Tag Archives: Running

Is Fear Pathological?

File:Shirley Strickland.jpg
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Melburnian, October 2006.

2013 was a lousy year for running in my life. I kicked off the year with a persistent tendon injury in my foot which forced me off the road for a few months. Then, just as I started to ramp up my training again, things came to a head with my neighborhood stalker and completely ruined my running routine.

I still ran a lot despite the stalker, but it wasn’t quite the same as before. One major change was losing my favorite route, because it took me past his house.

Today I ran my old route alone for the first time since that day almost 9 months ago. It starts at my doorstep, takes me to a park that’s a couple miles away, and then back to my home. I always know I’m halfway done when I see the pink wooden turrets of the playground’s castle in the distance.

Today I ran that route, only in reverse. I drove to the park and ran the opposite way starting from the castle, and when I neared my own neighborhood, I turned away and ran back.

I’ve missed my old route. It has good landmarks to mark the distances, it’s scenic, and most importantly, it has gently rolling hills. I love running hills like these. There’s a rhythm to them that makes running uniquely pleasurable and somehow adventurous. You reach the base of the hill and attack it, quickening your stride, swinging your arms in short, tight arcs, breath accelerating, heart racing, calves aching until you’re at the top. Then instantly the rhythm reverses. You ease off and let gravity do the work as you float downhill, and I swear it feels like flying: easier and more natural than walking. Sometimes you feel like you could run forever.

Flats are the worst, though. I hate running long stretches of flat ground. It’s one of the reasons that I hate and despise treadmills and tracks–while they’re better than nothing, they take much of the joy out of running, the rhythm and flow, the alternating of fight and victory that convinces you to go just a little further than you thought you could.

Life’s like that, I think. We suffer on the climbs, and we exhilarate in the floating, flying descents, but somehow the flats are the worst. The stagnation, the parts of your life when you feel like you’re running parallel with your dearest goals which never seem to come any closer.


Did I mention 2013 was a terrible year for running in my life? I spent most of it running flats. After I ceded my neighborhood route to my stalker, most of my runs took place at the track in a nearby park. It had a lot to offer safety-wise: set back off the main road, there was no way the creep could follow me in his car or even know I was running there. And I got to know the little community of people who frequent the track everyday, elderly retired folks and athletes and children, mostly. But running a flat 1k loop is torturous. It’s got nothing on the hills.

I realized something else today: how much my experience with the stalker has shaped my life. These days when I run, I watch passing cars reflexively, and if I see one that looks remotely like that gray Nissan Sentra that I’m oh-so-familiar with, the panic starts in the back of my brain. Suddenly I’m arguing with myself. “You’re okay,” I say, “you’ve got your cell–here, in your pocket–and besides, look, it’s a Honda, see?” Meanwhile the other voice jibbers about pain and death and panic and running away to hide, NOW, before it’s too late.

I mean, I get it. My brain’s trying to be helpful. All those months ago, in an instant my fear ran right up the scale until it hit with certainty: “I am about to die.” And when I didn’t, my brain made a few extra connections, turned up the volume on certain warnings, hoping to prevent a reoccurrence.

It used to be worse. There was a time shortly after that day when I was afraid to check my mail. That got better with time. And I was terrified of my old running route. Even today, I never fully forgot the panic.

I used to think this sort of fear was pathological, but I’ve discovered something: almost every woman has a story like this.

It happens at parties, when in a corner, we start sharing these tales. And instead of shock, the other women nod, eyes wide, and they understand. And I hear over and over again how many of us are afraid. Perhaps most of us, to some degree. We swap “safety” tips and compare notes and exchange sympathetic hugs before we go back into the world to run uphill against the fear.

In fact, I think that we consider it pathological for a woman not to be afraid.

This occurred to me while reading James Tiptree Jr.’s short story, “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled Of Light!” The story revolves around a woman undergoing a psychotic break. She believes she lives in a future where for unexplained reasons, men no longer exist, and everyone in the world is friendly. This means she’s wandering around a big city alone at night, in high spirits, rejoicing in the health of her body and the beauty of the world. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, a group of men stalks her. At the end, they violently attack her.

The story is told in retrospect through interviews of people who saw her the night of the attack. These people fault her for her optimism, happiness, and lack of fear, and they universally perceive her demeanor as pathological. As a result they blame her for what is done to her, even though they all have the opportunity to intervene along the way.

This resonated with me: that we live in a world where women are supposed to be afraid, and for some reason we consider the fear a healthy thing, to the point where failure to be afraid all the time is held against us. And so we blame ourselves and obsess over how we “provoked” our harassers and attackers into targeting us, accepting without question that it is wrong to assume we can live without fear.

Every woman has a story like this, after all.

But I don’t want to run on the flats for the rest of my life. I love people. I love talking with strangers, finding shared interests and common ground, the blossoming of new friendships and deepening the roots of old ones. My life would be much less rich if I lived in fear all the time.

File:Castelo-dos-Mouros 1.jpg

I don’t want to be afraid of people. I don’t want to be afraid of you.

But how do I balance that against the fear? How do I fight back against the constant, exhausting barrage of threats masked as concern, the idea that it’s my job to hide myself, lest bad people choose to inflict harm upon me?

I don’t really know, honestly. But I’m going to keep running the hills. I hope you’ll run with me.

On the horizon, I see a castle.

Medical Microfiction: Hypothyroidism

Recess on the Moon

At noon, the teacher summoned her students to dress for their daily run across the moon’s surface. They piled into the locker room and pulled on their jumpsuits, gravity boots, helmets and oxygen tanks. Lori lagged behind.

In her absence, the other girls huddled around Lori’s boots. “Who’s got the screwdriver?” asked Violet. They made the usual adjustments.

“Slow Lori!” the children chanted as they lapped her around the crater again. Lori choked back sobs. Every day, she ran a little harder. Every day, she clocked a slower time. Lori ran with the weight of another world on her shoulders.


English: Moon view from earth In Belgium (Hamo...
Would you go for a run on the moon? I know I would! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hypothyroidism is an insidious and frustrating medical condition for those who suffer from it. It famously causes weight gain, lethargy, and a host of other symptoms that start out faint and grow increasingly more severe with time. Because the symptoms come on so gradually, it’s also an extremely underdiagnosed condition: many people whose thyroids are producing abnormally quantities of hormone won’t know it for years until the symptoms grow more pronounced and troublesome.

Since thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) govern metabolism and energy levels, a person whose body is deficient experiences life much like Lori does with her gravity boots. To perform at the same level as the other children, Lori has to in exponentially more effort, and the problem only escalates over time. She has an unfair disadvantage that is entirely invisible from the outside but is very, very real on the inside.

What causes hypothyroidism? The single biggest culprit is iodine deficiency, which is especially a problem in countries where iodine is not abundant in the local diet. It can also be caused by stress, radiation, certain medicines, and complications related to pregnancy.

Fortunately, the fix for hypothyroidism is very simple. Sufferers simply take a daily dose of synthetic thyroid hormones to bring their bodies back to normal. From what I’ve heard, it often takes some experimentation to hit upon the right dosage for the individual, but once the balance is struck, a person’s energy will return and the symptoms will abate.

In other words, just recalibrate the dang gravity boots!

English: Slow Loris in Sabah, Borneo
A clue about today’s hidden pun. Hover over this photo for the answer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conditions like hypothyroidism demonstrate why, in a world where obesity is increasingly a problem, it’s important to exercise kindness toward people who struggle with their weight. We never know what level someone’s gravity boots are set to, or how they’d perform if the boots were calibrated to be in line with a person’s peers. Besides, recent research demonstrates what common sense told us all along: that cruelty causes people to gain more weight, not lose it.

Bonus points if you caught the hidden zoology pun in this story. Let me know in the comments below if you found it!

Race Report: Jammin’ Jog 2013 5K

Jammin' JogI just ran my first race of the year! In fact, it’s the first race I’ve run since recovering from a tendon injury to my foot called plantar fasciitis. This condition refers to inflammation of the plantar fascia tendon, which runs from your heel to toe along the bottom of your foot. The name’s actually a misnomer. Since the plantar fascia is a tendon, it doesn’t have blood vessels, and therefore can’t become “inflamed” the way other body parts do. Instead, the condition is an accumulation of microscopic tears along the tendon which leads to long-term, chronic pain.

Medical X-rays Plantar fasciitis. Increased de...
X-ray of Plantar fasciitis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The only cure for this condition is rest. That means no running until it heals. Me being the genius that I am, I ignored my increasingly painful plantar fasciitis for two years until this past December, when I finally forced myself to give up running temporarily. It took months before the pain went away, and I finally resumed my training two months ago.

The awful thing about taking such a long break is that you suck when you finally start training again. Last year, I’d trained up to running 10k’s for my regular runs and wanted to build enough mileage to run my first half-marathon by this year. When I started running two months ago, I couldn’t finish 5k without taking short walks here and there. That’s why the Creeper Guy Incident pissed me off so much. That was the first run I’d been able to maintain a running pace for the full 5k. It represented a return to health after a long recovery.

So when I ran the Jammin’ Jog 5k a couple hours ago, I fully expected to suck by my previous standards (which honestly, weren’t that impressive to begin with). Boy was I surprised when I came up the last hill and saw the giant clock at the finish line, and realized I was going to beat my time from last year, for the same race! In the end, I shaved a whole minute off my previous personal best. Not bad!!

Just for fun, here’s a quick rundown of the race experience. The Jammin’ Jog is unique in that the race organizers get a bunch of Athens-area musicians to play for you all along the race course. It’s awesome! Athens is home to a vibrant local music scene. We are the home of R.E.M. and the B-52’s after all! The musicians on the race course are always a mixture of local amateurs and pros. There was an ensemble from a local high school, several dudes with guitars, and even a full string section at one point!

I decided not to listen to music on my iPod so as to enjoy the live music. I put on a favorite podcast episode instead (Drabblecast B-Sides #15: Connor Choadsworth, In Search of the Brain-Eating Nandi Bear, if you’re curious). It was easy to pop out an earphone when I heard music ahead.

I felt strong all through Mile 1. Shortly into Mile 2, I was very surprised when Jason appeared behind me! I thought he was far ahead of me, but apparently he’d taken a slower pace from the start and had been trailing me the whole time.

English: Finish line of the 2006 Peachtree Roa...
Finish line of the 2006 Peachtree Road Race. I ran this one last summer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mile 2 started to get tough as the ascent is a long, slow uphill that seems to go on forever. It was also the least-shady part of the course. Also, by that point, the runners had gotten so spread out that it’s harder to use peer pressure to push yourself. I got a little competitive with two 10-year-old boys who kept sprinting past me, then stopping right in front of me to walk. I could swear I remember them from last year.

I was hurting by Mile 3. I’d taken a downhill weird and my knee felt all twitchy. But Mile 3 actually loops through a course in the park that I’ve trained on before, so I was able to fall back on my training and coach myself through it. The only problem? Usually when I run that course, I run it in the OPPOSITE direction.

Anyway, glad to have a new record under my belt, and glad to be back into the swing of my training. Now it’s time to pick a new race to train for! Any recommendations? Preferably somewhere in Georgia, but I could be persuaded to travel if the race is really cool!

Creeper Guy vs. The Mongolian Deathworm

Creepers gonna creep.
Creepers gonna creep.

We interrupt your regularly scheduled medical microfiction to bring you a personal story. If you’re here for the flash fiction and prefer to skip, you won’t hurt my feelings. Check out the archives instead, or check back later for what I’ve got cooked up next. Otherwise, pull up a chair and pour yourself a cup of coffee. This tale is true, and mine.

As some of you may know , for the past year I’ve had occasional encounters with a creep in my neighborhood who likes to follow me in his car when I’m out running. These encounters have been very rare, perhaps once every couple of months. Nonetheless, Creeper Guy’s behavior’s been consistent enough that a pattern has emerged.

The pattern goes like this: on the way home from a run, I pass by his house, which is at the entrance to my neighborhood. He sits in his car with the engine idling. I pass him, reach the intersection just down the road, and he pulls out of his driveway and begins following me. Sometimes it’s the slow, creepy, driving-right-behind you following. More often, he does a few roll-bys at around 15mph up and down the street–perhaps to maintain the pretense that he’s “coincidentally” driving in my vicinity, over and over again. Historically, having a run-in with him prompts me to radically change my running route, and sometimes stop running altogether for a few weeks (sad but true).

Recently I’ve been ramping up my training in the hopes of running some more races in the summer and fall. And since it’s almost summer in Georgia, I’ve preferred morning runs to avoid the ridiculous heat. Mornings, unfortunately, are when Creeper Guy likes to make an appearance.

Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This last Wednesday was going to be special. I intended to reach a new training milestone. To motivate myself, I even picked out something special to listen to: Drabblecast B-Sides #9: Connor Choadsworth–In Search of the Mongolian Deathworm. If you’re not yet addicted to the Drabblecast, you have to understand that this particular episode is unique. It’s a hilariously inappropriate parody of nature documentaries, Bono, Dune, Dr. Seuss, Christmas carols and more, narrated by a character named Connor Choadsworth who’s something like a deranged Steve Irwin.

So on Wednesday, I hit the road. Everything went great until the homestretch, 15 minutes away from home. I was running along a major road with plenty of traffic when I noticed Creeper Guy’s car drive by. It’s easy to recognize by a large, distinctive decal on his back windshield. I didn’t think anything of it until I approached my neighborhood entrance a few minutes later. This is where it gets strange. Several hundred yards ahead, his car rolled up out of the treeline as if he were going to turn out onto the major road. He looked in my direction, saw me, and rolled backwards, back into the neighborhood!

Real subtle, Creeper Guy.

By now, I was beat. It was the end of an especially hard run, after all. Now I had to stow my iPod and deal with Creeper Guy. I had to pass his house to get home. Hoping he wouldn’t mess with me today, I pretended to talk on my phone as I ran past. Sure enough, he was sitting in his car in the driveway with the engine idling. Sure enough, he waited until I reached the intersection to pull out onto the road.

At this point, my body helpfully dosed me with some sweet, sweet adrenaline, which eased the pain in my legs but made me feel woozy. I prayed he wouldn’t try anything today. I had no strength left to give.

Fortunately, another car queued up behind him to turn at the intersection, which meant I got a head start booking it toward my house. He managed a couple of drive-bys before I got there, but the timing worked out so I was able to get home without him seeing where I live (this makes more sense if you see my street). It probably helped that I gave him the death-glare each time he rolled by and kept up my one-sided phone conversation. We both knew I was watching him.

Chicago police car
Chicago police car (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the last year, many of you have told me to call the police on Creeper Guy, and looking back on it, you’re absolutely right. When I reflect on it now, I had some complex reasons why I didn’t.

For one, I’ve never had to call the police before. Before Wednesday, I failed to see my own predicament as something that deserved their attention. I thought they’d be annoyed if I bothered them about this problem. While Creeper Guy scared me, he’d never done anything outright illegal.

Another thing: filing a report felt like acknowledging that a problem did, indeed exist. It’s much easier to assume it’s all a misunderstanding or coincidence. I harbored Creeper Guy no ill will. He was a neighbor, after all. We all want to believe that our neighbors wish us peace. I’ve noticed that people sometimes employ similar logic with health problems. Something doesn’t feel right in your body, but you put off going to the doctor because it’ll somehow make the issue “real”. You’ll have to deal with your lung cancer or kidney stones instead of continuing to believe you’re hale and hearty. Same with my hangups about filing a police report.

But Wednesday was different. The treeline hide-and-seek irked me. But something else put me over the edge.

It was Connor Choadsworth: In Search of the Mongolian Deathworm.

As I was talking myself out of calling the police, I noticed my iPod lying where I’d dumped it on the table. In all the hassle, I didn’t get to finish the podcast I’d saved just for this run.

Just... 5... more... minutes!

Creeper Guy ruined Connor Choadsworth. And that pissed me off.

I was so pissed that I dialed the police on the spot. A few minutes later, a police officer stopped by my house. We had a nice long chat about the whole situation and came up with a plan for dealing with this guy while keeping me 100% safe. At long last, I’m reasonably confident that I won’t have another run-in with Creeper Guy, and if I do, I now have a plan in place for handling him much more effectively than I did in the past.

After the officer left, I finally finished Mongolian Deathworm. And it was awesome.

Lessons Learned:

  1. My local police officers are awesome.
  2. It’s okay to call 911. Really, it’s okay! No more fake phone calls while jogging.
  3. The psychology between creeps and the people they harass is complicated. Don’t be so quick to write folks off as dumb for failing to take action against a creep immediately. Hindsight is 20/20. (For podcast addicts, I find this apropos to a controversial Escape Pod story that ran last month).
  4. Fiction is compelling. Sometimes it can reach into the real world and influence your decisions. It’s why we write, even my medical microfiction. Thanks, Drabblecast.

Happy Friday, gang. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below. Even better, leave me a link to something fun!