high-carb eating plans, but the vegan diet’s higher carbohydrate content wasn’t supportive for me.
  2. This cleanse did eliminate cravings for foods with added sweeteners (sugar or otherwise), which I can be prone to when stressed. I’m an occasional light drinker, but also felt the break from alcohol was beneficial.
  3. I ate more processed foods (brown rice cakes, gluten-free waffles, energy bars, etc.) on this cleanse  than my normal whole foods omnivore eating. That didn’t feel cleansing to me.
  4. It was fun to find and try new cooking techniques and recipes. Dry-frying tofu, for instance, makes it firm and golden-brown. Here’s a curry recipe I will be making again.
  5. I spent a lot of time thinking about the global impact of food sources. For instance, does consuming more industrially processed, packaged, and long-distance shipped soy for protein really make less of an impact on our Earth’s resources than buying organic, grass-fed meats directly from a local family farmer? While doing this cleanse I read Barbara Kingsolver’s delightful and thought-provoking “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and it spoke to me as more authentic, connected, and yes, joyful take on sustainable, nutritious food sourcing. Obviously this is a complex issue with no one conclusion that feels right to all people, and this is just my take at this point in my own exploration.

Chalk up DNF No. 2, though a worthwhile and enlightening one.

The endurance athlete’s standard DNF consolation is so common it’s cliche, “A DNF is better than a DNS (Did Not Start).” Well, I logged one of those too. Last weekend our town hosted its first 5K race. I selected the Brecksville Home Days 5K as an early summer fitness test and looked forward to having home course advantage, though the course features a mean climb for most of Mile 2.

This time my body wasn’t its usual cooperative self. Slight hamstring tightness I’d barely acknowledged seized up my left leg two days before race day. Attempting a set of strides after a tentative warm-up jog was all the data I needed to make the smart decision. I Did NOT Start; instead I cheered on competitors and felt grateful my aggravated leg still let me run at easy pace and maintain aerobic fitness. A week later 90% of the pain and stiffness is gone, and I’m penciling in another 5K. Yes, another DO.

I can’t do everything I put my mind or body to, though as a classic overachiever I come close. Applying perspective, the Did NOT’s of June and July are balancing, even complementing, the DID’s of April and May. Instead of just checking off a list of accomplishments and events, I can remain open to the lapses when the pendulum redirects, when a body can use some rest, when a mind needs to think — or when the weather’s simply not cooperating.

I can’t finish everything I start and I can’t always start, even when I plan on it.

Just don’t remind me this next time I am on a Start line and healthy, OK?

Milestones at the End of a Decade

Happy New Year from paradise, I mean, San Diego, where there’s year-round good running weather.  Beside the spectacular views and ideal temperatures, I felt fortunate to be part of two especially noteworthy runs this week.

On Dec. 29, Katie Visco became the youngest woman to complete a solo run across the United States, just two miles south of where we’re staying. Lloyd and I connected with Katie in June when she ran through Ohio, and I had fun tagging along with her for eight miles on Summit County’s Rt. 303, where we talked about community, writing, dreams, life, running, and more. As Katie neared her “Finish” line (the Pacific Ocean), we realized we’d be able to accept her invitation to complete her final miles with her. Tuesday morning we set out and came upon her small group of family and friends a little more than a mile from her destination. Katie was like Forrest Gump as she led us along the Mission Beach boardwalk, and we cheered her on as she continued alone into the ocean. Katie’s message to people is “follow your passions,” and she emotionally repeated it again at the water’s edge, holding a flag: “You can do anything! You can do anything!” Congratulations Katie on accomplishing one of many dreams I’m sure you’ll achieve!

Here are a couple photos of Katie’s big finish:

On New Year’s Eve day, I got to enjoy my own realization of a run I’ve wanted to do for a few years – a 5K with my parents. Both are active and love to walk, and though they don’t run I’ve often thought it would be fun for them to enter a race. As a huge bonus, 10 other members of my extended family, from my adorable 6-year-old second cousin Ava to her grandpa, my Uncle Ralph, all came out to run or walk the San Diego Downtown YMCA’s Resolution Run. After taking a “Fitness Pledge” together, we started out on the challenging mostly cross-country and trail course in Balboa Park. Lloyd came in 7th of the men and I was 10th woman. Being cheered in by Ava made crossing the line especially sweet. Then we waited at the finish to clap, yell, and take photos as everyone else made their way in.  Lloyd and I ran back out to encourage my dad and mom as they speed walked and jogged a little in the last mile. It was one of the most fun times I can remember having together, and made me wish we lived closer so we could get together and play more than once every few years. Way to go Team Schuler!

Finally, I was excited to achieve my own mileage milestone. Seeing how close I was getting to logging 2,300 miles for 2009, this week I added a few extra miles and a second run on New Year’s Eve. Lloyd accompanied me on a gorgeous 4 mile jog along Pacific Beach. With the waves on one side and full moon rising on the other, it made for a pretty romantic evening for us running nerds.

Here’s to being part of more milestones in 2010. Cheers!

May 11-17 Training

I intended to run closer to 40 miles this week … but a mountain got in my way.  Trip preparations, travel time, and crewing for my boyfriend Lloyd during his smart, successful, and inspiring Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run put my own plans on the back burner this week.  Usually I will do everything short of move mountains to get all my scheduled miles in to the nearest tenth, with a couple extra if I’m feeling good.  The only way to do that this week would be to sacrifice sleep time, which was already too low a priority. The 24 hours and 175 miles spent following Lloyd during his Massanutten journey included sleep deprivation, navigation, and trekking – that has got to count for some type of training benefit, right?

The rest of this week we’re on vacation, most around the Outer Banks. After a demanding academic year and very busy past two months of races, I’m looking forward to some much-needed days with minimalistic agendas and new running routes to explore.

May 11 – May 17

Monday – Rest day

Tuesday – 7 easy (roads)

Wednesday – 8 easy with 8 X 30 second strides in last mile (towpath); core exercises

Thursday – 5 easy (towpath); core exercises

Friday – rest day

Saturday/Sunday – 4.5 miles (roads in Strasburg, Va.); 27 hours of crewing for Lloyd in 100 mile run

Totals: 24.5 miles running; can I count 27 hours of crewing?

Good stuff: Wednesday’s towpath run was one of the best “birding runs” I’ve had yet. I was rewarded with sightings of an Indigo Bunting and mated pair of Baltimore Orioles, as well as the usual feathered cast of cardinals, goldfinches, and bluebirds. 

Stuff to keep an eye on: My left Achilles area is still tight and right groin is still achy. These ongoing pains are more annoying than limiting so far (which is lucky), and do not get worse during runs, but are lingering so long I am starting to wonder if they are permanent “trophies” of my running career.

Goals for the week: Log highest mileage week since Boston.  Log food intake each day of vacation, rather than my historic M.O. of letting vacation = vacation from mindful nutrition.

Motley Mountain Crew

It’s not every day that you know with 100% certainly that you’re on the brink of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  Thanks to my wonderful partner Lloyd, I have such an infrequent opportunity.

Massanutten Mountain Shenandoah Valley

Poster of Massanutten Mountain

We’re in final preparations to travel to Virginia’s gorgeous Shenandoah Valley, where this weekend Lloyd will be one of 180 runners participating in the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run.

Lloyd is a smart, tough, talented, and fairly experienced distance runner who has successfully completed one previous 100 mile event. Still, he has the challenge of his running career looming before him like, well, a mountain. He knows it, too. A normally sound sleeper, he has been thrashing and restless most of the week despite being as meticulously prepared as if he is poised to deploy on a solo, unsupported operation.

He isn’t. Not by a long shot.

With barely two years of my own occasional, solely amateur participation on courses and sidelines of a handful of ultramarathons, I don’t pretend to be an expert on this inspiring sport. But I  have observed that many ultrarunners really do, as The Beatles harmonized, get by with a little help from their friends. The people around the runners, from race volunteers to loved ones to the random stranger who helps a disoriented and exhausted runner change her socks at mile 87, often keep participants upright and moving forward — and thereby have the honor of sharing a small part of their achievements.

So Lloyd has two great pacers, friends Courtney and Brandon, who will drive from Ohio to join him on the trail after 6 p.m.  He hopes to be about 60 miles along the course by then.

My job is crew chief. As Lloyd travels from aid station to aid station on the course, I will navigate to his next check-point and nap (I mean, wait earnestly!) until he comes through. When he does I will trade empty for full bottles of liquid fuel, provide food or clothing in exchange for discarded items, and administer limitless encouragement. I will watch out that he doesn’t dawdle and lose time in the aid stations. It’s sort of  like a smaller-scale, more eco-friendly version of a NASCAR pit worker.

MassanuttenMtnThe joke in the ultrarunning community is that “CREW” abbreviates “cranky runner, endless waiting.”  In my fledgling crew career I’ve had the pleasure of assisting cheerful and gracious, although sometimes groggy and pained, runners. While waiting, there’s nothing like a short hike or making a new friend as you trade stories with a fellow crew person. Ultras have small fields of diverse participants, and it is easy to quickly become emotionally attached to the athletes and their quests after seeing them pass just a few check-points. This makes the long hours exciting enough and, when each runner finishes, thrilling.

We’ll be traveling 100 miles around the mountain for the better part of 30 hours beginning at 5 a.m. Saturday. Follow the journey online for live reports, or if I’m among your Facebook friends check my status for as many updates as I’m able to post.

Get In on the Action in Boston

The 2009 Boston Marathon is shaping up to be a very exciting race. I’m overjoyed to be entered in my second Boston, but a tiny bit of me wishes I could be two places at once – both running hard out on the course and cheering hard from the sidelines.marathonphoto1

One of the most thrilling things about running Boston is the chance to participate in the same event as some of the greatest endurance athletes in the world. (We “mortals” can simply think of ourselves as in a different heat!) As a fellow Minnesota girl, I’m pulling for 2008 Olympic competitor Kara Goucher to have a great day in the women’s race.  In her second marathon, the 2008 NYC Marathon third-place finisher will run against a more experienced field including last year’s Boston women’s winner, Ethiopia’s Dire Tune. Kara’s Olympic teammates Ryan Hall and Brian Sell will run in the men’s elite event, along with multiple-time champ and current course record holder Robert K. Cheruiyot of Kenya.

The hugely inspiring father-son team Dick and Rick Hoyt will attempt their 1000th race as partners on Monday, along with more than 22,000 entrants from all over the globe. Bill Rodgers, a Boston Marathon legend, has also said he will run. A four-time Boston Marathon champion during the late 1970s, Rodgers will have the unique privilege of competing  with the fastest men on the planet and, equally if not more difficult at times, competing against himself.

If you’re anywhere near Bean Town Monday, there’s no more thrilling place to be.

Not in New England? You can still virtually cheer on the field.

Universal Sports web broadcasting will air the race live, beginning at 9:30 EST. To catch the race here, double-check your computer has all needed plug-ins. The Boston Marathon website will make live online tracking available during the race, or fans can set up text/email athlete alerts to follow the runner of their choice.

Good luck to all Boston runners!

Running’s for the Bird-Brained

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Lately I’ve been including unplanned, brief stops into quite a few of my easy-pace runs. An observer might think Iam tired, struggling, erratic, or out of shape.


Eastern Bluebird

I’m not. I’m looking at birds.

Confession: I’ve become a bit of a running bird-watcher. I wonder if I’m the only multi-tasker out on the path? Soon after settling in near the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where I am fortunate enough to do much of my training, I started spotting more than two birds in a bush’s worth of species on every run. The photos accompanying this post represent just some of the birds I spotted on today’s 6 mile trip along the Ohio and Erie Towpath trail.

When I could no longer identify many of the winged creatures I kept seeing, I bought the field guide Birds of Ohio by Stan Tekiela. It’s a well-illustrated, basic guide perfect for this birding novice, with a sport-specific surprise. A few pages in, I learned that our feathered friends are far finer endurance athletes than we people could ever hope to be.

Next time you’re ambling along a path and you spot a colorful warbler or hear the enticing song of a swooping flight of fancy, remember: Birds may be beautiful and inspiring, but make no mistake, those feathered rascals can beat a sorry, grounded runner’s butt at any distance.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Only the most skillful, talented, strong-minded, or, *cough* crazy *cough* ultramarathoners travel more than 100 miles during an event, fueling as best they can as they go and looking forward to the obligatory post-run feast.  Depending on their instinctive pattern, migrating bird species travel anywhere from a several hundred to 15,000 miles for the reward of a comfortable, season-long buffet.

Well, they do have wings. And helpful air currents. Without getting all Wright Brothers, whose own climate-friendly Ohio to North Carolina migration pattern I reversed late last year, we can’t do much about our non-aerodynamic upper limbs. OK, what else gets a bird to to its Finish line?

Birds of Ohio shares a few key training tips. “One of the many secrets of migration is fat. While we humans are fighting the battle of the bulge, birds intentionally gorge themselves to put on as much fat as possible while still being able to fly. Fat provides the greatest amount of energy per unit of weight.

“During long migratory flights, fat deposits are used up quickly, and birds need to stop to ‘refuel.’ … some birds require up to 2-3 days of constant feeding to build their fat reserves before continuing their seasonal trip.

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks

“Birds migrating during the day use a combination of landforms, rivers, and the rising and setting sun to guide them in the right direction. … Studies show that some birds which migrate at night use the stars to navigate. Others use the setting sun, while still others such as doves use the earth’s magnetic fields to guide them north or south.”

All right, now we have a few clues. Many humans, including myself, could improve the practice of consuming fuel for a task’s energy requirements, rather than for a prescribed, time-dictated mealtime tradition or other psychosocial purpose. We could strengthen the connection to surroundings so navigation skills improve beyond the level of say, relying on a GPS device to drive to the next suburb. The Bird-Brained Training Method seems to recommend using instincts, which for many of us featherless sorts would require locating and accessing a deeply buried indigenous nature.

House Finch

House Finch

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

How about also adopting the birds’ notion that endurance over distance is a way of migration, something natural to our livelihood and important for our species’ survival?

I wouldn’t argue with a separate theory currently gaining credibility, that humans have evolved for distance running, but how much farther could it get us if we took some of these “bird-brained” practices under our wings?

March 30 – April 5 Training

This week ushered in the tapering phase of Boston training, but after a peak mileage week it didn’t yet feel like I was easing up.  My legs were stiff, heavy, and slow as I plodded through my weekday training runs.

Cleveland skyline from lakewood

Cleveland skyline from Lakewood Park

On Thursday I was over on the west side of Cleveland for an errand, so I took advantage of proximity to Lake Erie and planned a lakeside out and back run between Lakewood Park and Edgewater Park. Here’s a view from one of my favorite  routes so far in Northeast Ohio. It begins with a sidewalk tour of some older custom homes and lakefront high-rise buildings, skirts the shore while allowing views of the downtown skyline, then winds through a city park busy with people of all ages and backgrounds cycling, walking dogs, playing on the beach, grilling, and hanging out. There’s always so much activity going on, and after living in a smaller community I especially love the feeling of being one little part of a city’s life.

Saturday morning brought me into the same city’s great Metroparks system for the Cleveland Spring Classic half marathon race, planned as a race pace practice run. With almost no marathon pace running during this training cycle, I was a little nervous to see if I could find and maintain the correct pace for half the distance. Other than a fast first mile and long third mile that fooled me into thinking I’d slowed, I was pleased with how the pace felt and with my overall finish time.

March 30-April 5

Monday – 9 easy (roads/towpath)

Tuesday – off from running; taught 90 min. pilates/yoga class and did 15-station weight circuit twice in work fitness center

Wednesday – 8 with 8 x 2:00 5K effort pickups (roads)

Thursday – 6.3 (roads)

Friday – off from running; taught 90 min. pilates/yoga class

Saturday – 17 (2 warm-up easy, Half Marathon in 1:50:14, and 2 cool-down easy on roads)

Sunday – off from running, stayed “active” during day-long volunteering at Fools 50K/25K trail runs

Totals: 40.5 miles running; 2 pilates/yoga classes; 1 circuit workout; additional core/functional strength exercises most days

Good stuff: The weather! The sun was shining and temperatures were comfortable for running all week. Twice I got to wear shorts and short-sleeves, and Sunday’s bright, mild conditions made the trails even more scenic for runners who participated in the event Lloyd organized. Thinking about friends fighting record flooding back home in Fargo right now, being able to be outside having fun isn’t something I take for granted.

Stuff to keep an eye on: My left lower leg has been having some tightness and achy-ness during runs this week.  I chronically have more of this on the left, and actually had an overuse sprain to this foot two years earlier in the beginning hour of a marathon. It might be related to running mechanics or driving a manual transmission; it has definitely been tighter since I got a car with a stick shift last summer. Whatever the reason, it needs attention.

Goals for the week: Calming down my left Achilles/lower calf area. It seems to respond well to daily stretching, self-massage, and ice, so I’ll keep that up. Continuing to eat mindfully, adjust calories for reduced running, and log my food intake.