That Guy

I had a chat with That Guy over the weekend. You know the one. Shoulders back, chest out, biceps curled at every opportunity. The one who – with no prior niceties – suddenly asks you in a booming voice about your half marathon time (that you never mentioned, but presumably your husband did, in an act of misplaced pride) with a condescending little grin of glee because he cannot WAIT to get to the real reason for starting this conversation: his own studliness.

What? No! How do you even know about that? I don’t want to talk about it! I’m not here to be your goddamn blank human screen on which you project your own narcissistic glory! …is not what I said. Nor did I say “ooh, my time is DEFINITELY not as fast as YOUR time!” I said, “Um. 1:45?” With a small inner sigh I waited for what was going to come next. Sure enough – the condescending grin got a little wider, the dude nodded with raised eyebrows as if to say “not bad for a little woman,” and said, “Uh huh. Yeah, I just ran the Nürnberg half. I didn’t really train or anything, because I don’t have time with the all the kung fu, but I ran pretty fast anyway.” He puffed out his chest a little more (how do they do that? Is there an extra air pocket somewhere?) and stretched out his arm, examining it to make sure it still had muscles.

Oh. OK. So you didn’t really work at it, but still did pretty well? Two thumbs up, dude! Awesome! I tried to look just impressed enough to be polite. Then we talked about kung fu.

I’ve had this conversation with so many guys (always guys. Sorry.) and you see it in running forums a lot. “I didn’t run for three months before my goal marathon but I still ran it and finished in under 6 hours!” And then all these other people are like “OMG congratz you are so badass!” Everyone should run when and where and whatever distance they feel like – I don’t really care – but I just do not understand the mentality of bragging about an accomplishment you didn’t really work for. Fine, you finished the race. You weren’t dead last. Yay. Don’t you wonder what you could do if you trained?

Posted in Life | 2 Comments

Half marathon!

I did it! I ran a half marathon! It was painful and crampy and my assessment around km 16 was that this was actually, when you got right down to it, kind of exhausting and not really that fun, so obviously the only thought in my mind right now is “Awesome! When is the next one?”

Did I train for a half marathon? No, not really – I’ve been running 60km/wk slowly for most of the year and my hamstrings reminded me fairly early in the race that they did not sign up for this running fast business – but I was in good enough shape to run a consistent 8-minute-mile pace the whole way and finish in 1:45:39.

Why am I so excited about this 5-minute non-PR? Well, because I had one goal: to run this race and feel good doing it. You know. “Good.” As in, “possibly crampy and painful but still positive.” “Good” as in “woohoo, I ate enough carbs and now I can actually move forward!” “Good” as in “Not beating self up with relentlessly negative inner voice.” “Good” as in “look, I ate the right things before the race and now I’m not dying of a stomach cramp!” (Yes, these are all real issues for me, a theoretical adult who should really know better.)

That kind of good. Sometimes it really is all about the minuscule things.

Posted in Race Report | 6 Comments

What happens when I go shopping on a Saturday

Any guidebook will tell you that the Kurfürstendamm is Berlin’s most legendary shopping street. They may even compare it to the Champs-Elysées. Sure, I guess, if the Champs-Elysées were basically an outdoor shopping mall with all the chains you can find on any high street in Europe and a few extra sex shops. To me, on a Saturday morning as I lugged my ailing Macbook to the Apple Store, the Kurfürstendamm just exemplified all the reasons why never leaving your house is such a good idea. Nothing about this made sense, I thought, wandering past Karstadt (advertising this fantastic new service where you can order things online and go pick them up in the shop, because…why? Why would you voluntarily go into a department store and interact with people when DHL could bring it to your house for free?), the Scientologists at their long table with the shiny, metallic, sooper sciencey personality testing devices, and a huge poster of The Dude advertising for an overpriced, wannabe-preppy German clothing chain.

The Apple Store didn’t make it better. Oh, the employees were lovely. Sprightly 19 year olds with a corporate mandate to use the informal “du” with everyone – only they kept forgetting. Conversations started with a hearty, can-do tone and a smile, before lapsing into the occasional “Sie”, i.e. “you” for old people. They would catch their mistake that split-second too late, clear their throats, carry on with “du”, with less and less eye contact as the conversation progressed and it became clear how awkward it was for them to not be all formal with someone as haggard and clueless as me. I waited for the repair, browsing on my cracked, scratched-up Windows Phone as, all around me, makeup-adept twentysomethings tapped their 600 euro iphones with perfectly manicured nails.

Something had to change, and as the estimated repair time dragged from 30 minutes to 60 to 90 to “maybe in another hour?” it became clear that the Apple Store and its well-groomed clientele were not going to be the ones to budge. It got hotter and louder and fuller of screaming children and I finally stuffed my phone in my bag and elbowed my way to the front door and onto the Kudamm.

Now what? That way are the scientologists. This way lie the boutiques with the 400-euro Versace baby clothes. H&M, Zara, just the thought is giving me hives…there’s a drugstore. I’ll just pop in and buy a 10-liter bag of cat litter. Ok, and now? Coffee? Sure, why not. Coffee. Over here is a Starbucks, but the line is out the door. Over there is another Starbucks and another line out to the street. A few hundred meters down another Starbucks with a flash mob inside. Oh man, and I could be running right now…oh hey, look, McCafé. Sure, it’s McDonald’s and I haven’t entered one of those since 1997, but: coffee. And cheap. I went in. Stood in line for two minutes, ordered a small, sadly not as cheap as I expected coffee, and took it over to a seat by the window.

The McCafé moved into a space left by a different restaurant, and didn’t bother redoing it. The walls are dark, fake wood panels with brass sconces and shelves of fake-antique fake books. There is a chandelier. The table was only a little bit sticky.

I sat there blowing on my coffee and looking around at who the hell else had chosen to sit in this dark place on a perfectly fine Saturday morning for a run in the woods. It was just me and two immaculately dressed, gold-accessorised, and coiffed blonde women in their 40’s sipping lattes and looking at something on an iPhone. One had shiny, straight hair and was apparently scrolling through photos while the other, who had a mass of curls held back from her face with huge sunglasses, oohed and aahed. They looked like they would have been more at home in one of the brasserie-type places with the 5-euro filter coffee, or maybe on the rooftop terrace at the über-upscale KaDeWe down the street.

I picked at my cuticles and tried to look more interested in my phone than in their conversation or outfits (seriously, it can’t be that hard to put on makeup and jewelry, can it? Why do I not accomplish this on a regular basis?)

The photos, I surmised, were of a yachting vacation, or maybe a Tuscan getaway. “Ooh, lovely,” said curly hair, shaking her head with envy. Then straight-hair said something about a trail and a mountain. I sat up, leaning in and trying to give the impression that my phone had just done something particularly absorbing.

“…and then we ran here…” straight-hair was saying, swiping the iPhone screen.

Wait, what? You ran? Suddenly her cheekbones looked like more than the result of an air-and-vodka-based diet.

“Oh, those trails look amazing,” said curly, taking the phone and swiping with thumb and forefinger to zoom in.

Wait, on trails? Better dressed AND more badass? I had to resort to actually sipping my coffee I hadn’t ever wanted in the first place in order to process this information.

Then curly sat up straight, touched her friend’s arm and said, “OH! I meant to tell you! There’s running clothes next week at Tchibo!”*

And I almost jumped up from my chair and said “Oh yeah I KNOW! I’m all over the fleece tights! Starting Wednesday!”

Then I remembered I don’t actually know her and wedged my butt more firmly in the hard plastic seat. Then straight hair said “Oh yeah, I know! I meant to tell you too! Starting Wednesday, right?”

They started talking about what they were going to buy (fleece jacket or windbreaker? Socks?) and the relative merits of 7/8th vs 3/4 length running capris, something I myself have internally debated recently as so many women seem to be gravitating to the 7/8th length these days. Personally, I think it looks like your full-length tights shrank in the wash, but I didn’t share this opinion. Curly said she’d probably pick up a pair of full-length tights for winter. I gave her a mental thumbs up.

Runners. They’re everywhere! This felt like a good thing. I finished my coffee and gathered up my purse and my huge bag of cat litter, stood up and made eye contact with a grey-haired man in glasses who’d just sat down with a cappuccino and appeared to be watching me with amusement, or maybe it was pity. The U-bahn whisked me, my cat litter, and my newly repaired MacBook back to Cheekland. I ran 15km, sweated out any remaining anomie, and look forward to a shopping-district-free future for at least the next six months. Oh, and I totally bought those fleece tights yesterday.

*Tchibo is this German chain that has a different “theme” and sells different items every week. It’s cheap and the quality is decent, but it is not the place for name-brand snobs at all.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Mama! Mama! You look just like this fitness model, mama! (…NOW will you let me stick a pencil up your nose?)

Mr. Cheeks keeps pointing to the model in this Runner’s World ad and saying “Mama! Mama!” The model is wearing exactly what I wear when I go running: black leggings, pink windbreaker, black beanie hat.

The institution of higher learning has not yet been created that can accommodate this level of genius.

Well, ok, or he’s just learning early the fine art of buttering up.

Posted in my kid is cuter than your kid | Leave a comment

Blog: Unf*cked!

My Macbook just blinked a reminder at me: “Unfuck your blog!” Apparently I set that up for Friday at 11:30 in a fit of New Year’s-related “Unfuck all the things!” a few days ago. (Anyone who has no idea what I’m talking about needs to start reading Unfuck Your Habitat, stat.) The other thing it blinks at me on a daily basis is “Unfuck your fitness!” Because, yes. I haven’t blogged in ages because I had another run, in November, of being sick all the time. Not just a little sniffly, but lying in bed for days at a time feverish and unable to get up sick for three weeks. Stomach flu, sinus infection, sore throats galore, all back-to-back. After all that subsided I made the conscious decision to stop running for a month. Then I got stomach flu again, but that’s beside the point.

The good news is that, having recently started running again, I don’t feel as unfit as I expected. Slow, but not pathetically slow. Was the break good or necessary? To be honest, I don’t think it was necessary. Running didn’t make me run down; lack of sleep and poor stress/anxiety management made me run down. Now with probiotics, multivitamins, and a Cheekmeister theoretically capable of sleeping for 12 hours (as in: he did it twice, thus inspiring unreasonable, easily-dashed hopes for all the other nights) it’s a new year, new start, and all the other cliches.

I’ll be back soon with a cheek update (spoiler: SO CUTE SO MOBILE SO MUCH PERSONALITY) and more running blather. For now the 20 minutes of unfucking are up, so it’s time for a so-well-deserved coffee break.) Happy new year!

Posted in Life | 2 Comments

A really smelly rock star in compression socks (with a cold.)

Just sitting here with the patented Autumnal Cold Of Death, and thought I’d torture myself by writing about how great my training was going until this happened and I had to take THREE DAYS OFF FROM RUNNING which has clearly blown all my progress to smithereens and I’ll probably have to start out by crawling around the block tomorrow.

Moving on.

I’m up to about 50 km or 31 miles a week, which was my goal at the start of the summer. Yay! I will stay at this level in October, then move up to the next goal: 60km/wk. The extreme slowness of stroller running has been great for my legs. Not so great for my running form, especially the upper body – I seem to have regressed to the old boxing-nun arm form, if my race photos are to be believed – so I try to work on that whenever I can get in a stroller-free run. My main focus is on mileage right now so I haven’t done much in the way of impressive-sounding workouts, but I did do two speed-training sessions in the last two weeks: one hill workout, where I ran uphill for 5 repeats of 2:30 at 5k effort, dodging skateboarders most of the way, and a mini tempo run on the track, 4km in 18 minutes. Who knows if that counts as a tempo run – but it surely did *something*, however minute, for my lactate threshhold.

The closest track is about a mile away, and nestled into the armpit of a highway junction/four-leaf-clover thing, with a huge big-box furniture store on one side and a gasometer on the other. A gym class from a nearby school showed up halfway through my workout: about 20 15-year-old girls, half of them with head scarf and mostly chattering in Turkish. They were adorable, even though they hogged the inside lane on their two-lap warmup whatever (jog? walk? joddle?). In typical high school gym class fashion, guaranteed to spark anyone’s passion for sport, they then sat down on the sidelines and were called out in pairs to sprint 100m. I.e. they warmed up, then sat down in the relatively freezing cold for half an hour, in order to each sprint for 20 or so seconds. Fantastic workout.  Really.

As I rounded the last curve I heard one of them say: “Look! She’s been sprinting by herself the whole time!” (Sprinting! lol.) And the other ones were like “omg why?” I jogged a slow lap, and as I went to collect my jacket and hat from the bleachers, one of the girls called out, “How many laps did you do?” in a tone that suggested honest bewilderment that anyone would do this alone, voluntarily. “Ten,” I said, smiling/grimacing through a waterfall of sweat and trying to hide my internal sobbing at the fact that she used the formal, respectful “you” that kids that age are supposed to use with their elders. “Whoa,” she said. Then the groundskeeper, a white-haired man in a windbreaker who’d been carrying a measuring tape around and marking the infield while I ran, popped his head out the window of his office and said “But she’s an elite athlete!” I had to laugh at that. Ridiculous as it sounded, I still felt like a rock star. A really smelly rock star in compression socks. But still.

I jogged home in the saccharine afterglow of this made-for-tv encounter, easily the friendliest interaction I have ever had with a bunch of random Berliners. (In fact I can’t recall any others that would qualify as “friendly.” At the most I can think of some where people weren’t outright rude in that “yeah I know I’m being rude and I’m proud of it and what are you going to do about it anyway” way that they have here. After 8 years it was bound to happen, I guess.)

Posted in Berlin, Running | 3 Comments

Q: When are weird foot aches and pains actually awesome?

A: When the reason for the aches and pains is that your shoes are worn out because you’ve put over 800km on them since February. Hard to explain the pride and joy I feel at this admittedly mundane occurrence. Runners wear out shoes all the time, but dude, this one feels like a major accomplishment.

So RIP Nirvanas. Thanks for the good times.

Posted in omgshoes | Leave a comment

10 random questions about me and running

When Another Mother Runner brought me back to the heady days of 2008 Facebook and those “25 (or 99, or 1250) things you don’t know about me (and which are not even 50% as interesting as I think)!” the nostalgia got to be too much, and I had to succumb to their “10 running related personal questions” post.

Well, that, and also I can’t think of anything more interesting to say right now: I run a lot. Almost every day. Very very slowly, most days, with Cheeks in the Baby Jogger. My legs like it, but – unlike this list of things you previously did not know about me and yet were somehow able to live your life – it doesn’t make for scintillating blog content.

1. Best run ever: Ever? Like, EVER ever? Superlatives come with so much commitment. I remember a few runs that stood out as the best during that particular period of my life, but have never given much thought to why, and I’m not sure I would call them the best in relation to now because everything else around them was so…not the best. College wasn’t my favorite life phase (an understatement – unamerican, I know) but I remember a few early-morning Sunday easy runs with the cross-country team, and alone, on trails in the mountains: that famous tourist-fodder foliage, the quiet, the chill in the air, not having any training goal other than just recovering from a hard week and knowing you had the rest of the day to hang out and do nothing. For once I didn’t beat myself up for being too slow, too fat, too not-good-enough, I just enjoyed it.Those were great. I remember my fastest half-marathon, also on a cold fall morning, six months after I started running seriously again, how easy it felt to pass people and just let my legs do their job unhindered by negative self-talk, feeling good about myself and something I’d accomplished at a time when everything else was crumbling around me. Again, a great run and a great feeling, but against a dreary backdrop. More recently, running has been less an escape or a relief than just part of who I am, and my best recent run was probably the muddy, hilly 12km x-c race I ran 2 weeks ago. It wasn’t fast, but mentally it was awesome: no beating myself up for being slower than the last time I ran the course, just focusing on keeping an even effort on the uphills and working with the downhills, feeling light, SMILING (!!) and looking forward to seeing my supportively gorgeous/gorgeously supportive husband and adorable son at the finish line. Also autumnal, and yet somehow REALLY the best this time…

2. Three words that describe my running: Life-affirming (that’s 2, right?), essential.

3. My go-to running outfit is:  If we had Lucy in Germany, I’m pretty sure the answer to this would be different, but as it is, I love these 4-year-old Adidas Supernova capris which are slowly disintegrating in key coverage areas like the crotch, but which I cannot replace because the newer Supernova capris fit differently, i.e. not at all – and whichever t-shirt doesn’t stink too badly at the moment.

4. Quirky habit while running: Does conversing with an 11-month-old count? Otherwise I am disappointingly unquirky these days. Oh, unless you count imagining myself in the 2016 Olympics. What?  I won’t even be 40 yet!

5. Morning, midday, evening: When I was employed I always ran after work. Now that I am a useless waste of space, I prefer morning. Not too early. Post-coffee. Lately it’s been late afternoon due to baby scheduling issues and my stride is measurably less springy.

6. I won’t run outside when it’s: Icy. See also: Injury, fear of.

7. Worst injury—and how I got over it: Achilles tendonitis in 2009. I am probably lucky that this was my worst injury to date (.hey body, can we please keep it that way?): I stopped running for a month, iced the tendon, massaged and stretched my calves, made sure I had the right shoes, and it went away.

8. I felt most like a badass mother runner when: Hmmm, my running experiences as a mother are limited to the last 9 months, but I think it’s a 3-way tie among the 3 races I’ve run in the last month: waving at my husband and my adorable little son at the start and sometimes even during the race, hugging them at the finish line…and remembering how far my body has come since I started “running” again this past January, one wobbly slow minute at a time.

9. Next race is: A 10k on October 14th.

10. Potential running goal for 2013:, obvs. Just to end on the 2008 theme again.

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PSA: Your mouth.

…have you closed it lately?

Because, ummm…


I’m thinking you might want to consider it.

Posted in Photos, Racing | 4 Comments

Racy! A 10k, an alpine race, and 12km x-c

Stuff has been happening, guys! This, for instance:

Alpine trail race: so painful! When can we do it again?

I ran this alpine trail race (the 12km version) in August. It was 85 degrees, no clouds, little shade, and, duh, lots of hills. I felt strangely good for a person running an alpine trail race who hasn’t trained for an alpine trail race, sort of light on my feet and happy to be there, and was super happy with the result, especially considering the nearly 5-hour hike we’d done the day before. Sure, there was that almost-vomiting thing during the first 3.5 km of uphill in blinding sunshine, and the killer migraine that night, but it was all totally worth it. Finished in 1:04:03.

Then there was this:

12km x-c race near Berlin. YAY MUD. And yes, this is the corrected elevation. It really is this hilly. Some of the hills involve stairs.

…a 12km cross-country race near Berlin on 1.9. Muddy! Hilly! Twisty! Turny! STAIRS! (No German x-c race is complete without at least one set of stairs.) This is one of my favorite races for the art installations and music along the course. Again I felt weirdly good, passed a lot of people and finished in just over 59 minutes, good enough for 4th place and just over a minute slower than the last time I ran this race, pre-pregnancy.

And finally, last weekend, this:

10km race at the zoo with free-range pelicans. (That’s not me running – jerks don’t have any photos of me! Photo credit

…a flat, though turn-intensive, 10k race at the zoo. Best combination of race and family day out ever invented. Herr G. ran the 5k, I ran the 10k, and all 3 of us  had a great time wandering around looking at the animals. Baby monkeys! OMG! The race itself: also OMG. My 10k started at 2:30 in the afternoon; it was hot, and I’d eaten about 14 tons of pasta for lunch that morphed into a glob of lead in my stomach and was still sitting there shortly before the start. Motivation was awol and did not make an appearance during my super-slow 1km warmup plod. I told myself it would be a good workout regardless of the finish time and lined up in the middle of the pack. After running a difficult 12k in 59 minutes the week before, I figured I’d manage under 50 minutes for this race, maybe even under 49 if it was a really good day. Faster scenarios did not occur to me, slower scenarios were too depressing, so I settled on 49-ish as a goal and decided not to look at my Garmin at all during the race, but to just run by feel.

The feeling, as it turned out, was very much a sub-46-minute kinda vibe. After weaving around the hordes who take the starting gunshot as a sign to gradually mosey along (seriously people, there is a place for you, and it is not in the “10k between 45-50 minutes” corral), I settled into a pace that felt like it was probably too fast, and then talked myself into keeping it up the whole time. At the 5k mark I glanced at my watch and saw 23:00. Panicked briefly, then consoled myself with the thought that I could slow down a LOT and still make it in 49 minutes. Middle of the pack was, as it turned out, probably too far back for this race: I passed, like, everyone, and was passed exactly once, by some dude between km 8 and 9 as I contemplated just lying down and taking a nap next to the zebra enclosure. (km 8-9 is always the “please let me nap” phase of a 10k, I find.)  I developed an aversion to looking at my Garmin – I really didn’t want to know, because I knew the pace was fastish and I’d probably psych myself into slowing down if I knew the exact number – and was totally surprised to round the last curve and see 45:00 on the clock. Holy $%&! Really? Is the clock broken? After a sad attempt at a finishing kick, the final result was 45:26 – good enough for 1st in my age group (by 2 minutes) and 11th woman out of 666 overall. (I could insert a devil’s number joke here, but honestly it’s all I can do to type words in a coherent sequence right now. Feel free to make your own.)

45:26 is a really good time for me, and it came out of nowhere. Apart from the 2 12k races I’d run in the preceding month, I had done no speed training in 2 years and my average training pace is over 10 minutes/mile. Almost every run is a baby jogger run. Run slow, run faster? Well, maybe! What I am most proud of is the mental effort it took to keep running that fast, despite the fear of a crash-and-burn. I’m feeling übermotivated now and really looking forward to my next 10k in mid-October. Just 2.6 seconds per kilometer faster and I’ll make it under 45 minutes. Because you know it’s just that easy…

Posted in Racing, Running | 7 Comments