Because Pool Days are the BEST Days

Angela searched for her membership card while I studied the giant poster boards depicting the pool renovation near the check-in desk at the Y.  I paused and noted the new warm water pool, the expanded lap pool sections, the hot tub, the sleek water slides, shiny in the artist’s depiction, but has construction already begun or are these posters depicting proposed changes to the pools?

Angela turned to me and said, “I hope my favorite lap pool is open.” And, I wondered if any of the pools were open.

We walked up the ramp and through the hallway to the locker room. The first pool was boarded up with cardboard and foam in the windows, even the door had been removed and replaced with cinderblocks. The mortar still looked wet. This isn’t good. The second indoor pool was open; however, stanchions traced a thin black line around the pool next to a “pool closed” sign. Another sign read: to Pool C, which is the outdoor pool. Angela and I looked at each other in disbelief. It’s April in Pennsylvania and 55 degrees outside.

A guy sitting in the chair near the second indoor pool said to us, “The outdoor pool is open and warm at 80 degrees.”

“80 degrees?” I said, shocked.

“Is 80 degrees warm enough?” Angela asked.

“Yeah, the air is cold, but the pool is definitely warm enough once you’re out there and in it,” the guy reassured her. This is beyond awesome. The outdoor pool is 50 meters and heated! I had no idea even though I swam there in the summer when the pool water would be warm anyway.

It’s barely spring, the air is cold, and the sky is cloudy, a fine mist fell, but the pool water is always a perfect sky blue. Angela and I were both giddy as we jumped into the water for our swim.

Chester Valley Trail Ride

As I set out on my bike on the Chester Valley Trail, the wind blew over the hills, pushing my bike from one side of the trail to the other. I slid into the aero position on my bars and blinked tears from the cold out of my eyes. Green covers the rolling hills from King of Prussia to Exton along an historic route that is built on the old railroad bed of the Chester Valley Railroad, a branch of the Reading Railroad. The paved trail runs about 14 miles in one direction and will eventually be connected to the Schuylkill River Trail in Norristown.

South of Valley Forge, the trail passes by the Battle of the Clouds Park as well as other historic sites. It parallels and eventually traverses Lincoln Highway, or US Route 30, which is the first highway to go from coast to coast in 1913, encouraging people to see the country by car. The trail crosses the Lincoln Highway in Exton where it’s only two lanes.

I was really excited about seeing the Battle of the Clouds Park because I thought a major battle was fought there, but it’s actually a misnomer since there wasn’t a battle nor was there a great deal of fog that influenced the battle. Basically, the Americans suffered a defeat at the Battle of Brandywine against the British and retreated while the British approached Philadelphia. Bad weather and storms prevented another battle from occurring on the heals of defeat, raising the moral of the Continental Army. Some say the Battle of the Clouds was a turning point in the war, but others disagree. It’s now a park with playgrounds and soccer fields.

I stopped a few times to read the historical markers along the way or to look at the labels for the native trees of Pennsylvania, turning around after I rode over the Lincoln Highway. The temperatures rose, and I refilled my water bottle at a park in Exton. The Chester Valley Trail is easily accessible at various points along the route, and it’s perfect for a short bike ride or a long run since it’s mostly flat for this part of PA and paved the whole way.

 

Spring is Here!

 

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I can tell when spring is here because I can ditch my fleecy tech shirt and fleece lined running pants, which are a little loose so I can fit another pair of tights underneath if necessary. A buff and ear cover top me off on freezing mornings like frosting on a cake. But not on spring mornings.

All I need now is my black capris and a long-sleeved tech shirt. I prefer the blue one I got for the Pensacola Double Bridge Run because it’s extra long and covers my butt. Some mornings are still cool enough for my purple pull-over that makes me feel fast. This outfit, black capris, blue shirt, and purple pull-over, is my go-to morning wear. As soon as I finish my run (if I’m on top of things), I throw these clothes in the washer to wear them again the next day.

I’ve had those capris since I ran a PR in the Richmond Marathon a few years ago, and they’re not see-through yet despite countless washings. I like them because they stay in place and have a zippered pocket in the back. I have other capris popping out of my running drawer that has now expanded to two drawers in my dresser, but I prefer the reliable pair, especially for long runs. My shirt is long enough that it doesn’t need to be tucked in, and my purple pull-over still has a hole on the inside of my left elbow from a walk with my mom when I snagged it on a wooden bridge. I still wear it. The hole has stayed the same size, and only I know it’s there. Well, not anymore.

Soon, I’ll change these clothes for my running shorts and tank tops of summer, but it’s not time for that yet. It’s still spring. I’ll breathe in all of the pollen and try not to gag on my phlegm on my morning runs. Happy spring!

Running to take out the Trash

Afternoons are the hardest time of day when tiredness begins in the lull before school is out and before dinner is made. I’m hungry, but don’t want to eat a snack and then another after the kid comes home from school. I forget about the laundry, take a nap on the couch, and then brew some coffee in the French press to rewake myself up even though I’ve been awake since seven.

When it’s time to make dinner, I stare at the taco meat frying in the pan; it pops with each turn of the spatula. I think to myself that I should focus more while I’m cooking so I don’t burn myself, but my hands and forearms are away from the hot pan. The skin on my hands is dry from the winter cold; white nail lines are left behind when I’m done scratching them. I should put more lotion on, but I don’t want to bother.

I think of my dad who always tried to keep his hands neat and clean despite working as a machinist in a factory. When my sister and I would see him on the weekends or once during our Wednesday visits, he took great care in cleaning his hands and scrubbed them so that there was no trace of the black grime from the shop. The grime filled in his fingerprints and wedged itself in the nail bed. My dad’s kept his nails short, filed, and buffed so that they shined—he didn’t want his working hands to reveal his profession. Although my dad never went to college, he is well read and remembers every detail, so he didn’t want to be judged by others when he held out his hand to shake theirs. Cleaning the grime off his hands took more than one washing, but by Sunday, his hands were so clean that it looked as if he never spent a day in the shop.

I think about that when I let my hands get dry and cracked. No grime fills in my fingerprints having only spent a summer working in the factory during college, but oftentimes, I fail to take care of them like I should. Washing dishes and doing laundry takes its toll, so I need to be more vigilant. I think about this as I’m almost finished frying the taco meat. Now, it’s time to add the spices. My hands are hot from being over the stove for fifteen minutes, and the heat from the flame evaporates any moisture left from the lotion.

Soon, dinner will be eaten, the dishes will be done once again, and I’ll have to take the trash outside to the curb, picking up wind-blown trash from my neighbors and putting it in my can. That’s what I feel my life is like sometimes: I’m chasing trash– a white Starbucks pastry bag, the solitary plastic bag that got recycled without having another use, and the single straw rolling downhill—all got loose from the depths of the recycling bin. Sometimes I’m picking up trash rather than chasing it: tiny bits of forgotten trash that make you wonder why you used a straw in the first place or did you really have to eat that chocolate chunk cookie from Starbucks, lovingly unfrozen and reheated in the microwave? I think of how trash tells a story of our lives: of what we need and want. So, why is there so much that we just throw away? And why do I spend so much time putting it back on the shelf, dusting it, washing it in the sink, or picking it up and off the floor?

I can measure my life in trash.

From the kitty litter bags to the Starbucks cups, from the taco meat packaging to the empty salsa jar. My life’s work is all piled up in trash: picking up other people’s trash and taking my own trash out. I stack the recycling high, hoping it won’t topple and cram the kitchen trash into the bin. I run to forget about the collective trash piled up in my life so far. The trash I’ve thrown away or recycled for another purpose, the useless garbage I’m saving for later or the knickknacks collecting dust on the mantle. Lacing up my shoes is like tying the trash bags closed for a time and chucking it in the bin. I shut the door behind me with my house key tied and tucked in between the tongue and the crisscrossed laces. All I have is the run to think about.

I run almost every day to reset my mind and clear it of the garbage and noise, rolling and echoing in my head–all of that is tied up in my laces for me to take out later. It will all be there after the run. My friend described my predicament best: my anxiety is like a loud radio, and running turns the volume down so I can hear the rest of my brain thinking in order to continue on with my day. Nevertheless, the noise is still there, ever-present. Occasionally, the volume is turned on full blast, but most of the time, it’s just white noise. I can deal with that. It’s what keeps me just outside of ordinary.

Pace Race

The rain misted early on Saturday as I turned the ignition. Weather reports called for cloudy and cold weather for the Hot Chocolate 15K in Philadelphia. That’s fine by me. I’m used to shivering uncontrollably in the starting corral, but today I also held up the 11:30 per mile pace sign for Corral R that I couldn’t stop from quivering in the wind either. I hoped the shaky sign didn’t reveal my lack of confidence in keeping a steady pace other runners were expecting.

I chatted with a few runners before the start; some of whom wanted to stay in front of me but behind the 11:00 min pacer. Good plan. Most runners I spoke to just wanted to finish the race without walking too much. Others were going to keep me in sight as they ran behind me, trying not to let me get too far ahead. One runner even signed up with her friends over wine, a decision she sort of regretted on this chilly morning but nonetheless pinned on her bib and was ready to race.

There were plenty of runners who never ran more than 8 miles until race day and many more who dreamed of running a marathon. I ran most of the race with a runner keeping up with me. She wasn’t sure if she could run a marathon in under 6 hours because her half marathon time was 2:36:00. I thought, what? My half marathon time used to be 2:34:00, and I finished my very first marathon in 5:35:00–totally possible! I walked a lot too. I’m a much faster runner than I used to be, but I remember what it’s like to finish near the back of a small race when most of the faster runners have gone home, and the SAG truck lumbers behind you. I hope she does run a marathon and proves to herself that she can do it.

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Pacing a race is much different than running for a PR or even running with a friend. It was challenging to keep the pace I was assigned since I’m used to doing my own thing and running based on how I feel in a race. At times, I sprinted downhill too fast or was too slow through a water stop. I didn’t stop for water, but I trotted through the stops, slowing down if other runners were following me. After mile 2, I hit each mile based on my pace plan for total time and found my groove. I took small, fast steps, keeping my cadence right around 170 steps per minute.

I was humbled by all of the volunteer pacers–some of them have paced over 40 races, and I learned much more from the runners who ran with me. Everyone runs for different reasons, and I’m happy that today I ran for other runners. I plan to pace more races in the future as well as volunteer at water stations or as a course marshall.