Thursday, April 3, 2014

Shamrocks, Leprechauns and Old Friends

Race days are something I enjoy far more when they're in the rear view. For reasons inexplicable, I get really worked up before a race, even the short 5K races I run. It's all so complicated. First there is proper training, then a race day plan, packet pick-up at the convention center the Saturday before, eating and hydrating properly pre-race, then leaving hours before your wave, making your way to through the throngs to the starting line, getting out to use a porta-potty, finding your way back, waiting, waiting, waiting, then finally the blast! Horray! Then five minutes or so later, I cross the start and begin to run.

With regards to training properly; I’m not looking to set any records, but I like to finish feeling good about my performance. I run about three times a week, two two-mile runs and one three mile run. And that's about it. I keep trying to extend those miles but when I do my body says, “Hey WTF? This isn't enough?? OK then.  How about some weird pain in your legs, back or shoulders, or perhaps a little tummy cramping to put you back in your place?!?”

Today's race day plan was fairly simple. The girls were coming with us and we were driving to to a Max park-n-ride, then taking the train downtown. We were sure that leaving by 7:40 a.m. would put us downtown in time for Boots' race at 8:50. She was running the kid's 1K Leprechaun Leap. We arrived to the Max in record time but that was all eaten up by our twenty minute wait for the train. I was wondering where the train would put the mass of racers waiting with us. Crammed in with the other anchovies rolling through downtown, I watched our can pass and be passed by the same people walking along the sidewalk three or four times. I couldn't take it anymore, we peeled back the lid, squirted out of the can and swam to the starting line. Charley and Boots just barely got in line before horn sounded for her race.

While Gabs and I were waiting, we decided to use the porta-potty and queued up. The line was a standstill. Then someone poked out from behind the bank and said, “There’s no line over here!” Sure enough there was another bank backed up to ours free and clear. We jetted over and much relieved headed back to wait for Boots and Charley.

Boots rocked her race. She ran the entire 1K distance at a pace, then sprinted the final stretch. That's my little leprechaun. She proudly wore her shirt the next school day. Printed on the back says, “Large, Loud and Legendary”. She read it and said, “That's just like me!” Indeed.

Due to an abundance of butterflies I always mess up the pre-race eating. I'm hungry, but too jittery to want to be full, and definitely don't want to feel sloshy. By the time we get lined up to race, I'm ravenous and thirsty. I brought a gel and water, but neglected to use them with the shuffle.

At this point I got some texts from my friend Sara who was going to run with me today. Sara and I grew up together in the same small town, in the same small school, on the same small sports teams. I had seen her only once since graduation. I was looking for the same tiny girl with bright blond hair, and this taller woman taps me on the shoulder, “Hey, Amy!”

“Sara, holy cow! You're taller!” were my brilliant words to my old friend.

“Um, yep, I grew a little bit,” she said. A long time ago, she thought.

The race was delayed while the cleared out the 8K people, giving us time to catch up with her while taking selfies on our phones, while shivering, dancing to the music, throwing up a wave, and other things they did to keep us entertained while we waited. Finally the horn blasted and we were off! Well sort of.  We were walking, toward the starting line, which seemed like a long ways away…

Due to the crowd, Sara and I lost track of each other right after crossing the start line. We both did a lot of zig-zag running, my watch says I actually ran 3.2 miles, the extra tenth of a mile was all people dodging. It was difficult finding my rhythm for that first mile, then things opened up.

It's on now.

Most corners have people ringing bells, cheering, school bands playing, cops intermittently looking serious and waving at the runners, along with an occasional bewildered pedestrian wondering how they're going to cross the street and not get swept away by the green river of runners.

It is such a rush running in a group like that. So much so that I generally start feeling a little lightheaded around the two mile mark. I hear myself wheezing, so I remember to breath deep and puff out my chest, and carry on.

Then when I'm starting to feel fatigued, the street lifts up in a cruel climb—OK, it's really a pretty gentle climb but it feels cruel at this point. Then the downhill, around the corner, around another corner—yes! the finish line. I turn on the afterburners and I’m surprised to find that I have pretty good juice left.

Then it's over. I stop my watch and check my pace.  8:40 m/m. Whew. Pant, pant, pant. Where are my people?

There they are. All the stress of everything is washed out and I'm grinning. Grinning from endorphins, grinning from the air, grinning from the energy of the crowd. I picked up a crying Berzo from her stroller and we beeline to the chowder and the beer garden. I didn't wear my beer socks for nothing!

The first time I ran the Shamrock Run three years ago, I couldn't imagine wanting a beer after just finishing a race. The thought of it was awful. Reluctantly, I followed my people to the beer garden, got my pint and took a tentative sip. My eyes widened in wonder. It was delicious. The rich flavor warmed and filled my growling tummy. The warmth spread throughout my body, releasing the tension and increasing the feeling of post-race euphoria.

Charley's friend Chris was there after running the 15K. I admired his finisher's medal, a bottle opener—so cool—and tried not to be intimidated by the fact that he ran three times my distance… We sipped and visited, and too soon my beer was empty. We headed out and walked my friend back to her hotel room. It was fun catching up with her. As we said good-bye, I felt a momentary longing for my home and all the people in it. There's this whole other side to me, that is buried under my current life. It was wonderful to unearth that old life and live in it a for a few moments.

The moment passed and for the rest of the day I floated on a cloud. I wore my tee-shirt as proudly as Boots. After all, I have been running regularly through sticky heat of summer, sicknesses, rain, and pain. I got to hang out with 30K of the coolest Portlanders, soak up the glow of my little leprechaun racer, drink the magical post race brew and catch up with a good friend. I'm even happy with my time and placement. Not a bad day, indeed.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Moo and Boots: Harbingers of Spring

There are many universal signs of spring, daffodils, birds singing, everyone updating their Facebook profile pictures… But the past three years or so, spring’s unofficial start is when Boots and her friend Moo don swimsuits, and I hear the familiar whoossssh of water running at the spigot near our front door.

It's a balmy 57 degrees on a Tuesday and the girls are in heaven, soaking up every drop of sunshine and warmth. Boots flops into the house, eyes bright, wearing a huge grin, “Mama, can me and Moo have a water fight?!?!”

My mind coughs up, Of course not. It’s not even sixty degrees outside, it’s 6:20 and time to come in and get ready for night time. No way. Clean up that mess outside and get your butt in here.

But luckily my mouth and my mind are wired to different neural networks. I pause and think. Boots is starting to get impatient, “Can we??”

“Hold on a minute…”

Reflex squelched, logic centers of my brain start churning, Why not? What could it possibly hurt? She doesn’t go to bed until 9 p.m. as long as she comes in before Berzo's bedtime so she doesn't make a racket when Berzo's trying to fall asleep, it should be fine. She's going to get cold, but so what? I've read time and again that kids need the freedom to experiment (when it's not life and death) and feel the consequences of their choices… They actually learn more that way…

Engaging language centers of my brain, “Yes, go ahead. Stay outside until you're ready to come in for the night. No running in and out of the house all sopping wet.”

“OK, Mama. Where's my swimsuit?”

And so it was. Charley thought I was crazy, but I'm used to that.

*Warning Eminent Digression*
You ignored my warning—I knew there was a reason I liked you. Anyway, I have a parental weakness for two things, buying my kids books, and spending time outside. I always refuse impulsive toy and junk food requests, but it is really hard for me to refuse them books. And spending time outside is one of the healthiest things for a child to do. I do set boundaries, of course, but unlike other arenas, I give in occasionally. When I do, I like to let them think they win. It's kind of like saying giving in to broccoli, “I don't know… You had broccoli yesterday and we're are at our budget already… Oh OK, what the heck, you've been helping me out a lot lately. Go ahead and get a big green head.” When really inside I'm saying, “Yahoo!”
*End of Digression*

The water battle raged, and my ears were tickled with peals laughter from two little girls I love to pieces. They lasted for about forty-five minutes until Boots, all goose bumps and chattering teeth, asked if she could come in. I asked the girls to clean up the toys and such, which they did, dripping, shivering, and grinning all over.

I left Berzo's bath water in the tub and let Boots know it was waiting for her. She dove right in and an “ahhhhhh” escaped her. I turned on the hot water to warm it up a bit and she melted right into the tub.

Today the sun is once again shining down on us. The birds are singing, blossoms are sprouting all over the trees, and the daffodils have finally opened up their brilliant yellow heads. It's a good thing Moo and Boots let them all know it was time to come out and play.

Hummm.... Wonder if I have a new picture to post...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Continent

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Bill Bryson ©1989

Was this a great book? No. Was it even a good book? Not really. Not unless you find riding 13,978 miles around our country with a paunchy, sarcastic, middle aged, cheap-ass, wuss of a man across the United States. At least that how he describes himself… (Well, I added the wuss part, cause it's true.) Then I thought about it, he could have shined it all up with poetic lilts to describe the unique beauty inherent into each little town and turned this into a fake tribute to America's variety and beauty. But he didn't. He was honest, (refreshing!) humorous, and painted the picture as he saw it, allowing us to see the country and himself through his eyes. I can respect that.

Bill Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. As soon as he reached adulthood he fled his dull, idyllic, mid-west life and spent the next decade or so in the UK. Now 36 years old, (1987) with a wife and kids, he returns to home to a country that is barely recognizable to him. His father, the architect of the arduous road trips of his youth has passed, baseball teams were in the wrong cities, old city squares were supplanted by strip malls… This trip was journey to reconcile his past with his present, his father's presence in himself, and rediscover the home he had left behind, and to some degree lost. Upon his return to Iowa, a waitress asks him, “You're not from around here, are ya?"

All of those inferences aside, I would have loved for him to just once to go beyond the window facade that is a small town's center, make a connection with a local, and uncover the magic that lives there. I'm a small town kid, and we had a hate/love relationship with tourists. They infused enough money into our business for them to thrive during the summer and survive the winter, but we didn't want them hanging around and mucking the place up. Only a select few were invited in to see the magic, and more often than not, they'd stay… If I was a waitress waiting on the Bill Bryson of this book, I would have handed him his check and sent him on his way too…