Why I Run

I started running because I was too poor to afford to go to a gym and yoga courses were even more expensive. I started because I read an article in Self or Shape filled with the platitudes that women told themselves during their runs and they made me feel like an asshole for having a fully functioning body capable of running long distances and only using that capacity when I was late for my train.

“My body has done so many amazing things,” was one of those sayings and so when I started hitting the trail, instead of telling myself how terrible and unfit I was, I told myself that my body was capable of amazing things and that this one single kilometer was nothing in comparison to what it did just to keep me alive every day.

I was still married at the time, to a guy who had never done sports in his life but couldn’t gain weight to save his life, a guy who seems to prefer his women to be on the bigger side. It was never about looking good, for him or other men or for myself, not at first anyway. It wasn’t about weight or thinness, although admittedly, I did think of it as an ounce of prevention from becoming sick from overweight. My BMI has always tottered at the high end, and with an extra 5 pounds, I fall in the overweight category. Running, I knew, would likely tip the scales upward as I strengthened my leg muscles, not the opposite. I have not been proven wrong.

I started running because many of the women in my family were running marathons — aunts, cousins, my sister. I’ve got one cousin doing a 50-mile ultra next week, another who did an ironwoman; the annual family reunion over the last decade has included running the Chicago marathon. Last August, we all did a 5k together, including my uncle with Down’s and my retiree aunt and my cousin’s toddlers. Running has certainly helped my family find common ground.

I stopped running when I was pregnant. My world fell apart after Diva was born and when I started to finally piece it back together, I started running again. First with a goal of 10 minutes without a walk break. Then intervals to get my endurance up. Then 30 minutes nonstop. Now I’m up to 3 5k runs a week, with a 4th nearly hour-long run when I can. I run with friends or with music, always outside in the cold or the heat, the sun or the rain. I run for fun. For sanity. For my health. It makes me feel both bad and good, never indifferent. And that’s important: it helps prevent my apathy.

I’m not in training for anything — I injure too easily because of a broken bone in my foot — but I pretend I am in training to keep myself on a schedule. Because schedules are everything for me when it comes to running. I have to eat at a certain time to keep my belly happy. I have to schedule my run in to avoid having my run steamrolled by silly clients or bullshit arguments or a sick kid. I fit it in on days when there’s no yoga classes at the gym or at times I know the curl bros will have invaded the free weights section with their sweat and grunts.

I started running because I needed a break for my mental health. If I hadn’t started running, I would likely have spent every day the last three years looking like this:

And that’s in fact what my biggest fear was when we discovered my broken foot last year (and the injury chain that seemed to follow): that I’d stop running and lay down and never want to get up again. Mental health experts say exercise is one of the best ways to beat depression and I have to agree. I work out so much shit during my runs, it’s unbelievable. And those endorphins, man. They are addictive. So much so that I’m actually writing now about how many recovering addicts turn to running after getting sober so they can still get their fix. Because running clears your mind of the nonsense. It helps channel that rage. It gives you a goal with each run and a sense of accomplishment afterward. It may not make your belly flat but damned if you don’t look sexier after a run with that endorphin glow. And you can always talk about how amazing your body was for just doing *that.*

So yeah, Irish Berliner, it does get better. You might actually find yourself enjoying a new addiction soon.


Everybody’s Business

I travel a lot. At least that’s what my very nice, very elderly next-door neighbor told me in July when he saw me running out the door with my carry-on on my way to Berlin.

“You must have a very important job,” the retired doctor said and I laughed because a) I don’t really travel for work, and b) I’m not important to anyone but myself, and c) the dude is deaf and can’t understand a word I say with my accented Deutsch so there was no point in explaining any of that to him.

A few months later, right after we got back from Portugal, I ran into him again and he started going on and on about how great it was that my husband was back home. Husband? Back home? Please, sir, explain.

Because I had just been out of town for nearly two weeks and my ex-husband, who does indeed have keys to my apartment (against everyone else’s better judgment), was likewise on vacation in Spain. Who the devil had been in my apartment while we were away?, I was thinking.

Dr. Deaf next door didn’t seem to get it right away when I tried asking him what the hell he was talking about, instead going on about how difficult it must be for my daughter to never see her dad (um, she does? every week?) because he’s traveling all the time (his ass rarely leaves the couch at his new place?). He must have thought we were terrible parents, abandoning our kid while we both jetted around the world. Finally, I let my neighbor in on the not-so-little secret of our divorce.

After he got over his initial shock, a minute during which his face first went all basset hound before his eyes narrowed with disdain, he fumbled through the confession that he had just thought that my husband was back because he’d seen a man’s shoes outside my apartment door a couple of nights that week. Ruh-roh, Relroy. This poor old-fashioned retiree went from thinking I was a terrible mum because I left my daughter at home while I globe-hopped to thinking I was a terrible mum because I had men not-her-dad spending the night.

Which I could maybe be fine with, maybe deal with, if those were, as they say, the actual facts. I can be okay with people judging me for shit I do. But I didn’t, in fact, have a dude spend the night at my house, nor have I ever in the two years I’ve lived here. It’s against my parenting ethics. Besides, who could ever get busy with Super Grover sitting there, watching the whole action take place? Not me.

So I laughed, and explained myself to him. “Those shoes?” I said. “Those shoes are for running. I’ve started running again.”

“Oh, I didn’t know those were yours,” he said, clearly relieved. “I didn’t know women did such a thing.”

Because right, women don’t go running. Noted.

And duly noted: if a dude ever comes by, German or not, his shoes are staying inside. People are watching.

My Running Ban, Or A Run-In With An Unfriendly German Doctor

After six months of being an on-again off-again runner, it looks like I won’t be accomplishing any of my running goals for this year after all. Because although I was actually feeling better after all the psoas massages and osteopath visits, I still wasn’t 100% and running still hurt afterward so I went back to the orthopedist I visited last year, just to confirm that there was nothing wrong with me physically. Turns out there is something wrong with me physically, something with my third metatarsal and the circulation in my foot, something that can only be alleviated through surgery; something that the orthopedist completely missed during my first visit, when she told me I was a runner and runners sometimes have pain and I should just take a few days rest and maybe get fitted for insoles.

She’s a gem, this doctor, I tell you. Her bedside manner was incredible, from the moment she walked in the door and said, “So I suppose you’re pretty upset that you’ll need to be operated on, huh?” before I even knew the diagnosis.

Of course I was upset. Mainly, though, I was confused. After all, it’s my hip and upper thigh on my right leg that’s been nagging me. It could be that this nagging may or may not be connected to the fact that my left foot is broken in some inexplicable way and I have adjusted my gait to alleviate the pain (which would go against previously theories about how my hip popped out of place) but I can’t say anything for sure because my orthopedist, in truly ueber-annoying form, refuses to say anything more than I need an operation and I need it immediately. To her credit, she gave me a copy of the MRI and a sheet of paper with the MRI’s findings listed on it and the phone numbers to the local hospitals that may be able to perform the operation and a transfer to said hospitals.

But because I am not privately insured and also something of an incompetent when it comes to figuring my way around the German healthcare system, I couldn’t get an appointment for another month at the hospital to have someone explain to me just what this doctor’s talking about. Also because I am a normal human being and not a well-studied doctor versed in human anatomy, I have no clue what to make of the MRI CD or the pig latin with my diagnosis on it. And this doctor literally refused to answer any more questions, especially after I said that I was pissed that an injury I’d seen her for over a year ago had gone unnoticed. After that, she was busy saving her bottom from malpractice (“How could I have known the insoles weren’t working?”) and telling me that I was an idiot for having run on it for so long and that I needed to stop running immediately.

Wait, I’m the idiot? And oh wait, stop running?!? That was just the final nudge over the cliff of a nervous breakdown.

Because here’s the thing: I have an unbelievably, incredibly high tolerance for pain. When I was in labor with the Diva, I walked in the door of the labor and delivery ward at 9 cm dilated and the midwife on duty literally flipped out on my baby daddy for waiting too long to bring me there (to which he replied, she didn’t say she was in pain — because I wasn’t, until I suddenly couldn’t move from all the pain). Also, after the birth, my left foot was numb and I saw doctor after doctor for it and all of them said I was just a new mom with a lot of stress and I needed to get used to the changes in my body and maybe rebuild my pelvic floor muscles and I believed them because I’ve never broken a bone in my body so how could I know what true pain was like. Maybe it *was* just a weak pelvic floor making me walk like an elderly person who’d forgotten her cane.

What I don’t have a high tolerance for, however, is this — and I’ll say it despite my despisal for bad stereotypes of Germans — ueber-German refusal to assist strangers who may be experiencing mental anguish. The whole “It’s not my problem, it’s your problem,” attitude that drives me insane. The whole culture of “You figure it out, sweets, *I* certainly don’t have time to explain it to you.” Is that not what doctors are there for? To listen to a person’s complaints and explain shit that the average commoner would not know about his or her body? Because although I know the average German has no issue with going to the doctor when he or she feels a scratchy throat coming on, my high tolerance for pain means that if my ass is sitting in your office, there is a problem to be looked at and that problem is not that I am a new mom who forgot to do her Kegels.

Thankfully, I have a very good friend who talked me down from the ledge twice on Thursday (though not before I flipped out on every single person who crossed my path, including some poor delivery guy who I know makes shite wages and just wanted me to sign for an Amazon package for a neighbor who pretends I don’t exist whenever I pass him in the hallway). A friend who convinced me to call my sports doctor who referred me to a foot specialist who actually, literally, laughed at the fact that I had to make an appointment for surgery for “I don’t know what” and wondered at my ortho’s competence aloud.

So I’ve got that appointment tomorrow. Until then, it’s been a banner emotional weekend, with lots of depressing thoughts about gaining weight (even though I don’t run to stay slim), getting old (if aging means having surgery, then I want none of it), wondering how I’m going to stay sane if I can’t run (therapist has already been engaged), and the need to replace my entire shoe collection because I can no longer wear heels or sandals with straps near my toes. As if it hasn’t been depressing enough living in Germany during the spring and summer that never was…. Can’t wait to be unable to do *anything* once the sun finally begins to shine again.

Getting my So’ Ass a Psoas Massage

Taking my pants off for strangers has now become common habit. Almost two months after I didn’t hurt myself but suddenly couldn’t run without falling over in pain, I’ve had to drop my trousers on three separate occasions, in front of three different doctors’ eyes (and a teenie’s, too).

Live Nude Girls Girls Girls

You would think after all this time, I’d be okay with it. I’m at the sauna like every other day as it is so what’s one more hour standing nearly nude in front of total strangers, right? But I’m American. This nudity nonsense is uncomfortable. I’m starting to feel like I should wear a t-shirt that says “Live Nude Girls” at this point, but I never was one who had the body to be a stripper or the mental cajones to shake my barely-covered ass in some schmuck’s face. And now that we’ve determined that it’s my flabby ass that’s contributing to this problem, I’m not really all that excited to be showing it to the world.

Turns out that while giving birth FOUR YEARS AGO, my pelvis went out of alignment. I couldn’t feel it then because Jesus Christ, my hip was the least of my concerns at that very moment, but afterward, I couldn’t feel my left foot. The doctor thinks this is a sign that I pinched a nerve when my pelvis tilted. I went to an osteopath right after the birth, but she just kept telling me that if I did pelvic floor exercises to repair the damage pregnancy had wrought on my lower abs, I’d be just fine. So I did a post-partum stretching course. And Pilates. And Yoga. And I waited until the kid was one before I laced up my trainers again.

But here’s the thing: those pelvic floor exercises were actually doing more harm than good because I was strengthening them but the hip wasn’t in the right spot for them to get stronger correctly. I still couldn’t feel my foot and every so often my back hurt, but, you know, I was carrying an extra couple of kilos on my body and a couple of the babe’s in my arms. Since Yoga and Pilates teachers don’t require *real* intimate knowledge of anatomy even if they are certified, and the ones I went to were too damned flighty to even remember the next pose most times, let alone keep an eye on proper posturing, these classes were not helping my injury. What they were great for was stretching tight muscles. But in spite of, or maybe because of them, over the last four years, my body has learned how to work its way around that injury. The bad posture and tilted pelvis gave me huge amounts of strength in my quads and made my glutes go flabby.

When I started running, it wasn’t a very big deal because I wasn’t going far or fast and the aches weren’t anything I wasn’t already used to. When I started to pick up the pace last year, I dropped Pilates/Yoga and added weight training to my program. I couldn’t sit for long periods without back pain, but I’ve never been one of a proper desk sitter nor do I own a proper chair so I just assumed it was from slouching while sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor. It wasn’t. The pain was because when I finally started doing glute exercises (thanks to a well-intentioned remark from a trainer who said I really needed to work on my ass if I wanted to run faster), I wasn’t actually using my glutes. With the tilted pelvis, I can’t engage them correctly. I learned how to run using my quads as the main source of strength. Not good. My lower back takes the brunt of my squats on the right side. And my quad actually did tear but only because I’ve overused it.

I now get to go to an osteopath every week to get my pelvis adjusted. This is fun. The first time I saw the osteopath I walked out of there floating on air, like, Top Ten Best Experiences of My Life. I practiced contortionism and dude cracked every joint in my body, including my toes (gross, I know, but wow!) and my back did.not.hurt. for the first time in four years.

To get the best results, of course I had to strip down to my skivvies for the osteo, though. Ooooof course. Who needs yoga pants when I could just get mostly naked? I mean, how do these practitioners in the US handle it when people show up in their sweats?

At first, I was okay with this. The osteo’s obviously gay and he’s German so he’s all super professional and pretends he doesn’t notice that I’m standing there in the very expensive, very fancy underwear I bought in Copenhagen (as part of my things to do last year). It was okay when he gave me a bear hug to align all my vertebrae. And okay when he wrapped my leg around his waist rather awkwardly to pop my hip back into place. Actually, it was more than okay. This dude made so much pain go away, I totally forgot that I was laying there barely covered.

But then once my pelvis was repositioned, we had to work on loosening up my tight hip flexors. It’s as awkward as it sounds. And yet. Heaven! There’s this little tiny muscle connecting your lower back to your upper thigh. It’s what helps support you when you climb stairs or bend over and a lot of runners don’t stretch it very well after running (ahem, me) so it tightens. And tightens. And tightens a whole lot more when you’ve got a flabby ass like mine that can’t support all the running and squatting I’d been doing.

Loosening it means getting a two-finger massage from your belly button to your hip bone. A very intense, prolonged massage. The osteo even told me he was probably going to leave bruises. I was going to joke that I like it rough but thought the better of it, seeing as I was still wearing next to nothing and I was supposed to be all mature about that fact. But Holy Mother of Christ, that massage felt so good I almost asked my osteopath to marry me. Instead, I added it to my list of things to look for in a future partner: must give good psoas rubs.Then I put my clothes back on.

We’ve still got four more rounds to go, though so I’m preparing myself. Going to show up in leggings next time, see if maybe, just maybe I get to keep some semblance of my clothing and dignity on.

On Tap This Year

In case you missed it, I updated the list of things to do this year. I gave myself a bit of leeway last year and held out on being disappointed that I didn’t accomplish all 35 things before my birthday in December but then January rolled around and I realized, hey, this life is getting stale. I need some new motivation. So there it is, in black and white for all to see.

The problem is, it’s January. January sucks for motivation. I hurt myself running so I feel a bit like, eh, what’s the point of having a half-marathon as a goal for this year? And I’m nevah evah going to speak German like a Deutscher, so why bother, right? (As a side note: the diva’s teachers at Kita say she’s been correcting their pronunciation of German words so that they speak them with a more American accent. My God, what have I done? It’s English only from here on out with that babe.)

And then I started changing my mind. I think I want to add “watch a Barca game in Barcelona” to the list.  Can I do that? Just change my goals like that? I’ve never been much of a goal setter but I feel like these things are important for my sanity right now. I’m learning how to be alone and how to be a grown-up and goals, I think, are key to that. Otherwise, you just sit around in your sweatpants eating potato chips and lamenting the things you could’ve done with your life and then you realize, shit, I’m 50, where did my life go. Right?

So my goals for this year are to not just sit around. To travel a lot, both alone and with the kid. I even added another tab here, with my goal destinations this year. If I have my way, I’ll be in France, Greece, Denmark, and Switzerland before summer’s even here.

But that means I have to get over my fear of flying. I have a dream of a doctor who prescribed me something the Germans like to call Holy Shit pills to take the edge off. I no longer feel like I’m going to vomit at the thought of getting on a plane. I don’t need to knock myself out with Benadryl and stumble down the aisles of an Airbus 320 every five minutes to look in the bathroom mirror to convince myself that yes, I am 32,000 feet above the earth but everything is a-ok. Now I can actually sleep through a flight. As the Diva explained to everybody who’d listen, Mama can snore through seven different videos being played on the little video screen on the back of the seat (raised mostly tv-less, she is not excited about being an airplane but about Mama not giving a shit when she watches Minnie Mouse Clubhouse).

But I’m no Liza Minnelli; I don’t need pills to get through life. So I’m going to first work on getting over my fear of flying, which is, bizarrely enough, not an actual fear of flight but of loss. Because as anyone who’s an expat knows, getting on that airplane means leaving things behind, even things you hate. And even if for just a short amount of time. So yeah, working on that. But first, I gotta get motivated, which, in the shite white wonderland, is going to take a little while. For now it’s back to potato chips and yoga pants on the couch.

Getting Naked for Strangers, aka, A Running Injury Is Making Me Insane

In case you haven’t been following the drama on Facebook or Twitter (and if not, why not?!? Be my fan! I’m way funnier in fewer words…), I hurt myself pretty badly while running recently, which means I’m getting to know the German healthcare system pretty intimately. I mean, if I’m going to fork over 70,000 goddamned Euros for insurance, I might as well use it, right?

To be clear: I still don’t know how I hurt myself. My self-diagnosis is that I am old and was stupid for thinking I could both run a 5k and go snowboarding in the same day and my body is just reminding me of my age by refusing to work. My doctor is insisting that I tore my quadricep and will feel better in 3-5 days with a healthy daily mixture of ibuprofen and exercise.

It started two weeks ago in Tahoe when I ridiculously decided to run the lakefront right after a snowstorm. I had just been snowboarding and though I didn’t injure myself, there is something to be said about jumping off cliffs into rocky crevices and landing on a slope with a 75 degree incline. (What’s to be said: Weeeeee! Then: Fuuuuucccck! Then: Ouchhhh!)

I may have overdone it that day by going for a run, too, but since I was about to have two mandatory rest days because of travel, I did it. I noticed a niggling in my knee, but that had become common, especially after running on an ice pack, where, I read later, you change your gait significantly to avoid slippage. Instead, at the time, I attributed the pain to lost fitness by not running as often or as far in the altitude.

Then I flew home, still paying attention to the pain, and decided to do a spinning class instead of run. When I finally ran about four days later, I noticed the pain at first, diminishing as the 7k run went longer, then flaming up so badly afterward, I couldn’t walk. Did weights the following day, careful to not do anything that would injure my knee but didn’t notice any pain except when I went from sitting to standing or when I tried to run.

Finally, after resting for four more days, I tried to run and felt such immense pain, I started to cry. So… off to the doctor. Here’s the fun part:

I got to the first doctor, who, after I took off my pants, asked me if I was an athlete. When I grinned and said, yep, I’m a runner, she replied, “Oh that’s strange. I thought you might be a kickboxer with all those bruises on your leg. Are you sure you didn’t get beat up? Or fall down?”

Nope. Normal wear and tear (jet lag is a lot like insomnia – I run into shit and have no idea because I’m so overtired).

Got referred to a sports doctor, who, immediately after I walked into his office, said, “Hey, I’ve got a kid from the local high school here who wants to be a doctor and is shadowing me for his career training week. Is it okay if he sits in on the visit?”

Yeah sure, why not? I said, forgetting that in Germany, the next sentence is:

“Take off your pants, please.”

Thing about Germany is, there are no paper gowns and no curtains to step behind.

I don’t think I turned red but the 14-year-old boy sure did.

And of course, as with any time I take off my clothes in front of strangers, I start the litany of questions in my head: When did I last shave? What underwear do I have on? Should I keep my socks on? I held my tongue and didn’t crack any of the stupid jokes I used to do when I first arrived and just took off my clothes like it was just another fun old thing to do.

And then I realized, oh fuck, I may still not have fully Germanized. I may have walked down the hall of the labor and delivery ward naked and bloody, but this, this nudity in front of a kid is too much for me. If there were a blanket, I would’ve tried to cover my ass up but as it were, there was only that thin paper sheet on the examination table.

Poor kid, I don’t think he expected his first in-real-life glimpse of a woman’s bottom to look anything like mine, with cellulite and bruises and old cotton underwear. I hope for his sake, actually, that it wasn’t his first glimpse, but with the distance he kept, I think it was.

I’ll spare you the details of what happened next, but let’s just say, I never expected to be lying down with my pants off, legs in the air, writhing around and gasping while an adolescent looked on. I’m trying to be adult about it and pretend this is just “normal” human behavior but I’m not that German yet. It is fucking embarrassing to be naked with complete strangers.

Even more embarrassing was when another doctor had to come into the office to check me out and they concurred that there really wasn’t anything wrong with me and that, you know, runners get injured all the time and I should just wait it out.

So that’s what I’m doing. Keeping my pants on and getting, as my spinning instructor noted yesterday, a little aggressive from not running. Which I suppose is better for me, given that all the snow on the ground means I shouldn’t be running outside anyway. But I’m going to need a punching bag pretty soon if this moratorium on running keeps up. And I’m afraid, if it gets to be too much longer, this dimply middle-aged bottom is not going to be seen by anyone, doctors included.

Crossing the 10k off the List

I started running right after I decided I wanted out of my marriage. It’s not easy to work out the logistics of separating from someone you’ve been with your entire adult life, a task made all the more complex by living far away from friends and family, and so at night, after I made the decision to split but wasn’t quite sure how I could make it work, I would head to a nearby gym and lose myself either in power yoga or on the treadmill.

It wasn’t a coincidence that I waited until he came home each night before I’d head out the door — it wasn’t just that the Diva needed looking after (the gym, did, after all, have childcare). I needed to escape from him and running was the only running away I could do at first. Needless to say, running saved my sanity in what was probably the most difficult time in my life. What I didn’t realize was how badly I’d need to keep at it to keep sane in the truly awful times that followed.

And so, even though I was slower than a tortoise, I made a pact with myself to keep running, sticking to it until I could run at least 30 minutes without stopping. It was a minor goal, one that I devised for myself after learning that my ex-husband had been shtooping an overweight friend of mine, the same friend who had told me she ran 30 minutes three times a week with no problem. Call me a weight-ist if you like, but the fact that this friend of mine did not look nearly as good as me naked but my ex didn’t seem to mind that was what set my feet on fire. I am competitive. If that bitch could run 30 minutes at a time, no problem-o, than so, too, could I. Even if I was certain I never wanted my ex back. It was the principle, I guess.

When that goal was achieved, I paused to reflect on my running and realized that really, if I wanted to keep running, I’d need to do it for myself. And to do that, I needed to start setting goals. No Apathy Allowed mentioned once that running is great for her goal-setting personality, that she could see her progress in numbers, and though I thought at first that was a total turn-off (I am usually a lost soul with no goals except to enjoy life), that philosophy was exactly what I needed. So I set the goal of running a 5k sometime this year.

In February, when I got the okay to work mainly from home, I set up a 3 day a week running schedule and soon 5k was my daily run. So I upped it to a 10k and added it to my things to do while 35 list. Well, that 10k was Sunday and I’m proud to say I persevered. I was one of the last across the finish line, but that’s beside the point. I had the flu for a week straight, was hungover from my birthday celebration, a tiny bit heartbroken, and there was a snow (!) pack that had turned to ice on the route. It never snows in Germany in December, but suddenly, the whole week before, it snowed. I didn’t let that stop me, and I won’t use it an excuse. The victory was that I used the year to create a habit and now that habit is so ingrained, I can’t quit it. Now that I know I can do it, the next step is a goal-based race. Looking forward to setting those goals. And meeting them.