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My permanent medical record clearly states something I have suspected for years: Mrs. Keri S. Wellman has fat thighs.

The doctor was not quite that blunt. However, the diagnosis of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome basically means I need to replace the flab on my thighs with actual muscle.

I’m in unmapped territory here.

About mile eleven on Sunday, my right knee began to ache. I stopped and stretched. By mile twelve I was popping Ibuprofen. I walked a good portion of mile thirteen. During mile fourteen, I tried willing myself into an out-of-body experience. It was mentally counter-productive, since the Grim Reaper, who is often involved in such things, is not the most inspirational running companion.  I was elated to reach mile fifteen without the help of paramedics.

Ten minutes after my run, my knee felt fine. It occurred to me that perhaps subconsciously I was creating pain as an excuse to not perform well. Because as we all know, when you are slow, it is better to be hobbled than lazy.

The doctor assured me I’m not that psychotic. I’m just flabby.

So, it’s time for some strength training for me. I also foresee many squats in my future, which do not include picking up stray M&Ms from the floor.

This could be my chance to change history: medical history, that is.

The next four weeks will be a battle between Lazy Keri and Someother Keri. Lazy Keri may not come out of this alive. Frankly, it’s hard to do away with someone I’ve been so comfortable with for so many years.

Yet, the fact remains: Lazy Keri cannot successfully train for a marathon. Someother Keri must take her place.

I just hope she’s strong enough to win.

Stats:

Miles: Sunday 15, Monday 0, Tuesday 2, Wednesday 6

Miles projected: the goal is to have an 18 mile run this weekend. I’ll keep the rescue team on speed dial.

Weather: it was perfect for my long run on Sunday: cool, and overcast with sprinkles. It amazes me whenever I call that type of weather “perfect.” The forecast is for sunshine & warmth—70s & 80s.

Terrain: for the 15 miler, I went all the way around a big lake we have here in Franconia. It was partly forested, had a moments of elevation, and lovely little beaches. The path changed from pavement to rock at times. It also split off between pedestrians and bicycles, so there was no fear of being run over. A fantastic running trail.

Wildlife: the usual deer, rabbits, and birds. However,  the Brombachsee trail had areas containing wild boar. These big, fuzzy pigs were begging food from passersby at the fence.

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The way to a woman’s heart is through her running gear.

Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but it’s pretty darn close.

“I’m looking at racks and racks of running gear,” said the voice on the phone. “What do you need?”

My heart fluttered. After sixteen years of marriage, the spark is still alive.

My husband was calling from a huge, American-style shopping mall on one of the military installations a few hours from here. When you have lived in Germany for four years, you come to appreciate the very places you consider the bane of American culture.

Not only did my husband pick up three running outfits, the perfect hat, and the perfect socks; he also found the Oakleys I’ve had in my shopping cart for three weeks on Altrec.com. There was only one pair left in white–the shop clerk had to get them from the back.

I should make this clear: love cannot be purchased. Nor can it be returned with the receipt, even if in the original packaging.

Love is patient. Love is kind. But love is also a man who will buy coral-colored running shorts for his wife.

That is love in action.

I went for a six-mile run today geared up like a superstar. No doubt, the village children will soon be asking me to demonstrate my Nathan hydration pack. My landlady will nod in approval as she notes my “Supernova” running shirt (as Germans know Adidas is superior to Nike). I’ll look at all of them sweetly through my Oakley Flak Jacket XLJs and smile as I scrawl my autograph on a PowerBar Gel pack.

Or, maybe they’ll stare at me as if I should be institutionalized.

It matters not.

While the new running gear makes me feel like an elite athlete, rather than a middle-aged housewife, I am happier knowing my husband and children support this endeavor.

After all, if they weren’t behind me, I would trip over the starting line.

Stats:

Miles: Thursday 4, Friday 6

Miles forecast: 16 on Sunday, heaven help me.

Weather: rain. sun. rain. it’s still too cool to be summer.

Terrain: sometimes I do the treadmill to remind myself why I should run outside–rain or shine. Thursday t-mill inspired me to run outside today. I was rewarded with a parting of the clouds for my Roller Coaster Plus run. I even got to wear the Oakleys:)

 

If it weren’t for my impaired mobility this morning, I would not believe I ran a half-marathon yesterday. I have photographic evidence of the race. I have personal, eyewitness accounts, yet it all seems dreamlike to me. I ran 13 miles yesterday—at Rothenburg: a course so challenging, they had an ambulance stationed on each hilltop.

I’ve never been an athlete. I have ten pounds I can’t seem to get rid of at any price. And though gummi bears are fat free, they don’t qualify as health food. I have kids and a husband and a dog. I have laundry to do and floors to wash. If I can run a race of 13 miles, it’s possible for anyone.

Sitting here trying to stretch my legs while typing gives me time to reflect on yesterday’s race (if indeed that was me running).

Lessons Learned:

*Though drinking coffee is NEVER a wrong thing to do, I also should have done a short warm-up run before the race. Instead, I had a carafe of coffee while the kids ate ice cream.

* At about mile 7, one of the runners made the mistake of asking where I was from. This began a 1 mile, one-sided conversation, where I blabbered to kill some time. And time I did kill, for my pace slowed down to a 12 minute mile. Finally the guy said, “I need to go faster now.” Oops. (For the record, I picked up the pace and ended up beating him).

*Bring headphones. The last mile included a long, uphill slope, straight from Twilight Zone, that seemed to never end. A little Superchick would’ve helped.

*Going downhill is easier than going uphill—use it to your advantage.

*Focus. At times, I felt simply mindless. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, though I do remember staring at some ponies. More focus on the actual running might have helped.

*Shoe laces. The shoe with my timing chip came untied at the start. Because I had to stop, I was left behind by the quick-paced pack.

*Holding back. I was so worried about not having enough energy left at the end of the race that I held back in moments when I should have pressed on.

*My Nathan Hydration pack was a lifesaver. I tried drinking the lukewarm mineral water at the water station but ended up splashing it all over my face.

*PowerBar Refuel Gel packs helped me to keep going when I felt like giving up.

*My shoes and socks were perfect! No foot aches at all.

*Positive attitude. With few women entered in the race (and most of them younger and belonging to racing teams), I knew I would not be getting any trophies. However, I opted to be the friendliest runner of the day. While my fellow runners didn’t seem to appreciate my congeniality, the spectators who waited along the road were awesome. Each one of them deserved (and received) a smile, a wave, or a ‘danke’ from me. The little kids, I applauded. It was fantastic that people would sit out (for two hours or more) just to watch the runners. I loved it.

*Cheerleaders. It was such a boost to see my friends & family along the route. They waved & cheered & took funny pictures of me. Even though the other runners were uber-serious, I had people who loved me, rooting for me.

*Training. Even though I slacked off during vacation, I can tell my training has paid off. Many times during the race, Pink Shirt Lady was ahead of me (she was faster than she looked). However, she was breathing really hard, whereas I was able to cheerily converse with her. I ran with her for a while, and then passed her on the hilly side of the course.

*Best of all was having the kids run the final stretch with me. It was worth all the effort just for the photo finish.

The Rothenburger Halbmarathon was a success for me. I kept a good pace (despite hills that could send people into cardiac arrest), I kept a good attitude, and I did not finish last.

Now, onto Füssen!

Post Race Stats:

Miles: 13.2

Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Average Pace: 10:17 minutes per mile

Calories burned: 1680

Weather: partly sunny in the 60s, a few sprinkles at the end—perfect running weather.

Overall feeling: if I can conquer Rothenburg, I can conquer anything.

Walking the cobblestone streets of Rothenburg today with my runner’s bib in hand certainly gave me a heightened awareness of the terrain. I also wondered how exactly I would get from the starting line, all the way down the bluff, and to the river. It all looks so flat on the street map.

Instead of my two-mile run, I sprinted my heart out in swim class today. I surprised myself, and a couple other people, by moving from fifth place to second. And while I was a little shaky when it was all over, I found I had strength left to watch my kids’ lessons, rather than lay in a heap in the corner.

I have to admit, my stomach is doing some flip-flopping tonight, and it’s not because of gluten. Only 17 women have signed up–and the older women belong to running clubs. This race might be tougher than I’d expected. I’d at least hoped to finish anonymously in the middle of the pack.

Yet despite the butterflies mysteriously fluttering throughout my nervous system, I sat at a table on the Marktplatz, had dinner in the fading sunshine, and had a glass of wine with my husband.

No matter how I do, I know there will be five people at the finish line who consider me the winner.

The problem with running on a summer evening is that because sweat runs down your back like the Mighty Mississip, there’s nothing left with which to spit out bugs.

This is why I run in the morning, while the bugs are still sleeping.

I have been released from the depths of dingy hotel workout rooms and am back pounding the pavement of the lovely country roads of Franconia. My schedule became more tangled than the kids’ kite strings during vacation, and it is proving a challenge to straighten it out.

To answer last week’s questions:

1) One does not train while on a cruise of the Rhine River. Instead, you sit and drink coffee for three hours while listening to Brazilian tourists sing drinking songs. Judging by their stout bodies, these men had years of experience in the drinking of beer.

2) The climbs up to the castles in the sweltering heat were workouts in themselves. Simply arriving at the top without dehydrating was an accomplishment. I didn’t even think about doing hill repeats.

3) After a day of tromping around castles, I sought out the hotel workout room. The place was deserted, so I was able to choose whichever TV channel I wanted: SpongeBob in German or tennis. The match was less than spectacular.

4) Perhaps I was “supposed to” run 15 miles the day we drove back. However, I have discovered “supposed to” is a relative phrase. In reality, I am supposed to balance having a real life with marathon training. I postponed my long run until the day the guests were safely on the train to the airport. I couldn’t do 15 without injuring myself, so I did 11 instead. And honestly, I was quite proud of the 11.

Vacation has been a lesson in flexibility. The trick is to determine how much flexibility I can have without compromising performance. The test of my flexible vacation schedule will come on Sunday, when I run my half-marathon.

I’ll bring extra water, so I can perfect the fine art of bug spitting.

Stats:

Miles: Tuesday 11, Wednesday 4, Thursday 6

Aches & Pains: My right knee was just killing me after the long run. I’ve dedicated more time to stretching, which has helped a lot. On a positive note, I was able to climb up the castle paths with relative ease. It felt great to not gasp for breath or fear a heart attack on the climbs.

Weather: Intermittent summer. Sunny & in the 70s low 80s on some days. Cloudy & in the 50s & 60s other days.

Wildlife: lots of deer, rabbits, bugs, and farmers’ wives hoeing the fields.

I was two miles into my twelve-mile run when a duck flopped out from the woods. It rapidly waddled along the trail, trying to escape the daunting footfalls of the intrepid marathoner. The duck quacked, flapped its wings, and rose a few inches before hitting the pavement. It complained loudly and hobbled down the path, as quickly as its webbed feet and odd body would allow.

If this were a story of fiction I would say, as I drew near, the duck suddenly launched itself into the air, soared above the river, and led a column of its compadres to the safety of the nesting ground. I would then tell you the duck inspired me to keep moving, no matter how inelegant I felt.

But this is not fiction.

The duck flopped back into the bushes. I heard a splash and a lot more quacking.

I had ten miles left to contemplate this message from nature.

The literal interpretation suggested I was a creature out of her element: waddling along looking ridiculous, while the real runners passed by.

If the interpretation hinged on flying, then it meant I would be unsuccessful in my attempt to soar. Nature was telling me to fling myself through the bushes and plunge into the easy stream of my pre-running life.

Or maybe, just maybe, I was reading too much into things.

Sometimes, ducks just fall into your path.

I read messages in nature: they are the Creator’s sticky notes, attached to the massive calendar of my life. Some notes challenge me, in order that I might grow. Other messages encourage me to press on, to stay the course.

At mile nine, I saw the swan.

Stats:

Blog Neglect: high.

Family and training neglect: low.

Miles: last week 26. Monday 5.

Total Miles (since training began): 222.

Weather: Last Tuesday I did the treadmill, and subsequently vowed to do the treadmill only if tornadoes were actively ripping up my running paths. Otherwise, I had good weather. Saturday was gorgeous (though a little too hot), and today is also sunny and in the 60s.

Something New: I began doing pace training. 200 meters fast, 200 slow, 400 fast, 400 slow, etc. I did that for the first two miles of my four mile run, and while I thought I had slowed down for the last half of the run, I was actually running faster than ever. I ended up averaging a 9:16 mile (on the roller-coaster route), which is a personal best.

Some things I Never Thought I’d  Say:

“It was too sunny on Saturday.”

“After the first five miles, I was ready to really run.”

Something Funny My Six Year-Old Said: “You have a LOT of muscle! I can’t even feel your bones!”

Aches & Pains: I was fairly rubbery-legged after the 12 miles. I discovered muscles I never knew existed. Also, my fingers swelled up like sausages after my long run. I quickly pried off my wedding ring. The swelling was most likely from the way my water pack had been pressing on my shoulders. Nothing serious—just weird.

1 bottle of wine shared between 2 friends over 5 hours does not a hangover make. Rather, it was staying up until an hour I’d not seen since the last baby was weaned, which made me a little less than sporty for my eight-mile run.

I couldn’t help myself. Not only were my brother and mother here, but so were two friends. One was a new friend, but the other knew me when I was still feathering my bangs. When everyone else retired, my dear friend and I stayed up, talking until the candles burned themselves down to nubs.

Hospitality and marathon training can live in harmony.

Sunday morning found me on my scheduled run, with my brother, who had skipped the high school girl giggle fest, biking beside me. Even with nearly half a liter of wine in my system, and only 4 hours of sleep, I could still keep under a ten-minute mile. The delightfully flat trail by the river Main (pronounced “mine”) helped immensely.

Marathon training is entirely doable when you have company. In fact, training is better when someone you love is riding a bike or running with you. I was blessed with good running weather while my brother was here, and he was able to see firsthand my tangled maze of running trails. Together, we happened upon an idyllic trail, which ran for miles along the river Main.

While the path along the Main will be a perfect place for my weekly long run, I can never see it again without being reminded of my brother, and the five thousand miles that lie between us.

From this point on, the river trail will be a place where joy and sadness are forged into kinetic energy.

Stats: I am proud to report I have not slacked off during training. I didn’t do the half-marathon, but I can catch the next one.

Miles: May 3rd-May 9th a weekly total of 21 miles.

May 10th-May 16th a weekly total of 21 miles.

Terrain: my brother was able to do the shorter runs through the countryside with me without his knees killing him. On the long runs, he took a bike. We went all through ‘my’ territory. Then we ventured to the next town, where we found the trail along the Main River. These were the best runs I’ve had. My brother sets a good pace–and talking to him made the time fly by. He also motivated me in a way only brothers can by simply saying, “I’ll race you home!”

“The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances:” so spoke Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s, Pride and Prejudice.

Once, I was enrolled in a German class, where the instructor went around the table, asking where people lived. I told him I didn’t live far. When I said the name of my village, he scoffed: “Not far! That is fifteen kilometers!”

“Yes,” I replied, “only fifteen kilometers.”

Apparently, our definitions of near and far were different.

Some of my German friends (and some of my American friends) are astounded I drive to coffee group once a week, which takes exactly fifty minutes. “You drive all that way?” some people exclaim. Yet, while visiting family in the states, nary an eyelash is batted when I drive from one side of Des Moines to the other, which can take 45 minutes. In the end, near and far are simply matters of perception.

In a few weeks, a ten-mile run will seem short. Already, six miles doesn’t seem far. Four miles—ha! An easy day. My training schedule currently has me running two miles on two of the days, which seems like nothing—I can still see my house from a mile away.

Ten miles. I took my usual route up the hill and into the adjacent agricultural labyrinth. Since I didn’t want to simply run in circles for two hours, I explored some of the dirt paths that stitch together patches of wheat, corn, and sugar beets. I found a new hill: a long, twisty, steep one, which bordered a canola field.

Now that the canola is blooming, the countryside has taken on the appearance of a soft, yellow and green crazy quilt. It is stitched with reddish-brown paths, dotted with deep green poplars, and bursting with pale-pink pom-poms of apple trees. Like some kind of migrating animal, I instinctively followed the canola trail.

My son left his bike at the top of the hill and followed me down on foot. He was exuberant and cheerful, and asked me every few seconds when we would turn back. To him, we had gone far.

I have been to most of the great capitals of Europe. I have seen the astounding works of man. But nothing is more beautiful than being in the quiet countryside, with the gentle fragrance of apple blossoms on the breeze, the yellow field of flowers glowing as it catches rays of the unseen sun, and my child, waiting for me at the top of a hill.

I’m certain a day will come, when I feel he is too far.

Stats:

Miles: Friday 5, Saturday 0 (swim training), Sunday 10

Weekly total: 21 miles

Overall feeling: When I returned from Sunday’s run, my husband said, “You don’t look exhausted!”  That must be a good sign. I have to admit, my legs were rubbery. I also took a power nap. When I woke up, I made a pot of coffee. And took some ibuprofen.  The only thing that hurt was my big toe…and I’m still not sure why. I feel great though. Even my big toe is better today.

The Crazy Quilt

The brochure trembled in my hand. My heart fluttered. Maybe I’d had too much coffee? The men gracing the cover looked like Olympians. Where were the jolly, slightly overweight Hausfrauen? Where were the runners only doing the marathon for the free massage and pasta party? You know, where were the people I could beat?

I had a sinking feeling.

Is it really wise to do a half-marathon as part of marathon training? Maybe I’ll do so poorly over 21 k that I will give up all hope of accomplishing the 40 in July? These thoughts filled my head on Sunday.

Our family spent the morning at the “Blooming Baroque” gardens in Ludwigsburg. We walked around for hours, admiring the gorgeous tulips and daffodils, and breathing the hyacinth-scented air. The children ran and laughed their way through the hedge maze.

By the time we got home, it was afternoon. The number “8” was forbiddingly scrawled on my calendar. I thought about how easy it would be to erase, as I dressed in my hot-weather gear. I headed out the door, oldest child in tow.

The sun, for which I’ve been longing all fall, winter, and spring, now radiated as if I’d suddenly skipped down a few lines of latitude. Fine streams of sweat trickled directly into my eyes. What will I do if it’s this hot the last eight miles of the marathon? I thought.

I live in farm country near the terraced vineyards along the river Main. Name a type of hill: we have it here. We have long slopes so gentle you don’t know you’re running down them until it’s too late; we have wicked steep hills that taunt you like playground bullies. Then there are the seductive hills, both long and steep, which dare you to climb them.

Normally, I opt for the most comfortable path in life. Why face a challenge when you can just take a different route?

But marathon training has flipped a switch in me. I like the challenge. I enjoy the effort. My heart starts pumping when I merely think about running eight miles in the sweltering heat. And the hills: I have a love/hate relationship with them. They’re so beautiful, and yet they maddeningly push me to my limits.

William and I explored some new territory on the Sunday run. When I came to a crossroads, with one flattish road running North-South, and one long, steep hill running East-West, I went for the hill.

I must be out of my mind.

I knew going down I’d have to go back up again. I hit the four-mile mark near a stand of trees at the bottom. I fortified myself with vanilla PowerBar gel, drank some water, and turned around to face the hill.

Halfway up, William began walking his bike. Three-quarters up, he stopped completely. I paused and gave him his first PowerBar Gel pack ever. He washed it down with some water from his Camelpak, and re-energized, he got back on his bike.

My pace became increasingly slower, but I never got to the point of stealing Will’s bike. I kept on until finally, drenched and red-faced, Will and I reached the finish line together.

After my shower, I lay down for a nap, perfectly content with my effort.

The brochure is becoming less intimidating. I can now actually visualize my own face in the mass of runners. I may not be built like a Greek goddess, but giving my best every day makes me picture perfect.

Stats:

Sunday was the first day of the 13 week training schedule from Claire Kowlachick’s The Complete Book of Running for Women. I am doing her “Bronze” schedule.

Miles: Sunday 8, Monday 2 (fast ones).

Extra: On Saturday I did swim training. Swimming is H-A-R-D. I kicked tail-fins in endurance and when we used only the lower body. But the upper body drills left me with legs dragging like sea anchors, while the more buoyant class members (who most likely have skills based upon wrangling farm animals) left me in their wakes. It was a fun class though—and probably good for me.

Overall feeling: I am feeling great this week, especially after last week’s lethargy.

Weight: doesn’t matter, does it? When I pulled on the spandex capris and tank top, my husband said, “Wow! You’re looking athletic!”which I took as a compliment. I don’t think I’ve ever been called that before.

Wildlife: the deer and rabbits are abundant, and the sound of birds fills the air. Lovely backdrop for running.

Health concerns: Though I use the inhaler before exercise, after 60 minutes of running, I start wheezing and can’t get good breaths. Some of it may be due to allergies or bits of microscopic volcanic rock settling in my lungs. I’ll go back to the doc and see what kind of drugs he has planned for me.

Getting ready for a run is like preparing for a deep-sea dive. I squeeze into my stretchy black suit, push my hair into a headband, attach the monitor around my chest, put my gear in the backpack, fasten the watch to my wrist, don the reflective vest, secure the backpack, adjust the water tube, pull on the correct socks, and finally, lace the shoes so they’re not too tight, not too loose.

At this point, I’m ready.

The great thing about running is you don’t actually need all that gear. You can run barefoot in jeans if you want. Ultra-marathoners and triathletes wear apparel resembling loin cloths snatched from jungle tribes. An experienced runner knows his or her body so well, the gear becomes superfluous.

Then there’s me: the intrepid scuba diver.

The GPS is handy when you’re running tractor trails, which are marked only by the occasional compost heap. Compost heaps are notoriously inaccurate for measuring distance.

Because I always think I’m working hard, the heart rate monitor shows I’m not actually in the throes of cardiac arrest.

The backpack holds my water, instant-energy gel packs, and cell phone. The cell phone is so the kids can contact me if the house is burning down, or so I can call someone if I fall into a tractor rut; in which case, I can suck down packets of  “magic juice” while waiting for the rescue helicopter.

A day may come when I am clothed in fig leaves and running like Jane after her Tarzan, but it won’t be until after my first marathon.

There is too much I need to learn about myself first.

Stats:

Miles: Thursday 5, Friday 3 (with Noah peddling his heart out next to me).

Overall feeling: I feel slow & lethargic. It’s frustrating because I want to be back to where I was before vacation. This has been a tough week. I loved vacation, and I love running, but I feel like a big, fat slug.

Weather: sunny & in the upper 40s low 50s. There was frost on the ground this week—thus the Supersuit was pulled from hibernation.

Gear:

The Supersuit: Kalenji brand cozy goodness leggings and top for cold mornings. It’s tight, black with turquoise swooshes, and makes me feel like a superhero.

The Shoes: Mizuno 12 Wave Rider size 12 narrow (eek). Silver/Gunmetal/Red (or pink, if you prefer). Feels like running on clouds.

The Phone: iPhone 3G. It’s kind of big for runs, but it’s all I have. On the bright side, I can take pictures and post to Facebook during the marathon, if I don’t have anything else to do, like survive.

The Watch: Garmin Forerunner 405 CX. This is the first device to overcome the technologically challenged area in which I live. The satellites managed to track my run through hill and dale, hither and yon with astounding accuracy. What’s next for my village? DSL? One can only dream.

The Garmin has a heart rate monitor that straps around my chest and is synchronized to the watch. All I have to do is run. This watch monitors everything except my attitude.

The criticisms of the Garmin are that the bevel is touchy and it’s hard to use during a run. I can see this theory. But if people would actually read all the instructions, they could learn how to set the watch so that it scrolls through vital information. Then you lock the bevel so it doesn’t flip out when it’s touched. It’s very easy to do. I LOVE this watch. Thanks, honey for my birthday/mother’s day/anniversary/Christmas gift!

The Fuel: PowerBar Refuel Gel (vanilla). 110 calories, 0 fat, 27 grams of carbo delight to give you a boost: much better than a Snickers bars (and gluten-free too).

The Backpack: Nathan HPL Series #008 Race Vest. 1.5 liter capacity. Ultra-lightweight. It is cool, breathable, and soft as a kitten. This is a vast improvement over sweating under Noah’s Camelbak.

The only drawback is that the cell phone pocket brushes against my arm. It might become a problem during runs over 10 miles.

I nearly took scissors to the ridiculously long water tube. It swoops down across your shoulder and dangles in front of you. However, there is a clip for it, and I noticed during the long runs, the length of the hose makes it fumble-resistant. This vest is MUCH better than the Borg belt with waterpods.