Monthly Archives: September 2016

Running Fast

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I run more than I used to. And much faster.

 

For the longest time, I had a set running scheme. Twenty jumping jacks, hop on the treadmill, start at 6.4 speed, increase the speed one tenth every half mile for two miles, slow back down to 6.4 for the third mile, speed up a decimal every quarter mile until I hit mile 3, then speed up to 7.0 until I got to 3.11 miles, or a 5k. Stop. Stretch.

 

I’ve always been sluggish. I’ve never been quick on my feet. My legs are disproportionately short and squat compared to my longer, leaner torso. I’m not built for speed. I was proud of my nine-to-ten minute miles, since 7th grade me could barely puff out a mile in 14 minutes and always had to stop and walk.

 

Then I had a conversation with one of our church teens. He’s a he, considerably taller than me, with long skinny legs and long flailing arms. He attends the school I attended when I was a teenager, and one of the features of their physical education program (as is the case with every phys. ed. program) is a regularly scheduled timed (and graded) mile run. We were comparing mile times; I rather proudly told him I could run a mile in about nine minutes.

 

He looked at me in wonder. “Nine minutes?” he said, almost pityingly. “That’s like, a D.”

 

Even though I know this boy well enough to know that he would never intend to hurt, I broke a little inside. I had worked hard for several years to get that fast. I was only able to make it to the three-mile mark in the last four years (my first time was when I was 20). I have managed very well for a person who is not genetically predisposed to athleticism. I’ve rarely even experienced “runner’s high”—running doesn’t feel good until I’m finished running. The act of running isn’t very fun, but it’s the most straightforward thing I’ve figured out to do that helps me stay healthy. As someone with no coordination, questionable depth perception, and a visceral aversion to group activities, sports are a significantly less enjoyable fitness option. Yoga, though and fun and challenging alternative, doesn’t get my heart rate up. I love feeling my heart thud confidently through the miles; I love the feeling of my springy knees; I love coming to the end of a few miles knowing I earned the warmth radiating from and through my muscles. So I run. Not fast. Just determinedly, and consistently: at least five times a week at varying distances.

 

I wasn’t about to take anyone’s pity for not being able to run fast. The following Monday, I started a mile at my usual finishing pace (7.0, or about an 8.75-minute mile) and sped up a bit every minute. I surprised myself with my first 8.25-minute mile.

 

Of course, I couldn’t let myself stop there. I had to get faster, and I had to be faster over longer distances. I kept my established pattern for 5ks, but kept increasing my starting speed. I would do 2-mile interval runs, alternating a minute of sprinting with a minute of running at an easier pace until I reached 2 miles, always finishing at my maximum speed. I would run a mile at a time, going as fast as my legs and lungs could carry me. I supplemented with weighted leg exercises, like squat jumps and calf raises and walking lunges and many, many more. I would choose my pre-run meals carefully, making sure that I would be full but not too full and sufficiently carbed up for my fastest and easiest pace.

 

Soon I could run 2 miles in 16 minutes, which quickly shrank to 2 miles in 15:23. My 5k time went down from 28 minutes to 25 and change. Occasionally I can go for 4 miles without killing myself (although my feet have taken a beating).

 

This week, I ran a 5k in my shortest time ever: 23 minutes and 58 seconds, or about 7 minutes and 45 seconds per mile. Today I ran 4 miles at an easier pace of about 8.5 minutes per mile, finishing in 32 minutes and 43 seconds.

 

All of this information is, I understand, more or less meaningless statistics on a runner who will probably never run in any race longer than a 5k. I realize that there are hundreds if not thousands of people out there who can run much faster than me and who probably think a 7:45 mile is embarrassingly slow. I understand that, so laugh all you like.

 

But I am proud of myself. I am fast, sort of. And I am getting faster.

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Brace Yourselves

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Autumn is coming.

Autumn is coming and I am prepared.

All of my sweaters are condensed into one drawer. A pair of second-hand leather oxford shoes arrived in the mail today. My flannel shirts are hung in my closet with care. I’m knitting a long, warm scarf.

I bought one of those crazy Peruvian patchwork jackets for a fraction of its original cost because the zipper doesn’t zip. I’ve wanted one for years, but didn’t want to shell out the $40 to own one. This one is forest green and orange and pink and covered in vine-like embroidery and looks like fall itself and was only $8. It’s hanging by my door, begging to be worn on long walks and shuffles through heaps of crackling leaves. Who cares if it won’t zip? I never zip my jackets anyway, not unless it’s really cold.

My colorful clogs have been sitting in a bin by the door, waiting. Just waiting.

I’m born again every fall. I write more. I think more. I breathe more. I take more walks. I drink more coffee. I’m freer, wilder. I wear my hair down after months of doing everything in my power to keep it off of my neck. I can see everything more clearly.

Autumn gives me hope.

The air cleans itself up. The sky gets bluer. It’s harder to think about all the awful things going on in the world when it’s autumn.

Autumn has always been about fresh starts and new beginnings. Every school year starts in fall. Every new term starts with a new stack of books and new pens and pencils and notebooks. All those blank pages, so crisp and full of potential. All those heavy books, too thick to devour in one bite, that must be taken in piece by piece until they’re a part of you.

Autumn means new adventures. Although I’ve never done much traveling in Autumn (and I probably never will), my mind travels with a little help from a lot of books, and that is usually enough.

I love Autumn.

Which is why this unrelenting heat is unbearable on almost a spiritual level. It was 95 degrees outside today. Ninety-five. My soul is ready for bonfires and marshmallows and pumpkin spice lattes, and it’s 95 DEGREES OUTSIDE.

But I’m hopeful. It’s supposed to rain next week. Rain means a cold front. Rain means a change in pressure. Rain brings change. Rain brings the autumn.

And I’m ready.

Clean

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Few things trigger my anxiety more than having a cluttered home.

My mother will laugh as she reads this, because I do not hold the title of “tidiest person in the Rambler household.” In fact, I’m pretty sure I was never even the runner up. My definition of orderly doesn’t always align with most people’s. As a general rule, though, I prefer to see straight lines and empty spaces and recognizable stacks and clean surfaces and no trash littered around. I do like having more things to look at—those sleek, modern spaces with no more decoration than a vase on a table are, in my mind, impersonal and cold—and since I own so many things there tends to be quite a bit to look at and to keep in line.

I can tolerate clutter to a point. I generally know where things are. I may not be able to easily access them at all times, and when I’m in the middle of a project or a semester I prioritize art over tidiness, but I always try to keep things clean.

My orderliness comes in waves. Over time, clutter and dust and grit build up in my space: bits of paper, stacks of books, discarded clothes. I’ll ignore or put off the rearranging of these possessions until I see clutter everywhere and seeing the clutter makes it difficult for me to breathe. Empty spaces are driven to extinction by little piles, little assemblies of things I’m sure I’m not responsible for and weren’t always there yet somehow are now.

I’ve lost control of my space. It will get to a point where I don’t know where things are. Until I can get it under control again, to a state where everything has a place and sits there, ready for use, I cannot enter my home without feeling extreme stress.

So I’ll snap and clean everything.

On my own, when I had a room in my parents’ house instead of a whole apartment, I could keep a state of order and cleanliness for a solid two months, maybe more, before noticing the need for a straightening up.

Add another person—particularly a person whose standard of orderliness is (perhaps, maybe) even less conventional than your own—and that length of time dwindles rapidly to the course of one week, maybe, before everything is in disarray again.

It is one thing entirely to convince oneself that items like pencils (or pens, shoes, clothing, whatever) need to be returned to the same location after use for greater ease of finding that item again when needed in the future. It is another thing entirely to convince the person you live with that the practice of returning things to a designated location is a good idea.

One person trying to keep a good habit is hard. Two trying to do it together is harder.

That aside, even with the best intentions towards tidiness and minimalism can be thwarted by the arrival of new items into a small space. And, over time, once enough items accumulate, even my perpetually somewhat untidy (and hoard-y) self decides it’s time to get rid of some stuff.

All that to say I’ve spend that last two weekends getting rid of stuff.

I got rid of clothes. I got rid of yarn. I got rid of kitchen stuff I haven’t used in a year. I tossed old papers. I cleaned out drawers. I cleaned out the closet. I cleaned off the dresser. I got things out from under the kitchen table. I reorganized the cabinets in the kitchen. I sanitized counters. I scrubbed and shined and vacuumed. I took bags of stuff out the door never to be seen again.

I can see so much more of my floor. The nightstands are free of superfluous nonsense. You can open the closet door all the way inward. My dresser drawers open and close without a fuss. You could perform surgery on my countertops, they’re so sterile.

Most importantly, our shared space is now much more serene, much easier on the eyes, and we know where everything is and can access it easily.

I hope it lasts the week.