Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Highs and Lows of a Beginning Running Practice

In the past, I would have considered what I'm doing, in terms of my running, training. As in, I'm training for this 10K. But I see running differently than any other athletic endeavor in which I've participated. It is a meditation or more specifically it is a reorganization of the physical as linked to the mental. When the book ChiRunning described running as a practice, I realized that's exactly how I felt. I've officially started a running practice.

Historically, I've always wanted to be a runner. I have always admired the simplicity, the high, the legs. But as a teenager and a young adult, I hated every drudging step. I thought it was like being tortured in a vat of concrete. How could anything be so dull and agonizing? Then last year, my friend and uber athlete Kellie gave me a few, life-changing pointers for better running technique. I tried it a few times and couldn't believe how much of a difference it made. I still was not ready to start a practice however. Then a couple months ago, I read Born to Run. Kellie's tips got me to the cliff and Born to Run push-kicked me off. Born to Run tricked me into believing I was a natural if I practiced and pulled up that instinct. ChiRunning is fine tuning the tips and keeping me from clawing back up the cliff walls and questioning if this is even a good idea.

In the excited beginnings of my practice, running seemed so easy that I couldn't understand why I had never liked it. I went for distances I would have never even thought to attempt so early before. Four miles on the road and five to seven miles on the trail. I couldn't believe it. But I'm here to report that the honeymoon is over now. The regularity of my runs has become a true practice and the excitement has deflated, though the drive to work on the form and perfect an injury-free lightness and endurance still pushes me out the door. But now four miles is tougher than it was before, oddly. And the one time I ran seven miles on the trails seems out of reach for the time being. The best part about considering running a practice is that I know to go with what feels doable until I can build upon the base. I don't log miles. I don't wear a watch. I have a loose idea of the distance just because I know my area so well and because Husband rides the same trails on his mountain bike, but other than that I have no desire to measure anything more about my running. I'm obsessed with form and the meditation of it; of being entirely absorbed by the process, and enjoying the after high . I'm dedicated to the pure practice of it. So far, this is working. We'll see how it goes.

There have been a couple situations though that have made me question the sanity of a pure practice. The day that I ran seven miles on the trail, I felt great. The route I ran was 3.5 miles up a slight grade, then I turned around and came back down. The trail is a dried creek bed tucked in by yellow-leafed oaks and green-grass hills. The trail is rocky, though not too bad, and side ravines rise and dip. It is stunning. When I was running back down that day, at about mile five, I had to go to the bathroom, poop as it were, and the more I ran, the more the pressure built. I stopped to walk, a little worried, and the pressure subsided. I ran - had to poop. Walked - it went away. I was feeling so good otherwise that I didn't want to walk, y'know? It was the first time I legitimately felt like a runner and the poop pressure was stealing my thunder. So, I ran until I seriously thought I was going to shit my pants. Like, seriously. So seriously that I frantically looked off the side of the trail. The phrase Does a bear shit in the woods kept repeating in my mind because -- I don't know why, I was just kinda panicking. Then I'd think, Really, am I about to do this? This trail is not a crowded one, but there are walkers with dogs now and again, very few runners and more occasionally mountain bikers who are either laboring up the path or whizzing back down it. When the thought of shitting my leggings no longer seemed funny and my throat closed and my face broke out in a cold flush, I jumped down a small ravine, ripped down my pants and squatted. I grabbed my baby-blue baseball cap off my head to blend more with nature though I was pretty well hidden. Two mountain bikers flew down the trail. Only if they had been jedi masters would they have seen me. When I was done, and it only took seconds, I looked around at the leaves. Large, splaying oak leaves were under foot and when I picked one up I was surprised that it was soft, not crumbly hard like I thought it would be. It was near luxurious as toilet paper. When I stood and looked around, I felt equally liberated and mortified. What kind of line had I crossed? Was I now in some sort of club? I finished my run, feeling physically great, but jazzed by embarrassment, trying to shake it off. I giggled all day about it.

I've taken great measure to get my poop on before my runs now. Kellie told me to pack handie wipes. I told her she should really try a partially-dried oak leaf. Luxurious!

So, last weekend, I did an easy three miles around my neighborhood, down to the ocean and back. To the ocean, there is a tiny downhill grade so I felt great going down and I knew after the turn around I would have to put in a little work. A few blocks after the turn around, I had to pee, but nothing serious so I plodded along, focusing on my form. It seems that when tightening the core and relaxing the limbs, the kegel muscle is rendered useless because I then proceeded to pee about a third of my bladder's contents into my pants. Not a spot in the chones, but a good 1/4c. right in my leggings. For those of you who know me, I only wear black leggings because I sweat so much it looks like I sport a pussy halo after working out. Wearing black leggings apparently comes in handy when you pee your pants too. And the thing is, though I blushed and couldn't believe what was happening, I didn't stop running. What was I gonna do, really? So I focused on my form and plugged away and out of curiosity, tried to do a kegel while running without much luck. I must work on that type of coordination. Four blocks from my house, I peed another 1/4c and didn't even flinch this time. I shook my head. Fuck it. When I got home, I shouted my hellos and sprinted to the bathroom and peed out the last of it, this time in a toilet. As washed out my leggings, I wondered what this practice was turning me into. Mainly, I felt that if I gave up on my practice now, THAT would be humiliating. One month I shit in the woods, the next I piss my pants all to give up? Fuck that. I feel I have to earn the right to laugh this off. I mean, right? Or does a practice entail the endurance of self humiliation; strip one bare of their faculties to realize it doesn't matter. The focus matters. The form matters. The connection matters. The tapping in, this is what matters. I dunno. This is what I'm telling myself anyway.

All this, in part, to raise money for a basketball program too. Lord, what I do for the kids. Speaking of which, thank you so much to those who have so generously donated to the cause. For those still considering, push that button!

I leave you with a few photos of my girls ballers.

Maya, waiting to inbound the ball during a game.Maya, waiting to defend during a game.I am invested in the Samo girls basketball program for Maya, for my own legacy and for the ones who will eventually take it over. Mina's ball skills are no joke. She is Samo's future.Mina plays in a YWCA league. She's at a little higher level than these girls, and she lives to hear the parents on the side line ooh and aah at her skills; her left, her right, her crossover, her steals. Last week she hit a buzzer beater and left her hand in the air like she was Kobe. We almost died from pride. Here she is on a fast break, after stealing the ball.

Anyway, practice makes practice; it takes and gives love. Perfection is bullshit.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Girls Basketball Fundraiser

I'm going to run The Malibu Creek 10K Trail Run on March 7 to raise money for Maya's high school girls basketball program. Please read my previous post about how we parents and our athletes have to raise every penny for our teams. Details of the run are here. Looks fun, right?

Twenty-five years ago, I came out of the same girls basketball program that Maya plays in now. We weren't any good then. We got no respect, as a program. We played to empty, make-shift stands in the south gym. We played in shoddy uni's. We had nothing. The only time we made it to CIF's, we played Crenshaw first round, who I believe won state that year. When we walked into their gym, they asked, "Where's the basketball team?"

I watched the varsity girls play last night in a sick battle against our rival, Inglewood where our star senior took over by the fourth quarter, and we won to screams and yelling and clapping and competitive cheer squads trying to out-do each other. The wooden, north-gym stands were full. The UCLA head coach was there, taking notes. Cheerleaders made an alley way for our girl athletes to run down when their names were announced! They had warmups with their names on the back. It was a sight, I tell you. Nobody would ever ask Where's the basketball team when they entered anywhere and that's largely because they are branded now, marketed; they are announced and looked up to. I'm gushing over this. I'm not jealous or wish-I-had-it in the least. I know I helped pave the way. In any event, all this branding -- not mention the basics -- takes money, which is tough on us, but I'll do more than my part to make sure our girl athletes are kept on this pedestal. Not many remember what it used to be like for us old girl ballers at Samo High. The thought of regressing back to that level is not the main reason that motivates me to keep this program thriving though. Even though we had nothing, those times were still, by far, my favorite of high school; of my teenage years period. And of course, I'm still BFF with Betsy, who was on the team too.

If our 2010 varsity team makes state this year, that would be sick. If Maya, after three years, gets noticed by college teams, that would be beyond great. But honestly if at the very least she participates and contributes to a team and learns a lot about herself as a teammate, a friend, an athlete, as a strong young woman; if she burns best-time memories with her sisters, it will be worth every penny I'm about to scrounge and beg for.

Let the begging begin.

Please clickety-click the button in the upper, left column of the blog (above my profile) and help how you can. I absolutely know what kind of times these are. Any bit helps. I also understand if you can't.

If you don't want to go through PayPal, make checks out to Samo High Girls Basketball and email me at mamirivera1 (at) yahoo (dot) dom, and I'll give you my address.

Thanks so much, friends, and many season updates to follow.

For the Love of Girls Basketball

I went to a parent meeting last night to talk about the state of our high school girls basketball program. There was good news and bad news. Or not so much bad news, but news that we just have to accept now. That news is that as a public school, the parents and athletes are responsible for raising every single penny for our three programs; varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams. When I say every penny, I mean it. We have to buy uniforms, warm ups, bags, we rent the vans for away games, pay for gas, we even have to pay for lower-level coach salaries. Usually, they don't get paid at all. If you haven't heard, California is an absolute financial mess. The state of our state is carving deep, deep holes into public programs, especially schools. It's devastating. I live in a bourgie neighborhood too so I can't imagine how hard-hit neighborhoods are offering anything positive to kids. It's pretty much all grass roots and community support. I could spew a long, obvious rant about the ramifications of this, on our children, but I'll stay on topic.

The good news about our basketball program is that we're good. The varsity girls' team is getting recognition and is turning heads. We had a chance at state last season. Our star senior has already signed with UCLA; another to UC San Diego. When I used to play, the girls team was sequestered to the south gym, then called the girls' gym. We weren't even allowed to practice in the boys' cool gym. (This gym is where 17 Again was filmed, incidentally). But now, the school has relabeled the gyms North & South. Maya was confused (rightfully) when I, out of habit, called it the girls' gym. The girls' program used to play on different days and seemed completely separate from the boys program, but now the girls teams play before the boys games. I think that's sick. The crowds come for the girls and stay for the boys. We used to have to beg the boys team to come support us and now they are in the stands, cheering, yelling things to their athlete friends on the girls squad. Our girls varsity team has a swagger that moves me. Entitlement, ladies. Grab it while it's hot.

Maya has melded so seamlessly with her freshman team. As a parent, we want many, many things for our kids: The obvious stuff, the priorities, the basics, opportunities -- the list is endless -- and this is what takes 24hours a day, but when the special extras work out, you want them to enjoy it full hilt. I couldn't guarantee her that high school would be enjoyable. Middle school was tough so I was prepared to guide her through high school too; to be herself, stay strong, build character, learn lots, enjoy what she enjoys. It's not always fun to encourage an effort-filled enjoyment of life, but sometimes that's how it is. But her high school experience so far has been just great. A lot of that has been because she is on this team. She's comfortable being herself. She's respected as an athlete. Boy athletes crush on her. She became fast and deep friends with two girls on her team, girls who I'd gladly call my own. They're on the left there; Mama E (they call her) is on the left, Messiah in the middle. If Messiah isn't the greatest girls name in the history of girls names, I'm not sure what is. These are the friendships that could last a lifetime. I know it did for me with Betsy. This is exactly how we were. Anyway, Maya's team experience is teaching her things about living and being a person that I can't really reach. It's like filling in the nooks and crannies of her growing up. She obviously has to fill in some of that stuff on her own and being a team member is allowing a lot of that.

So, in last night's parent meeting, when the conversation of fundraising was belabored and pummeled over our heads until many parents' lips curled in resentment, I got it. Even after the meeting, Maya bashed on all the emphasis on raising money and I told her not to. Our grassroots fundraising is the only way we can keep the program thriving. Her coach has said that he wants the girls program to be as respected as the boys. He's done a lot to make that happen and I anticipate that Maya will benefit from it all for the next four years whether she realizes how special her extras really are.

I'm going to run a 10K on Feb 7th to raise money for the girls program. Would this be something you'd support? $20 here, $10 there to encouragement me to bust it out for our basketball team? I wish I was ready to run in something more noble and impressive, but for short-notice fundraising ideas, this is what I can do. Any bit will help, seriously. The next post will have more details. Go Vikings!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Thing About Sunrises

The thing about sunrises is that they only last a couple minutes. I feel compelled to stare, blinkless with breath sucked, so I can actively absorb the couple minutes. I guess the washing over, that feeling of renewal shouldn't last longer. I mean, there is a point when inspiration should spur action or create cleansing, but I'm greedy I suppose.

But then I rode my bike home from my workout this morning. When I looked to the right, the sunrise had faded; the light had churned against the sky from deep pink-orange against lavender to a brilliant gold. But when I looked to my left the mountains and the thick, uniform line of palms still reflected the deep orange. They glowed against the morning blue. And I thought, holy fucking shit, the sunrise lasts just minutes, but the reflection of it against things willing to reflect it lasts considerably longer. So, I kept looking at the mountains and the palm trees because the beauty lingered there. The sunrise had passed itself off; shared.

We, easily, reflect all things beautiful. We, easily, can pass on whatever good we have/know, right? It won't be lost if we do; there's always more. I don't really mean our lives are a reflection of how we conduct ourselves with sincere work -- I mean, they are! -- but that wasn't the slap of info I received this morning, on the bike. What I understood was that without effort we can absorb and reflect. We can emit and share anything good, without effort. We are mirrors of beauty. We reflect and pass it on. It lingers on us, from us.

So, the thing about sunrises, I learned, is that they last forever. Or until the sunset makes me feel all sentimental about something else.

I just finished the book Born to Run. The book is so multi-faceted that there are many reasons to love it. There were a couple facets specifically I found fascinating, but what I wanted to share -- and it’s probably a subject the author didn't explore enough because it's kinda mindblowing -- is the concept that love & compassion makes ultra athletes great. Love. Not just the love of running, though that is part of it, but this sort of undirected, unmanipulated joy. And that this feeling taps into our true instinct as humans and running can get you there because it too is an instinctual and natural act for humans. The Running Instinct is an interesting theory explored in book, but I was blown back by the pureness of how great runners self-clicked into this universal grove; a sort of latching onto a thread. The author dived deep for a minute, but kind of retreated, but still it made eye-opening sense to me in beyond-the-conscious-mind kind of way.

Last year, when I was more focused on cycling and spin, I imagined myself channeling Lance Armstrong when I hit the hardest parts of my workout. Corny, I know, but there is no other athlete who can power triumphantly through some rough shit. I think Lance could muscle his way to any kind of win or achievement, and when I would gasp for air in my measly hour spin class, I would picture his face powering up the Alps with unfathomable focus and mind-boggling determination. This would yank me through like I was on a pulley. But this year, all 5 days of this year, I wonder how much joy he feels when trying to drive a stake through his opponents' hearts. He might feel a lot, and Lord, I still love watching him do it, but I guess I more wonder if this is my personality. I wonder if powering through it brutally makes me miss something important about it all, or if the powering is a temporary response to trick our minds and bodies into survival and it can't be kept up because it is joyless, and probably not sustainable because of the joylessness, not to mention the physical limitations. There are not many things I admire more than determination, but looking back at my athletic history, I realize that I have never aspired to an at-all-costs level of determination and victory. I was really good at basketball because I loved to go the courts and shoot for hours. I loved the camaraderie (and shit talking) of pick up ball. I did love the cheers when I busted someone out. But the minute it was suggested that I buckle down and become great, to play on a team that would get me noticed, I secretly cringed. I made excuses. I fucked it off. The fun drained and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t go for it. Oddly, I look back and realize that though I was competitive, the desire to rip everyone else down to be first was never part of who I was. It made me uncomfortable. And until very recently, I thought this lack of killer desire was what made me a failure as an athlete, ultimately. I'm still sort of wading through my feelings about all of this, but this year I've decided to explore my deeply-buried runner instincts. What is that all about. I am seriously drawn to the whole idea. I have always been very attracted to the test of personal will, much more so than the intent to clobber an opponent. I do think, in general, that we are much tougher than we think we are and the idea that athletes push this to the limits in personal ways, moves me. I imagine myself now to be Scott Jurek who is featured a lot in Born to Run, and is quite possibly the greatest ultrarunner in the world. He is the example of the compassionate champion. He is a vegan, he doesn't own a car -- he and his wife commute by bike -- and though he has won most 100 miles races he has competed in, he has been known to stand at the finish line and cheer until the last runner comes across. He runs with joy and a gentle, but unshakable determination that matches Lance's ferocious one. I can only imagine how 50 miles or 100 miles breaks someone down to the most basic and instinctual sense of themselves. And for Scott, and many other runners profiled in Born to Run, it turns out to be joy and love. Jurek allows himself, through running, to be a mirror of all things good about the human spirit. I want to tap into this too; a sole physical endevor that connects collectively.

I took my regular spin class this morning. When the workout got hard, I didn't Lance my way through it. I didn't bully my mind. I didn't stop pushing, but I embraced the pain. I intended to love the hard push, and maybe I didn't gush for joy over it, but I was ok with it. It wasn't breaking me entirely so I intended to enjoy the process of the break-down/build-up. I used to believe that when I can simply break through the hard parts, the good things await especially the sense of accomplishment. I believe that a lot still, but I imagine that sometimes the good doesn't come at all in the end, and that, so obviously, the good is woven mostly in the doing and the pushing. We know this, right? Easy to forget in a way that any road less traveled is easily forgotten; the earnestness is a pain in the ass sometimes.

Here's a Charles Bukowski quote. This quote was an inspiration to a top ultramaratoner in Born to Run (who happens to be a woman):

"If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."

So, back to sunrises. It's all a wonder, isn't it? The anticipation, the actual thing, the afterglow, the staying still and reflecting all that we dig up and hook on to everything else. My future running instincts didn't know so much was riding on them. But, here I go anyway.