Saturday, February 11, 2012

Livin Long After Midnight

My longtime running partner canceled on me. I was a runner without a weekend run.
I knew of one other group going out on a Saturday morning. When I thought about joining, I laughed it off.
There wasn't one in the group who wasn't a friend. I'd run with all of them before. I liked all of them. But many of the rest of my running peeps, including me, looked at them with a combination of bewilderment, awe and a little fear, the same way frat boys might look at the guy who can bong five beers in a minute. They were my friends, yes, but these peeps were hardcore. They were all kinds of crazy. They partied.
They were fast. They started their runs at 4:30 a.m. They wouldn't let anything in the weather stop them.
I could match them on the weather — I have not run on the treadmill once this winter, despite many single-digit or snowy days — but I wasn't sure about the pace, and 4:30 a.m.??? I'd get up that early for a trip up a  mountain, a baby or maybe a race.
And yet, I couldn't shake the thought. It was early, but it's fun to run different routes, with different people. And, to be honest, I wanted to see if I could do it.
So that's why I turned off my alarm clock at 3:55 a.m. I was already up, in anticipation of the extra-early wake-up that was going to jolt me out of happyland. I left the pillow and the warm sheets and my sleeping wife, and I looked out the bedroom window just before I started getting dressed.
Snow fell in chunks. The streets were white. Our clock inside the house said it was barely 10 degrees.
Last night, the wind was howling. I wasn't thrilled about the morning snow, the frost in the air or the fact that the sun wouldn't come up until we were done, but I'd take all that over a gusty gale.
I flipped on the coffee, spread peanut butter and honey over my toast and grabbed a couple Gatorades. I breathed deep. Time to go.
* * *
After the race in Vegas, I fell into a slump. It took almost as long to recover from the half as it did my full this year. I felt sluggish and shitty and not even remotely excited about running. My ass hurt on every run. I got the flu and after felt as if I was running with a knife in my chest thanks to an acid reflux flare-up. I skipped the traditional Super Bowl 5K.
I kept running because I am loathe to stop an activity for fear of losing what I've worked so hard to gain. And it was the only real way to see many of my closest peeps. And I still enjoyed it, even if it sucked. I'd been through bad stretches before, and I was encouraged because this snap started because I ran hard in Vegas, maybe harder than I'd ever ran before, and the result was proof: Seven minutes faster than last year's PR half in Denver.
But out of nowhere, almost, this week I felt great. I had a good tempo run, stomping all over the damn hill at mile 3. I ran 12 quarter-miles on Wednesday in 1:36 or less, with the last four the fastest. So I told myself I could hang with this crazy, wild crowd, at least this week, and the snow actually gave me even more confidence. It evened the playing field, throwing a layer of slick under the cheetahs' paws. And running in shitty weather was practically my speciality, a leftover from my days as a hardass mountain climber.
We got little reminders all through the first hour that this was, well, different. Flakes slapped at our eyelids and occasionally stung our pupils, but despite was Corey Hart said, we could not wear sunglasses, even if technically it was just really early in the morning. When we ran up hills, runners either begged for traction or, as in my case, wore spikes that gripped the road but beat up our feet. At least one runner fell, hard, and because of her scouting report, I barely dodged a pothole that would have thrown me to the snow as well. When I ate a gel, it was cold and hard, like choking down a slug.
Conversations were sparse even if they were frequent. The snow, the hazy cold and the dark felt like we were running down a dream, as if we were contained in our effort, in the ache and the breathing and the simpleness of it, and though I knew where we were at all times, it all felt different, too.
We picked up new partners an hour later, and when we stopped to gather them into the group, my mind left the zone for a moment and dreamed about the car and a shower and food. I put my head down and tried to focus on the run again. Thoughts like that are dangerous.
Even so, they are also delicious when you can feel the end. My watch was close to two hours, just under 13 miles, and so me and a couple others peeled off from the group of badasses and made our way back. Heat, a shower and my family were waiting at home. They probably weren't even up yet.
I got back in the car. I was so cold I left the face mask on the whole drive home, and the car never seemed to heat up. But I reached down and turned on Judas Priest's greatest hits on the CD player. One of my favorites, the band's biggest hit, "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," started blasting over the speakers.
Rob Halford sang the first line. "One life I'm gonna live it up." And as my car slid on the snow and I wiped frozen snot off my face, I sang with him.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A letter to my twin girls

It's a tradition to write a Valentine's Day letter to the pre-schoolers at the place where my girls attend.
Here is what I wrote to them:

Dear Andie and Allie - 

We have tried not to lump you in with each other. We sing "Happy Birthday" twice on your special day. We don't make you wear the same clothes. We don't even buy you the same toys at Christmas, even at the risk of a fight later on. 
But we're writing this letter to both of you, rather than each of you, because the point of this letter is for both of you.
The reason we have tried to treat you like two daughters, rather than a unit, is because you are individuals. Fiercely so, sometimes, as we saw with many tantrums last year. Allie is gentle and careful and Andie attacks the world with the spirit of a wildland fire. Allie, you like Hello Kitty, a tribute to your middle name, Katherine, after Mommy, because we call you "Allie Cat." Andie, you like fairies such as Tinkerbell, the kind of characters who have the same energy and wonder about the world as you.
There will be many people who will try to assign you roles because you are twins. Allie will be The Dancer, and Andie will be The Athlete. Allie will be the dainty one, and Andie will be the Tomboy. People like categories. But the best thing about you two is even though you were born at the same time, and you even carry the same genes, like you were scooped from the same bowl of ice cream, you really are individuals. You are as different as your DNA is the same.
It's OK to be proud of being a twin. We love it. We brag about you all the time, and we've learned a lot ourselves. On the few occasions you let us pick your outfits out, sometimes we like to dress you two alike. And though we say we're sorry when we mistake you for your sister, which you always correct before we finish the sentence, we also think it's funny. Stand up for each other. Be as close when you graduate high school as you are now in pre-school. Love each other.
But never, ever forget you are your own person. 
We don't think you will. In fact, we already feel sorry for the people who think otherwise.
We love you,

Mommy and Daddy