Friday, May 21, 2010

A Hypochondriac's Adventures in Hydration

I've read that distance runners are supposed to keep tabs on their water needs by weighing themselves before and after their long runs. The idea is that once they see how many pounds they've lost, they're supposed to pound water until they get back to their pre-run weights. I'm oversimplifying, but bear with me.

So after running 11 miles in about 2 hours this afternoon, I discovered that I'd lost 5.5 pounds. Clearly my body needed me to mainline water, and right away.

I guzzled two pints and then jumped back on the scale hoping to see a two-pound gain that matched the 32 ounces I'd swallowed in a heroically quick fashion. Instead I was down another .7 pounds.

So what the scale was telling me was that 32 ounces of water had netted into a roughly 11.2 ounce loss. Interesting. It occurs to me that if I could find a way to make scales work like this with chocolate, I'd be so rich I could set up a trust fund for Grub Street and bag this whole marathon thing. But back to the scale.

Because two pints of water didn't do the trick, I downed a third. This time the 16 ounces I drank showed up as 4.6 pounds gained. Encouraged, I tried to drink a fourth pint, but my stomach gave a mutinous flip about halfway through, so I sloshed over to the scale to see the bad news: defying the laws of physics, I was down and additional .1 pounds. I tried to force myself to keep drinking, but by the time I finished my fourth pint, I seriously needed to sit down or risk puking up the half gallon of water I'd poured down my gullet over the last ten minutes.

Sitting at my computer to see whether I could fight off my stomach's urge to eject all that water, I got to thinking. Hadn't I heard somewhere that too much water can kill you just as easily as too little? A quick Google search on the totally objective phrase "can too much water kill you?" confirmed the worst of my fears right there in the headline:

The facts you need to save your life

Here was a whole page devoted to hyponatremia. The scoop? Basically when you drink way too much water you wash the salt right out of your system, your brain swells up, and you die. But that's a loose translation. And I'm a hypochondriac.

So never mind about my dubious research methods or my total failure to try and confirm that this Web site was anything approaching a trustworthy source. One quick look at the symptoms at the top of the listNausea! Vomiting!and I was convinced that I may well have drunk myself to a watery death.

But then I let out the most ladylike little burp, and the nausea passed. Phew! My brain was probably not gonna swell up on me any time soon, but I decided to be liberal with the salt in my post-run meal just in case.

Now, it's pretty clear I was in no danger of actually developing hyponatremia, but I did lose 5.5 pounds of water weight while I ran today (and yes, I'm willfully ignoring the possibility that my scale may be a wee bit wonky). Which means I'm just not drinking enough while I'm running. But I knew this. The training book I'm following recommends that runners drink 6-8 ounces of water for every 20 minutes they're out. But that seems absurd to me. What do they expect me to do? Swap out my Red Sox cap for a beer hat I can use to sip water? A few weeks ago, I bought a belt for a bottle that holds maybe 24 ounces, and I consider that purchase a coup.

My compromise so far has been to drink as much as I can before and after a run and make my way through one bottle of water during the longest distances I do in a week. Is it dangerously naive of me to hope that's enough? And that's not a rhetorical question, either. I'm honestly asking for advice...

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Running Problem I'm Glad I DON'T Have

I've been a little whiny lately, what with my cycle of entries on crappy things people don't warn runners about. So today I start counting my runner's blessings. Top of the heap? I've never had the misfortune of being pummeled to a pulp while running. Apparently Mother Nature has a serious bone to pick with Iowan runners...

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Grub Tales: Sue Williams

Sue Williams is a British writer who moved to the Boston area six years ago. As well as being an Assistant Book and Magazine Editor for Narrative Magazine, she's a writing instructor at Grub Street. Sue's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative, Night Train, Salamander, Redivider, Gargoyle, The Yalobusha Review, and numerous other books and magazines. She also publishes erotica under a pen name. Recent awards include first place in the Carolyn A. Clark Flash Fiction Prize and an Honourable Mention in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open (Dec '09). Sue also co-runs the Boston arts salon, Art2Art, and has written a collaborative chapbook with her writing group, entitled Authors Anonymous. You can find Sue online at:

Moving from England to America was nerve-wracking. We arrived in our new apartment, which we'd never seen before, with little more than clothes and books; it would take months for our furniture to arrive. I'd brought my computer, however, and, determined to develop my writing skills and meet like minds, one of the first things I did was to track down a writing class. During the ten-week Grub course I signed up for, I wrote a story that would soon become my first fiction publication, and would later give rise to the idea for a novel, which is now in its final draft.

Six years on, I still enjoy taking Grub classes and am also an instructor. In fact, I recently delivered a one-night seminar entitled, "Go Deeper, Baby: Writing Meaningful Erotica," which was one of the most inspiring three hours I've spent as a teacher. At the start, many of the writers expressed their frustration with the prejudices surrounding a genre that is often misunderstood. This seminar provided a place where their work was finally being valued and taken seriously.

During the workshop, a deeply talented writer wrote about a personal experience, which he then read aloud to the group. Afterwards, he flushed, pressing his hands to his face, and explained that it felt amazing to have shared such a powerful memory -- one, in fact, that he'd never revealed before. We told him it was an honor for us, and I've no doubt his beautiful piece will soon be published. This kind of experience is typical of the Grub community; I myself had a similar moment when sharing a story I wrote in Steve Almond's class. Grub not only teaches the craft of writing, it also provides a warm environment where growth and courage are rewarded.

In short, because of Grub Street I've: become a better writer, published my stories, delivered exciting seminars, made some of the best friends I've known, joined wonderful writing groups, met potential agents, been honored to share in the talents of others, and presented what is often daring work with large, receptive audiences. I'm also sure that Art2Art, the Boston arts salon I co-run with friends, was partly inspired by the wonders I've seen at Grub.

Just as being a fiction writer is more than telling stories, so Grub is more than a writing center. How lucky we are to be part of it.

Editor's noteThe next Art2Art will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 22 at the Piano Factory building in the South End. Visit the Art2Art blog for further details!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Crap They Don't Tell You About Running: #8

To be fair, the joggers around me tried to warn be about the way running roused their hungry horrors. The way training transformed their tummies into bottomless pits. The way they came to the conclusion that the only real solution was to make sure the food they fed their beasts was healthy fare. And though I heard them, I didn't consider what awaking my very own hungry hippo would mean for me. Or more accurately, what it would feel like.

On Friday my long run inched up to ten miles; when I got back to my kitchen just after 11 a.m., my stomach was hollering so loudly it would have freaked out Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors.

Because I had afternoon appointments I made myself a feast intended to last me through dinner. Except then it didn't. As I was driving home just after 4 p.m., my arms started shaking, and I my eyes went into primitive hunter-gatherer mode: I was actively searching the highway for a healthy option.

What I found was a bagel at Dunkin Donuts. Some popcorn a little later at home. A little later than that, a cookie. By the time the husband got home hellbent on whisking me out to dinner, I'd already consumed all my calories for the day. And then some. And yet, I was still hungry.

I should stop here to say my relationship with food ishow can I say this?complicated. If I ever decide to write a memoir about my decades-long battle with food, I'll call it Stuffed: One Woman's Unrequited Love Affair With Food.* But detailing my many issues with food is beyond the scope of the Run for Grub blog, except as it applies to the training. And so here it is. After being locked in an epic war of wills with food for most of my adult life, in the last year I've finally learned that breaking the cycle of mindless comfort eating is as simple as asking myself one question before I eat: Am I really hungry?** Of course, the vast majority of times I've asked myself this very question over the last year, the answer has been, "no." But when I'm burning almost 1400 calories by running 10 miles before eleven o'clock in the morning, I shouldn't be shocked if when I ask yourself if I'm hungry, the answer's a resounding "yes!"

No guilt. No shame. Just a healthy hunger that means my body's working in just the way it's supposed to work.

So starting next week, I'll plan for a fourth meal on my long-run Fridays. But I'd still liked to have been warned BEFORE I started training that the hunger said training inspired would challenge me to flex every good food habit I've worked so hard to develop.

Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, and independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run at

*Although apparently there's a food memoir about living in a restaurant family called Stuffed. So Gorged, then. Whatever.

**I do recognize that this
is a horrendous oversimplification of a decades-long struggle, but this is a training blog, not a memoir.