In progress

Ajee’ Wilson

Today I ran another 4 miler. I don’t generally run two days in a row, but rain is forecast for tomorrow, so I had to get it in.

I had modest goals – namely maintaining yesterday’s performance with the addition of a slightly faster warm up mile.

To my surprise and delight, I crushed it.

I pushed the warm up mile and was progressively faster on all miles thereafter. I even dropped my average pace by 30 seconds.  That’s pretty shocking, and in truth, I hit my target. As in, what I expected to be doing after a couple of weeks of effort.

Next steps? Keeping this up long term, and not just as a quick trick a couple of days here and there. I’m still taking breathers on mile four, so I’ll also plan to build endurance for speedier runs.

I’m excited to see my mind and body work together to create an outcome. This is one of the things I most appreciate about running. It shows me I can visualize and enact things in the real world.

Now to apply this to projects in progress…

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Read about Ajee’ at the 2014 Penn Relays here.

Beyond the usual

My usual run is four miles at a steady pace.

Sometimes I do a faster three, or a slower five or six, but on a typical day, it’s four – two out and back. I strive for negative splits, each mile faster than the last. But I haven’t focused on overall pace in ages.

In the past couple of months, I’ve added some interval training. So some days I do my steady four and others it’s sprint work, or longer faster bouts, with periods of low intensity to recover. I selected a fat burning plan, rather than one for speed building. That said, it’s reasonable to expect speed gains when you put your newly optimized lungs and legs to the test.

Monica Hargrove being badass.

I haven’t done that.

On my four-milers, I take it easy on purpose. I warm up the first mile, and lock into a comfortable stride for the next three.

But last night I reflected on that.

I’m stronger and more flexible than I’ve been in years. Yet here I am, still doing these slowish/easy runs. I can go faster like I used to. I think I’ll try…

This morning I arrived at the greenway in the same state of mind. Walking toward the start I thought, Every run can’t be conversation pace. And off I went. I wasn’t after a tempo run, but I was going for a push.

My first mile was faster than usual, but still within range for my warm up pace. I locked into a zone and began to kick things up a notch.

Mile two, faster.  In fact, nearly 40 seconds faster than my usual pace for mile two.

Mile three is where I usually slow things down. Typically, I have to concentrate to maintain my pace. If I don’t run negative splits, it’s usually because of the mile three bust. But I kept pushing, and when I heard the Garmin chirp, I’d dropped another 30 seconds. I’d run a minute faster than my usual mile three pace.

By mile four, I decided to take breathers. I pushed the pace but stopped the clock when I needed to rest. That said, I dropped another 50 seconds from the previous split, still a minute faster than my usual pace for mile four.

I felt great! For one, I accomplished what I set out to do. And two, a strong workout feels great when you’re up to it.

Now I’ve got my work cut out for me… I have a new target pace for non-stop runs. Because every run can’t be conversation pace.

Good morning, blue bird

This morning Blue and I hit the greenway for a run date. Today’s plan was 4 miles or 40 minutes, whichever came second.

At the two-mile turn around, we were greeted with a surprise: an indigo bunting! These cute birds usually hang out farther up the trail. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing one on this stretch. There he was, bouncing and flying alongside, making us laugh.

No videos or pictures today; we only have the memories of the moment.

It was a cheerful start to a long day.

Animals vs. iPhones

Greenway indigo by nicole denise
Greenway indigo by nicole denise

I spotted one today! An indigo bunting.

I ran for 30 minutes in one direction, and sure enough, on the way back in, I heard one chirping near the 2.5 stretch.

Although I wasn’t very close, he let me snap one photograph while he stood atop a pine. I tried for video, but it turns out, he wasn’t interested in posing. He wasn’t alone.

I ran another mile and a half, then slowed to watch a brown cottontail stretch in rain-soaked grass, silhouetted by the rising sun. She felt me approach, and distrusting my intentions, scampered out of photo distance.

I shook my head, giggling, and continued my journey.

After another half mile, I came to a straightway that sometimes doubles as a deer crossing. Sure enough, one and then another appeared up ahead. They seemed to notice me, and after a quick consultation, they decided one human was too many. Off they bounded into the woods.

Indigo Stretch

My running trail is an enchanted forest. Trees and grasses in various stages of bloom flank the whole path. Today I experienced the first honeysuckle this season. Nose candy.

Micro climates and mini ecosystems pulse in the enchanted forest. A chorus of birds on this stretch. A pond of frogs and cicadas on the next. More birds with new songs here. A deer crossing there. A snack bar for bunnies and so on. You experience this all within the first 1.5 miles of the trail. If you’re open to the sounds, scents and scenery, you’re never bored along the way.

indigo bunting
Indigo Bunting by Dan Vickers

Months I spent running that stretch, turning around at 2 miles and heading back in. But there’s a stretch farther in the distance. I make it there often now, but what a treat the first time I tried a five-miler…

Somewhere around the 2.25-2.5 mile turnaround, you spot them. About the size of sparrows, they boast a magnetic, electric blue. Their chirps are loud and persistent from atop the nearby trees, yet sometimes they bounce and fly along side you as you run. Cheering you on.

If you’re not sure you’ll make it to 2.5, these blues are worth the stretch. For the longest time I simply called them my electric birds. Google tells me they might be indigo buntings.

Blue and I went for a run date this morning – the first in months. We ran an easy conversation pace, and blissfully far enough to say hello to the indigos on the back stretch.

Good morning, sunshine.

Winter Run: A Moving Meditation

January 5, 2016 | 7:10 am.

motivating
I pull up to the trailhead, pleased it’s not crowded.

Understatement. Only one other car is here.

It’s cold this morning, so I get it. It’s been unseasonably warm and the past couple of days Winter took over, as is her right to do. But it’s damn cold. My weather app says 27º. Windchill 19º.

I ran yesterday, similarly dressed in thermals and such. I had to ignore the cold to start. Colder now, but I really want these miles, so here I am. Me and one other brave soul.

It’s daybreak. Sunrise is 30 minutes away. The sky is clear. I see stars and a lovely crescent moon. I try to snap a picture, but the camera on my phone hasn’t cooperated in weeks, and the shots are unusable.

weatherI gather myself and get out the car. I lock the door, slip the key in my pocket, stride to the trailhead. There is no time to dawdle. My stride warms to slow jog as I approach my traditional starting point. It’s a golden rod mile marker a few yards from the entrance. I always begin there. When I reach the slim post, I press Blue’s Garmin. It chirps and buzzes and I’m off.

Immediately I feel the wind. I know if I can make it past the first five minutes, I will be warm enough, encouraged enough to continue. My face is uncovered and the skull cap with my long red locks protruding seems insufficient. I zip up my jacket, which I usually find uncomfortable at the neck, but today it’s fine. I just need to stay warm. And although I don’t appreciate the breeze, I’m not experiencing cold in a truly unpleasant way. It’s just cold.

My feet strike the boardwalk. It creaks, irritated to be touched on this cold morning. It protests, loosening. It will be quieter for the  next runner.

And I am around the first bend. The guard rails have frost and I hear the creek rushing under me. I keep running, faster than normal for my first mile, because I just need to get warm. There’s a magic point where your core is warm, and the thermal top and jacket contain that heat so some of it can move to your outer limbs. I’m running for that moment. It’s not far now.

And here I am. It’s a half mile, a little more than five minutes in. I no longer notice the wind. This pace seems sustainable, but I will not push it. I’ll see how long I last. I know I can do three miles; 1.5 out and back, but I’d like to go a litter farther. Hit 3.2 maybe. I’ll decide at the turn around. I was tired by then yesterday.

Now I’m crossing the swamp. It is crusted over with a thin layer of ice. No ducks will be in that water today. I know underneath it is not frozen. It’s not that cold after all.

I’m on the concrete going over another bridge. This one brings me closer to the one mile marker. I like starting at the golden rod mile marker because between here and there it’s one mile. I hear the creek under this bridge, but I don’t look down. I don’t want to break my stride and the sun isn’t up yet anyway.

jacketSometimes I pass runners coming in as I’m going out. Sometimes they pass me, going faster but in my same direction. Right now I’m still alone. I’m warmer, although my hands have not benefited yet. My thumbs in particular hurt. All of my other fingers just feel cold, but I’m grateful the circulation is going well in my legs. My feet are cold, but only my toes are numb. A vast improvement over the time I could barely feel my feet below my ankles. I know my feet are here and working fine.

Ha. The bunnies are hungry. Three big ones eat breakfast on my right. I speak as I always do when I pass them. One runs closer to the forest. The others remain.

Approaching another bridge now. This one goes up and then under the highway, beside the creek. I hear the first bird of the morning. He’s checking to see who’s awake. In warmer weather, the morning meeting would already be underway. It’s nearly 7:30. Sunrise is imminent. I don’t hear a response and he calls out once again.

I’m under the overpass and running up the slight incline. I’m nearly to the turn around. I believe I am maintaining pace. My energy hasn’t flagged so that’s a good sign.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 11.17.26 PMThere’s a kindred spirit – an older woman I think. Thick fluffy hair bounces underneath her hat. She has on black running tights like me. She leans into her run. I wonder if she started from the other side and is on her first stretch, or if she started on my side and is on the way back.

Now my hands are warm. I will go to 1.60 and turn around. There is a green mile marker right around there. When I reach it, I tap it and try not to break stride as I make the u-turn. I’m halfway home already.

I pass underneath a wintered canopy. Is it a canopy if the trees are leafless? And now I’m back at the underpass. I see the creek, but I don’t hear it this time. I tackle the hill back to the straightaway. I spy another bunny.  He’s big like the others but he isn’t still. He’s running – or darting is probably more accurate. I’m concentrating because any moment now I’ll hear the chirp-buzz signaling I’ve reached two miles. Then I’ll only have a mile and change left to go.

And there it is. Chirp-buzz.

I still feel good: I’m warm, and my pace feels solid. My toes are slightly numb, but nothing I mind. My hands are sweating now so I pull off my gloves and stuff them in my left pocket. I know they’ll cool off soon so, I’ll don the gloves again then. I unzip my jacket, just a tad. Yes, I’m really that warm. Not hot, but that zipper is getting in the way.

On I run.

Passing frosty trees on my left, I cross the next bridge. Less than a mile to go now. I notice the frost-dusted guard rails saving me from a long tumble into the noisy creek below. I can’t help myself this time. I reach out and brush the top. Some of the frosty snow (snowy frost?) falls to the ground. The rusting rail gives way to wood and then nothing but the boardwalk.

I’m back to the swamp. That layer of ice remains on the water, but now I look down and see newly wet paw prints on the boardwalk. They seem to be heading toward me but cross to the other side. I immediately think these are raccoon prints, although I’ve never seen racoons here. They probably belong to the countless squirrels who live here.

I pass another runner. I’ve seen this man before. I’m pretty sure he’s just starting. We wave.  I smile. This is my tribe.

This boardwalk is noisy, resisting as the first one did. It’s cold and does not want to be bothered. It will warm up in a few hours. Maybe it will be in a better mood then.

frostI am near the home stretch. I speed up, excited to hear the birds. They are nearly a mile away from the early bird’s podium, but the morning meetings are going strong now. Birds are laughing and catching up on the night’s events, or so it sounds to me. I smile wondering how long they will chatter.

I continue to press, knowing the end is near. This pace is a little challenging, but I’m grateful I’m not wheezing. Keeping my chest insulated makes running in the cold a lot more pleasant, numb toes aside.

I approach the last bridge, which was also the first one. I round the corner and stride down to the boardwalk. As I hit the homestretch mile marker, I begin the countdown. When I’m fast, I can make it from here to the first golden rod marker by zero, but today I am not fast.

One hundred, 99, 98… I count while my feel tap tap in cadence.

I’m going faster than I thought. I’m nearly there when I notice wetness around my face. Is my hair wet? I can tell I will get to zero before I get to the final post, but I won’t have much left to go.

When I hit zero, I count down again, this time from ten. That feels ambitious still, but I really am close. Just after the second zero, I cross the finish line and press the button to stop the Garmin. I save the run.

I stretch and right now I am so proud of myself. There’s still only one other car out here. Today, I have won.

SO much win

Half the distance, twice the win

It rained forever and a day. Seriously. Forever, then 24 more hours of rain.

It was probably more like a week, but it really seemed the clouds would never cry themselves out.

I run. And while I engage in a variety of exercise programs, running outdoors is my favorite. It’s lovely to watch the sun rise. To smell the flowers and pine trees and whatever else is on my running trail. To listen to birds as they sing, or fight or just say hello. It’s corny. It’s great. I love it. And thanks to The Rain, I couldn’t run. For days. (Forever).

Then The Rain stopped.

The local runners waited a day for The Dry because we knew our trail would be flooded or overrun with unpassable puddles, slick with wet leaves and what have you. So we had to be patient. And on the second dry day we ventured out to brave the probably-still-messy trail.

But the main trail entrance was locked. A big gate chained shut so no cars could get near the trail head.

Not to be outdone, we, and now I really mean me, I took to the street to find another trail head at the nearby park. It would be my first time using this new entrance, so I set off with an adventurous spirit. I found it with little trouble and was on my way. A little muddy,  a teeny bit slippery, but I had a nice run on a new path. I managed 4 miles that day.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 8.40.55 PM

Then The Rain returned.

Between The Rain and The Dry, it would be another SIX WHOLE DAYS before I could run again. And even then, I had to sneak. On the sixth day, trails were still closed, but the shy sun beckoned and I answered her call. Off I went to put my name on four miles.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 8.39.45 PMIn my excitement I started too fast and tired quickly. And if that weren’t enough,  I soon came to a puddle I couldn’t pass. It was simply too deep and the grass around it too muddy. I was going to have to call it quits just halfway to my goal. Disappointed, but really glad to be outdoors, I turned around and ran it back in.

In the end I claimed the win. First, for going out and trying my best. And second, for getting some miles. It took twice the grit to get half the distance, but that’s how champions are made.

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Clement wins

I fancy myself a runner. Or a jogger, as the case may be.  As a general rule, I save my miles for clement weather. Put simply, I do not run in the cold. Pish posh on the mildness of Georgia winters; you can let your chest wheeze for an after inhaling frigid air. There are exceptions to my no winter running rule, but more often than not, I hang up my running shoes in November, and pull them out again around March.

I spend the intervening months exercising with a DVD program. When I travel, I take it along. Unless I forget, which is the case at present. En route to the airport yesterday, I realized I packed everything I needed to do PiYo except the PiYo DVDs. Massive side eye to me.

There was no turning back at that point in the journey, and with my destination’s forecast promising sunshine and nice temps, I wondered if I might not run after all.

I’ll skip the part about why I didn’t run this morning, and jump right to the good news: I ran today! And it was challenging, and I had to stop often because of runner’s itch, which sucks. A lot. And blah blah blah, eventually, I hit my 2-mile goal! On a treadmill, no less.

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I’m already sore, which is not happy-making. But I am very pleased, which is! The first of spring remains my official target to resume a running regimen, but it’s nice to have unexpected wins.

Ending the year strong

It’s not winter yet, but Mother Nature has been pushing us to get ready for it. The days are noticeably shorter and unseasonably cold. The weather, along with my recent adventure, has put me in the mood to hibernate. Most mornings (and early evenings), I just want to swaddle myself in a ball and sleep. It’s starting to impact my exercise regimen.

From March to October, I jump out of bed before dawn, ready to log a few of the 40-50 miles I jog each month. I tweak my mileage to allow time for strength training with a barbell and plates. But all of this happens in the warm weather.

Once we’ve entered true fall in north Georgia, I put away the running shoes and opt for indoor cardio. My program of choice has long been Beachbody’s TurboFire. It mixes long, intensive workouts with short, high intensity interval training and strength training with resistance bands. There’s a lot of jumping up and down.

I believe in listening to my body. But lately, when I’ve asked my body to get ready for plyometrics, it has responded with some version of chile please. I haven’t had much of a counter offer, so there I’ve been, snuggled under the cover dozing, instead of running or jumping.

My body seems ready to try something high energy, but low impact, with a lot of stretching. I’ve considered Bikram yoga, for instance. But that involves traveling somewhere, and I don’t like to spend much time in transit for exercise. Plus, despite the generally good reviews, I’ve never really “felt” yoga as exercise. Even though, truth be told, I sometimes naturally perform elements of the sun salutation, just because some of the poses feel organic. So I’m not a yogi, and although I’ve taken a couple of  Pilates classes, it never stuck as part of a regular routine.

Enter, PiYo.

PiYo schedule and DVDs.
PiYo schedule and DVDs.

I shunned this the first couple of times I heard of it namely because of my lukewarm feelings about Pilates and yoga, the main elements of the program. It supposedly takes the best of these two systems and combines them into a high energy, low impact, strength- and flexibility-enhancing program. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered. Zerlina and Lurie, two people I engage with on Twitter, have raved about it. So I’ve decided to give it a shot.

It’s an 8-week program, with workouts 6 days a week. No equipment is required, and I love that, especially given my travel schedule. I completed the first workout today, which was more instructional than anything else, but it was a promising start.

I feel that good way I feel when my blood is moving as it should.

Autumnal Equinox 2014

The name gazelle comes from the Arabic word Ghazal which means “elegant and quick.” ~Wikipedia

Natalie is a gazelle.

I see her occasionally during my greenway runs and I always smile. She’s beautiful. She’s powerful. Elegant and quick. On the greenway, her long dark hair is always pulled back, revealing her serene yet happy face. And by the way, she runs marathons. Can you imagine?

Whenever I see her it’s the same… she smiles and waves and shows not a whisper of being winded. Yet she’s running, not jogging. Cheerful just the same.

That’s beauty. That’s inspiration.

I imagine I’m that way from time to time: graceful, cheerful, powerful. Not as often as I’d like, however, and certainly not while running. That’s one of my goals – to be a gazelle when I run. I’m grateful for Natalie’s presence on the greenway.

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Fall Renewal

So tomorrow is the first day of autumn and I love beginnings. Mornings, Mondays, new moons, new years, you name it. So a new season fits nicely into the mix, and the first day of autumn it’s the perfect time for purposeful renewal.

Lately I’ve been thinking about (and encountering) the Four Agreements and I’ve been journaling a bit about gratitude. So rather than allowing this to be happenstance, I’d like to spend the next month or so focusing on both of these, and incorporating them as a daily practice.

When I say a daily practice, I mean mindfully choosing thoughts, words and deeds that align with the agreements and with gratitude.

Says Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements:

Every letter, every word in each language is an agreement…. As children, we didn’t have the opportunity to choose our beliefs, but we agreed with the information that was passed to us from the dream of the planet via other humans. The outside dream may hook our attention, but if we don’t agree, we don’t store that information. As soon as we agree, we believe it, and this is called faith. To have faith is to believe unconditionally.

Too much of the time, we go through life allowing it to happen to us, while we mindlessly react. But the Four Agreements reminds us to take responsibility and be a co-creator in our experience of the world. Rather than accepting every word or thought you hear, take some time to reflect. Do you agree? Do you accept? How does this fit with the life you’d like to lead?

You don’t have to agree with every opinion you encounter. You don’t have to accept someone else’s reality as your own. You can create new agreements, moment by moment. Word by word.

As a refresher, the Four Agreements are:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Always do your best.

This week, I’m planning to reread the beginning of The Four Agreements, and perhaps write about what I’m reading. I will also continue journaling about gratitude.

What, if anything did you do to mark the beginning of fall? What are your intentions for the season and the rest of the year?