A good, creative runner can always find an excuse not to train – this weather is too hot, this weather is too cold, my friend Goldilocks has been eaten by bears – but the excuses I’ve encountered these last few weeks have started to get ridiculous.

First I couldn’t run because of recurring knee pain that I self-diagnosed as runner’s knee because I have an MD in googling symptoms. When that pain subsided, I planned to make up a missed long-run before work – but slept through it because my 5:00 a.m. iphone alarm was set to silent (Tim Cook: Why is that even an option!?) So I planned to do it the next morning instead – and woke up with a bout of apparent pink eye, making contact-use impossible. Add on top of that two lovely weddings in as many days this weekend that have left me in a mild state of hangover for 36 hours straight, and it’s starting to feel a little like the big running coach in the sky secretly wants me to toe the starting line in Staten Island two months from tomorrow woefully unprepared.

But champagne is good for your fast-twitch fibers, right?

Luckily, this isn’t my first rodeo, so I know what I’m supposed to do: Even though my training has been derailed on and off for several weeks, I should in the words of the infallible Ms. Swift shake it off and throw myself right back into my workout schedule as of today. A week of missed long runs and hill repeats isn’t ideal, but a few sessions off won’t kill me, as long as I lace up today and train this week in earnest. The course of action I should take: I should put the past behind me. I should recommit myself to my marathon goal. I should just get out there and run.

That’s what I should do – but I’m not going to. Why, you ask? Because I also should be boarding a flight to Greece in 9 hours for a week of rest, relaxation and running.

Good bye, marathon training recovery. Hello, spanakopita.

Of course, I’m not going to arrive in the birthplace of the marathon without my running shoes in hand, and I’m hoping to stick to my training schedule as close to possible while summering in the Hellenic Republic. But with so many seaside beaches and bottles of wine already calling my name, something tells me this isn’t going to be the most industrious week of this marathon training cycle. Ah well. Pheidippides probably would have wanted it that way.

How do you keep your marathon training on track while simultaneously stuffing your face with feta and grape leaves? All advice appreciated.


Summer Reading

Keats and Eliot may get some readers’ hearts a flutter, but my favorite poet has always been the brilliant children’s lyricist Jack Prelutsky. Classic ’90s verse Something Big Has Been Here holds a special place, but the poem that really gets me is a 24-word ode to a penguin-relative, the auk.

“An auk in flight is sheer delight, it soars above the sea. An auk on land is not so grand — an auk walks aukwardly.”

Change a few words, and that clever couplet can also describe runners and the stark differences between when we’re healthy and when we’re not.

“A runner on a run is loads of fun, she glides up the park toward home. A runner at rest is not her best – she’s godawful at sitting still and just letting her sore old muscles heal on their own.”

(You’ll be shocked to learn I didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for that little ditty.)

It’s true though. When I’m feeling limber and light and healthy and strong, running is an absolute pleasure that leaves me feeling wholeheartedly in my element. At my very best, I can log an entire Central Park loop and feel like I’m flying.

But when I’m sidelined with an injury – like with this recurring knee pain during the past two weeks – I become downright aukward. Suddenly unsure of my abilities, I start to second guess every decision I make: Can I still cross train? Am I icing too much or too little? Will these two weeks of scaled back training detail my marathon?

And the clincher: What do I do with all this free time?

I was confronted with that question this past week, and luckily, I found something to keep me entertained and off my achy legs: a wonderful book. (Of course, some of my extra hours spent prone on the couch this past week also went to binge watching the gloriously ridiculous Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp because I am a human with needs.)

The book was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a thoughtful and powerful novel that got me recognizing my prejudices about race in America in a new way. Every sentence was a joy and – thankfully for my rested and now healed knee caps – I was able to spend all the hours I might have mistakenly spent on my feet curled up reading instead. There’s nothing like a good book to force you to recover.

In case you’re injured too as marathon season approaches and looking for some reading material, here are a few other picks from the last several years that I found entertaining enough to keep me holed up and off my recovering legs:

  • Euphoria by Lily King: Read it in Book Club, loved every second, and not just because I’m secretly harboring a wish to go back in time and become a 1920s anthropologist.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I’m sure you’ve all read this by now, but I’d be remiss to leave it off because it’s so, so beautiful.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt: An oldie but goodie, especially if you went to college in New England (and secretly murdered one of your classmates, Imeanwhat?)
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: This, and the sister book released this summer, God in Ruins, tugged at my heartstrings. Hmm. Maybe I should see a doctor and have those tied up.
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker: Also a few years old, but a coming of age book I never stop thinking about.
  • Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: A step between fine modern fiction and beach-reading smut. It’s a load of fun.

Read all of those and loved them? Shoot me a message and I’ll send some other ideas your way. Read all of those and hated them? To each his own. Can’t read? Then I am very impressed by you getting all the way to the bottom of this post. You are a gentleman and a scholar.

What are you reading this summer that I should put on my next recovery list?


One Step Behind

  • Joni Mitchel says you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
  • Passenger says you only miss the sun when it starts to snow.
  • I say you don’t realize how many gosh-darn flights of stairs you walk a day until you develop a bout of runner’s knee and each subsequent descent results in a throbbing stab of torture.

(I’m not sure why my version hasn’t been turned into a pop song yet. I think it’s just as catchy as Joni’s.)

The pain in my right knee started last Tuesday after a particularly grueling 6-mile tempo run and a squat-heavy Body Pump class teamed up to ensure that my knee cap burns like fire every time I move.

Once I realized it was more than run-of-the-mill strain, I did everything I was supposed to do in subsequent days — dialed back my training, upped my stretching, singlehandedly kept the NSAID and Tiger Balm industries in business, road tripped to Indiana — but I still returned to New York City from a long weekend to discover that flights of stairs are no longer my friends.

Sole Exception: When this buffoon is sitting on them.
Sole Exception: When this buffoon is sitting on them.

Unfortunately, for the New Yorker without the luxury of an elevator building, stairs are totally unavoidable. Don’t believe me? Let’s play a fun game called guess how many flights Anne walks up and down in a typical day.

6 a.m. At the sound of my alarm, walk downstairs from our upstairs bedroom to the apartment’s main floor.

(Flights: down 1)

6:15 a.m. Head from the 5th floor to street level for a workout.

(Flights: down 4)
(Flights: down 4)

7:15 a.m. Return to apartment, return to upstairs bedroom, then turn around and do it all over again as I head to work.

I realize these photos will start to look a little repetitive, so here's a good looking doodle pic instead. You're welcome. (Flights: up 5, down 5)
I realize these photos will start to look repetitive quickly, so here’s a good looking doodle pic instead. You’re welcome. (Flights: up 5, down 5)

7:30 a.m. At departing subway station, downstairs to the express train.

(Flights: down 4)
(Flights: down 4)

7:40 a.m. At arriving subway station, back up to the main level.

(Flights: up 6)

7:45 a.m. At work, two flights down to my desk, then dozens of flights up and down throughout the day in order to grab snacks off the main level. I’ve gotten so spoiled I won’t travel for chocolate covered almonds anymore, but yesterday was free astronaut ice-cream day, and that definitely enticed me to hobble my way upstairs.

I've recently learned I'm not supposed to post photos of inside my office building, so here's Keira waiting for a cab. (Flights: down 2)
I’ve recently learned I’m not supposed to post photos of inside my office building, so here’s Keira waiting for a cab. (Flights: down 2, up 2, down 2, up 2, until I’m full, which is never.)

6 p.m. Back home again.

(Flights: down 6 to train, up 4 to street, up 5 to bedroom, down 1 when I realize I want a bedtime snack, up 1 to bed. Down and up 1 more if I have to pee in the middle of the night. The duplex apartment seemed like a good idea at the time.)

That’s more than 50 flights a day, and that’s the bare minimum. If I drop off recycling in the basement, that’s up and down an extra flight. Head out for errands? Tack on a cumulative 10 more. Watch Channing Tatum dance his way to love in 2006 teen film “Step Up” and follow along? I haven’t actually seen that movie, but I can imagine the stepping is endless.

Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do to avoid it. So I’m doing what marathon runners do best: wrapping and icing my injuries, eating protein-rich peanut butter by the quart to stimulate muscle repair, and counting down the days until I can head out for a run without giving my knees even the slightest of thought.

If I keep this up, I imagine I’ll have to get better. Come on, healing. STEP ON IT!

Have you entered August marathon training unscathed?