Plodding Along

April 6, 2014 · 37 comments

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

This is a rough skinned newt. They’re super common, and this time of year especially, they can be seen all over the Northwest. They’re cute and harmless, but be sure to wash your hands after touching them because they’re also super toxic if ingested. I took these photos while out running on the rad trail system just down the hill from my house.

I don’t really want to talk about newts, though. I want to talk about running. About a year ago, I publicly declared my dislike of running as a form of exercise, and while everything I said was true then and still sort of true now, I guess I’ve changed my tune a little.

Back in October, I went into the local sporting goods store to buy a bathing suit, so I could lap swim in town while Charlotte was at preschool. While I was in the store, I decided to buy a pair of running shoes just in case I could work up the motivation to use them. The first run a few weeks later was can’t-breathe, gonna-die awful. The second run was awful. By the third or fourth run, I could at least go a couple miles without stopping, but I was miserable the whole time. At some point, things evolved from miserable to just unpleasant, and then I kept on trucking.

Next Sunday (300+ miles into my training), I’m signed up to run the Corvallis Half Marathon. This will be my very first race ever. I’m fairly certain that I can make it through. I’ve run 13+ miles two times before, but everything else about this race is freaking me out. The day after I registered, there was a huge article in the local newspaper with photos of the throng of people running last year’s race, looking all sporty and in the zone. I don’t look like a runner. I don’t feel like a runner. I don’t know anything about exercise science. I don’t know what to wear or eat on race day. In general, I’m feeling really incompetent, BUT I’m going to go out there and (try to) do it. For someone who often goes to great lengths to avoid being seen while running, this will be a big step out of my comfort zone, but you gotta do that sometimes, right?

There are a few things that have helped me along in my training. I’ve had some good conversations with friends of mine who run but don’t consider themselves “runners”. Their talk about dreading every single run but going out to do it anyway has been super inspiring for me. It would be disingenuous to claim that running is now simply a joy. In fact, it feels really sucky a lot of the time, but the fresh air and good views often make the burden more bearable.

Podcasts help. A lot. At first, I was a little hesitant to use headphones while trail running or running on remote country roads, but I’ve never felt so disconnected to goings on that I was unsafe even with log trucks passing by. There was this one time that the logical part of me wanted to go for a long run, but the physical part of me was barely dragging along. Just before the three mile mark when I was seriously considering turning around, the This American Life podcast offered up Tig Notaro’s story centered around the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. I was all by myself on a deserted forest road, half laughing and half singing (terribly), briefly happy, and newly energized. I ran 11 miles that day. I often listen to the usual list of NPR-affiliated podcasts such as: This American Life, Radiolab, Snap Judgement, TED Radio Hour, Wiretap (Beware, that one is super weird.), The Moth, Planet Money (This one makes me feel smart.), and Selected Shorts. I also mix in a little Adam and Dr. Drew Show and Savage Love (Lots of explicit stuff on these two and many opinions that are pretty controversial). If I were more committed, I might subscribe to the audio version of The New Yorker.

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

Another tool I really like is RunKeeper, an app for my iPhone. I know there are probably a million exercise apps out there, and I can’t speak about any of the rest of the, but RunKeeper is a good one. The basic version is free, and it notes standard stuff like how far/ how long/ how fast, it uses your phone’s GPS to track elevations and routes, and it keeps a cumulative total of running stats for every week, month, year, etc. I’m not in a position to be competitive with other actual people, but RunKeeper allows me to be a little competitive with just myself. ‘I can break that pace record.’ ‘I can run a few more miles this week.’

If you’re wondering if all this running is making me skinny, the answer is no. One might think that adding three to five activities a week of aerobic exercise to one’s life might burn enough calories to drop a few pounds, but that is just not what’s happening in my case. Don’t get me wrong. I’m at a healthy weight right now, and my primary reasons for adding running to my routine are more overall-health focused than weigh-loss focused, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if things tightened up a bit.

At 31, I’m realizing more every day that if I want to start good habits, it’s never going to get any easier than it is now even if it’s going to be quite a challenge to start today. For me, running is simply the activity that requires the least investment of time and money for maximum aerobic benefits. It costs nothing more than a pair of shoes, and it can be done almost anywhere.

My friend Rebecka asked me if I have any goals for this weekend’s race. I hadn’t really thought about it, but the best I could come up with is this: 1) Finish. 2) Don’t hurt myself. 3) Don’t look like a total idiot. 4) Don’t come in last. I think that might be as much as I can manage.

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

Okay, all you runner types, I’d love to get your advice on this race. I’m feeling pretty confident about my training, and I’m planning on eating right, drinking lots of water, getting lots of sleep, etc. this week, but do you have any insider tips for me? I’m hoping that if I can survive running 13.5 miles up and down a big-ass hill with no special breakfast/hydration/outfit, I’ll do okay out on the flattish course wearing my lucky T-shirt and having nice folks hand me cups of water every couple miles. We’ll see…

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric I. April 6, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Pre-race routines are interesting, they very quite a bit from runner to runner. Currently, what I’ve found to work best is to 1) avoid dairy for at least 24 hours before a race, 2) drink plenty of water the night before and right when I wake up (don’t worry about it too much right before the race), and 3) have a 1-2 cup fruit smoothie, a piece of toast or two with olive oil and honey, and water or juice for breakfast. That’s worked for me for races from 1500m to 30km. You definitely don’t need to carry any food or water or use any fancy bars or sports drinks.

I think you’ll be surprised by how much camaraderie that type of event inspires! People often start up conversations at the start, during the race, and afterwards if you aren’t wearing headphones. Good luck!


Camille April 6, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Thanks, Eric. I’m still wondering if I should wear headphones during the race. I’m kinda used to listening to something while I run now, but I don’t want to be too antisocial.


Rachel April 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm

It took me a really long time to like running. It’s still not usually a transcendental experience every time I go out for a run, but I’ve grown to love watching the scenery go by, the social enjoyment that comes from running with friends, and the amazement at what my body can accomplish. Whether it’s 3 miles or 23, it’s amazing to realize you can cover that much distance under your own power! It makes me feel like I can do anything I set my mind to.

I’ll be there cheering for you and all the other runners on Sunday! I’m sure you’ll do great! Don’t overthink it – just do like you normally do and have fun! And there will be tons of other people wearing headphones so you won’t be the only one by any means. The one piece of advice I have for anyone running distance, is that eating a Gu or Clif Shot (you can get them at any running store or at Safeway) really helps keep your energy up. I eat one about 45 mins into any run over 10-13 miles, and it makes a HUGE difference. Rather than feeling like you’ve drained every last energy reserve at the end of a run, you will be tired but still have some oomph to power through. Definitely not necessary, but helpful.
Don’t chug gatorade at the water stations if you’re not used to it – just plain water is good.

Have fun!


Camille April 7, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I really never thought about eating anything or drinking anything but water. Hmmm… The shorts I was going to wear don’t even have a pocket, so I might have to reconsider my options.

See you Sunday, Rachel!


Rachel April 9, 2014 at 5:01 pm

You can safety pin a Gu into the band of your shorts like this:

That’s what I did for my marathon.


Camille April 9, 2014 at 5:07 pm



Tess April 7, 2014 at 3:57 am

Don’t change your eating habits before your race. Eat whatever worked for you before your usual runs, and it’ll work for you on race day too. Eating something during your race is a good idea, but only if you’re used to it or know that you don’t have a sensitive stomach.
And the best thing to do is: run the first half slower than the second half (negative split). That way you’ll have the feeling that you have energy left, instead of being afraid that you won’t keep up with your starting pace.


Camille April 7, 2014 at 8:50 pm

I’ve done all my long runs on a mostly gravel road that starts off going uphill gradually but after about two and a half miles, it gets steeper and steeper. That means that all my runs are almost all uphill for the first half and almost all downhill for the second half. A 13 mile run on that road (which I have done twice) has over 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Knowing that I can run that far with such hill-age makes me believe that running on the relatively flat race course should be easier, but I’m also accustomed to the ease of a solid downhill second half and always negative splits even if I expend more energy in the first half. I’m pretty curious to see how this will be different.


Alexis April 7, 2014 at 6:46 am

I’ve run 6 half marathons + other races (mostly slowly) now and along with Tess’s very good advice:

-Get to the start line with a comfortable amount of time. My worst races were the ones where I feel rushed at the start.
-No shame in walking through the water stations instead of sloshing water all over yourself
-If you do take some sips of Gatorade at a station, follow it with water, otherwise your mouth will be coated in sugar till the next station (learned that the hard way)
-Don’t psych yourself out on hills, just get up them
-Over the last year or so I’ve been running with podcasts (thx for the suggestions!), but I race without headphones. I personally like being able to interact with others and to see what’s going on on the course.

and, most importantly, HAVE FUN!


Camille April 7, 2014 at 8:56 pm

The race start point is only about 30 minutes from my house, and it doesn’t begin until 9:30 am, so I’m hoping I won’t be too rushed in the morning. Also, I plan on running “the whole thing”, but pausing for a moment to drink water seems like the only sane way to do it.

I’m not sure if it will be fun, but I’ll see what I can muster.


Monica April 7, 2014 at 7:30 am

You’ll be fine! I ran a half marathon several years ago after a very similar introduction to running. I’ve always hated it, but had to start running for my job. I worked up to five miles at a stretch, and never really liked it, but it became less awful as I got in better and better condition. I think I did one ten-mile run a few weeks before the half marathon, just to reassure myself that I could do it. I made a point of drinking tons of water for the two days before, so that I would be perfectly hydrated on the day of, but otherwise didn’t make any dietary adjustments. My biggest concern was low blood sugar, as I have a tendency towards hypoglycemia and usually felt a little shaky after my shorter runs. To combat this, I brought a handful of gummy bears along in one of my pockets — a little burst of sugar, with a little protein from the gelatin to modulate the sugar’s absorption. Worked great, and at a fraction of the cost of similar products marketed to athletes!

The half marathon I ran included a huge mix of runners, from absurdly fit, gazelle-like people to very slow, obviously out-of-shape folks who spent part of the time walking, so absolutely anyone would have “fit in.” I wouldn’t worry about that; these events tend to be very positive and supportive, all around. I’m sure you’ll have a great time!


Camille April 7, 2014 at 8:57 pm

I’m certainly no gazelle, but I think I can run the whole thing. Thanks for the support!


abby April 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Exciting! I wondered if you might do a marathon at some point. I think you will kick ass!

A little training with sprints and hills can do wonders for making your usual flattish course feel easy and for improving your speed. I do regular high intensity workout circuits – usually 15 minutes to an hour or so (the longer workouts are mixed with cardio) and when I took off for a jog one day, after not having done so for quite a while, I was shocked at how comparatively easy it seemed. Points on the course where I vividly remembered being totally done in the past, I was feeling strong and full of power still.

Another thing that comes to mind… I did a 100 mile cycle ride years ago, and my friend had given me a tube of GU “just in case” (this is a quick boost energy gel I accepted it, while silently scoffing at it, as it’s so ‘not my thing,’ but the last stretch of the ride presented an uphill climb, and by that point I realized I was TOAST, seeing blurry, not sure I would make it, nearly nothing left in me. I suddenly remembered the GU and clumsily reached around to my pack to find it (and could barely move my arms I was so wiped). I downed that little tube of goo and it totally did the trick. At that moment I felt like it saved my life, ha! Anyway, some kind of easy to assimilate boost might be handy to have with you.

Have fun, Camille!!


Camille April 7, 2014 at 9:05 pm

My usual run is NOT flat (see above), so it will be unusual to run on such a relatively flat course. About 30% of my runs (shorter ones, 3-6 miles) are on the trail system down the hill from my house. That area has some killer hills that bring out the can’t breathe, gonna die feelings again. I end up running 1-2 minutes/mile slower on those trails than the more gradual hilly road where I do my longer runs.

And another vote for Gu, huh? I would say that Gatorade, energy bars, and such are also “not my thing”, but you and my friend Rachel (above) aren’t known to push over-priced, synthetic food stuffs for no reason, so I’ll have to check it out.

At some point in my running, I was thinking that I’d just keep on training after this race and see if I could build up to a whole marathon. After talking to some friends and my sister in law, Shannon, who’s run a bunch of marathons, I’m thinking the incredible time commitment might not be worth it and that running for more than four hours straight might not actually be that healthy for someone like me. I’d like to keep running after this for sure, but I think I might buy a bike and shake things up a bit.


Eric I. April 8, 2014 at 9:00 am

I’ve been discussing race nutrition quite a bit with some of my friends at Michigan Tech, in preparing for collegiate mountain bike racing. It seems that the important part of GU and other similar products is the mix of glucose and fructose they provide. Now it just so happens that honey has an almost identical mix, and I think that sounds like it would be a bit more up your alley. The only challenge is figuring out convenient packaging for it.


abby April 8, 2014 at 3:31 pm

I should have said your usual flattish MARATHON course. I realized after I mentioned hills, that maybe you have had plenty of hill training already.

For myself, I’ve found the most satisfying type of training is the kind that simply pushes me beyond old limitations – both mental and physical. There aren’t many things more satisfying to me than realizing I just busted through something that I once struggled a lot with. I think I could have the tendency to get obsessive with training and used to get pretty competitive in sports, so keeping fitness/training relative to the health of my body, rather than a race or some other external element, has allowed for a healthy balance. And shaking things up now and then, like you mentioned, is always great for keeping it healthy and interesting too.

As for the Gu, I guess I would think of it like a bandaid or something… a just in case, emergency aid. Maybe gummy bears, or something else a little less strange (like someone mentioned above), would also do a similar trick.


Kaylin Lydia April 7, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Hey, good for you! I am sure you will do awesome at this race! I started “wogging” (jogging then walking) in January and have been doing that 1 – 3 times a week since then. I was biking for a long time but found I wasn’t getting the cardio I needed/wanted – not that biking isn’t challenging, it was just easier for me to cruise and not challenge myself. Running is really hard for me, it is getting easier but very slowly. But I’m starting to notice a difference gradually and it feels good to feel stronger. Anyway, I feel your pain! Best of luck!


Camille April 7, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I also enjoy lap swimming for exercise, but I never seem to work hard enough to really get my heart rate up. Running, on the other hand, is always a challenge whether I want it to be or not.


Melissa April 7, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Don’t know if this is what you had in mind, but in case it helps: I did my first race in January. I trained. I was nervous. I had no illusions about being first or even 100th, I just didn’t want to be last. I started the race – and within ten or fifteen minutes, I was last. The policemen bringing up the rear were waiting for me to move over so they could PASS ME. It was horrid. There were lots of hills, and I did not train on any kind of incline. But – I hung in there, because what else was I going to do? I had a great playlist of songs, and a couple of good ones got me going. And then, at some point, when I was resigned to being last and ok with it, just enjoying the beautiful day and the fact that I was actually RUNNING A RACE (at a creaky 47) – the training started to show. Or, rather, other participants’ lack of training started to show. People who’d passed me, I passed. And then I passed some more. And not that I was really feeling particularly competitive – I just thought, I got this. And I did! I finished only 32 spots away from last, but that was more than fine. I thought it was pretty glorious, actually.
This past Saturday, I did my second race. I had 3.5 hours’ sleep the night before and a gallbladder attack that morning. But I had trained, it was not my first race, and I finished in the top half. TRAINING WORKS.
Hope you shred it.:)


Camille April 7, 2014 at 9:11 pm

This is the most inspirational story I’ve heard in a long time. Seriously. (Although my favorite neighbor Mary told me about being an extremely poor but in-shape college student who ran a half marathon because if you won, you got a full Thanksgiving dinner for something like 10 people. That was just the motivation she needed, and she won!)


Jenny April 7, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Good on you!! I recently started running too…I’m a little past that “I HATE IT WITH ALL MY GUTS” stage and onto the phase where it’s just steadily miserable. But, I’m getting through…sometimes I even enjoy it, especially when I pass milestones. I read a quote once that said something to the effect of “no one ever regrets getting more exercise”, and it’s true!! I may hate going to the gym, but after I’m there and after i look back at what i accomplished, I’m always glad I did it 🙂 I don’t have any tips to add, i’m new at this myself, but I just wanted to wish you luck and tell you that no matter how you do, just being there is something you can be proud of!! You’re setting a great example for your kids, AND yourself, by showing them (and yourself!!) what is possible. Best of luck to you!! I can’t wait to hear how you did.


Camille April 7, 2014 at 9:12 pm

No regrets. That’s for sure. And yes, I love that my kids are seeing me dedicate time and energy to being healthy.


mae April 7, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Good for you Camille! That is awesome. As far as your comment above worrying about being anti-social with your headphones, I wouldn’t worry about that. Run how you like to run. We cheered for our friend Laura as she crossed the finish line during the Boston Marathon and she (and MANY other runners) were so in the zone they probably didn’t even hear or see us, headphones or not! Unless you’re specifically running with a team and plan on chatting the whole way there’s nothing social about a half marathon 😉


Camille April 7, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Now I’m going back and forth on the headphones thing. In some ways, I feel like music or podcasts will keep me going, but in other ways, I feel like an extra device/arm band/cord could be irritating/distracting. Still not sure what I’m going to do.


Emily April 7, 2014 at 9:00 pm

Don’t sweat it if jitters or excitement keeps you up the night before. In high school we always said it was the sleep two night before that counted. Get there with plenty of extra time–I usually need to find a bathroom before getting to the starting line and the lines can be kinda long. Trust in your training and have fun!


Camille April 7, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Adrenaline, training, and pre-race peeing. check. check. check. 😉


Linnea April 8, 2014 at 3:22 pm

I love how you said that it’s never going to be any easier to start something new than right now. So very true. Good for you for starting to run. I’ve found that I like to stick to the same routines during the race that I use when I train. I keep my eating/breakfasts and water intake the same. Arrive to the race early, and try to get some good sleep the night before. Each race is always different and just because one thing is off, doesn’t mean you can’t have a great race. I have run some of my personal bests after getting horrible night’s sleep, etc. So if something is off, don’t stress. Just do your best with what you’ve got. The biggest thing is that you’re showing up to run. Have fun with it and marvel at your awesome body and what it can do.


Camille April 12, 2014 at 11:22 am

Thanks for the encouragement, Linnea!


Jennifer April 9, 2014 at 10:44 pm

You will do great! I vote for GU or similar. Woods to pavement can be an issue. Post race Advil and jacuzzi, followed by a delicious lunch/dinner and it should be a stellar day. Good Luck!


Camille April 12, 2014 at 11:21 am

If by “stellar” you mean “hot”, I agree. I’m not used to running in warm weather, so hopefully I won’t die. We’ll see.


Jessica April 10, 2014 at 4:06 pm

If you want to keep on running after the half-marathon you should consider doing the ‘Run for the Hills’ 30k or 8k, which are both trail runs – the 30k takes you on your usual stomping grounds around Fitton Green, and the 8k around Bald Hill. And the proceeds go directly back into trail maintenance for those areas! More info:


Camille April 12, 2014 at 11:19 am

I was thinking about it, but a 30k sounds like one heck of a long run. We’ll see.


Jess Lamphier April 11, 2014 at 6:59 pm

You got this. Really! You do! Just. One step at a time. Just keep going. One foot in front of the other.


Camille April 12, 2014 at 11:22 am

Thanks, Jess!


Cara April 11, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Go Camille! I’m super impressed. And I’m glad to know I’m not the only geek who works out to RadioLab. 🙂 Best of luck on sunday!! Sounds like you’re ready- I bet you’ll do great!


Camille April 12, 2014 at 11:17 am

Thanks, Cara!


Brittany North April 29, 2014 at 10:03 am


I’ve been following your blog for a while and am stoked that you’ve crashed into running. I never considered myself a runner… until I started running ultra after ultra by myself in the forest. funny how things change and how a forest person can be motivated to do such a thing.

if you ever want to geek out on endurance, I now coach athletes through my business, Magnetic North. happy to help you with training, recovery, or event strategies.

happy trails, you wild wanderer 🙂


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