I AM a runner

If you think the title of the post will bring you to a write up of my incredible training schedule or a mental run I’ve just completed, you would be wrong. I haven’t run since March.

The last run I had was with my brother-in-law Nacho, around the neighbourhood where my in-laws have a house in Tigre, near Buenos Aires. It was the morning and not too hot and sweaty out yet and we did a nice 5km route chatting all the while.

And then a few days later, I found out I was pregnant again. Fortunately, this time, everything is going well and we are currently 11 weeks out from the due date. But, as mentioned, I haven’t run since. I felt that my running was  a bit haphazard prior to getting pregnant, and so I wasn’t comfortable continuing with it. So I’ve been back to power-walking and swimming. I also started a prenatal yoga class this week which was fabulous for both body, mind and spirit. I will definitely keep that up until our daughter is knocking on the door to come out!

And yet I am a still a runner. Why? Because every time I see a runner go past my window, or I drive past a couple of girls out on a run, or my husband comes back from one, I get a small pang of I wish that was me. It’s not resentment of them, I just miss it. I miss the feeling of being in total control of my body in that way and the happiness rush when I finish. I miss the sweat and stretching on my doorstep watching the boats, I miss my running t-shirts and vests that no longer fit over my bump.

But when all is said and done, I am still a runner. And later, after this hiatus, I will return. Goodbye is not forever. Knowing you’ll be back is always a wonderful feeling.

I'll be back. And minus the bump!

I’ll be back. And minus the bump!

Writing and running

Writing and running are very similar. Sometimes you go slowly, painfully slowly. All you want to do is stop and do something else. Other times you are flying. There is no stopping you and you sail through 10 miles/2000 words feeling energetic.

Both of these activities bring me happiness. I know this. And yet I sometimes let them both slide although I know that as soon as I write even one sentence, or run even 100 metres the happiness chemicals kick in and I immediately feel incredible. Both are always good reminders of who I am and what it means to Be Laura.

A lot has happened since I last posted here (which admittedly was way too long ago): Last September Maria and I took a 9-day trip around Iceland with Nahuel. It was the most amazing experience and I think I can use the royal ‘we’ when I say we definitely recommend visiting, and spending as much time there as you can to get around and see the country. The landscapes will astound you. Nahuel turned one with a big party at home at the end of September which was fantastic. He’s 17 months today and just a fabulous little boy. We travelled to spend Christmas with family in the UK and then had 12 days in Denmark over New Year. This was all wonderful.

But on top of that, in early December, I had a miscarriage. It was heart-breaking and painful and sad. We received a lot of support from friends and family here in Luxembourg around the world and we got through it. But while it was happening and in order to help me deal with it there were two things I had to do: write and run.

Writing a post on my other blog (which you can read HERE) really helped me deal with what was happening and express my feelings. It was extremely cathartic.

And then there was the run I will never forget. It was the Sunday evening of the worst weekend ever. I was in some pain and I decided to go for a run. I laced up, bundled up and set out along the river. My iPod chose which songs to stream into my ears and I just tried to focus on my body, the water drifting by next to me and any feelings which cropped up. There were a lot of emotions as I ran. One surprising one was gratitude. The last kilometre a song came on which just seemed to speak straight to me (I forget what it was now) and I pumped my arms and filled my lungs and pounded forwards. My body still worked! It could still do powerful things, despite not working with nature to keep the child we had made. I could still rely on it in so many ways. Thank you! Twilight descended. I sprinted towards home racing to the ‘finish line’ barely able to breathe and tears streaming down my face.

I stayed outside for a long while, letting out my sadness but also being grateful. No matter how hard we try, we can’t control everything. Writing and running helped me deal with that, and that just felt so good.

Better late than never

Oh how the title of this post applies to so many things. I haven’t written in months. Better late than never. My training could have started before it did. Better late than never. I finished my recent half marathon in my slowest time ever for that distance. But: Better late than never!

Last Saturday night was my first official race in two years. TWO YEARS! Long time coming. Injuries and having a baby will do that I guess. There’s so many running stories between last November, when I started running again after Nahuel’s birth, and now that I want to share, but for now they will have to wait. This post is simply going to be about Saturday’s race.

The ING marathon and half marathon in Luxembourg is a great big running event. The sort with helicopters, hot air balloons, DJs, an assortment of free stuff for the crowd to shake, rattle and wave, tonnes of people lining the streets in support and a route which takes in the delights of the city. Martin ran the full marathon last year and the route is famous for its inclines in the second half of both courses. He was a supporter this year, along with Nahuel.

I was nervous. The previous weekend I had run 10.3 miles along the ups and downs of the vineyards around the Moselle valley, where we live. It had been hot and tiring, but I had felt great. I had reserves and could have kept going. On that starting line a week later, my nerves led to doubts. Would I make it? I have never experienced that before. “I’m nervous,” I said to my friend who was also running. “Me too,” she replied. It was her first half marathon. It seemed to me she had the right to be nervous and I didn’t. Perhaps I just needed to start and I’d feel fine.

And then start we did. We kicked off at lightening speed. There were lots of people so you had the usual first couple of kilometres skipping past people and dodging around others. But we did it quickly, at just under 5 minute per km. This was not my half marathon running pace. But it felt good. So I carried on that way.

I got to the 12 km marker in an hour. Way too fast, knowing the up-hills that were coming on the way back. The crowd were brilliant, shouting and cheering your name at every part of the course. In the city centre, there was no way you could stop. The route was narrow and lined both sides with cheering and clapping. I felt like I shuffled the cobbled streets of Luxembourg city at that point on the wave of the semi-drunken audience with bubbly in their hands.

But after that euphoria, the roads widened again. There was space and a breeze and the setting sun behind me on the way back to Kirchberg. I had nothing in the tank. I had to walk. So I walked and ran the last part, hoping I had done enough to come in under 2 hours. I tried to buddy up with a couple of people who also seemed to be suffering, egging them on to get the same support back. But I ended up leaving them and their blisters and woes behind.

At kilometre 18.5, a friend shouted out from the void. “LAURA! Come on Bird!” There was a world out there beyond the pain and exhaustion! I ran up to her and got a kiss, some energy to get me through the last couple of kilometres. It worked.

Martin and Nahuel were also there, on the final bend before the finishing line. And so I made it. Not elegantly, or fearlessly or strongly, but I finished. My watch said 2 hours and 9 seconds. Oh well. Better late than never.

Congrats to all the runners of Saturday’s half and full marathon! And to my friend Kris, who finished her first half in 1 hour 54 minutes. Great job!

Before the start with Kris and Nahuel.

Before the start with Kris and Nahuel.

Weekend of Races

Although Laura and I are miles apart and even have an ocean in the between us, we managed to sign up for races for the same weekend without even knowing it.  Several months ago we were having a conversation about what’s to come and as it turned out she will be running a half marathon tomorrow night and I will wake up Sunday morning for a 30K trail run.

This will be her first race since adding Nahuel to the family and I have my second trail run on the docket.  Thankfully this one is a smidge shorter than the last one especially considering this was the worst training session I’ve had yet.

As always, I sat down to plan out when I would run each distance.  My goal was to hit 18 miles 2 weeks ago and then taper.  Life happened or I should say I put other things first and all of a sudden it was 2 weeks out and I still hadn’t done 16.  I also managed to go the entire week without putting my running shoes on between the 14 and 16.  Talk about feeling my legs those next Luxcouple days!  I also made the decision (both good and bad) to run in the shoes I will run in this weekend.  As it turns out I have a slightly different form with those shoes and it meant my calves felt like it was my first run in ages.

Regardless and whether we’re ready or not, this weekend we’ll both be pitter-pattering our way across several miles.  And it’s been nice to be able to talk about similar runs again even though we’re so far apart.

 

Running around Morocco

Yet again, it’s been a while since I’ve made an appearance.  The good news is I haven’t given up running during that time. Last month, I joined 13 other runners on an adventure through Morocco.  I’m generally against group tours, but I figured what can go wrong combining two of my favorite things, running and traveling.  So I dove in and met the group in Marrakesh for our 10 day running expedition.

Water stopThe trip is designed so anyone, no matter their running ability, can see the colorful country off the beaten path.  Each day we moved from village to village, did some sight-seeing along the way and then would hit our departure point.  They would tell us how many miles until the hotel and we could choose to run the distance that we desired.  The 4x4s that carted us to that point would then loop around us providing water and snack stops and a pick-up if you just couldn’t go any further.

We ran through villages, along paths that were speckled with nomad camps, through a gorge and eventually in the sand of the Sahara Desert.  We saw snow-capped mountains, hills filled with layers of different colors, gave high-fives and ran with children in the villages and passed camels grazing on the unexpected arugula that had sprouted in the desert.

My favorite run started at the top of a hill and we worked our way down the dirt road to the asphalt that would lead us through a village.  It had just rained so we started a little lower than planned so we wouldn’t slip on the mud.  MoroccoAs I worked my way down, I was looked from left to right and felt like I was in a movie.  I couldn’t believe the colors.  I kept looking back and forth and even though I had to dodge the small rocks in my FiveFingers, I couldn’t have enjoyed the run more.  A couple of runners waited for me at the bottom of the hill where the dirt met asphalt and we made our way into the village.  Children were waiting for us and joined us as we made our way through their familiar streets. They yelled “yalla” to encourage us to go faster as we weaved through the red clay buildings.  After 10 miles and the mountains getting closer and closer to form the Todra Gorge, we were met with a river crossing that was covered in rushing brown water.  It was time to get in a 4×4 to cross the water, but I couldn’t have asked for better scenery and company during that run.

Looking back, I can’t imagine a more exciting way to discover a new country.  I highly recommend seeing a country with the main focus on running and allowing that to take you at least part of the way from point-to-point.

Marathon birth

Those stories about women going to the toilet and giving birth now have me in stitches (actually, I am in stitches, real ones) because my perspective on this whole labour thing comes from a place far removed from that fart-out-a-baby experience. Still, lucky them, I say!

Nahuel joined us on 25 September after 21 hours of announcing he was on his way. Yep, obviously a little man who takes his time on a journey and enjoys the process. It’s not always about the destination, how many times do we say that to ourselves?! Anyway, I’ve decided to share the experience on this blog because it was a test of endurance and mental and physical strength. And because it was a marathon.

24/09/14, 17:30h – The Warm Up: I go with my mum to the hospital. Been losing some liquids and you can’t start a marathon that way. Martin meets us there. Doctor wants to keep me in over night and check my status in the morning again before the starting line.

24/09/14, 23h – The Starting Line: The marathon as been brought forward, luckily I am already there with my number on, just in case. First contractions start. Getting pumped and also worrying if I’ve done enough training.

25/09/14, 06:50h – Mile 5: The first part of any run is always the worst for me until I find my groove. On no sleep due to contractions I call the nurses and they send me to the delivery ward. This is much better, will get into my rhythm.

25/09/14, 08h – Mile 7: The midwife breaks my waters and that groove I was looking for suddenly hits. Managing the contractions with breathing, feeling a good pace. Doctor comes and tells me Plum will arrive today. Glad to hear the finishing line is today!

25/09/14, 10:20h – Mile 10: Happy to have made it to double figures, but feeling weary of the course. Get up to walk around and immediately vomit. Am hungry, but no food stops allowed on this route.

25/09/14, 12h – Mile 13: Pace has slowed and am feeling the pain as contractions come faster and harder and I can no longer deal with them. Have an epidural and the relief is immediate. Get back into my groove.

25/09/14, 12:38h – Mile 14: Massive uphill. Epidural stops working. Midwife tries top-ups. Pumping arms, working legs, breathing, but this slope seems effing vertical!

25/09/14, 14:45h  – Mile 17: Trying some music to distract me from overwhelming exhaustion, pain and a general feeling that the finishing line is still a very, very long way off. Is that The Wall I see in front of me?

25/09/14, 15:20h – Mile 18.5: At last, the drug man comes back and gets the epidural right! I feel weightless and in control of my race again. A bit. But realise I am totally not. Support team are brilliant.

25/09/14, 17:50h – Mile 22: Pushing for the finishing line like my life depends on it. Feel like I am running through mud. Starting to think the race organisers have changed what a marathon means and I’ll be here forever. Try to chill in between bursts of speed.

25/09/14, 19:35h – Mile 24: The mud is getting thicker and I’m running through fog. This race will never end.

25/09/14, 20:10h – Mile 25: I see the one-mile-to-go marker when the doctor comes and announces we’ll use some forceps to get over the line. Still don’t believe there’s a measly mile to go. I think it’s a precursor to the home straight and don’t let myself get too excited.

25/09/14, 20:40h – Mile 26: The midwife is shouting that the finishing line is close. I cannot believe her. I still think she’s just motivating me. I can’t see it through all the mud and fog.

25/09/14, 20:42h – Mile 26.2: Suddenly there is a massive cry from the sidelines and I am over the line! Pure joy and relief sweep over me as I am handed my prize: a big, beautiful baby boy.

 

DSC_0536Nahuel Darwin Alonso, newest member of M&MRC.

Pregnant Walking Club

I’m in (hopefully) the last 2-3 weeks of my pregnancy. I feel at times like a balloon; you could hang a basket off my feet, gas me up and I could take you on a lovely trip over the Moselle valley in Luxembourg and Germany. Other times I feel like a walrus, struggling to turn over in bed or get out of the bath; cumbersome and heavy. I have put on roughly 13kg during this pregnancy and I seriously can’t understand how people permanently live with this kind of extra weight, and more.

The most important thing to me during this time is that, as well as getting enough rest, I have also kept active. Don’t get me wrong, there are some afternoons where I don’t feel guilty at all about two hours on the couch watching BBC iPlayer. But I also need to move and do things and stretch.

My main activity has been power-walking. I’ve had some great company on many of these walks from a pregnant friend who  lives just down the river – another runner like me. She’s due this week, so has paused the power-walking, but I am still heading out every other day. It helps me sleep better, keeps my appetite up, allows ‘Plum’ and I to enjoy the remaining days of summer. I also think it has contributed to the fact that my legs haven’t swollen and my ankles haven’t disappeared.

Last week I also did some yoga, which I hadn’t done for a while. I followed a 20-minute routine from my book. It felt slow compared to swimming and power-walking, but it was calming and relaxing, opening out my body in a way that my other forms of exercise don’t. “I am connected to the circle of life.” As Plum continues to kick his/her way out, I can only agree with that!

Dick running motivation

Some of you runners and/or Guardian readers might already have come across this, but it’s worth a share if you haven’t. Claire Wyckoff, a runner based in San Francisco, makes her runs all the more inviting, motivating and special by using her Nike+ to map out interesting routes. What’s new about this? you might ask.

Her routes are penises, dogs and generally cool shapes. Space invaders, anyone? I can imagine there’s nothing like knowing you’re rounding the curve of a penis to push you that bit further and get to the sweaty balls to finish your run.

Some of us invest time in searching for new kit, new gadgets, new training programmes. Isn’t this just plain silliness, mapping out weird and wonderful shapes? I would disagree. While the latest scarily pink head band might get some out there exercising, this gets Claire out there. Fun and fitness in one fell swoop, with a little bit of gadgetry art thrown in for good measure. I’m all for it. Go plan a penis.

Picture from Claire Wyckoff – see more of Claire’s running art work on her website: http://clairewyckoff.com/Running-Drawing

Or read the full Guardian article here: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/aug/06/runner-nike-san-francisco-penis

The competitive edge

As regular readers will know, I am no longer running. At 32 weeks pregnant my power-walking might even be described as the strange shuffle of a person that looks like she’s smuggling a beer keg along the river. Sigh, but I still get out there and I love it.

Today is my first official day of maternity leave and I am a little loss of what to do. The sun is shining, summer holidays here in Luxembourg are in full bloom, my to-do list has nothing with a deadline like when I was working. My husband left this morning with the words “Take it easy” ringing through the house before he shut the door. OK. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! Help!

I’ve been swimming a lot recently. Being heavier than usual, the water is heavenly. I can still float! Brilliant! I do a mixture of breast-stroke and front-crawl, and on my last two trips to the pool, I realised something.

You know the feeling. There’s someone who is lapping just that bit quicker than you. Whether it’s running round the local park, or pushing through the pool. And you want to beat them, to get level. You know you can. You pump that bit faster. You kick that bit harder. You get level, you push further, you get past them.

Ha! Did it! Now I’ve got to stay there. Your running/swimming groove is now that little bit quicker. You’ve got a  sweat-on. But you need to stay there, just ahead. You’re not quite sure what you’re proving, and who to, but you feel in these minutes of round-and-round the park or up-and-down the pool that there’s some other inherent reason than pure exercise you’re doing this.

You are competitive. That’s why you run with a watch/GPS. That’s why you swim and check the clock. That’s why you get your finger tips to the wall before the person next to you. Or you try to. If you don’t, next time you will.

I finished my swim and sat on the side rehydrating. The man I had lapped in the pool finished up and got out. He noticed my belly, pointed at it and said something in Luxembourgish I didn’t understand. We smiled and he gave me the thumbs up.

Plum, we’re back in the race.

The good ache

Excuses could flow from me for not posting for so long as much as they can flow from ‘runners’ who don’t run. It’s been a couple of busy months with lots of travelling and visitors, for which I am not complaining at all. It has just meant sitting down to write about my fitness during pregnancy has not been possible. Until now.

As you can also imagine, with all the trips and visitors my pregnancy fitness regime also took a back seat. In my second trimester I actually had a lot of energy, especially in the mornings. Once I was awake, I had to get up. And, although I faded by about 11pm, the days were full and I didn’t feel beat.

DSC_0491Things are a bit different now, which is why, this week, it has been important for me to get back to some kind of exercise routine. My bump has grown A LOT, wildly it feels. On one hand, I love the thought of our son or daughter growing inside there and forming into a healthy, tiny human being. On the other hand, the complete lack of control I have over my body is frustrating and bewildering. I hate sitting down and feeling my belly on the very top of my legs; not being able to see ‘down there’; having to bend with my legs apart to the side. And then I realise, there are people who live this way (and worse) for a lot of their lives. I don’t understand it. I’m not a model size 6 in my non-pregnant life and I don’t conform, nor agree, with the pressure that exists to be stick thin. However, being bigger and carrying more weight that I normally do, albeit not a grand difference, has shown me just how uncomfortable it is.

So, now into my third trimester and with life returning to normal this week, I was really happy to get back to exercise. Monday was a 40-minute power-walk, arms-a-pumping, music blasting. Although, as it was the day after the World Cup Final, I couldn’t bring myself to take a route through Germany (I got half way over the bridge and turned back) it felt amazing. I stretched afterwards in the sun by the river, watching the ferry glide back and forth.

Yesterday after classes I got back to the pool. Now, don’t get me wrong, with my recent trips to Greece and Texas, there hasDSC_1076 of course been lots of bathing time, just not of the swimming for exercise variety. It was more wallowing in the pool with a (non-alcoholic) beer, or bobbing in the sea looking at fish. When I did muster 120 lengths of my friend’s pool, it didn’t feel like a workout as it’s not a very long pool. Though it was something. So, it was brilliant to get into Olympic-sized pool we have here in Luxembourg and swim a kilometre non-stop, mixing up breast stroke and front crawl.

Now this morning, I wake up and I can feel the ache in my shoulders and back. But it’s not a horrible feeling. It’s an ache that tells me those muscles are working for me when I need them. After a pause, it’s good to know they are still there. With all that’s coming in the next couple of months and beyond, I’m going to need them.