Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blue-green tutu


There was a blue-green tutu tossed onto the side of the road.

It’s not always easy being a princess—or even dressing up like one. Especially not when you have to be all decked out before 4 a.m. on a misty moisty Florida morning in order to wait around in a “corral” for an hour plus before you begin a 13.1 mile run along with 22,000 other princess wannabees.
Not until a booming male voice has belted out the national anthem and your slightly overweight and extraordinarily cheery fairy godmother has intoned “salagadula means, michakabularu“ are you released into the dark to “live your dream” any way you can manage it.          
I’m a little chagrined to say that my daughter and I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando last weekend sans tutu, tiara, feather boa, and face sparkles. In the hours before the race began, it became obvious that as the unadorned, we were part of a painfully small and obvious minority. Even most of the thousand-plus men who ran this female-focused race got into the act with fancy shirts and an occasional tiara or feather boa. 
Kristin and I don’t go in much for “fru-fru” but both of us emerged from this elaborately “staged” race with a whole new set of insights. We came to admire the fact that so many participants were doing their very first half-marathon. I’m fairly certain that more than a few of them suspected they would struggle to complete the race in the allotted time, (an average of 16-minute miles) but that wasn’t stopping anyone.

One radiant young woman approached me to explain that this was her first half marathon and she was six weeks out from a double mastectomy. Another had been dealing with diabetes since childhood. Less than a mile from the finish, I saw a runner stop to help a fellow runner who was limping—barely able to move forward.  Instead of allowing this girl to struggle on alone, the runner sacrificed her very respectable pace to help. “Come on,” I heard her say. “We’ll finish this thing together. Slow and easy wins the race.”
It was kind of a fluke that I ended up running the Disney Princess Half. Five weeks before I’d run in the Disney World Half Marathon on the very same course through Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. It was the first race I’d ever chosen specifically to see if I could set an age-group world record on a certified course. I chose this one because of its reputation and because a son and his family live in Orlando.

I had the good fortune to set the record I was shooting for, and that fact resulted in a most generous offer to return with a companion, all expenses paid, to speak on a couple of panels and run the Princess Half if I’d like to. I was thrilled to be able to include my daughter.

Look askance all you wish at those running adorned in capes, crowns, feathers and glitters. The hard fact remains that 13.1 miles is 13.1 miles, and there is no easy way to get the job done.

I know for certain that at least one runner had to toss her blue-green tutu aside to complete the race. She was no less a princess because of it.           

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Keep on Truckin'

Like political polls, study results can be misleading, hard to believe, depressing, or downright silly. Gretchen Reynolds, who writes a running column for the New York Times, often quotes study results. Some offer something to ponder, confirm what you already know, and sometimes even share new and useful information. Recent studies say:
Marathons rarely kill. An article in the May 2012 American Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that between 1999 and 2009 the number of marathon finishers in a year rose from 299,000 to 472,000 but the death rate remained the same—less than one per 100,000 participants.  Twenty-eight people died during or in the 24 hours after a marathon, mostly men with heart problems. A few died from low blood sodium caused by drinking too many liquids.

The January 2012 New England Journal of Medicine confirms what cardiologist Dr. Paul Thompson, already believed: “You are at slightly higher risk of suffering a heart attack during a marathon than if you were sitting or walking during those same hours. But overall, running decreases the risk of heart disease. Genetics, viruses, and bad habits from the past can cause development of plaque in the heart arteries and enlargement of the heart muscle which running cannot prevent.

The doctor, who was forced to quit running because of a bad hip says: “I ran marathons because I loved them, not because I expected them to help me live forever. I don’t know if it’s the healthiest way to spend years of your life. But it was enjoyable. I miss running very, very much.”

A recent study at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health offers good news for the slow and steady. Researchers found that running in moderation provided the most benefits. People who logged up to 20 miles a week at about 10 or 11 minutes per mile pace reduced their risk of dying compared to people who did not run and compared to those who ran more than 20 miles a week, as well as to those who ran faster than 7 miles an hour.

Less running appears to provide the best protection from mortality risk. “More is not better, and can be worse,” says Dr. Carl J. Lavie. “Run more if you like, but only if you don’t experience extreme fatigue or frequent injuries.”

Researchers at the University of Arizona wondered why our ancestors continued to run over time rather than developing other strategies for survival.  Blood samples from humans and dogs after they had run for 30 minutes, showed increased levels of a naturally occurring cannabis-like chemical that alters and lightens mood. After 30 minutes of walking, no such increase occurred. When ferrets were encouraged to run (with difficulty), their blood samples showed no change in endocannabinoid levels.  Conclusion: Humans are hard-wired to run, ferrets are not.

 A  study of Western adults reported that every hour of television viewing after age 25 lowers life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.

Our physical activity can affect how long, and more importantly, how well we live.  All the studies tell us so. No exercise prevents aging, according to Reynolds. “Only death can do that.” 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Making it Work: Running When the Kids are Small

Question: Can a 30-something mom with two small children, a husband who travels, and a demanding full-time job maintain a satisfying running schedule?

“Yes,” says Erica Burr who lives next door to me, “but you have to get creative.”

I’ve been watching Erica run for several years now, from the time when Maddie, now 6, was in a stroller through part of a second pregnancy, and now with a second daughter, Isabelle, 14 months at this writing.
Active in volleyball, basketball, and track during high school, Erica began to run regularly as a freshman at Northern Illinois University, and it has been an important part of her life ever since. She remembers Midwest wind so strong she had to run backwards to get home.

A visit to Fort Collins with a friend during college and all the runners she saw in town made her decide to move west after graduation in 1997. A degree in English and experience in web development landed her a marketing coordinator position at Hewlett Packard where she met Chris, a software engineer. They married in 2002.  In the days before Maddie arrived in 2006, Erica and Chris often trained and did races together.
“HP had showers on site and in those days dirt roads surrounded the place. It was easy to get in a good run at noon,” Erica says.
For six months after Maddie was born, Erica ran pushing a regular stroller. “It didn’t work well,” she says. “A jogging stroller was the best investment I ever made. Maddie lived in it.”
When she got old enough to choose, Erica would offer Maddie, “a nap or a ride in the stroller.” She seldom chose to stay at home.
Erica has established a routine that allows her to run 20 miles a week, about half on the weekends. Because Chris is gone every other week, Erica hires a girl twice a week to come to her home about 6:45 a.m. Those days, weather permitting, she bikes to work at CSU, arriving by 7 a.m. and works until 3 p.m., bikes home, changes clothes, picks Maddie up at school, and together they get Isabelle at day care, and are off, Erica running, Maddie on her bike, Isabelle in the stroller, for four miles.
“There have been times,” Erica says, “when Maddie balks. I explain that this is something she’s doing for me. It’s not a choice.” This summer Maddie ran her first 5k, struggling a little during the race, but full of pride afterwards.
“My dad has diabetes and is not in good shape. I explain to Maddie that running will help to keep us both healthy.
When the weather cooperates, Erica puts Isabelle to bed a little early so they can both get up in time for a run before work. Early morning is Erica’s favorite time to run. “I love the quiet,” she says. “There’s nothing better than waking up and going for a run.”
Sometimes she sneaks away from her job as assistant coordinator for CSU Academic Computer Networking Services for a noon run. “No shower available, but I manage,” she says. “The important thing is getting in the run.”


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Connie loves to run

She loves to run, and she loves numbers. Three years ago, Connie DeMercurio, by day Special Projects Coordinator for Project Self Sufficiency, signed on as treasurer of the Fort Collins Running Club. Now in her second year as president, her contagious enthusiasm has generated some impressive numbers. The club has grown from 100 to 200 members and its monthly predict races have soared from 10 to 90 participants.

Connie’s devotion to her favorite sport extends beyond the personal satisfaction she derives from running. She devotes more than her share of time to encouraging others to discover its joys.  For three years she has faithfully guided blind runner Dan Berlin through six marathons—in New York, Boston, Washington D. C., and two each in Fort Collins and Denver.  She has been active in Athletes in Tandem, pushing a stroller carrying someone unable to run. The epitome of those experiences came last September when she simultaneously pushed a 90-pound man in a stroller and guided Dan through the Crossroads half marathon in Fort Collins.

Connie and Dan have become a smooth-running team. They talk to each other often as they run, and in crowded situations, as in the New York marathon, are tethered together. Other times Connie runs a little ahead and Dan follows, using his ability to see white lines and contrasts. Connie has learned to wear bright clothing.  Dan’s trust in her, his changed diet, weight loss, and added muscle have resulted in faster times and opened up a whole new world to him.  There was a time when running with Dan meant a sacrifice of time for Connie, but no longer.
Growing up in the Chicago area and Santa Barbara, California, Connie confesses to being a couch potato until age 21 when she discovered swimming.  After insisting to Doug, her runner husband, that she hated it, she took up running anyway at age 30 because it was the most convenient way to work out after delivering her daughter to a pre-school near the Spring Creek trail.

 In 1989 she entered the Colorado Run in Fort Collins on Labor Day during a time when the race awarded women finishers under 48 minutes a special long-sleeved shirt. She earned one. Since then she has clocked the fastest half-marathon in the state in her 55-59 age group with a 1:33 at Georgetown in 2012, and completed a 3:18:36 marathon in Napa Valley, California two years ago at age 54.

“She gets faster as she gets older,” says daughter Marissa, herself a veteran of three marathons. She and Connie did the Chicago marathon together. Her brother, Nate, ran the Marine Corps marathon with his mother, has completed a 50-mile race, two half Ironmans, and is now preparing for his first full Ironman. Despite an ailing knee, Connie guided Dan through the Marine Corps marathon in October 2012 chalking up her 28th time at that distance.
Connie’s love of numbers doesn’t extend to tracking her times in shorter races or her annual mileage. “It’s not important. “I just love to run,” she says. “I love the beauty of it, the companionship, the opportunity to explore new places, and it makes me feel good.”