from mile to marathon

The journey of a thousand leagues begins from beneath your feet.

Friday, September 29, 2006

waiting it out

Last week-end we went to Alamogordo. I swam in the hotel pool twice, and even ran in the water a bit, hoping this would remind my limbs that I used to run once. I traipsed around for hours in the White Sands National Park, barefoot in the sand, up and down the slopes. It hurt a lot, but I was too exhilarated by the landscape to pay attention.

I cleaned my bicycle, which has lingered untouched almost since I bought my first car two years ago. I cannot run yet, but I have to do something, afraid that all the work of the last half a year, from mile zero to 13, is going to be squandered otherwise.

They say the body heals. Mine takes its own sweet time.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


The other day I had to take a pile of magazines out of my car. These things can get heavy, and the combined effort of holding the stack and walking upright pulled so hard at my groin that I had to stop and carry the weight in installments.

It brought tears of frustration in my eyes. I have an invalid.

Throughout my life I have been, if not outright self-destructive, at least a bit reckless with my body. Most of the times it was nothing major: jumping from bridges into the river below, skiing at night on unlit slopes, going out with wet hair in winter, drinking too much, smoking too much, eating too much. The usual indiscretions. My body bore the impositions with integrity. It stayed graceful. It remained unrattled.

Then I started to run. Here I am, doing something that is supposedly good for the body: dynamic motion, cardiovascular exercise, regular digression from inertia. And what happens next? I find myself disabled.

I was so proud, just a few days before the race, about getting to 13 miles on my own, and getting there injury-free.

So much for the healthy lifestyle...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

does everything happen for a reason?

I like to think this way. Sometime in May this girl - blond, ponytail, glasses, and a book - started coming to the exercise room in the morning. Mostly she sat down on the floor reading her book, or walked back and forth reading her book, waiting for me to get off the treadmill. I felt bad she had to wait, and I never let her wait more than a half an hour (once), which a sign on the wall proclaimed to be the utmost acceptable in terms of gym etiquette.

I started to come in earlier, so we would not overlap, and I actually expected her to start coming in later, the logical thing to do if she wanted to cut down on waiting. But instead she started coming in earlier and earlier, and one day she was there before me, walking the treadmill and reading her book. It was 5:30 am, and at first she used to come in after 6. The next day she was there again. And the next day after that.

I could not wait. When I run, I end up being almost late at work anyhow. I ran outside, which I did not like, because I lost the feed-back of the treadmill, and because the ground in the apartment complex is uneven. I don't know why they call the desert flat. Albuquerque sits practically in a cauldron, and there is no stretch of street, either east-west, or north-south, that doesn't go up or down, sooner or later. Running around the apartment complex was heavy incline work.

Which worked out wonderfully, because after three weeks of the blond girl beating me to the treadmill my endurance and speed on slopes had increased, and I was ready for the outside track where I do the "big runs," and where one mile in three is steeply uphill. About that time, abruptly, the girl stopped coming to the exercise room, and I have not seen her since. She seems to have appeared there for the sole reason of forcing me to run outside. Oh, I know, I know, her affair with the treadmill had a different scope and meaning to her than it had to me.

I just hope that being "grounded" now happens for a reason as well.

Monday, September 18, 2006

icing & before

I almost fell when I got out of the bed on Sunday, since my left leg was not prepared to sustain my weight when I stepped down. Running seemed preposterous, so I skipped my “big run,” a ten miler, not even that big. I have been doing stretch exercises for the hip, and ice baths. The first one was too shallow and not cold enough (I learned about ice-to-water ratios). The second one was the real thing. I hope the third one to be a charm. That’s not decided yet, since I just got shivering out of it, and I am still numb from the waist down.

My mind made a magnanimous leap to accepting that I would not run for a few days. Perhaps a week. Whatever it takes. As I had anticipated, I do not miss the running in itself. My body rejoices over the break. I am, in essence, a creature enthralled with comfort and leisure.

It is my mind that worries, but I set that aside as well. I am not training for a particular marathon. I plan to run THE marathon, whichever it will be when I am ready. Every marathon is THE marathon for me. Except for the Boston marathon which requires qualification, they all amount to the same thing, 26.2 miles. So a short delay won’t make much of a difference for me. In the worst case, I won’t be able to compete in the Duke City Half-marathon next month. Bad enough, but what am I to do? Limping for 13 miles won’t cut it.

I miss something though. All throughout spring and summer, when I stepped out of the exercise room after the customary 5K or more, never later than 6:30 am, this overwhelming sensation washed over me, of being one with the brilliant universe. The day was young, the air crisp, the morning saturated with sunrise gold. I was spent and soaked in sweat, and a sense of accomplishment permeated dawn. More than one time, the first step into the quiet morning, the fresh intake of breath after exertion, this emergence into the glory of work well done, was the highpoint of the day yet to start. I miss that.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I want to go back to my happy running days. Not that I liked running, ever, but I had opened up to it. We had reached a comfortable relationship, the running and I. Now that relationship is strained.

It must have something to do with the pain in my groin. I walk now with a visible limp. Envisioning what running would be if I could just take that pain away somehow, immediately removed the dread.

I picked up Marathon for Dummies again and leafed through the chapter on injuries, on which I had not been keen first time around. Still wasn’t. Anyhow, it seems that I pulled a groin muscle. The fact that I have actually sustained an injury, not by accident (a fall, a slip), simply by running, makes me feel bad, almost guilty, as if I have let someone down. Not myself – I would have hobbled around conscientiously, without bother, until the thing had run its course. Not myself, no - the running perhaps.

It says something about how much I am lagging behind my own life that it took two weeks before I looked up an injury. Okay, so now I have to get rid of it. I hope I can do it with stretching and ice baths, because I do not want to take a break from running. Tomorrow I have my weekly “big run,” and no idea whether I am supposed to run through the pain, or first take care of it. I dread running, but the prospect of stopping, even for a few days, somehow scares me.

I want to run the marathon and I am stuck with a groin injury at mile 13.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

the runner and me

People I know ask me about the half-marathon, even the ones who think I am crazy to attempt to run mile after mile. Hearing about my avid output at the race, one of them said that I am more of a runner than I know.

What he meant is that I am competitive. This doesn't come as a total surprise. I am vain and like to be admired. A little bit more than the average person, I mean. Well, okay, considerably more than the average person. To be honest, I am outright needy. It's all about vain little me. Competitive or not, I still did not expect that I would challenge myself so intensely on that race track.

But being a runner... I don't know. I do not see myself as a runner, I am just running. Even now, when I don't find it enjoyable. Bored with it or not, in pain or not, I cannot give up now. I have to run a marathon first.

It started me thinking though.. this business about being a runner. What is a runner? And what is the difference between a runner and me?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

but whyyy?

This race has somehow demotivated me. I run at an improved pace now, because the race has taught me I can. But it's harder than ever to keep on running. First week I took it easy - ran less often, less far, not so fast. Now it's the second week, and I wake up with ennui: oh, running again. I step out to run, and it feels incongruous, as if I had better things to do. And then I run, and can't wait for it to be over. Wonder why this is.

It doesn't help, of curse, that since the race a dull pain dwells where my left leg joins the pelvis, not deep enough to be a hip injury, not close enough to the surface to be accessible to touch. Dwelling there, like a temptation to limp.

It doesn't help that my hard drive died two days ago, and the backup proved to be useless. I lived in dread and self-blame until the files could be restored. I am the luckiest girl in the world. But I am still a bit shaken - how fragile everything is, and how important it is to value something in order to preserve it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


For the life of me, I cannot understand now why I pushed myself so hard. How important is it to make good time on your first half-marathon? Other things being equal, I knew I would finish it. I ran 13 miles one single time before, in 2 h 36 min. A time easy to improve upon during a race, without extreme expenditure. I could have walked here and there, especially within the last mile or two, and reached the finish line in a dignified manner. This, after all, is less a sport of speed than one of endurance.

About one hour or so after the end of my race, I watched a marathoner cross the finish line. He had run for 4 hours, give or take a few. He sailed past the gate of balloons, stopped, and took a swig from his water bottle. He was totally composed. I stared at him with eyes bulging out of my head. How had he accomplished it, this utterly distinguished finale? I remembered that I had promised myself to cross the finish line with sprezzatura, with apparent effortlessness, with princely nonchalance. Somehow, while running, I had forgotten about maintaining appearances.

I would not make for a good aristocrat.

I suspect the 4th of July 5K race had something to do with it. In my first race ever, four months into running, utterly green, I had placed 3rd within my age group, and now I gave in to hoping for a repeat of serendipity. How insane… On the one hand I doubt myself, questioning whether I can run the marathon, whether my writing is any good, whether anybody will ever take me seriously. On the other hand, I presume to surpass runners who have years of experience ahead of me.

I am hopelessly bipolar. Or something.

Monday, September 04, 2006

2 hours 7 minutes 27 seconds

My first half-marathon. September 3rd, a lovely day. The race started at 6:15 on the Sandia Indian reservation. The first 4-5 miles were sweet sailing. I felt good, and most of all I felt grateful – happy to be there, to be able to run, to run when the sun was rising. It was hard to let everybody pass me. I could have run a bit faster, at the beginning, but did not want to use up all reserves so early in the race. It started to be hard around mile 8 or 9. I did not walk, except for the two or three times I slowed down for seconds to sip water. I cannot believe I ran the whole 13 miles without walking – more or less.

I read in one of the running books from the library that when you get to the last mile or two, you should give it all you have, there’s nothing to lose. I would have given it all I had, but there was nothing to give. I had run out of all of it, he, he. I was running on empty.

The last two miles were a horror, the street trembling in my vision, I did not know whether to cry or to scream, how to breath, or why I was there. I could not imagine ever running the marathon or why anybody would want to run the marathon.

Oh, it was so good when it started, and so good when it was over. 10 minutes later I had put myself together and looked human again. Friends came to the finish line, my landsman Emil Ardelean won second place overall (1 hour 21 minutes), and we all went out to breakfast at the Church Street Café in Old Town. The chemistry around the table was fantastic, and the huevos rancheros disappeared from our plates within minutes. By then I was talking of course about how I would go on training to run the marathon.

A friend of mine gave me a card on the day of the race. “I am not here to see if I can; because I can, I am here." She said this applies to me. On a day like this, I believe it.

Friday, September 01, 2006


It is strange to perceive myself running on the Academy track outside, or to catch a glimpse of myself in the left-hand mirror while I pound the treadmill – minute after minute, mile after mile, hanging in there. I am clad in Nike sportswear (color coordination was crucial at the moment of purchase), I wear running shoes, my legs are tanned. This girl looks outdoorsy, you think fitness when you look at her, she’s running.

I know it’s me, but I never was this way – athletic, outdoorsy, running, into fitness. Never was this way, beyond the occasional high-school camping trip in the mountains, beyond a few swimming strokes in the Black Sea on summer vacations.

I never saw myself this way, biting hard on the task of conquering miles.

But at the same time – disconcertingly – it’s me. When I'm running I feel more real than while working, making dinner, even driving the car. I feel this is me, the real me, running.