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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Running on Empty

This year marks my 15th year of running, give or take a few periods when I was recovering from a broken bone or had lost my running mojo due to extended illness or bad weather or some other reason.  When I tell people I run three to four miles, three to four times a week, I'm sure they take one look at me and think, wow, she is a pathological liar.

It's true that running has never helped me to shed the pounds I gained during two pregnancies, but it has allowed me to keep eating pizza and chocolate while not keeling over from a heart attack (so far). [Here's an article on fitness and fatness.]    It's kept me in good heart health and in good mental health (I get my best ideas while running), and it got me a job once.  The woman who hired me, Karen, who is also now a good friend (and a marathon runner), insists she hired me for my skills, but talking about running led to talking about other things that helped us both to realize we were a good fit.

Over the past three years, my running has become inconsistent at best.  A relationship break-up, a new job, the loss of a beloved pet, my brother's battle with leukemia, and an empty nest demoralized me.  I tried walking and swimming, but walking bores me, and chlorinated water irritates my eyes.  My complete failure at exercise over the past year means the pounds were piling on, since I didn't match my lack of exercise with a commensurate reduction in calories.  In January, however, we started a "Biggest Loser" contest at work, and I'm one of the organizers of the contest, so I couldn't very well sit in my office with my feet up, eating Ding-Dongs and yelling "carry on - you're doing great," now could I?

So after two months of slowly transitioning back into exercise, I am finally back to running about 10-12 miles a week (and I am down 11 pounds - yay!).  On dark, cold days, I use the treadmill at the gym, but on weekends, or if it's sunny enough after work, I head to the park, which brings me to the point of this post:  Other runners are STILL making the same dumb mistakes they were making 15 years ago. I am routinely amazed at some of the things I see other runners do.  It makes me want to pull my hair out (or stop them on the track and lecture them like their high school gym coaches SHOULD have done). Instead, I've vented by writing down my suggestions here. So, for anyone who would like to still be running into their 50s and 60s, instead of recovering from knee or hip replacement surgery, read on.

1)  Stop running on the balls of your feet. That is called sprinting, and it works brilliantly if you are running a 50-yard dash.  For anything longer, and if you don't want to destroy your feet, knees, or back, your whole foot needs to hit the pavement, starting with the heel, and rolling forwards as you come up again.

2) Stop stretching before you run.  You should never stretch cold muscles unless you really want to hurt yourself.  If you really must, if it makes you feel better, or if you think you look pretty cool doing it, do some jumping jacks first to warm up your muscles before you stretch.  Or run for five minutes, stop to stretch, and then take off again.  (It is extremely important, btw, to stretch AFTER you run.)

3) Don't bring your dog with you to run.  They have these HUGE olfactory cavities, and they like to stop and sniff and do other bodily things, so if you don't want to stop too, come alone.

4) Buy some running shoes.  Every day, I see at least one runner, sometimes more, running in boots or flat Keds or Converse basketball shoes.  It pains me to see this.  Running shoes are designed for running and will prevent serious injury to your knees and back. It's a simple thing.  Really.

5)  Dress for the weather, not for your fan club. Everybody starts pulling off clothes after they've warmed up, so it's a good idea to dress in layers (some scouting wisdom never gets old), but don't START OUT running in your Speedo unless it's 101 in the shade (and even then, really?).  There are tons of companies out there making money off of your foolish athletic-clothing choices, but here's what you really need: Clothes to fit the weather, so sweats and two tee-shirts plus a warm, hooded running jacket will do fine in the winter, while shorts and a running bra (or topless for men) is fine in the heat of the summer. Other options include a baseball cap to keep the sun out of your eyes and to catch your sweat (wear the jacket hood over the cap in winter); sunglasses as appropriate; good shoes and socks; a bandana if you sweat a lot; gloves and a neck warmer if it's freezing outside.  For women:  After running shoes, there is no better investment for female runners than a good running bra. If you're heavy up top, you may want to wear two.

6) Drink water. I see so many runners at the park who don't carry water with them and never stop to take a drink.  They must be heartier than me.  I could probably run three to four miles without passing out, but I'm an open-mouth runner so my mouth gets pretty dry.  I don't know how anyone can run for an hour and not have a drink of water.

7) Smile.  If you've chosen to run in a park, then you must have figured you'd run into real people.  I don't need you to stop and discuss the World Series or the presidential election with me, but would it kill you to smile?  Just sayin'.

That's pretty much it.  It's not brain surgery.  People tell me all the time that they "could never run."  This includes my fitness-obsessed friends who work out for 15 to 20 hours a week and do workouts I would never survive. And yet, while a 50-minute spinning class would KILL me, I find running to be as easy and natural as eating pizza and chocolate.  My sense is that everybody has a sport or fitness routine that works for them, and you just have to find yours.  And if it's running, well, I hope you'll leave the dog at home.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Technology Life We Lead

If you had told me at 18 that technology would be an ever-expanding, not to mention crucial, part of my life over the next 35 to 40 years, I probably would have lumped you in with all those loonies who thought they heard "Paul is dead" backwards on some Beatles album.   At 18, "technology" was a term reserved solely for history class, evoking images of cavemen and tools.

In retrospect, my first battle with technology was waged as the 17-year-old co-editor of my high school newspaper.  We produced the paper using machines that had clearly been manufactured during the Jurassic era, including the Varityper Headliner (see photo).  This particular machine was bigger than our washing machine at home and came with tire-sized font reels you turned manually to "write" headlines that were then kicked out on photographic paper and slapped onto copy boards with rubber cement.  This machine's counterpart was the two-headed monster we used to produce justified copy: You typed on one machine, which produced a ticker tape that you then threaded (or tried to thread) into the other machine, which produced copy on white paper that you also rubber-cemented onto copy boards. Painstakingly.

It was barbaric.  But it was also precise. To this day, I cannot see an extra space in a newspaper article - or a painting that's not straight on a wall, or a headline that's not centered perfectly, or a book that's not lined up with others on a shelf - without fixing it.  It drives my co-workers nuts.  Drives me nuts too.

Over the next ten years or so, I used a variety of ever-advancing photo-typesetting technologies and, eventually, even computers.  Then one day, in my first professional position as an editor of warehouse inspection reports, I received my first email.  It was 1986, and while most companies were still on mainframes, my little company (50 employees) had moved us all to networked PCs.  Most of my work for them was still done by hand, in notebooks, and our typists still used memory typewriters, but I did love using that first PC.  So one day, out of the blue, a box popped up on my screen and there was a message in it from our IT guy.  He used me as his guinea pig because we had talked about what email was and because he figured I wouldn't start screaming about ghosts in the machine when it happened.  I remember smiling and thinking, wow, this is cool, as I hesitantly typed out a reply.  (And the rest is history...)

I left the workforce to have babies at about the time PCs were becoming the standard in many offices (1990).  My husband at the time was learning DOS and "hypertext" and spending a lot of time in "news groups" (none of which I understood) while I was going to playgroups and changing diapers. By the time I re-entered the workforce, Windows95 had been introduced, so I managed to skip the whole DOS period. I "learned computers" in a Windows environment, so by 1997 or so, I knew more about Windows than my computer-expert husband, who had to relearn everything (yes, there was that much of a difference).  When I wasn't looking, he would close Windows on our home PC and open DOS because it was easier for him (true story).  And if you think DOS is easier than Windows, I have a bridge I can sell you...

Today, when one discusses technology, you're more likely to be talking about phones and tablets and apps than PCs or fonts, and does anyone even know where you can buy rubber cement anymore?  (Actually, I bought some about a year ago for a poster project, so indeed it is still available.)

I used to marvel that my great-grandmother, who was born in the 1880s and lived until the late 1970s (97 years), had witnessed so much change in her lifetime. She was alive for the Wright Brothers' first flight tests and lived until the first space shuttle was under construction.  I imagine that some day my own great grandchildren may marvel at the changes I have witnessed.  From rotary dial phones and black and white televisions with antennae to full-length movies on my hand-held computer (phone) and who knows what next.  Teleportation, anyone?