Saturday, July 10, 2010

Corners I Didn't Know I Was Cutting

Last night I ran twenty miles. So easy to type and yet so grueling to slog through. Despite the fact that I've not been afflicted with pretty much any of the ailments distance runners seem to complain about (get me some wood and I'll knock it, will ya?) a few dragons reared their heads last night:
  1. friction burns where the seams of my sweat-wet bra rubbed me raw;
  2. gashes in my ankles from the reflector cuffs that were meant to keep me safe;
  3. moments of shooting weakness through my kneesno pain, just a flowing feebleness demanding that I concentrate on the brain messages being sent to keep those legs a pumping; and
  4. a full-blown panic caused by technical malfeasance on the part of my otherwise revered pedometer program for my iPod Nano.
Numbers 1-3 speak for themselves, I think, but let's take a moment to explore number 4. I use a computer attachment for my iPod that's like a pedometer on steroidsI program in a distance I want to run, and in return a computerized woman's voice announces every mile I complete until she congratulates me on reaching my goal. It's been great. There's nothing like the thrill of hearing her bright voice call out "halfway point!" and knowing I'm free to turn back at any time. Because I had to calibrate the machine over a known distance when I bought it, I thought I could trust it, though I must admit that I'd noticed recently on my long runs that the 7-mile marker was shifting a bit, but no matter. I extended my run beyond the halfway point to compensate, and then didn't really worry about it.

But last night the Nano flipped it's rock 'n roll lid.

I knew that I'd built in a little wiggle room into my 4-mile loop because I like to leave some time to stop and walk at the end of the run. But on the first lap, it seemed like the computer had reached four miles far earlier than I thought it had any right to reach it. By lap two when the computer thought I'd gone more than 9 miles when I knew I'd only gone 8, I was out-and-out worried, and when I finished the fourth lap and my pedometer thought I only had .75 miles left to go instead of the roughly four miles I knew I had left, I was pretty demoralized.

Inside after my run, I traced my route on Gmaps pedometer to find that my four-mile loop was in fact 4.1799 miles. That means that in my five laps around this loop, I went 20.8995 milesnot the 24.62 miles my iPod thought I'd gone. When my blood ran cold it had nothing to do with the air-conditioned air hitting my sweat-soaked body and everything to do with a very simple question: how many of my training runs has my pedometer program completely muffed up?

Last night my nearly 21 miles took me about four and a half hours. But when I click back through old stats, I see that last week's "18" mile route only took me three and a half hours. So if I'm to believe I went 18 miles last week, I've also got to believe that it took me an extra hour to go two extra miles last night.

My husband points out that some of the time lag can be accounted for in hillsmy normal long-run route has only one hill in it while the loop I did last night had 20 (the four hills I went up five times ). Oh, come now. I've never said I was anything but slow-slow-slow, but there's no way a few molehills added an extra hour to my time unless I just so happen to be the love child of a giant sloth and a garden slug. I am not. Clearly my computer has been letting me down, and I gotta say learning that now is freaking me the hell out.

Yes, I ran almost 21 miles last night. And yes I jogged for four and a half straight hours, but learning that I may have cut corners I had no idea I was cutting makes me worry that I haven't been conditioning myself quite as thoroughly as I thought I'd been.

At the end of my run last night, I had trouble walking in a straight line. I had to shower sitting in my tub because standing made me feel nauseous. And I was so wiped out that my husband found me face down on our bed with my glasses still on and my body no where near under the covers. What if I was zonked because I haven't been adequately prepared for this distance? How is it I could work this hard for this long and still feel like a cheater?

But, but, but!

I'm reminded by the small, wise voice within that the real headline here is that I ran almost 21 miles and lived to tell about it. My inner runner has taught my inner writer so much over the last few months, but maybe now it's time for the writer to return to the favor. Realizing that the long runs I've done maybe haven't been up to snuff, well my inner writer has been there and done that. Because my inner writer has workshopped stories she thought were close to done only to have trusted readers tell her with a beautiful and firm kindness: No, sweetie. Not so much.

My inner writer knows how to dig deep. My inner writer knows how to find a way to go those extra miles she thought she'd already covered. And my inner writer knowsoh, how she knowsthat that the difference between quitters and finishers is quite simply about refusing to take herself out of the race.

So maybe I didn't run as many miles as I thought I did in the last few months of training. Maybe that's true. But last night I know I ran 20. 8995 miles with nothing more serious to complain about the than a couple of scrapes, some friction burns, and quads that scream uncle every time I try to go down the stairs.

But, but, but!

Last night I ran 20.8995 miles.
Tomorrow I'll run 5.
And on July 30, I'll run 26.2.

I just will.

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

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Last Long Run

At 7 p.m. I'll head out for my last long training run, the 20-miler.* The program I'm following recommends treating the 20-mile race like a dress rehearsaleat what you'll eat, start when you'll start, etc. But when I found out how hot is was supposed to be this week, I told my husband I'd probably just do my 6 a.m. thing.

"Yeah, but what if it's that hot the day of your race?" my husband asked.

I stared at him. "Are you seriously suggesting I choose to run in this oppressive ridiculousness when I don't actually have to?"

"I'm just saying it might be good practice," he said. "Plus this'll give you a chance to get used to running as the sun's going down."


"And if you pick a loop around the house, I can bring water down and cheer you on."

I sighed. As much as I hated to admit it, the man was talking sense, so I said goodbye to my dreams of one last run from Winthrop into Nahant and decided the 20-miler will be done in five laps around my 4-miles-and-change loop.

So here I sit, obsessively checking the says it's 86 now and with 82 projected for 7 p.m.—and praying for a quick thunderboomer to ride in like a knight in shining silver lining and chase away ten degrees or so. I'm not holding my breath.

But I may be procrastinating.

All right, all right. In a few minutes I'll wrap up here and start to get dressed. I'll prep my iPod and HOLY MOTHER OF THOR, I JUST REMEMBERED BY IPOD'S NOT ACTUALLY CHARGED!!! Excuse me one teensy moment, would you?

Please imagine 60 seconds of annoying Muzak.

That's better. Tunes are charging as we speak. But holy crap was THAT a near miss!

And though my nerves at the thought of twenty miles tonight make me want to stay right here chatting with you all a while longer, I should probably go make sure everything I need is gathered and ready to go.

And hey, I know the vast majority of the world is already deep into the whole Friday-night-thing, but if you do happen to see this, take a second to wish me cool breezes and second winds.

And with that, I'm off. Or at least off to get ready to be off.

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

* The training program I follow suggests training up to 20 miles before tapering off in the last couple of weeks before the marathon to rest. There are programs that argue that your training runs should include at least one run that's the full-length of the marathon, but most of those programs are also designed to improve speed. The program I chose is designed for the marathon rookie. Plus, I like the idea of running my first marathon for Grub, and if I ran 26.2 miles before race day, it would be my second marathon.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Top Three Running Anthems

In the book "Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life," Steve Almond (he's reading tonight to introduce songwriter Danya Kurtz at the Oberon on Arrow Street in Cambridge at eightgo, go, go!) writes about how "drooling fanatics" fall for different musical myths: the owner of an Air Supply album is pretty much guaranteed to harbor a different world view then, say, a Nine Inch Nails fanatic, for example.

But because most running playlists are built around a target tempo, it's almost impossible to get a clear sense of musical bias based on the tunes a runner throws together to encourage her feet to keep running around mile twenty. Case in point: no one would ever confuse me for the kind of girl who actually knows how to shake it like a Polaroid picture, and yet I get a goofy grin on my face every time my iPod shuffles around to "Hey Ya." And though I've been known to shake my hands like an idiot when André Benjamin demands I shake my aforementioned "it," no one's gonna confuse me with an Outkast fanboy.

But if you ask a runner for her top three running anthems, you can get a glimpse of that person's inner core, or as Steve would call it, her personal myth. And though I tend to be a handwringer in practice, most of my anthems are about quitting the handwringing already and embracing life. And frankly, it's refreshing to see the childlike optimism in me making a play for it, even if it's just bubbling up through a playlist.

And so without further ado, my top three running anthems:

"Life is Large" by The Kennedy's
—A buzzkill once told me this song is the worst kind of saccharin, but I decided that the way this song makes me fly was all I needed to know about it merits. And I'm not ashamed to admit that every time Maura Kennedy sings the lyric"How do you want to be remembered? A raging fire or a dying ember?"some little girl voice in my head screams: "Raging Fire! Raging Fire!"

"Gone At Last" by Paul Simon
A Southern-Gospel romp by a Jewish singer-songwriter from New York? Why the hell not?! Although my heart may explode as a direct result of my legs trying to keep up with the rollicking tempo of the piano in this tune, there's nothing quite like a gospel choir insisting that my steak of bad luck is gone, gone, gone at last to put a little pep in my step at the end of a long run.

"Losing Streak" by The EelsIf you're dubious about how a song called "Losing Streak" could possibly qualify as an anthem, you haven't heard the horns that chase the tail end of this chorus. "I said my losing streak is done," indeed.

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Unleashing the High Five

After eight miles this morning, my feet held up just fine (see "My Foot Goes Gangstah") until my sneakers burst into flame due to ridiculously high a.m. temperatures.

Running in the heat hasn't exactly been the highlight of this whole marathon training process, but it does have its advantages:
  • I'm prepared should the temperature near blistering on race day;
  • I sweat so much that my entire t-shirt turned a darker shade of grey instead of leaving a lighter streak in the exact shape of my sports bra; and
  • I finally got the high-five I've been trying to inspire someone to give me since my long runs clicked up into the double digits.
Today was an eight-mile medium length run, and I decided to circle by Deer Island. Normal people drive out there and walk the few miles around the tip of the penisula, but I've found that if I jog there, loop the thing, and jog back, it's about eight miles. As I neared the end of the Deer Island segment of my run, a jolly man stood near a bench arms akimbo, shaking his head.

"You're doing better than me," he yelled, laughing. "I had to stop, and I was just walking."

I smiled at him, waved, and kept running.

The man yelled after me: "You're doing good, kid! Keep it up!!"

I waved again, my legs in their crazy left-right-left-right trance, when it hit mefor months I've bemoaned the fact that the secret running society amounts to a wave of a couple of fingers as joggers pass by one another.

Totally lame.

It's my firm belief that runners should great each other with way more ruckus than that. I'm thinking grand hellos and secret handshakes, but I'd settle for a high five. In fact, I've spent the last several weeks raising my hand in clear high five position, a move that has only succeeeded in bringing me bigger waves. Not a single, satisfying slap.

After a few weeks of this, it occurred to me that to make my in-medias-run-high-five a reality, I was gonna have to get into some faces, wave my hand, and make them feel silly for ignoring me. Which meant I pretty much had to give up my quest because let's face facts: I'm not really a channelling-Robin-Williams kind of girl.

But here was this happy Santa personality not a hundred feet from me. If there ever was a now-or-never moment, this was it. Maybe it was the false bravado of Eminem in my ear budsYou better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go go!but I turned around and jogged back.

"Hey," I yelled. "Could I get a high five?"

The guy laughed and got his hand ready. As I neared, my hand went up, both of our arms sailed through the air, and thenhere it comes!the smack to end all smacks! Believe me when I tell you that there has never been a more satisfying high five than that sweaty thunderclap I shared with a stranger this morning.

The lesson?

Sometimes you just gotta ask for what you want. And because I'm SUCH a quick study, I've already thrown my head back and yelled my request to Mother Nature:
"How about a cold front before my 20-mile run on Friday?"
Catherine Elcik is running her first marathon to raise money for a scholarship fund for Grub Street, Inc, an independent writing center in Boston, MA. Sponsor the run (and quite frankly, her second wind) at

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Foot Goes Gangstah

I don't want to alarm anyone, but I have reason to believe my feet may have joined the family. My toes aren't packing or anything (though there is a very suspicious callous on my big toe), but what with the dull but pulsing ache in the top of my foot that reared its ugly head this weekend, I can't help but feel my feet are trying to send me a message I can't ignore.

Plus there's the gravelly gangster voice my feet use when they talk to meyou knowin my head:

What fresh hell is this, Toots? Huh? You make us foot those extra pounds all these years and when you finally lose them you think it's slam-the-sidewalk time?

You feel that twinge in your tarsal bones, babe? Do ya? Yeah, I thought so. Keep running, Toots. Yeah.

You just keep it up.
After running 18 miles on Friday, my feet were a bit tired, by Saturday they hurt, and following Sunday's five-mile run in the hellaciously hilly country my mother-in-law calls home, I was in pain. I iced. Four times, I iced. I took ibuprofen. I surfed my husband's iPhone for information on stress fractures. Fortunately, this was definitely not a stress fracture. Not nearly painful enough. What it was, in fact, was an embarrassment: I'm lacing my running shoes too tightly.

Well wrap me in a toga and call me Bam-Bam!

So before my walk this morning, I tied my shoes while arching my foot to allow for extra space, trudged up and down those same hills, and poof!the bark of the don living in my foot was almost completely stilled. Good news, clearly.* But I do have one persistent worry:

If I spend an extra minute or two tying my laces just so before my eight-mile run tomorrow morning, does that make me the Tanya Harding of marathon training?

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

* Kidding aside, I want to go on record about how lucky I feel to have avoided injury. I know training for marathons isn't a smooth ride for everyone, and I'm grateful. Even when I poke fun, I'm grateful.

Grub Tales: Crystal King

Crystal King is a 15+ year public relations and marketing veteran who currently drives social media for CA, Inc., a $4.3B high-tech firm. She teaches graduate-level media communications at Boston University as well as social media classes for artists and writers at Mass College of Art and at Grub Street, respectively. Additionally, Crystal is a freelance writer and Pushcart-nominated poet who is currently working on her first novel. She holds an M.A. in Critical & Creative Thinking from UMass Boston where she centered her thesis on developing creative tools to help fiction writers in progress. Find her on Twitter at

RUN FOR GRUB: I know you're working on a novel about Rome in the first century, so tell me what's harder: being a gladiator or training for your first marathon?
Ha! This is such a great question. I think the training is equally arduous, but in the end, I would have to go with gladiator. Instead of dodging potholes they're trying to avoid the jaws of deathlions and bears most likely being the scariest of the jaws. Additionally, people threw money and flowers at them. Marathoners usually have to hit up everyone they know for money before the performance, but I'd like to believe that there are flowers handed to them afterward!

RUN FOR GRUB: You're kind of the Grub guru on social media sites, and I've tried to use Twitter and Facebook and Blogger to publicize the Run for Grub. My question is this: could I have made a BIGGER pest of myself?
Oh, you haven't been the slightest bit pesty! I enjoy helping people figure out what they need to do to help promote themselves. It is true though, that some people "get it" faster than others. The good thing is that you are the former vs. the latter! In my high tech PR job I spend a lot of time answering the same questions for the same people who just can't manage to wrap their heads around what social media is and how to use it.

RUN FOR GRUB: How did you learn about Grub Street?
CRYSTAL KING: This is a funny story actually. Four years ago I was at a "Getting Things Done" seminar on organizing my life, schedule, etc., and while I was there I ended up meeting a woman named Michelle Toth, who it turns out was on the board of Grub Street. I had heard of Grub but hadn't really pursued getting involved, thinking that it was just taking classes and not knowing the whole picture. I talked with Michelle for awhile and we agreed to touch base after the seminar was over. We put each other on our "get things done" list and did we do that? Nope. By then, however, I was intrigued enough to sign up for a day at the Muse & the Marketplace. During one of the lunches Michelle spoke briefly and when I went to approach her afterward, she remembered me immediately and we both talked about how we never managed to call each other. She introduced me to Christopher Castellani and after that I became very hookednot just on what Grub offers but by how special the people and the community are to me as a writer.

RUN FOR GRUB: What has Grub Street meant to you?
I like to think of my life as B.G.S. (Before Grub Street) and A.G.S. That may sound silly, but it's honestly true. It is 100% true when I say that Grub has changed my life. My outlook on my sense of self and as a writer is drastically different than before Grub Street waltzed in and declared itself part of my world. Before I was just someone who wanted to writedesperately wanted to write. Now I feel like a writer, my friends are writers, and I meet writers (NYT best-selling writers!! I'm still in awe of that) all the time. I worked in a vacuum B.G.S. Now I feel energized and excited about where my writing is going.

RUN FOR GRUB: Can you define your Grub community?
CRYSTAL KING: It's both small and large. I've taken several classes at Grub and they are all top-notch. I've taught classes on creativity and social media at Grub which is such a delight for me. And two years ago I pulled together three other Grub women I knew and we started meeting every two weeks and hashing over our novels. I also know a lot of writers both published and unpublished that I have met over the years at all the readings, the Muse conference, bi-annual parties, lock-downs, and other gatherings. It's a rich vibrant community that just plain makes me happy.

RUN FOR GRUB: What does Grub Street's magic feel like to you?
CRYSTAL KING: For being a writer I find that it's hard to put into words how I feel about the "magic" that is Grub Street. But it IS magical. I tell everyone I know about it. I feel proud to be a part of the larger tapestry that is Grub Street. I am so fortunate to live in Boston where a community like this exists. It's truly unique.

RUN FOR GRUB: What's your most magical Grub Street memory?
There are so many! Between all the writers I've met, the conferences, and classes it's hard to say. I think though, the way that I felt after I taught my first social media class at Grubthat would be hard to beat. I felt like I made a real difference for my studentswho are my fellow writers. They loved the class so much that they had my career half planned out on how I could help other authors afterward. I tear up thinking about it even now.

RUN FOR GRUB: Grub Street almost closed in 2001, butthank goodnessit reinvented itself as a nonprofit instead. What would you have lost if Grub had withered away eight years ago?
CRYSTAL KING: I'd still be working in a vacuum! I can't imagine going back to my life B.G.S.!!

RUN FOR GRUB: What was the best advice you ever received at a Grub Street event?

CRYSTAL KING: Again, there have been so many useful takeaways I've had from events. Chuck Palahniuk's keynote at this year's Muse & the Marketplace will always stick with me. It made me cry. It made me realize that the writer is, first and foremost, a storyteller. Anita Shreve also said something during her Muse session that will stick with me: "When something is stuck in real life you bang on it, you kick itthat's what you need to do with your writing."

RUN FOR GRUB: And now for the hard hitting journalism: I hear you have a new Grubbie to introduce to the world named Nerocan Run for Grub be the venue to introduce his stunning cuteness to the world? CRYSTAL KING: Yes! My new furry muse, a Ragdoll kitten, will be joining us in a couple of weeks. I'm hoping he'll sit on my desk and keep me company when the words just refuse to flow!