Ruby’s First Race

Last Sunday, Ruby ran in her very first race. We did the Top Pot Doughnut Dash 5k, with Ruby in the jogging stroller, and afterwards she did the Kids’ Dash 1k. We looked forward to ending the morning with a performance from Caspar Babypants, Ruby’s new most favorite band.

When I was in high school I competed in long-distance track and field. I remember one race in particular: it was 1500 meters, 4 laps of the track, and I just wasn’t feeling it that day. I started slow and dragged behind the pack. Eventually I was chugging along a good 50 yards behind the second-to-last runner. But I have a rule: never come in last. As the bell rang for my last lap of the track I turned it on. Hard. I had plenty in reserve so I easily passed Mr. Second-to-Last and even caught another runner in the final stretch. The crowd went crazy as I sprinted across the finish line. I climbed the bleachers afterwards, receiving congratulations from my classmates, and my coach gave me a stern look. “That was an interesting race,” was all he said.

Before her race I sat Ruby down to give her some advice. She was a kid; she could spend hours running around… but she’d never done a straight kilometer. I was worried about the distance that stretched ahead of her. Here’s what I told her:

  1. Have fun.
  2. You don’t have to run the whole way; you can walk if you want to. But it’s important to finish.
  3. Don’t come in last.

Ruby disappeared up to the start while I maneuvered the jogging stroller through the crowd of parents who had gathered behind the line. Eventually I ditched it and fought my way to the front. Ruby was there, foot on the line, a determined look in her eye.

 

Ruby is Ready to Run

I grew up running. I can remember thinking of myself as the fastest kid in my class (until another one definitively claimed the title in 6th grade). I was a member of the cross-country club and the track and field team. I kept running through junior high school, and picked it up again as an adult. My brother, sister and I have all done half-marathons or more. We’re not built like elite lean runners, but we get the job done.

The horn sounded and Ruby was off! Older kids quickly sprinted well ahead of her, and she lost herself in the pack of the race. The course looped around a big sports field, and I ran across the middle of it, keeping abreast of her, planning to cheer her on at the halfway point. She kept up a steady pace.

Ruby had told me, a few days before, that she thought she would win the race. I had responded that it was a great goal to have, but not very likely.

In my whole life I’ve won just one race. I can still remember what it was like: a Wednesday night. The race was the 600 meters. My father was there; he was helping to measure the shot-put competition when the gun went off.

I was a good runner, but not the best — but my prime competition had not shown up that night. We bolted from our starting positions and I was in first place. After 200 meters the lanes merged and I was still in front. 200 meters later, 200 to go, starting the final turn, and I was still leading.

Feet, I thought to myself, don’t fail me now.

It’s funny, nearly 30 years later, to think of it: I don’t remember crossing the finish line. But I remember that plea to my feet; that feeling of being carried away by this unstoppable force inside of me. I will always remember it. And I remember looking for my Dad in the aftermath. Did you see? I won! Did you see?

The path went up a slight incline towards the street and I saw Ruby start walking. That’s fine. She got to the top of the hill and started running again, then disappeared as the crowd turned toward me.

I was so proud of her. She was only five years old, running a kilometer by herself, surrounded by older kids and parents and doing just fine — she was running, just running, lost in the moment, and that’s what it’s all about.

I stood by the side of the path, waiting for her to come into view. Finally the crowd parted and I could see her running towards me.

She was in tears.

She reached me and I scooped her up, holding her. Kids and parents streamed past us. I whispered that she was doing great, that I was so proud of her. She said, I wanted to run with you, Papa.

I dropped her to the ground, back onto the running shoes I’d bought her just the day before, and I held her hand. We ran together. We had fun. We picked out people to beat, and we passed them, hand in hand. As the finish came up I let go of her and she sprinted across the line while I cheered, and then I gathered her up and carried her off to celebrate.

* * *

In retrospect, I think I know what happened.

Ruby thought she was going to win the race. She is five; competition of any real sort was still a novelty. As far as she was concerned, she was the smartest, strongest, most beautiful girl who ever lived. She really thought she was going to win.

In fourth grade I entered a lunch-time chess competition at my school. My first opponent was Dennis, an overweight classmate whose natural intellect was masked by awkwardness. In short order he had the advantage and put my King into Check. I couldn’t find the way out. My brother, three years older than me, finally pointed out the only option but by then I was forced to concede. I was devastated. I spent the remainder of the lunch hour sobbing into the librarian’s flowery polyester blouse.

As Ruby’s first race finally commenced, the reality of the situation came crashing down on her. She was not going to win. She had no real concept of the distance or the people who were running; all she knew was that an endless stream of runners were passing her as she walked up that hill. She was losing the race.

If I could do it again I’d hold her hand the whole way.


Hello, Square One. Have we met?

My back is injured again.

After a week of on-and-off back pain, I played soccer Thursday night. Turns out that was a dumb idea. Despite taking lots of breaks, and being pretty careful overall, I did some major damage and I’ve spent the last two days flat on my back — and probably have a few more horizontal days ahead of me.

I’ve decided I’m going to sit out the rest of this soccer season (3 or 4 games) and all of next season. That’ll give me four months away from the activity that is most aggravating to my back. My goal is to not return until I can run onto the field completely pain free.

I went to the doctor on Thursday (before the latest serious injury) to have my back evaluated. He basically said, “you need to stretch your hamstrings”. I’ve been hearing this advice for the past 10 years, and I’ve followed it at times, but it doesn’t seem to help. But, I’m going to try it again. I think my problem is that I’ve haven’t had all aspects of my fitness (weight, flexibility, core strength, conditioning) firing at the same time since, oh, 1996.

The past six months (since I hurt my back in August) have been pretty lame. (Pun! Sorry.) I hope things turn around soon.

Heave Ho

I’m starting off another work week with a sore back. It’s now been six months that I’ve had constant lower back pain. I’ve tried both resting and exercising, and neither has seemed to work — although I’m still working hard on the latter and have only recently started making decent progress towards some of my fitness goals.

It’s no coincidence that my back is worse on Monday — I spend all weekend carrying Ruby around. I do it because I love to hold her, whisper in her ear, nuzzle against her cheek, and see the world with her. But I think the sad truth is that as she’s gotten heavier, the strain on my back has gotten to be too much. I generally carry her just on one side, which doesn’t help things.

I’m going to try spending a week consciously avoiding carrying Ruby. It will be difficult, and I don’t know how many exceptions I’ll need to make to get through the week. And in the end, I’m not even sure if it’ll be worth it.

Trip ‘n Dip

On my birthday I was challenged to take part in the annual “Trip ‘n Dip” Resolution Run, and so this morning Ruby, Kate and I headed down to Magnuson Park for a little run. It’s a flat 5k course with an optional detour into Lake Washington at the end.

I registered in the “Clydesdale” category since I currently weigh more than 200 pounds. Looking over last year’s results, it seemed possible for me to actually win my age group in the Clydesdale category. I just needed a simple strategy: if I saw anyone who appeared heavier than me, I needed to beat ’em.

The weather was great and my friend Michael and I ran the whole course together. (Kate and Ruby also took part, with Ruby in the stroller and our friend Sally running with them). My strategy kind of fell apart, though, for two reasons:

First of all, I ran pretty much as fast as I could. It’s not like I could have sprinted ahead whenever a fat guy lumbered into view. I ran about an 8:20 pace, which is close to the pace I kept for the half-marathon a few years ago (but for only a quarter of the distance), and I’m quite happy with my 26:50 time for the 5k course.

More importantly, though, I have no idea what “people who are heavier than me” look like. It’s really hard to get an objective view of oneself. Do I look fatter than that guy? It was hard to tell what general category of physical appearance I should slot myself into.

Fortunately, I don’t obsess about these things very much. I want to get in shape firstly to get rid of some nagging aches and pains; secondly to perform at a higher level in my physical pursuits; and thirdly (and least) because it’s nice to look good and feel good about my appearance.

Weekly Fitness Update

One week into my workout routine and I’ve gained 2 pounds. Oops. In my defense, we had back-to-back-to-back Christmas parties this past weekend.

My workout consists of 15 minutes of cardio, a round of weightlifting on the “express” fitness machines, and then 20 more minutes of cardio. I’m not crazy about the weightlifting, since using the machines tends to focus on individual muscles groups instead of giving me a more holistic workout, but they are handy for providing a controlled environment while I work through some of my injuries. I’ll be starting with a personal trainer soon, and that should shake things up a bit.
I wake up at 6am, catch the 6:20 bus, and I’m working out by 7am. The workout takes about an hour, and then I’m at work before 8:30. My plan is to spend 3 or 4 days at the gym, plus a run on the weekend, plus soccer when that picks up again in January.

Big Old Me

I joined a gym last week and had my first workout on Friday.  My plan is to have several early-morning workouts every week, often joined by my friend Michael, and to supplement those with weekly soccer games and the occasional weekend run (weather permitting).

I weighed 205.5 pounds after my workout yesterday, which I figure it pretty much the most I’ve ever weighed.  I’m just 10 pounds short of being offically “obese”.

My ideal weight is about 175 pounds.  A realistic goal is probably in the low 180’s.  In the past, my emergency “time to lose weight now!” number has been 190 pounds, but somehow I managed to glide right by it.

My weight hasn’t gone down at all the past two months, despite my earnest efforts to eat sensibly.  The biggest problem is that my exercise has been cut way back due to various aches and strains (documented here) and getting past my many nagging injuries has been difficult.  My lower back hurts every day, my left groin muscle is only running at about one-quarter strength, and my right ankle has settled into a slightly smaller range of motion after my last sprain.  I’m hoping the controlled environment of the gym will let me work around (and then through) these injuries on my way back to health.

Running to Stand Still

I’ve been working hard to get back in shape.  It’s difficult, and it’s not made easier by the fact that I’m just beginning and progress is still hard to see.  I’m not just trying to lose weight — I’m also trying to work my way back from debilitating spasms in my lower back in August, and then a sprained adductor muscle that put me off the soccer team for the rest of the year.  And then before that it was tendonitis in my ankles and then plantar fasciitis.  And before that it was more back problems.
Still, I’m not giving up.  I’ve got my diet under control, but if I don’t also exercise then my back will get worse.  Sitting all day isn’t exactly horrible, but it’s unpleasantly achey.  The simple fact is, I need to exercise just to keep the aches and pains at bay.  And, specifically, I need to run to keep my back in shape.

With that in mind, I went for a run this morning.  I got up extra-early, donned my runners and stepped out.  It felt great, and I was looking forward to catching the sunrise as I came around the far side of Green Lake.

Then, I stepped on a pine cone and sprained my ankle.  Immediately, as I hit the ground, I knew what it meant: no exercise for weeks.

I’m not a capable enough writer to express how frustrating this is.  I was sobbing as I limped back up the path.

I know what it takes to get myself fit again, and I’m eager to put in the time and sweat to make it happen, but I’m stuck in a cycle of injuries that keep knocking me off my stride.

Frustration.  Frustration.  Frustration.

Packing It Off

I’m officially about 20 pounds overweight.  There’s a couple of reasons behind it — a bit of a lazy summer leading to a back injury which really cut down on my exercise.  Then a new job which both cut down on my exercise time and put me in the midst of overly tempting food choices for lunch.  Then a groin injury which limited my exercise options again.

I’m now paying attention to losing my weight, but I having a hard time feeling comfortable in my body.  My pants are too tight and hunger doesn’t suit my personality.  The lack of exercise is leading to other assorted aches and pains, and generally just making me feel out of sorts.

I feel like things are slowly improving, but the start of any weight loss program is always a frustrating time.

Family of Champions

We (Kate, Ruby, and I) participated in the University District Street Scramble today, and we won!  Specifically, we won in the 90-minute family on-foot division.

The street scramble is a scavenger hunt where teams (or individuals) are given a map with various locations on it.  Each location is worth 10 to 50 points.  You choose which locations you think you can hit, and which route will be most efficient, and then off you go, on bike or foot.  Being late costs you 10 points per minute.  Oh, and the map has only major streets names marked on it.

We had a lot of fun, and we picked a good route which we finished in 89 minutes for 370 points.  Having Ruby was an advantage since she’s still young enough not to get in the way of making decisions, and without her we would have ended up third in the mixed division instead of first in the family division.  🙂

Getting in Shape

We took Ruby down to Kate’s new (currently unoccupied) office building to watch the fireworks last night.  Ruby enjoyed them — she stayed snuggled in her sling with her eyes open and just watched.  The noise didn’t bother her at all.

Upon returning to our car, we discovered that our car had been towed.  (Apparently, we’d parked illegally — although there were no signs to that effect, and we’re going to fight the ticket (and towing charges!)).  Anyway, thus began the mile and a half walk to the towing company’s lot.  I carried Ruby most of the way, and my arms didn’t get tired at all.  I could have carried her a lot further.

It’s nice to see that one of the expected benefits of parenthood — getting in shape — is starting to materialize.  I don’t know if “getting in shape” is a common expectation for new parents, but Ruby has really helped me hit my fitness goals.  It’s not just carrying her around for a few hours a day, or doing baby bench press.  Going for a run with Ruby is an important — nearly essential — part of our daily routine.  Ruby enjoys the ride (usually), and she gets to see trees and cars and sky for an hour, but most importantly it consumes an hour of what can be a daunting ten-hour day.  I’m surprised that there are stay-at-home parents who don’t have time for exercise.  It’s one of the easiest parts of my time with Ruby.