Books about running that aren’t about running

I’m not a fast runner. I’ll never win a major race, and I’m not particularly interested in going after a big marathon. I just like to run. Similarly, I’m  kind of a lousy reader— slow, prone to mixing up letters and words, easily distracted. Yet, I love to read, and I love to run. I also love to read about running. And I’m in luck: there is lots of great writing on the subject, from technical manuals to memoirs to novels to philosophy. While I love a good geek-out, it’s these latter categories that really grab me. Maybe because running can be so solitary and long miles give us time to think, writing on running is often perceptive and introspective. In fact, much of this writing is really more about living in the world than it is about putting on foot in front of the other. 


I certainly haven’t read every book about running (yet). But I find myself coming back to some favorites. The books I return to share a theme of running not just as a sport, but as a conduit for humanity. The first one that pulled me in was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Fans of Murakami’s fiction will recognize his voice: keen observation, simple description, slightly magical air. He writes about the routines of running, the suffering, the odd sense of comfort, and how these mirror the writing life. Reading it was meditative for me. Another classic, Running & Being, from the so-called “philosopher king” of running George Sheehan, delighted me in a different way. The chapters are titled things like “Living”, “Discovering”, “Learning”, “Racing”, and “Meditating”. Sheehan, like Murakami, is preoccupied with the suffering of running. Is this the secret sauce? Suffering? I don’t know, but there’s something about it that compels runners and writers alike.

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Active Commuting Adventures

Since my recent relocation to Portland, my commute has changed. A lot. Instead of a mile to campus for teaching, or driving to different neighborhoods in Tucson for the mobile clinic, now I’m heading from NE Portland to Marquam hill most days. It’s no fun to drive, and parking is a non-starter. And I hate spending a lot of time driving in the city anyway. The trip takes a while, either way, so I have to make my commuting time count for more than just transportation. Those two-ish hours every day count against the 24 I’m allotted, no matter how you slice it. Is it coming out of my exercise time? My professional reading time? My sleep?!? So I’ve been testing out my commute options! So far, I’ve been. . . Continue reading

It’s January. Are you running?

It’s January, and I just moved from Tucson to Portland, OR. Winter is peak running weather in Tucson— sunny in the daytime, and cool in the mornings and evenings. In Portland, it’s. . . dark. From 4:30 PM until 7:30 AM. And wet. I’ll treadmill it if necessary, but it sucks the joy from my life. So what’s a girl to do? Adapt. Here’s what I’ve tried so far:

  1. Gear. Since Ragnar last year, I haven’t had much use for my reflective vest  but now I do. I also needed a better headlamp. Now I’m visible, and I can see. Safety? Check. Add that to toasty tops and tights and something to keep my ears warm, and I’m feeling pretty good. I’m still figuring out which shoes are best for slick sidewalks (any advice??), but I’ve got muddy trails covered. 
  2. Adjust expectations. Yes, I can run in the dark. In the rain. I won’t melt. The rain is often kind of misty and drizzly— almost pleasant, in a way. Portlanders aren’t phased the way Tucsonans are— I used to joke that people stayed home if it looked a little cloudy. Here? Bring it on. People are out there. I also thought it would suck running before it’s light out, remembering pre-dawn runs of yore before early hospital shifts. But 6 AM is way better than 4:45, even if it’s dark. 
  3. Learn to love the mud. Pippi, Max and I ran on some Forrest Park trails last weekend and we had a blast— it was sloppy, but who cares? There’s a distinct joy in getting dirty. Own it.
  4. Back up plans and cross-training. Some days it’s too nasty. A gym membership was in order— so I got one. I can use the treadmill, sure, but maybe a functional training class (kettlebells! boxes! bodyweight!), a rowing workout, or some cycling, too. Cross-training has its own set of benefits that I’m starting to enjoy, like feeling stronger on hills.
when you gotta, you gotta.

What other tips to you have for me to help me run all winter long?

high score screen

In praise of being a generalist

There’s something undeniably alluring about being highly accomplished at something. Being the best. Being at the top of your field, your game, your performance. But there’s an opportunity cost to this kind of excellence— the time and focus you dedicate to one thing, you are not dedicating to anything else. Can single-minded focus actually undermine your effectiveness? It depends on what you are doing. . .

Let’s think about this through the lens of running for a moment. We are not all 100m sprinters, even though that’s impressive, and you can win cash and medals and huge endorsements and titles like “the fastest man in the world.” But is Usain Bolt, impressive as he is, better at everything than you are? Is he a better human than you are? His speed is truly amazing, but it’s just speed. This is why obstacle course races are cool— you have to be fast, but you also have to be tough, have power, have strength, have skills. Even the crossfit games (as mixed as my feelings are about crossfit) are a good example of testing a broad set of competencies rather than a narrow one.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I am not, shall we say, a highly focused individual. I am curious, a bricoleur, a person who loves to say yes and follow side trails. My grandmother once wrote a poem about my twin sister and me, where she was the arrow and I was the hummingbird. She was a smart lady, my grandmother.  Continue reading

Running on a Hot Day: Why Bother?

There are lots of tips out there for how to surive running in the heat— basically, go early or late, hydrate appropriately, wear light clothing, run slower. But if you’re not training for a hot race (Badwater? what are you, nuts?), why bother?

Well, there are likely physiological benefits, so if you care about that sort of thing, or you’re looking for a performance goal, keep reading. Training in the heat can potentially improve VO2 max, blood plasma volume, sweat rate, and skeletal muscle force— and this translates into cooler conditions. Neat!

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Using the legs to settle the mind— travel edition

Sorry for the short break. I’ve been traveling. I do a reasonably large amount of traveling— I’m not George Clooney in Up in the Air, but I travel for work a few times a year and for fun whenever I get the chance. Sometimes you go to Barcelona, sometimes you go to Indianapolis. What can you do?
Traveling can be a little taxing on everyone, but for the hardcore introvert (TM), air travel is a special kind of torture. Robbed of personal space, forced into small talk, bombarded with the airport and airplane noise, too close for comfort with the sounds and smells of thousands of strangers, lacking an escape route. This is the stuff introvert nightmares are made of. But it’s part of the deal, if you want to get from point A to point B in a timely fashion, which I do.
I arrive with a disorienting and uncomfortable fog over me. Every. Single. Time. All the standard travel advice in the world doesn’t seem to fix it— not hydrating properly, not xanax, not the perfect chic travel outfit. But one thing does help: using my legs, as often as possible. If I’m not home, you better believe I am moving myself through space using my legs.

starve log

anything to brag about? no. immensely helpful to my state of mind? absolutely.

I schlepp my stuff around from terminal to terminal at the airport, rather than sit at the gate. I go outside when I get there and walk around the block. I go out for coffee instead of going to the Starbucks in the lobby.  I find a body of water (there’s always a body of water!) and go for a quick jog. And it settles me, a little bit. Enough, usually. That leg-brain connection that gives us our best ideas when we’re a few miles in? Same magic here, I think. Do you have any tricks to settle the restless mind when you’re traveling?