31 January 2011

Learning to ski

I haven't run in several weeks, and I can't stand it!  If you don't love to run, you won't understand, but there are some days when I want nothing more than to be outside running.  That's why it's tough to go to the window and see nothing but snow and ice out there.  That's winter in Minnesota, though, so I guess I have to deal with it.

I mentioned in my last post that I've taken up cross country skiing.  It has proven to be a good activity to see me through some of these winter days.  I really enjoy it.  I'm learning from a member of my parish who has trails cut around his property.  It's great to be able to learn from someone who has been skiing for almost as long as I've been alive, and to be doing it out of sight of others.  I had never been on skis of any kind in my life before, so I fell a lot the first time, even a couple times on level ground!  It would have been embarrassing and frustrating to go through that in a more public place.  Luckily my teacher is very patient and encouraging.  By the second and third time, I was doing much better.  I still fall every once in a while going down some of the steeper hills, but I improve every time out.  It's great cardio work and really enjoyable to be out in the woods.  I wish I could do it more, but it takes more of a time commitment than running, so I'm only able to get out and ski once a week or so. 

On a deeper level, the whole experience has reminded me of how important mentors are for us throughout our lives.  Perhaps there are some people out there who really are "self taught" at certain things, but for most of us, we need others to look up to and to instruct us.  I've been thinking a lot about how we are essentially relational beings.  We are not individuals who form relationships.  Instead, our individual identities emerge out of the relationships around us.  This is not meant to pass the buck, as if we aren't responsible for our actions as individuals.  For me, it just brings a greater understanding to who I am and why I am.  It also helps me remember that I'm not running (or skiing) alone.  Since winter can be pretty isolating here in the north, that's no small thing. 

Perhaps that's one hidden blessing in winter.  It gives you a healthy appreciation of the blessings you enjoy when they return.  Maybe I would start to hate running if I could do it in 65 degree weather all year long.  A little time to wait and reflect and anticipate that joy again is good in its own way.  Like spending time away from a good friend, it can make the reunion that much more joyous. 

13 January 2011

Beginning again

This is life.  Life is starting something, working at it, seeing it succeed or fail (or land somewhere in between), and then starting something again.  Life is not a straight line, but more like a spiral...or maybe a double helix.  I'm not making any sense, so let me begin again...

I'm beginning again.  Last year's attempt at a blog and a half marathon failed...sort of.  They were both partially successful.  Not long after my last post, I injured my foot, which meant that I could not run the half marathon in May.  It also deflated my interest in blogging.  I know that's lame, especially because the posts I would have written at that time probably would have been my best.  So I was lame and the blog was lame. That's why I'm trying again, at both the running and blogging. 

So about the injury...I had worked up to running around 7 miles every other day in my Vibram shoes.  That turned out to be too much.  On Easter Sunday afternoon, at about mile 6, I felt something "catch" in my right foot.  I finished the run without much pain, but by the next day, I knew the pain I was feeling was not the usual muscle fatigue I had been used to.  I rested it and rested it, waiting for the pain to die down.  It didn't hurt all the time, only when I put weight on it in a certain way.  Finally, after two weeks, I tried running a little bit, but could hardly make it around the block.  I relented and went to the doctor.  They took X-rays, which showed there were no breaks or stress fractures (good news).  He concluded that I had ligamentous laxity (loose ligaments).  Basically, I had strained the ligaments in my foot, but not torn them.  He suggested I keep resting it and start running again when I felt comfortable, but starting with only a mile or so at a time. 

So that pretty much shot my training schedule and my hopes of running the half marathon.  I was pretty disappointed, but once I started running again, my wife encouraged me to set a new goal.  We picked a 10k in October to run with a couple of friends as our goal to work toward.  That gave me enough motivation to start running again once my foot felt better.  It wasn't long and I was back to feeling great during my runs, but I was still disappointed with the realization that running a half marathon may not be something I would ever do. 

But, since I was running up to 4 or 5 miles with no discomfort, I decided to run the 2 mile race for our city's summer festival (Bonanza Valley Days) in July.  Since the guy who would have finished 1st missed a turn (he was from out of town), I finished 3rd in my age category with a time of 14:35.  Obviously, it's not a very competitive race, but it was fun to run and show people around here what running in minimal footwear is all about. 

Soon, the summer was over and it was time for the 10k in Fargo in October.  I wasn't sure what to expect since I had never run in an event with that many people.  It turned out to be a complete blast.  I thought maybe there would be some others wearing Vibrams or running barefoot, but everyone that I saw was in running shoes.  I got a few looks from people and a few questions.  At the starting line, one guy asked, "Doesn't it hurt when you step on a rock?"  I just smiled and said, "I don't step on rocks."  :) 

Based on my training, I knew I could run it in under an hour, but I wasn't sure by how much.  I ended up finishing with a time of 54:23, finishing 115th overall out of 640 runners, 12/26 in my division, and 64/171 male finishers.  Even better, I finished feeling fantastic with absolutely no pain or soreness.  I sprinted across the finish line with a huge grin on my face.  I kept running through the fall, but that was it for races for me in 2010. 

So, with 2011 already 13 days old, I'm beginning again.  Based on my experiences of 2010, both the failures and successes, I've decided to aim again for the Fargo half marathon in May.  I'm more confident that I will reach my goal this time, but also more cautious.  My training is different this time.  I'm going to try to focus on cross-training, including some weight lifting (something I've never been fond of), and running less each time out.  I know my right foot can't take the pounding of running more than 6 miles on pavement very often, so I'm going to have to be careful.  I find that if I can get 3 miles in every day, that feels better than trying to run 6 or 7 miles every other day.  I will also try to do a lot more running on soft surfaces.  My experience at the 10k was that, when I'm feeling good, I can run and run and run.  The only thing keeping me from running more was the finish line.  I know my foot will hurt after the half marathon and I'll have to take some time off then, but I'm confident that I can keep it healthy until race day. 

With lots of snow and ice outside, it will be a while before I can even think about running.  I did run in the middle of a snowstorm a while back, which was exhilarating.  Nothing like looking back and seeing barefoot prints in the snow!  On a related note (and I'll write more about this later), in order to keep my cardio activity level higher during the winter, I've taken up cross country skiing.  I haven't been able to do it very often, unfortunately, but the time I've spent doing it has been great.

Ok, so that's enough for my first post in 9 months.  Here's to a great 2011 and to beginning again (and again).