Why do you run?

We all need a little inspiration, and as I think about gift giving this time of year, I considered that two of the best running things I ever received were from that running stronghold, Nike.  Back before they were making great inroads with footwear, they were marketing heavily to women in the apparel line, and they had a shirt that I purchased which I proudly wore until it became far too small for me.  Today, my mother wears it – and simply put, it says, in adorable purple script, that “Running is cheaper than therapy”.  Yep. I enjoyed that.

It was followed by a little clock – the kind of paper clock with hand-turned dials that you see when the pharmacy has closed for lunch or the doctor is on a break.  On the back, it had 12 lines of precious text about one topic:  Gone Running.  (Somewhere on this site, the copy still exists.)

It’s in that tribute that I provide the following bit of inspiration – mostly for myself.  I hurt my knee in January and have been mostly walking and sulking since then, trying to get back into a groove without doing further damage.  But last week I decided that even if I just walk – ONLY walk – or, maybe even walk with the occasional 30 second interval, I think I could be happy as a clam.  Because it’s not the speed or the pace that has ever mattered – it’s what happens when I lace up my shoes and get out there.  And that doesn’t change, regardless of the pace I run.

This, this is why I run.

Why do YOU run?  Share in the comments, on FB, or even on Twitter – you can find me @plusrunner.

See you on the path.

If I were Queen?

Last year, at the Royal Wedding. I was plotting even then.

We’ve had an amazing few weeks here in England, what with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the kickoff to the Olympics, and just yesterday, the Queen’s “Birthday parade” and the “Trouping of the Colour” – something akin to the Queen’s troop inspection, down there on the Mall.  As I was catching some of the procession yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of a song by the boys Great Big Sea, called “If I Were King”.  It got me wondering: what would I do, given the opportunity, to set the world afire as Queen?

Oh sure, I’d have to start with ditching the metric system.  I mean, I’m sure it’s great and all, but I’m just about done with screwed up cakes and cookies.  What? That’s too self-indulgent?  Hm.

Okay, well, then let me speak for my people.  My gorgeous, smart, sexy, stunning, dedicated, overworked, exhausted, want-to-exercise, sometimes-hate-our-selves, kick ass people.  What could I do for MY people, to make the world better, for the Plus athletes in all of us?

1. Everyone works 8 hours a day.  But only 8 hours.  This includes moms and managers, bus boys and grandmas.  We “work” in some form – but only for 8 hours a day and when it’s done, we gots time for healthy dinners and walks in the park and maybe even flirting with some hot dude in the Quickmart.  I believe that this place exists, and it’s called France, or Italy, depending on your assessment.  It’s a good place.

2. There are bike lanes in every city.  And none of this “painted” stuff – real bike lanes which prevent my people from getting hit by lorries or buses or doors from Trixies texting in one hand and checking lipstick with another.  They make it safe for all of us to ride where we want. My people, the people of occasional knee problems and a preference for non-weight-bearing exercise, they love the bike lanes.  They thrive.

3. We spend as much to develop effective Sports Bras as the lady did who designed Spanx.  The result is a wicking, separating, flattering, no-bounce dream of a sports bra which is far more comfortable and has an equal impact on the waistline as Spanx.  My people become more toned – because they are running now without threat of pain/bounce/chafe-o-rama- and get there without the aid of 10% lycra and at a cost that could (and should) be spent on LBDs and killer heels.

4. Every person who wants to become a runner gets a “runner starter kit” desgined specifically for plus-size athletes, and comes complete with a support group and coach to run their first 5k.  The starter kit has the right shoes (and of course comes with a free fitting!), shorts or capris which prevent chafing; a sports bra which neither dislocates your shoulder to put on nor leaves angry red welts to remove; and a shirt which neither clings to the boobage, the belly, or the butt, but rather skims appropriately in all locations while covering chicken wings aplenty.  It also includes a watch with run/walk intervals that you can actually USE and a water bottle pack which fits your waist – not the waist of Mary Kate Olsen (sorry, MK).

5. Running stores, retailers, apparel makers, etc. all offer at least one item from every collection up to a size 3X.  It is priced the same as the regular collection, in the same colors, and sold IN THE SAME STORES as the other parts of the collection – not online, but in a physical store. My people would get to try things on without the looming threat of yet another post office return.

6. Any store which claims to want to improve the health and wellbeing of the community around them, and which holds a license to sell sporting apparel shall hold, once per week, a workout course of some sort which caters to new athletes and only new athletes.  It is free, and it does not require the participants to drive somewhere else to do it.  It is also be realistic – no lunges, no scary shit.  Simple, effective, easy stuff.  Maybe (shock!) a walking group.  Maybe an “introduction to running” group, where you run for one minute, and walk for five.  EASY. NOT SCARY.  FREE.  Minimize barriers to entry and people will come.  HOW HARD IS THIS?

7.  All of my people learn how to swim as part of the elementary school education.  Yep. All of them.  Maybe I’d make it a requirement that you couldn’t get a license to drive if you didn’t pass a cycling test as well – because as many of us know, most of our journeys are under a mile – and why do them by car if you know how – and can physically do them – by bike?

8.  Overweight athletes are on the cover of major running, cycling, and triathlon magazines as frequent as their percentage of the sample of athletes they represent would require.  For example, runners, who comprise at least 40% of the running population (best guess, on a country-wide basis in the US) are on the cover of Runner’s World 40% of the year, reflecting the REAL look and feel of the running community.  Same for Triathlete magazine, and Bicycling (on a % basis).  Apparel stories for all magazines would include – for EVERY issue – recommendations on purchasing for Plus athletes to encourage more Plus athletes to be active.  Again, part of the social contract.   If Runner’s World, Triathlete, and Bicycling, just to name a few, can’t spare the column inches, we’d have a few suggestions for the stories they could trim down.  Just a few.

9.  Core strength for everyone! I’d enlist my former PT to run the nation’s course on “how to build a better core”.

10.  Every workplace has showers and a place to change before or after a workout.  This is good because in the Kingdom, at least once per week we commute on our own steam. We walk or run, or cycle.  But we need a place to shower or change before or after, and so we have it.  And no skanky showers, either.

Yep.  I think those are good starters for the Kingdom of Plus Athletes.  Wouldn’t it be grand?


For now, we’ll just have to take on all of those challenges on our own.  And yes, we can do it.  And yes, we can keep driving the bus.  But gosh, sometimes, don’t you wish it was just a little easier?  I know I do.

Selecting plus-size triathlon apparel for racing and training – the Spring 2012 guide for Athenas

Most triathletes admit that great gear and clothing makes training and racing more comfortable and efficient.  For plus-size triathletes (who manufacturers typically define as anyone over a US Size 16), the desire to look good – and feel good – while racing and training is no different than that of the average triathlete.   But until recently, the simple act of finding apparel in Athena sizing was nearly impossible.

Not anymore.  In the past few years, manufacturers have slowly begun to offer running, cycling, and triathlon apparel ranging from sizes from 16-24.  Danskin, Moving Comfort, Nike, C9 for Target, Pearl Izumi, Zoot, Terry Bicycles, New Balance, Sugoi, REI, Junonia, and Aerotech Designs each offer apparel in a variety of sizes, technical sophistication, and styles to suit everyone from the first-time Sprinters to the returning Ironman.  For many women, though, selecting training or racing apparel online (the only location most are sold) remains a challenge.

As an Athena with her eye on the Virgin London Triathlon in September, I’m searching for a multi-purpose top for run and bike training, and a pair of cycling capris and shorts for my daily ride to work and weekend long rides to the country.  I’m also in need of a new racing kit (top and shorts).  Here’s a quick view to how I’ve selected my kits, and a few rules to keep in mind as you shop this season.

1.    Prioritize your needs.   Purchasing Athena triathlon clothing requires compromise.  It’s unlikely that you’ll find a piece which is as flattering as your favorite little black dress, in the color you were born to wear, with the technical fabric worthy of an Ironman, at a bargain price.  Before you begin, consider what’s most important to you – and assess your options accordingly.

This season, I want comfortable training apparel that looks great.  On the bike, that means flat seams, great fabrics, and a women’s specific chamois; for both cycling and running, I want a multi-purpose top that fits but isn’t too baggy, and won’t catch the wind.

For my racing kit, I want a supportive and fast-drying, cool top which will fit under my wetsuit; and a pair of racing shorts with a stash pocket.  Both should be quick-drying but supportive fabric, with no risk of chafing.  Great colors are a bonus.

2.    Your measurements rule.  Write down these three measurements:  the widest part of your bust; your natural waist; and the widest part of your hips.  Understanding your sizing makes reviewing apparel options simple and eliminates unnecessary purchases and returns.  Generally speaking, once you know your sizing, you’ll also understand which manufacturers you can rely on for purchases.

From smallest to largest (Size 16 or XXL to Size 26), search for your apparel from retailers in this order: Zoot, Sugoi and Pearl Izumi; Danskin, Moving Comfort, and New Balance; and Terry Bicycles, Nike, Aerotech Designs and Junonia.

At 44-38-49 (measurements I’m certain my grandmother and mother will be appalled that I’m admitting, but which I offer in service to you, dear reader),  I limit my search to those with generous XXL sizing and dedicated plus sizes.   

3.    Select clothes that are well made and fit you well – and which may not be specifically made for triathlon.  Triathlon apparel tends to run very close to the body, which can be a challenge for many Athenas.  But racing in baggy, cotton clothing can lead to painful chafing and make you look bigger than you are.  Why bother when there are plenty of clothes out there which can fit you properly?  For my search, I select clothing no more than 1.5” larger (or smaller) than my measurements.  I also considered running, yoga, or other cross-functional tops in addition to triathlon-specific tops.  Not sure what’s a technically superior short?  Look for flat seams, quick drying fabric, a non-bulky chamois, and comfortable leg openings.

The final selections

For training – comfortable gear that gets the job done.

The Shirt. Nike’s Extended Miler is great for everyday running and cycling.  (MSRP $42, 1X-3X)












The cycling capris. Terry Bicycles’ Knicker Plus capris (MSRP $100, 1X-4X) are  comfortable and ultra-flattering, and make early morning or evening rides a breeze. 

Terry's Knicker Plus tight handles the morning commute and then some.











The mac daddy training short. Pearl Izumi’s PRO In R Cool short (MSRP $150, XXL fits to 47.5” hip, with just enough stretch to suit our 49” tester) is a technical dream with non-binding waist and leg openings and a UPF 50+ that can cool the body’s surface temperature up to 5%, a significant benefit for plus-size athletes who can be challenged with temperature control.  


These shorts. The fit of an amazing piece of technical gear, great chamois. Check PI's sizing charts for details.













For racing: a kit to take you to the finish.

The swim/bike/run short.  Danskin’s 7” Tri Short (MSRP $52, to XXL/ 20 ) is long, lean, and worry free with flat seams, a light racing chamois; multi-panel, wicking construction; silicone leg grippers and a small back zip pocket.  A tried and true tri short practically fitting most up to size 22. (available at Danskin.com or REI.com).











Nike’s Women’s Shape Sport Top (MSRP $55, 1X-3X) isn’t made for Triathlon – but it serves a purpose for Athenas, works great under your wetsuit and promises to dry quickly.  Sturdy shelf-bra included; but feel free to supplement with your own.



There is something that happens when you become a regular runner.  You believe less in luck, and more in training.  Run any half marathon or marathon, and train seriously for it, and you begin to believe that with the right nutrition plan, training plan, pace buddies, shoes, gear, clothing, and attention, you can control how and when you finish that race.

For about 10 years, that’s how it went for me.  If I ran a bad race, it was usually on me – I either hadn’t trained enough, or hadn’t thought through the course.  If I got hurt it was on me.  I didn’t stretch enough, or I didn’t stop when the pain told me to.  In 2009, when plantar fasciitis reared its head while I was intermittently running (and still training), I didn’t listen up and slow down, and I paid in the end, with a two year condition that only recently healed after two bouts of PT and finally, a quick surgery.

Those of you who read regularly know that I moved to London from Chicago in 2011.  It was 10 weeks after surgery, and those first few weeks, months in London were tough.  I was in trainers every day, and the pain was still pretty regular.  By summer, it was getting better.  By September, it was gone.  I felt strong, and I had lost some weight, and I started to run again.  It was awesome.

I ran on the common by my house, and on the road when I traveled.  I ran so much when I was home in Cincinnat and Chicago at Christmas that I felt like I would never stop running again.  I felt the kind of joy that I remembered from those first days of running.  And so when, in mid-February, it snowed here, I felt like a kid who’d won the lottery – lucky, lucky, lucky to get to run on one of my favorite vistas – a park in snow.

I laced up my trainers and went out for a run.  It was a bit squishy – a bit slid-y. A bit wet.  I caught up with my brother and nephew building a snow fort, and we had a great time.  I ran home, and all was well.  And three hours later, I left my house to go to a Superbowl party, slipped on a patch of ice in front of my apartment, and felt my knee slam into itself in a way that wasn’t good.  I held up, and held on, for a minute.  Then I kept walking to the train.  By midnight, mid-way through the game, I couldn’t go down the stairs without it locking up.  The next day, I compounded the mistake in a pair of heels at work.

Six weeks later, I have the diagnosis.  I’ve been benched for that time, icing, resting, ibuprofening away here, and it’s not gotten any better.  Well, technically, that’s not true. I can now go down the stairs without flinching (but not without a rail).

I’ve managed to tear the meniscus in my knee in two places.  One on the inside left, one on the center of my left knee.  One would likely heal.  The other, not so much.  The doctor tells me that there’s an easy procedure to clean it up, a keyhole surgery where they trim down the cartilege or something and that makes it better.  I’m working out the logistics of a second opinion, a schedule, and a plan.

In the meantime, I’m pondering luck.  Maybe I’ve been lucky all these years to have so few injuries.  Maybe I’ve been stronger, and maybe now I’m just old and out of shape. I don’t really know.  I do know that this makes me want to throw things at a wall, and that’s not so good.  So I’m going back to the original plan – to have one.  Get a doc. Get an opinion. Get the surgery.  Get back out there.

Lucky as I may have been, I never saw that patch of ice, and I had no chance to adjust.  I was unlucky.  It happens.  So now it’s time to get to the pool, and walk while I can, and bottle the frustration of living in this lovely city which makes cycling a bit too dangerous and swimming a bit too inconvenient.  The excuses will have to go for awhile, while I try to get the groove back.

Luck’s a bitch.  But she’s got nothing on me, and my plan.

See you on the path….

So much to do, so little time….

I know, I know. It’s a common refrain. But these past few weeks have been a combination of screeching along at 80 MPH and then careening to a dead halt.

Mid-run with my nephew on London's Clapham Common during a recent snowstorm. The Kid and my brother certainly were fort-a-licious.

So, in no particular order, some not-so-inspirational Plus Runner updates for the week.

I might be racing on an Olympic track.I know, it’s scary.  But there’s this thing, and it’s through work, and I might just get to run a 100 meter dash on the Olympic track in London in early April.  COOL, eh???  I maintain it might be the slowest finish ever, but can you imagine???

I might be slightly hobbled in that endeavor by a torn MCL.  Yeah.  I’m trying to pretend that the screaming pain every time I step wrong on my left leg is just a figment of my imagination.  But it turns out that either a) not wearing heels for two years and then doing some downward stepathon in them might not have been the best plan or b) that sliparoo on the ice the day of our big snowfall here was worse than I thought.  In any case, I’ve been running-free for three weeks, and I am officially. a. lunatic.  Back to the pool, right?  At least till a doc gets up in there and tells me what’s the what.

Big races are lining up. Have you picked yours for the year?  More to come on this, but I did officially make the London ballot for the Olympic distance triathlon.  Here’s to recovering from whatever _this_ is and kicking butt come September.

But in the meantime, how terrible am I at 100 days of anything?  I biffed again this year on the 100 days, but MAD PROPS to Cindi Hammer and all the kids out there doing 100 days proud.  I am nothing if not humbled by your continued inspiration for the rest of us.

Tick tock. That’s the sound you hear of me eagerly awaiting the Spring 2012 Triathlete Magazine Buyer’s Guide, which should include a piece about the best triathlon apparel for plus size athletes (written by yours truly). Word’s still out on when it will hit the stands, but keep your eyes and ears peeled.

I learned how to fence last week. Gingerly, yes, but it reaffirmed my belief that you’re never too old to learn a new sport. Or to be a hyper-competitive crazyhorse who believes in fair play and rules, rules, rules.  It’s amazing they let me play team sports sometimes, I swear.  But honestly, fencing? Very cool.  And doesn’t require massive white bodysuits either, which was a refreshing realization.

We’re gearing up for spring travel around here.  Kruger National Park (South Africa) and Talinn, Estonia (not to mention a possible side-o to Dusseldorf) are all in the makings.  Got a recommendation?  A road or a hike I can’t miss?  This knee will NOT slow me down – send me your best stuff!!

And now, the good stuff.  Who needs free gear???  I have a few pieces of gear that were sent as testing pieces for this recent article, and though a few are dedicated to some of my besties, there will be at least one upcoming contest for readers….so watch this space for more news – the contest will be announced next week to celebrate the Plus Runner’s 3rd birthday!!!

Okay, gotta go get some shut-eye now.  Thanks for the readin, and see you on the path.

Oh, and one more coolest as all cool thing…my good friend Cindi was kind enough to nominate Plus Runner for a fitness magazine blog award.  How cool is she?  Very.  But if you’re feeling the luvvvvv, please have a vote.  And even if you’re not, well, thanks for stopping by…

Running Foundations

I have a lot of college-educated readers out there.  And lots who aren’t.  For those who never had the experience, when you first arrive at the halls of higher learning, you get handed a giant catalogue (or, sometimes, a very short list) of courses that you have to complete before you can do anything “fun”.  These are things like “Foundations of American History” and “Statistics 101”.  Or, if you’re me, “Remedial Spanish”.

As I was back on the path again on Saturday, I got to thinking that I was running through my own personal course of “Running Foundations”.  It’s a Freshman Year course.  It’s usually one that you wander into, occasionally hungover, and with questionable attire, sometimes wondering if you really should have had that late night Burrito the night before.  But alas, because you have made a commitment to better yourself and your life, you find yourself in a classroom (or on a path) at 8:00 a.m. on a day which usually involves sleeping in.  And for what?

Well, the premise is prety simple.  If you’ve never had a course in World History, and some day, you want to work for the United Nations, it might help to understand where all of the great countries in this world arose from.

Similarly, if you want to be the next Meredith Grey, you might want to attend Basic Hairdressing, while also figuring out how to tell the difference between an ACL and an MCL at Basic Physiology.

And if you want to some day run a half marathon, or a whole marathon, or even just get to a point where you can run regularly ( the equivalent of ALWAYS knowing where that MCL is), you have to slog through the early mornings, or the late nights, and the simple pain – and occasionally, outright fun –  of learning something you’ve never learned before.

I was thinking all of this because I’d been through Running Foundations long, long ago.  In the tail end of my law school career, I was interning at a large firm, overweight and out of shape, and I was in no condition to start running.  But I somehow decided I should try.  I got started with the basics, and embarked on a solid year of running short distances before I ever considered running anything long.

I feel very much like I’m back in Freshman year right now, re-learning how to do all of this again.  I seem to have forgotten some of the habits that I got into after years of Advanced Running (like the fact that I’m always only warmed up after about 3 miles) but on the up side, I am also continuously surprised and happy to be running again.

It’s like that first moment when you’re learning a new language and you realize that you can say more than “Oui” and “Non” and can, in fact, order a cup of coffee with some milk in it to go!  You want to do a little dance at the accomplishment, while recognizing that it’s probably still very small.  Indeed, a very small thing.

On Saturday, it was the realization for me that I was going to have no problem getting in a 3 mile run/walk, when I was about 2/3 of the way through.  It was going to be fine.  I felt like a pro coming back to audit the introductory course, but I didn’t care.  I knew how this early day of the Running Foundations class was going to end, and it was going to end well.  I was going to feel super strong, and happy, and I wasn’t going to want to crash out (at least not until later that day!).

And that’s probably the best part about coming back to the basics.  I do know how this path looks.  I do know how to navigate through the ups and downs of a return to running.  But in the meantime, I get the great days of hauling through the Common; of feeling like I’m actually FAST (???), and of knowing that I am absolutely in the right place, doing the right thing, to be healthy and strong.

I’m not quite sure what my “advanced” course looks like these days.  Will I ever try to run another half marathon?  Who knows.  It seems awfully crazy to me right now, I’ll be honest.  For me, I may just be one of those continuing “General Studies” majors who goes on to sample everything – and that would be okay.  But for now, I’m going to put in my time on the Foundations.  I’m going to commit to running a few times a week, and to cross-train on the off days – and like any good Freshman, I’m going to plan for some party time.

And as Foundations go, that’s good enough for me.


See you on the path!


Chicago Marathon 2011: Fired up to follow your friends?

Hey kids –

It’s that time again – my favorite weekend of the year in Chicago.  Alas I’m not there this season, but you can be to cheer on your family and friends at their big day.

Follow this link to the 2009 Marathon spectator guide which I threw together – just cross-reference to make sure the map is still the same for 2011 (I believe it will be fairly close, as there are few changes year to year).  And remember the rules of spectating:

1) Wear layers.

2) Be prepared to help anyone you see! Water, gatorade, pretzels, aspirin, and bodyglide are all welcome. If it’s hot, pack a cooler with ice for your runner!

3) Great signs make runners feel like you’re there just for them – add some eye contact and they’ll smile for just a minute.

4) Noise is what you need in the slow spots – after 19th Street, especially.

Good luck to all running!!!



The unbearable lightness of adventure

When was the last time you went out for a run and didn’t know the route home?  The last time you got on a bike and didn’t plan how far you’d go?  The last time you set off for an open water swim and didn’t know what the beginning, middle, and end would feel like?

Been awhile?   Unfamiliar with the feeling of getting lost?   Used to feeling like every workout is like an old episode of “Friends”, where you might not know the dialogue by heart, but you’re pretty sure Monica’s going to be anal retentive, Chandler’s going to make you spit milk out your nose, and Ross will make you glad you stopped dating that guy from the museum?  Yeah, I know.  If you’re a creature of habit, or you’ve been training for anything – and training close to home – the answer is probably “yes, it’s been awhile” – because we always advocate that you know exactly where you are, at all times on a run, on a bike, on a swim.  In today’s safety-conscious world, and particularly as  woman runners, we say “know your route” and “be prepared” and all that stuff.

But that means life can get pretty boring.  It can stop feeling challenging.  It can make you forget why you started getting active in the first place.

So every once in awhile, I like recommend something radical:  Do something so different, so challenging, that it makes you throw your playbook – if not out the window – at least to the back seat.

I did this last week, and though it was one of the most challenging vacations I’ve had in awhile, it was by far the most rewarding, as I returned to an active holiday with absolutely no pain and no issues.

I sneakily convinced a friend to join me in Wales for three days.  There, with the help of Anna from Drover Holidays, we had picked out a three-day-tour of the Brecon Beacons National Park – a gorgeous landscape of the Black Mountains and green hills that offered the Beacons Way – an 80+ mile path that runs through three distinct segments of the park.  We started with the day 1 hike up The Skirrid just outside Abergavenny.

Where’s the adventure, you ask?

Climbing to the top of "The Skirrid" on Day 1 of the Beacons Way.

Hiking in Wales should have been pretty easy for me – I mean, I’ve been hiking now since I was 18, thanks to my dad and stepmom, who introduced us to the joys of Buffet to Prevent Bear Attacks while wandering through the western US national parks.  But I’ve never – not once – hiked using a back-country permit, or hiked where I didn’t have a clearly marked trail laid out in front of me with cairns or markers every 20 feet.  I’m a bit of a wuss that way (and hey, Colorado isn’t a place you go off trail if you’re only hauling a day pack.)  But as I found out while researching this trip, hiking (or “walking” in the UK) is different here than it is in the states.

Unlike the states, here there is a principle which allows any person to cross anyone’s land in order to get to the next plot.  The Right to Roam allows right of access across open lands, moors, national park areas (which may include private property within park borders) and several other areas.  What that means, in practice, is that you can walk anywhere in England and Wales, as long as you’re carrying a good map and you’re on the recommended route.

But as we found out last week, the route is not quite what you might think.  That route might just tell you that there’s a gate in the North East corner of that one farm on your map – but the footpath might or might not be visible to get you there.  The next farm’s gate should be through those woods, and over a creek – but you’ll need to read your map closely and find your way carefully.  In short, you not only have to be able to read the map – but you have to be able to translate what you’re seeing with your eyes (and feeling with your feet) into what’s on the paper in front of you.

So for me, this was the first bit of the adventure that was truly new.  Though I’d orienteered a few times before (and thank GOD for Jenny’s map-reading class and for the orienteering day with the girls), this was truly putting my skills to the test.  Second, it required a level of concentration I’m not used to bringing to a hike! We had set out on the first day for a 10.6 mile endurance fest – up two small mountains, with a large valley (and many sheep) in between – and a descent that would bring weaker thighs to their breaking point at the 10 mile mark.  But for the mid-point of the trek, where we wandered through the valley – it was a great and refreshing challenge (ahem, with occasional cussing and much sheep shit) to find our way through the farms.

It was also refreshingly, delightfully, sweatily difficult going.  It was vertical in ways I hadn’t done in two years.  It was, however, also beautiful.  In ways I hadn’t seen in two years.

So what’s the big deal about adventuring? 

On the second ridge of the day after Hatterall Hill

Well, the simple answer is this: it’s about doing something you thought you might never be able to do.  And succeeding.  I guess this week, so long away from running, and so recently back from surgery, I was worried about whether I’d be able to take it.  Would I be able to do the mileage?  Would I be able to handle the demands?  We built in a day of cycling after the first day – 30 miles of slight climbs and one very long descent – but even the cycling had its moments of toughness on the heels of a massive day of hiking.  And yet, I did it.  My traveling buddy and I both lamented our dead legs – but they kept us going.  And the third day, when we called an audible on our planned route but still did about 10-12 miles of gorgeous hiking along the Talybont Reservoir, country lanes, and one gorgeous canal – we were both pretty happy that we’d been able to get it all done.

And the hidden point in all of it is this:  we hadn’t done any of these trips before.  We let someone else do the planning – and she handed us the maps, the route, and the gear (for the ride at least).  Anna was our tour master and by giving up the planning to someone else,  we took a risk.  But it was a comfortable risk, a calculated risk, and in the end, we had the trip we needed to test our limits but still have a fun time.  We were happy to head home at the end of three days with more than 20 miles of hiking and 30 miles of cycling under our belts.

And part of the test, part of the challenge – was not knowing exactly what we’d find over that ridge.  Would it be another false summit?  Another thigh-crunching uphill on the bike?  A descent that would test our faith in modern braking technology?  It was, as my friend put it, like being on a rolleroaster you’ve never ridden – wondering what’s around the corner.  It was the best, most unexpected fun we could have had as two adults roaming around the countryside.

So the lesson I think I’m sharing today is this:  find a way to take off the training wheels if you can.  Go find a completely new trail.  Go do something you’ve never – ever – considered before.  Oh sure, have a safety net.  Take your phone and tell someone where you’re going.  Take your water and all that jazz.  But just once in the next thirty days, consider going somewhere that makes you nervous.  Make your palms sweat and your conscience ask “are you sure?”  Because if you do it smartly (and you KNOW how to do it smartly), you’ll find that you absolutely can find what I found:  you’ve still got it.  You have that sense that you had as a ten year old that there are adventures around every corner, and things that will stop your breath with their beauty.  I found mine in wild ponies and heather moors, in centuries-old ruins and green paths on mile high ridges.  But you can find yours closer to home, if you only look.

A little heather for our journey....wide open space, and a view of the mountain we came from in the distance.

Find your local park.  Find your closest National Park.  Get on your boots.  And get out there.  It’s an adventure you simply won’t regret.




Inspiration Monday

Happy Monday kids!  I wanted to call today’s column Inspiration Monday because well, it’s a place we all know well.  Monday – also known as the day on which our dreams sometimes begin (and sometimes end) for our weeks of healthy activity, good eating, and finding life balance.

It all sounds so impossible sometimes, doesn’t it?  I say this as a woman who is currently sitting in a hotel room, working for the 10th hour in the day, about to go to a (I’m sure wonderful) working dinner with colleagues, which will terminate sometime before I begin sleeping in my soup.

But if I manage to stay awake, tomorrow morning, I’ll be cruising (early. very early) to get a glimpse of the Arch de Triumph or maybe just the Seine.  It’s a good life I’m in right now, and I’m looking forward to exploring Paris a bit on foot.

As many of you know (and are probably tired of hearing), losing a little bit of mobility has driven me to the slight edge of insanity over the past twelve months.  Arriving in London bike-less and unable to run, it’s been even harder for me to find that balance.  And yet, I found myself so very, very grateful these last few months just to have that simple act of walking become a part of my daily life again.  When I think of the joy of walking without pain – well, it makes me so much more aware of everything we stand to lose.

Do you ever wonder what it might be like to lose that mobility we all take for granted?  Does it ever seem unimaginable?  So it’s doubly hard, then to imagine what it must be like to have lost it – and found it again.

Today’s Health section in the NYTimes profiles one such athlete, John Carson, who was struck while training a few years back.  Diagnosed with a severed spine, he took his inspiration from Lance Armstrong, Grete Waitz, and Alberto Salazar, and committed to racing in whatever way he could, whether that meant wheel-chair, hand-cycle, or – as it currently does – on two legs he can’t quite feel.

He is, quite simply, an amazing man, with an amazing story.  And yet – keep reading.  Because somewhere in that brief summary by Tara Parker Pope is an athlete like the rest of us – (or some of the more dedicated ones we have known) who is now transitioning to find a quieter, more manageable way to fit training into his life.  He’s finding he has limits, and he’s going to work within them.  He’s done with Ironmans this weekend (I know, right?).  He’s going to spend more time with his wife, maybe start a family.  He’s going to go back to “average” training, and an “average” life.  But he’ll know what we all know – and sometimes just forget: that every day we have where we are healthy and able is a gift.  And that we should use it to the best possible means we have.

So get out there.  Go for a walk, or a swim, or just challenge your kid to a game of soccer.  Get sweaty and red-faced, and maybe even pull a muscle or two.  You’ll survive. Your body is built for it.  Take advantage of it.  And then say thank you.

See you on the path…..


Putting on your wetsuit: it’s not for sissies

I’ve been getting quite a few questions about wetsuits lately, and thought it would be helpful for those of you who don’t train in a group to see a demo of the best way to put on your wetsuit.

My best experience putting on a wetsuit is always at dawn on a beach somewhere, when no one else is around and the suit slides right on.  The worst are usually mid-morning, on a beach somewhere, when there’s an audience of non-athletes who are just trying to find ways to amuse themselves. 

Now, fair warning:  this model (provided to us by Xterra) seems to just slip right in to her suit.  I can honestly say that never, in my 12+ years of racing, have I “slipped in” to a wetsuit.  But she’s got the idea right.  It’s like pantyhose, only tighter. It’s like a hot, thick, pair of leather pants with a chubby liner.  Right.  It sounds appealing, doesn’t it?  Well, it’s not all bad.  Just remember the following tips before you try this at home:

1) Never, ever ever, ever ever do this when you’re hot and sweaty.  At least try to start from a position of cool, calm dryness.  If you can’t, well, just be prepared to be dripping when you’re done.

2) Consider using Body Glide around your ankles to help with the on/off of legs (I glide up the back of my calves).  You can also use something called “Suit Juice” which is a godsend if you can find it. 

3) Body Glide the underside of your arms (the part that lays flat against the rubber by your bra) if you’re wearing a sleeveless suit. 

4) Body Glide the back of your neck where the suit ties up – this is especially true if your suit is a bit big on top (as mine is because I had to size up). 

5) Don’t get into your suit more than 30 minutes before your start.  Otherwise, it’s like a sausage-fest-bakeoff in the morning heat and you’ll have worked yourself into a hot state before getting in the water.  Put it off and then put it on.

6) Take one last bathroom break before getting in the suit.  Yep, didn’t think of that, did you?

7) If the suit is a bit short for you in the legs, that’s okay – the most important part of hte fit is to not have a gap underneath your crotch.  Pull the legs up if you must, but if there’s space between the suit and your crotch (the low-rider syndrome), shimmy the suit up until it’s even, and then test by connecting the back closure.  If the suit is pulling on you in the front, try to adjust, swim in it once for testing, and decide if it’s the right size for you.

That’s it from here.  Enjoy the video.  I’d put one up of me doing it, but I just can’t afford the hassle of becoming the wetsuit pinup model 🙂