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.
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.
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…