Who am I, if I cannot run?

“If I can’t run, much less get up and walk across the room to plug my iPhone into the wall, then who am I?”

I ask myself this question as I sit on my futon, propped up by pillows, legs extended out in front of me, the dwindling red battery on my cellular device an annoying reminder of my hopefully temporary immobility.

Diagnoses: A pelvic stress fracture and bilateral knee dislocations.

Wonderful, I know.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with major injuries—I’ve overcome some serious health problems growing up, as I've written about previously. Apparently, the problems just decided to flare up again now. I was doing great—training hard, winning races and feeling good—then, BAM. 

All I know is now I’m feeling completely and totally helpless, and it sucks. A lot.

 My finish in an April cross-country 5-K, where I finished second overall female and first in my age group. Credit: Ed Grenzig

My finish in an April cross-country 5-K, where I finished second overall female and first in my age group. Credit: Ed Grenzig

“If I’m not a writer-artist-runner, then who am I?” 

Being a runner who has belonged to high school track and cross-country teams and is part of a running club, I know injury comes with the territory of repetitive stress exercise (e.g. running). And as I sit here, freshly injured, I can’t help but think about the concept of runners’ identity as runners. Is it the ability to run that makes us who we are, or is “runner” a state of mind?

Something tells me as I flex my sore knees and feel throbbing in my hip that it’s the latter, not the former. I’m at least three months out of what I would consider “training” at this point, but don’t think the sedentary days before me rob me of the runner piece of my identity.

I have experienced my fair share of runner’s highs, I have clocked tens of thousands of miles, and have worn out close to 50 pairs of sneakers and racing flats over the past 12 years. These are things I can’t forget, no matter how far I am from lacing up my sneakers and gliding out the door.

“If I’m not grateful, then who am I?”

Gratitude is something runners have but often forget. And it's something injured runners must never lose.

It can be tough. I know it. As I sit here pecking away at my keyboard I agonize in my head all the fitness I am losing. How I’m missing out on scoring points for my running club. How I can’t use my usual method of stress-relief (running) after a long day of writing. How I miss it.

But instead of driving myself crazy lamenting over what I’m missing, I focus on what I’m doing. My injuries have given me the opportunity to slow down and spend more time at my desk. So I feel a lot less rushed when it comes to meeting deadlines and pitching new stories. I’m home all day with the cat and the dog, who don’t seem to mind one bit.

 Foosa the Alaskan Malamute, left, and Rocky the One-Eyed Cat, right. Good animals make for good company. Credit: Erica Cirino

Foosa the Alaskan Malamute, left, and Rocky the One-Eyed Cat, right. Good animals make for good company. Credit: Erica Cirino

Injury forces a runner to reevaluate their goals. I am no Olympian. I am fast, but not the fastest. There is no need for me to truly “compete.” When I can come back to running, there will be no more racing for me every weekend, as I had been doing. Instead, I’ll carefully pick and choose the races I want to compete in. I’ll be happy with a few easy runs a week.

Injured or well, slow or fast, a runner is a runner. It’s an identity that cannot be taken away.

“I am a runner.”

 

A holiday-themed running playlist that’s actually not cheesy

 This time last year, it was actually cold in New York. It hit 70 today...so, neither a face mask nor layers were necessary for my run today.

This time last year, it was actually cold in New York. It hit 70 today...so, neither a face mask nor layers were necessary for my run today.

First off, I will start with the obligatory “HAPPY HOLIDAYS” wishes to you and your loved ones....

OK, now that’s over, I must admit: I’ve never been big on holidays—too much hubbub, too much drama, too much uneaten food, too much tossed-away giftwrap…. It’s essentially a sustainabilitarian’s worst nightmare. (Sustainabilitarian…new word for 2016, Oxford English Dictionary?) 

If you too are tired of “too much” around this time of year, I wholeheartedly recommend going for a run.

If you’re a regular runner, sticking to your schedule can help you maintain a calm and even temperament even as crazed holiday shoppers manically cut you off on the highway or obliviously bump shopping carts into your car at the supermarket (I stocked up on food last week to avoid the latter).

If you’re an occasional runner or don’t think it’s for you, if not running then I recommend at least being active this holiday season. Whether it’s cycling, yoga, strength training, walking, swimming, skateboarding, or whatever, just do something to get moving.

You’ll feel better. Trust me.

Like fresh mozzarella cheese and fine sopressata, running and other activities pair well with good music. It can help get you motivated to move when your mind urges your body to be sedentary. And, though some people like it, and I respect that, holiday music--the um, "cheesy" variety (I think you know what I mean)--drives me off the wall.

So, to that end, I present to you an approximately 35-minute-non-cheesy-yet-holiday-themed running playlist to get you going during these hectic and emotional winter weeks.  

Either listen to it all in one run, or set your mp3 player or phone on shuffle for a surprise. I’ve laid out a workout plan, if you’re so inclined. Take it to the track, treadmill, trail or roads. And enjoy!

Erica's non-cheesy holiday-themed running playlist:

Easy pace (warm-up):

1. Rise to the Sun – Alabama Shakes (3:09)

“Rise to the Sun”: Do your workout in the morning, since we have a little less sunlight this time of year

Endurance pace (60-70% effort):

2. One Big Holiday – My Morning Jacket (5:21)

“One Big Holiday”: Included for its title…I dig the percussion. It will help you work up to a nice tempo quickly.

Quick tempo (80% effort):

3. Holiday – Vampire Weekend (2:18)

“Holiday”: Another aptly titled song (with thematic lyrics) with a high-energy feeling to help you kick it up for a few minutes. Add some spice to your workout by changing pace like this. It burns calories and challenges your lungs…and leg muscles.

Back to endurance pace (60-70% effort):

Coney Island Winter – Garland Jeffreys (3:47)

“Coney Island Winter”: Well, it’s winter. And I’m from N.Y. so this had to be included. 

Winter Windows – Sea Wolf (3:51)

“Winter Windows”: Another “winter”-titled song.

From a Window Seat – Dawes (4:30)

“From a Window Seat”: If you had to travel this holiday season, I’m so, so sorry. But this song is just awesome.

Heartbeat – Kopecky Family Band (3:12)

“Hearbeat”: This time of year should be about being around the ones you love. So, “heartbeat”….

Quick tempo (80% effort):

New Year’s Day – U2 (4:18)

“New Year’s Day”: Kind of the end of the holiday season, hence it is near the end of this playlist. Finish strong, pick up the pace!

Back to endurance pace (60-70% effort):

Karma Police – Radiohead (4:20)

Easy pace (cool-down):

Closer to the Sun – Slightly Stoopid (2:26)

"Closer to the Sun": For the science geeks who know that, due to its tilt and elliptical orbit, the Earth is closest to the sun in the wintertime.

peace. love. run.


Lingering thoughts:

·      Do you have any non-cheesy running/workout songs to recommend?

·      Do you let your fitness routine slide during the holidays?

·      Where is your favorite place to run in the winter/holiday season?

 Merry Christmas and happy howl-idays from me and Foo to you.

Merry Christmas and happy howl-idays from me and Foo to you.

Why Sunday rundays rock and how to train smarter

 Reposted pic from my  Instagram  feed: Here I'm doing some ski jumpers after a 4-mile Sunday run.

Reposted pic from my Instagram feed: Here I'm doing some ski jumpers after a 4-mile Sunday run.

For some runners, Sunday is a day of total rest after six days of hard training. For me, it’s always been a “fun run” day—that is, a day to try a new road route or trails.

Today, with the real-feel temp hovering around 35 degrees, I donned a panoply of running apparel (from my old Skins leggings to my black Under Armour long-sleeve to my favorite Asics jacket) before heading out for my mid-morning Sunday run. While I love wearing colorful run gear I also love all-black getups. They make me feel fashionably classic and polished…yet intense.

Mid-morning, if you don’t already know, is a choice time to run, especially in the winter: the sun’s been up long enough for the earth to heat up a bit, there’s less traffic and you’ll still have that morning energy to power through your run.

I lucked out today: total sunshine, and my layers kept me just warm enough. My Sunday runday was made even more enjoyable with a good music playlist—an eclectic mix of the Alabama Shakes, Lake Street Dive, Brandi Carlile, Beirut and a dash of Neil Young.

Some runners enjoy silence, just the sound of their own breath and their sneakers slapping the pavement. I like the quiet when on trails, but on roads, I can’t stand the sounds of suburbia: the whizzing of cars, the whining of leaf blowers (ugh, the worst!) and the whirring of planes overhead. Music helps me focus. 

My new route wound around a few relatively quiet neighborhoods, only necessitating I follow one busy road for about a quarter mile, all the while maintaining what I felt was a relatively easy pace.

In all I completed a little over four miles in 29 minutes flat—about 7:15 minute/miles. Not bad for going “easy.” When I got back home I followed up with some extra cardio (ski-jumpers) and five minutes of core work.

If I’ve learned anything in my 10 years as a runner, it’s to train smarter, not necessarily harder. These post-run exercises are just a taste of what I’ve been doing lately to become better runner.

In high school and into my college years, I used to run 7 days a week, three to four miles a day, ALWAYS at tempo (about 80%) pace. While I was incredibly fast (and developed an enviable lung capacity), I realized this wasn’t a sustainable way to train.

Running is all about posterity. When developing a training regime (which should be flexible—remember, always listen to your body), it’s important to think long-term. Ask yourself these two key questions:

·      Can I keep this up physically? Will this training regime lead me down a path to injury?

·      Can I keep this up mentally? Will this training regime burn me out psychologically?

After a summer of successful long-distance road racing, I shook up my training routine to prepare me for the winter and spring track seasons. What’s my repertoire looking like? It incorporates yoga, strength training, running and cycling. It’s energizing, fun and upends the usual “runners train by running” mantra. This diverse routine has made me stronger, more flexible and less prone to injury and mental burnout.

So, at the end of another great Sunday runday, I challenge you to rethink your running routine. How can you improve it to become a better, smarter, more sustainable runner?

Lingering thoughts:

·      What is your favorite cold-weather running gear?

·      What colors do you tend to wear when you run? Do you have a running gear style?

·      What’s your favorite running music? Artists, albums, genres, etc….