Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Sorest Muscle

This marathon business is harder than I thought it was gonna be, and I never figured it was gonna be easy.

Yesterday I ran 13.1 weary miles. At about the 12-mile mark I started in in the body scan. My heart and lungs were finein fact, if it wasn't for the way I go all sniffly when I run, I could probably breathe through my nose if I had tobut from my stomach down, my muscles were flirting with mutiny.

Was it my quads and hamstrings? No. Not really. It was muscles on the side of my legs I don't have a name for. And my lower back, but not in a oh-my-aching-back kind of way--in more of a my-muscles-are-tired-and-cranky kind of way. And my knees were moany, but not in pain. Moaning. Yeah, that's what my legs were doing. And let's not forget how my ring toes got so sore I was sure those nails had been ripped off somewhere around mile 10. The image of a bloodied pair of nail-less toes haunted me until I got distracted with the way the air around the Garelick Farms plant on the Revere/Lynn line smelled like manure. Then my thoughts became so consumed with the possibility that actual cows lived on the Lynnway that the hum of the cars going by too fast and way too close to me started to sound like a postmodern moooooo.

The run itself finished without a hitch. Well. Running through air thick with the stench of manure is no picnic, but you get what I mean: I finished. But the run left me bone weary. Instead of my evening walk, my dog got a visit to the fenced in children's playground where he could run like a happy idiot while I sat laughing at the way his tongue lolls as he tears around, wood chips flying. As we walked home it occurred to me that maybe this is what ninety will feel likemuscle soreness and a desire for a slow, slow pace.

This morning I'm sore, but not terribly (though my ring toe on my right foot is aching in a way that's seriously making me take bets that, if I'm gonna lose a nail, this is the one that's going ). But I have to say that by far, my sorest muscle is my brain, and that soreness is feeling a lot like worry about how zonked I'm gonna be over the next six weeks as my long Friday runs inch up and up and up until they hit the big 20 mark and then taper off until the 26.2 mile finale on July 30. And worry too, about week ten when my short runs click up to 5 miles, and my medium ratchet up to eight. Wasn't my long run eight miles not so many weeks ago?

Training for a marathonwith all its challenge and worry and uncertaintyis a lot like writing a novel. But just as I've learned to stop allowing myself to worry about the capital-R revision of my book and focus on the scene I'm working on right now, I need to stop thinking about the spectre of the marathon and start thinking about the run before me. The next mile. Hell, the next footfall. Just as I'm making my way through my novel scene by scene with only the occasional check-in with the bigger picture, I'm making my way through my marathon training one stride at a time.

And yes, it's true that training is harder than I imagined it would be when I started, but it's also true that the swelling sense of strength I feel at the end of a long run fatigue be damned is sweeter than I ever thought it would be. Now if I could just convince the writer in me of the euphoria I'll feel when I finish the first half of the revision...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Running in the Afternoon Sun on the Hottest Day of the Year

Bad idea. Colossally so.

My legs feel leaden, my skin's dripping like I've just stepped from of a shower, and my brain's trying to prevent itself from wondering what the hell kind of inferno a 7 p.m. race on July 30 will feel like.

Perhaps if all of Grumdom wishes hard enough we can will July 30 into an unseasonably cool day.

Ready? Repeat after me:
We DO believe in cold fronts...
We DO believe in cold fronts...
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 24, 2010

A Numberly Interlude

418.2 — Total number of miles I'll have run from the start of my training on April 10 to the finish line at the end of the marathon.

— Total number of miles I've already run as of Sunday's short run.

302.2—The number of miles I have left to run between today and the race on July 30.

— The number of times today I'll find myself wishing I hadn't quantified the number of miles I have yet to run.

3 — Number of new (and oddly shaped) callouses that have appeared on my feet since I started training.

— Current number of songs on my runner's playlist.

Number of Elvis Presley songs on that playlist.

— Percent chance that a handful of those Elvis songs will be cut.

2 — Number of times I've fallen.

Number of times I've run along Revere Beach and wished it was me sitting on the sea wall eating fried dough.

0 — Number of times I've actually stopped to eat fried dough during a run.

— Number of times I've been lunged at by a dog and been so startled my heart lurched and I screamed like a little girl.

— Approximate number of inches said dog's leash stopped him short of reaching me.

— Number of miles it took me to run off the panic brought on by near-miss mauling.

1392 The number of dollars raised by the Grub lovers in the first 6.5 weeks of training.

758 — Number of dollars to go to reach our goal of funding four scholarships.

68 — Number of days left until the marathon.

— Approximate number of dollars we need to raise daily to make the goal before the marathon (so doable!).

92 Number of minutes ago I should have been in bed.

4 — Number of crazy Run for Grub related schemes I've hatched, including the original idea for the run itself, my quest to get someone anyone— to give me a high five as I run by, my questionable devotion to spandex running pants, and my promise to send a personalized poem (probably a haiku or limerick) to anybody who makes a donation on the Run for Grub donation page at First Giving between now and June 1.

Did you catch that? I'll send a personalized poem to anyone who donates money to the Run for Grub between now and June 1. I mean really. What other blogger in your life writes you personalized poetry? Though in the interest of not getting hounded by the Better Business Bureau, it must be disclosed that I'm not really a poet. But then if you've been following this blog's previous forays into haiku and limericks, you've already been made aware of that. Painfully aware.

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

Grub Tales: Jenna Blum

JENNA BLUM is the New York Times bestselling author of
THOSE WHO SAVE US and THE STORMCHASERS (out May 27, 2010, wherever books are sold!). Jenna has taught at Grub Street Writers since its inception in 1997 and writes the Writers' Advice Column for the Grub Street Free Press. Follow Jenna on her book & storm tour for THE STORMCHASERS on her website,, or on Facebook.

RUN FOR GRUB: How did you learn about Grub Street?
JENNA BLUM: I’ve known about Grub since the olden days, its inception in 1997. I was graduating from B.U.’s creative writing workshop and Eve Bridburg, who’d graduated the year before me, kindly took a chance on me as a fiction workshop teacher and, for a short and terrifying time, administrative assistant. This meant I sat on the second floor of Eve’s house in Somerville, where the Grub offices were located then, and looked confusedly at paperwork, then went out on the back porch to smoke. Ah, all the things that are gone with the wind. Luckily for writers everywhere, Grub is not one of them. I’m so proud to have watched this community grow from the days when Eve and I drove around handing out pamphlets for Grub’s two writing classes (fiction and poetry) to the fantastic, dynamic, thousandfold writer-life-support community it is now.

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?
JENNA BLUM: I would no longer live in Boston if it weren’t for Grub. I have lived in other cities (New York City, London, Minneapolis) and they had their charms, but they don’t have Grub. Nowhere have I encountered a writing community so strong and supportive, with such warm, funny, talented, caring writers who know each other’s characters as well as they know each other. Almost all of my dearest friends are from my Grub classes. All of my students are phenomenal. And I’m happy to say that my novelists’ books are starting to come out on the shelves (Randy Susan Meyers’ THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS, Iris Gomez’s TRY TO REMEMBER). So watch out, world. Grub Street Writers are taking over.

RUN FOR GRUB: What's your most magical Grub Street memory?
JENNA BLUM: Once, in one of my novel workshops, one of the participants began to cry (and it wasn’t the writer being workshopped!). She held up the portion of the novel we were discussing—it happened to be the book’s ending—and said, “This is what good writing is supposed to do. I’m just so—so—moved!”

I also love the moments at the Muse & the Marketplace when I’m standing in the Manuscript Mart and looking at all the writers, agents, and editors. You can just see them all as kids, the smartest in all of their respective third grade classes.

RUN FOR GRUB: How did your time at Grub Street prepare you for the rigors of storm chasing?
JENNA BLUM: I know this isn’t exactly answering the question you asked, but I’m going to pull a Sarah Palin and talk about what I want to talk about instead. It’s sorta related: without Grub, I wouldn’t have been able to write my second novel, THE STORMCHASERS, which features, surprise, stormchasing. I had terrible writer’s block between my first and second novels, in part because I had rather stupidly given up smoking. I didn’t want to give up smoking. I loved smoking. It was like Styron’s experience quitting drinking, which he describes in his memoir about depression, DARKNESS VISIBLE: his body decided for him that he was no longer able to drink. Because I was getting migraines from smoking, I gave it up—and then, because I had been writing and smoking for over 20 years, I also gave up writing fiction. I just didn’t know how to do it anymore.

Grub Street, and Ron MacLean in particular, led me back to the fold. I write the Writers’ Advice column for the Grub Street Free Press, and Ron gentled me through my first days back at the writing desk by soliciting these nonfiction pieces. Then he cleverly suggested I write about stormchasing for the Freep. Because I found I was able to write nonfiction about things I loved—stormchasing and writing—I was able to segue back into fiction. If it weren’t for Grub and Ron letting me write about chasing for the Freep, instead of finishing THE STORMCHASERS (out May 27!) I would still be sitting staring sadly at the big ol’ empty red ashtray.

RUN FOR GRUB: How did your time at Grub Street give you the strength to run toward a tornado instead of the hell away from it?
JENNA BLUM: I had to. I had to finish the danged Freep articles, didn’t I?

RUN FOR GRUB: Any advice for me should a tornado hit while I’m running my marathon around the lake?
JENNA BLUM: Run like hell in the opposite direction.

Editor's Note: Jenna Blum's book launch for The Stormchasers is at the Coolidge Corner Theatre this Thursday (May 27) at 6p.m. Tickets are $5 and must be purchased in advance through the Brookline Booksmith.