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.

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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.

Baby runner

Oh it’s been too long since I wrote here. I’d like to say I’ve been running up mountains, being chased by goats and having wonderful post-run massages. But I can’t, because that’s me dreaming on this Wednesday morning.

The reality is that life has taken over. Life, with an extra layer added to it these days. I am pregnant. We are approaching 20 weeks this weekend, so nearly half way there. It is, of course, extremely exciting and Martín and I are totally thrilled (dumbfounded/petrified too) at the thought of becoming parents in September.

plum-300We found out really early on in the pregnancy and I kept up my running, three times a week. Running knowing that ‘Plum’ was with me was a joy, as if I had a mini training partner with me; that I was already sharing this important activity of mine with my prospective son or daughter (we are not finding out the sex until D-day). The doctor gave me the green light to keep running, albeit a bit more gently than usual. I assured her it wasn’t as if I was a 5-minute mile runner anyway!

Then, this month, that green light turned to red. The placenta was in the wrong place and I needed to rest. No running, swimming, power-walking. Boo! Two weeks of frustration ensued, along with those natural worries and niggles. Is everything OK in there? We had extra scans and Plum was grand, moving lots and generally being a well behaved super-mini human. At our last appointment I was given good news: the placenta was moving in the right direction and I could exercise, but low impact. I am willing to compromise!

The truth is, exercise makes me feel better, less stressed; it’s easier to sleep and it gives me a normal appetite. As someone who is usually really in tune with her body and its capabilities, I was finding this lack of control over what was happening annoying. But now, at least, with swimming, power-walking and yoga I am back to giving Plum a healthy ride until September, which is the most important thing.

So, over the next few months, my posts might not be about running per se, but I’ll be keeping you posted on health, exercise and supporting those around me who are running marathons, while with an ever-growing bump.

And fear not, I’ve already got my sights on the running buggy of my dreams… watch this space!

 

Don’t stop

There are people around me training for marathons. The training is to be expected: up and down, hit and miss, fabulous and like death. I saw this today and thought of my previous marathon training and the super tough long run when I hit 16 miles. It was evil and hard and I thought I was going to die, but something, something in me made me not walk. Stubbornness, idiocy, a second, third, fortieth wind; whatever it was, I didn’t stop.

IT PAINS ME TO CONTINUE. IT HURTS MUCH MORE TO STOP

Keep going, friends.

 

 

Enter, Sun.

Day One: There is blue sky and everyone, at first, is squinting. We look east, we look west. There is not a cloud in sight. And we smile and enjoy it.

Day Two: It’s here again. Pure sunshine without a cloud in the sky. It’s too good to be true. After work, I don my trainers and, for the first time this year, my running sunglasses. I feel like I run faster, powered by that glowing yellow ball in the sky. A great start to the weekend.

Day Three: Martin goes running and sweats too much in long jogging bottoms and a fleece top. Why? It’s still sunny. photo 5 (1)It’s warm. We fling open the windows at the front of the house and let in spring. I sit in the window and wait for him to run past, clapping when I see him. Afterwards, we make a picnic and visit Bernkastel, sitting at the top of the hill by the ruins lazing in the first real warmth of the year. We are surrounded by vineyards and the river glimmers below us.

Day Four: We do still live in Luxembourg, right? We haven’t suddenly moved to a Caribbean island? Another warm day and another sunny river run. I head west, following the river to the next village and do a loop around. Martin heads east. The paths are full of Nordic walkers with their poles, runners smiling, families on bikes, families with strollers, couples with heads tilted upwards. I run in shorts and t-shirt for the first time in 2014 and when I get back there is that joyous line across of the top of my thighs. A running tan line.

Day Five: Commuters look different. It’s the sunglasses and the lack of gloves and hats. I cross the street and walk on the sunny side to my classes. I enjoy wearing pumps with no tights; in class with bare feet.

Day Six: It’s time for the pool. After swimming a mile, I head to the relax terrace to read a bit. It’s inside, but the wall of windows lets in the late afternoon sun. I’m soon dry; my skin is warm.

Day Seven: We are getting too used to this. I open the blinds each morning and expect the rays to hit me and, again, they do. I take a walk along the river and then head to Trier for some shopping. It hits 21 degrees in the afternoon and I sit in the main square with a bratwurst and mustard. My toes cold on the cobbles are warmed in the afternoon sunshine.

Day Eight: A long teaching day, but we still have blue sky. I ignore the bus and walk to the station, again on the sunny side of the street. All the restaurants and cafes have dug out their outside eating furniture and the plazas are humming with early diners, keen to take advantage of the al fresco temperatures. I’m tired when I get home, but change into my running gear straight away and head out for a quick 5km. Again in shorts and t-shirt; again the blue sky brings me home.

Day Nine: Teaching in an office with no windows sucks, but at least I’m only there for a couple of hours. My students have to stay all day. I tell them to get outside for lunch after class. Spring still shows no signs of leaving us. I walk back from the station, the sun behind me highlighting the pink blossom trees lining the path. As I go to meet friends for dinner that night, I drive into the burnt orange sunset, the sky aglow with streaks of pink and red. I turn on the radio. U2 is playing. It’s A Beautiful Day.

Spring Blossom

The mountains win again

It doesn’t feel like winter. Today was a sunny and warm 13 degrees here in Luxembourg. Where did winter disappear to? I can’t believe that two months ago today we were arriving in the mountains of the Black Forest geared up to ski for a week. Great white puffy snowflakes fell. It was another world.

I never wrote about our run in the mountains. Obviously after a day on the slopes (and hiking up the mountain with our skis on occasion) I didn’t really feel the need to run afterwards. A hot shower, yes. A large mug of gluwein, yes. But a run? No thanks.

However, one day, the last day of 2013, we got back from the slopes a little earlier that usual. The sun hadn’t yet dipped behind the peaks in the far distance. The sky was a crisp blue. We were full of the joy of the approaching new year. Our legs, momentarily, forgot they had worked all day. We got back and decided to go for a run. It as then or never.

IMG_3289Of course, in a ski village, a run means hills. Mountains. We had two choices. Start going up. Or start going down. Our last trip to the Black Forest we’d started the wrong way round (read it HERE) so we headed up the mountain.

Whizzing down the mountain on skis in no way prepares the legs for running back up it. Not for me anyway. But as hard as it was, there was something delightful in this sadomasochistic turn we had taken. Pumping the arms, passing grandparents pulling little children up the road on sledges, trying not to slip on the snow. It was puffing madness, but it felt great.

At the turn to come back down we could just go for it. Relax a little and let gravity take us. I’m not sure it was quite as exhilarating as skiing down the mountain, but it sure felt good. There was time to marvel at the views, gaze at the slopes we’d been traversing just an hour before. IMG_3298

After watching the impressive feats in the Winter Olympics, mountains offer a whole range of challenges that make you tired just thinking about them. But they are also magical, majestic. And if you do happen to conquer your own little one, it makes you feel majestic, too.

IMG_3294

Oh, deception

I am not a runner. You can’t not run and be a runner, can you? Runners, please forgive me.

After my last post, I wanted my first post-holiday write to be full of sweat and smiles at the miles I ran in Buenos Aires. This was my intention. This was no lie.

But my mile total for the two week-vacation? A big, fat zero.

I only have myself to blame. The chances we had to run in Puerto Madero when we were staying in the city, I forgot my all running stuff. Then came a huge storm. Then I just overslept. We sat at a cafe in the sun as some rowers glided through the shimmering water of the docks; as rollerbladers sailed by; and as runners trotted past on this well-worn and much-loved old route of mine. I watched them with a half-smile, but it was as if I was behind a pane of glass. I wanted to reach out and join them, but there was no way through.

I am an idiot.

So, it was up to the pool and miles and miles of blocks to walk for exercise. Which worked. But it’s not romantic like running is.

We got back to Luxembourg this week and the routine of running along the rivers has already set in. It’s not as cold as last winter by any means. Crisp and showery, yes. Cold and biting, no. Martín has started his marathon training. He’ll be running the Luxembourg marathon at the end of May. Maria is well into her training plan. Another friend is gunning for her first half marathon this weekend. I am surrounded by people with running goals. I need one.

I think the first is just to remember my trainers, don’t you?

Heading to the heat

In 40 hours, it will be upon me. It will cover me, press into me so I don’t know where it finishes and I begin. I will be lightheaded with relief and joy. It will keep me awake; I will dream of it. It will tear me apart and keep me together.

I will return to Buenos Aires.

It’s been over a year since my last run there (with Maria, the morning of my wedding) and as I pack too many clothes for what will be a shorts and bikinis trip, I think back to that run and what it means to run in Buenos Aires.

Part of the Nike 10km Red River, 2009

Part of the Nike 10km Red River, 2009

Firstly, it’s where M&MRC started. Its streets gave us the confidence to dare to dream of 26.2 miles. Its crazy weather: heat, humidity, storms, rains that turns streets into rivers, wind born in Patagonia made us almost crazy ourselves. The sheer number of fun runs and charity runs offered M&MRC the chance to be part of many coloured, bobbing masses.

There will be sweat and I am most looking forward to it. The tingling sting of skin warmed by the sun and its own sweat; the salt patterning down my shins; the dive into the cool pool post-run and the extra beat your heart gives you: you are alive.

Of course, all my in-laws and friends will think I am mad. They will look at me as if going for a run in the humidity that sits around them is confirmation of what a nutter I am. They will offer me iced-water on my return, my limbs glistening with perspiration, my eye-lashes holding back the salty-drips running into my eyes. They will say well done and not really know why.

But I will. Buenos Aires, here I come.P1060156

The first 5 miles

Happy New Year Runners, Readers, Adventurers! May 2014 be the best running year ever!

Today I went for my first 5 miles of 2014. No biggie, except I’ve only really been running 4, 4-and-a-bit miles over the last few months as I persuaded my legs and feet to not be injured or hurt (if you run, you know that that ‘bit’ is very important). So, actually, it was quite big for me.

You can tell it was on my mind because I planned it in a way I haven’t been planning my runs. For a start, I mapped it out last night. Secondly, I took a timer with me. Since last summer I haven’t timed any of my runs. I have ideas on how runs have gone based on my own very scientific methods. These include:

  • Number of songs which have played on my iPod during the run
  • How many other runners/dog walkers/people sitting on benches I have overtaken
  • If I am beating a boat on the river or not
  • Whether I am really knackered at the end of it
  • If I feel like I am running backwards with concrete legs or not
  • The thought, once inside of course, of if I could possibly have continued for another 22 miles

The sun was shining, the swans were swimming. I know there’s supposed to be ice all over northern America and people in Florida are wearing jumpers, but over here it’s been delightful. I ran in a gorgeous 13 degrees today. I had to remind myself it was January.

My route was a there-and-back affair along the Sauer river. This is the smaller river with no boats on it, so good job, really, I took a timing device with me. I overtook an old man running as we went up the ramp to the bridge section. He ran with straight arms by his sides, and this distracted me enough (I tried it for a few strides to crap effect) to get me to mile one. I checked the timer. 8 minutes 20 seconds. I frowned. I couldn’t be going that fast.

The next three miles were all about the bends. The river snakes and curves and the path follows, meandering through vineyards. A strong breeze blew from the east in this section. There was a burning smell in the air. The sun beat down and I opened my jacket half way. Another woman runner passed me going the other way. I passed another up ahead. So many runners out and about! I reminded myself it was January. There are always lots of runners on the streets in January.

At the turn I checked the timer again. 21 minutes 40 seconds. I had had 45 minutes in my mind (scientific mind) and this looked good. I felt good. Maybe the timer was working after all. Maybe my legs were working after all. I forgot how many songs I was on.

Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana came on. I love running to this song. There’s something about it. I love the ultimate verse when Diana shouts to his girlfriend, “Because he’s sleeping with me!” It just makes me forget running and imagine the situation. Mile four was mainly taken up by Michael Jackson. Which is fine with me and my legs.

At the last mile marker, I checked it again. 34 minutes 40 seconds. The number 43 started to become a possibility. But only in my head. My legs were thinking 50. They were tired from all the squats I’d done the previous day. They were saying to me, “Hey, we usually stop about now.” I understood, I did, but I willed them on. I passed two more runners in that final mile. Luckily, they got me through it as they seemed to be January-Runners-Who-Suffer-Because-They-Don’t-Run-For-The-Other-Eleven-Months-Of-The-Year (scientific term). And I passed them scoffing and hoping they didn’t notice it was bravado.

I rounded the corner onto my street. People were standing in the sun watching the ferry. Ducks were hovering, hoping for food. I dug in. It hurt. My legs hurt. My lungs could have gone all day, but my legs were tired. I dived for my finishing lamp-post and clicked off the timer. 43 minutes 3 seconds. Hoorah.

I like surprises. I like good tunes that play on shuffle when you’re running and give you a boost. I like warm weather when you’re expecting frostiness. I like remembering I have lucky orange running socks to wear.

And I love surprising myself by running faster than I thought I was. Scientifically speaking, of course.

Yo-yo weather

I was born and raised in Texas. I decided to move back to this state to be close to my family and because I probably couldn’t handle the winter in many of the other states. I’d rather deal with the heat than try to put on enough clothes so I don’t feel the cold down to my bones.

Having said this, over the past several weeks the temperature has bounced from 80°F (27°C) one day to below or near freezing the next.  We’ve already experienced a Canadian cold front and then weeks later after the true Texas weather was back the Arctic cold front made its appearance.

These cold fronts have also come with rain and that’s a lethal combination for getting me out of the house and running.  I finally made a rough plan so that I could build up my base before January.  The only problem was convincing myself to get out of my warm, cozy bed at 5:30 am with the sun still tucked in and the weather gusty and cold.  I’ve been slacking on my weekday runs, but I did make it out one Sunday when the Arctic weather was in full force.

Austin weatherI looked at my weather app before walking out the door to see what I was getting myself into.  With the wind chill factor, it was 19°F (-7°C).  I only had so many clothes that I could layer on me.  For the first mile, it felt like my feet were numb.  The second it was my face and then my hands.  I seriously wondered if my runny nose would actually freeze.  Thankfully nothing froze and I made it through my run.

The warmer weather was back for my run this afternoon, but it’s supposed to freeze yet again tonight.  My goal is to take advantage of the warmer days and bundle up with a cup of something warm on those days when it’s just too plain cold to get out there.