North Brooklyn Runners: A Community Running Group Serving Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick, and Beyond!


NBR Member Profiles – Kate Maxwell by northbrooklynrunners
April 24, 2012, 10:00 pm
Filed under: Members

NBR Profile No. 10

Rodrigo Toscano talks with KATE MAXWELL

Kate Maxwell technically joined NBR just before the Marathon in late October 2010 after seeing a flyer at the Turkey’s Nest. Lurking the NBR googlegroups for eight months (fascinated by posts from the likes of “The Boisterous One,” “The Smartalec,” “The Sarcastic One,” “The Wise One,” “The Arguer,” and “The Encourager”) she finally pulled the trigger and was soon sporting a crisp, new white NBR singlet. She discovered she had been missing the thrill of occasional competition (“it’s a fire inside me that I can’t suppress for too long”). As a winning 400 meter hurdler for Central Michigan University (running a 62 second 400 meter hurdles!) she was just beginning to explore longer distances.

After an initial setback (ITB / knife-to-the-knee jobber), she went out on her first run—the Bridge and Coffee run. That’s where she met Linda Daniels, Allison Malecki, Misha Bittleston and Mike Finelli, later mixing up at El Beit. In the summer, she was a regular at the “HellKats” Thursday morning track run; since then, she’s shifted towards the Thursday evening track workout. Her favorite regular run, however, is the monthly “Salmon Run” (led by Charlie Radin). Kate has also been toying around with the idea of starting either a Monday 8 a.m. run or a Friday pre-happy hour run (someone lend her a hand!)

It’s hard to believe but, before starting to race this past summer (2011), the only distance she had ever competed in longer than 800 meters was the 5k, which she did in high school cross country. Since then she’s run nearly the whole spectrum of NYRR races: Fifth Avenue Mile – 10th in age group, 5:25; Join the Voices 5M – 9th in age group, 32:35; Joe Kleinerman 10k – 3rd in age group, 41:00; NYC Triathlon – 6th in age group, 2:41:52; Coogan’s 5k, 18:54; NYC Half Marathon, 1:26:10. Her first marathon will be in Berlin in September. Into this mix she adds weight circuits twice a week, bikram yoga once a week, plus cycling, as well as hiking or rock climbing whenever possible. Gymnastics was her first love / sport obsession (“vaulting—I can’t think of anything much more fun than sprinting up to a giant platform and flipping around in the air before landing back on your feet”).

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, raised in a suburb between Detroit and Ann Arbor, Kate now lives in Williamsburg, some four blocks from the track. If at some point she takes a Polaroid of you it’s because at some point she’s just taken a Polaroid of you.

RT: Hurdling. Talk about raw! Viewing hurdlers from a front angle, coming straight at you—is primordial in the extreme, like furies erupting out of the earth. One of the things I love about track events is when athletes, if only for a split second, defy gravity. Elite marathoners can do this too; in slow motion, you can see them tear away whole inches of turf with every stride. But Hurdlers—theyliterally fly then crash down with a frightening shock that’s instantly catapulted forward. Wow.

Kate, you were totally committed to that event while in college, and now we see on the NBR “upcoming races” spreadsheet that your first marathon will be this September, in Berlin. That’s quite the journey from fiery fury to patient gazelle stalker. What are some early middle/long running career lessons that you’ve learned so far? And have you developed a strategy for not splattering like a hothouse tomato against a titanium wall of limits?

KM: It’s interesting you mentioned the catapulting forward and defying gravity. The two dynamics, although technically opposite to each other, work in tandem—it’s a literal art form. The runner’s momentum is going forward, but they need to jump over an obstacle and continue moving forward whilst keeping that same speed. The key to hurdling is that as soon as you figure out the fact that you can use the extra dimension to your advantage—literally unleashing the potential energy that is generated from the jump to propel you faster. When the hurdler figures that out, beautiful things happen on the track. The rhythm generated is like a drug. There were many meets in college where I would run the 400m hurdles and then later be on the 4×400 team. Everyone knows you are supposed to run a flat 400 faster than with hurdles, right? Especially going from a running handoff. Not in my case. It was a regular occurrence for my 400m split to be slower than my hurdles split.

I know the challenge of that third dimension is what drew me to hurdling in the first place. At my first track meet in 8th grade, I signed up for hurdles because hey—anyone can run, but I wanted to run and jump. The track coach had no idea who I was yet, but I hoped that by just getting on that starting line that he would after I got done (“long hurdles” in middle school in Michigan is 200m). Alas, I’m told I came around that curve leading by 25m and then Coach Howe threw his clipboard down and began asking everyone in sight who “that girl” was. I guess the rest was history, but the point is that you don’t need fancy training or drills—that can come later. Hurdling is raw, instinctual. Humans have been running and jumping over logs, rivers, and rocks since the beginning of time.

So what’s a hurdler doing running marathons then? I figured why stop at a 10k, or a half marathon—again it’s that competitive fire in me that wants to accomplish something seemingly above and beyond the normal realm of running. I’m truly having a love affair with running right now. I know it’s going to hurt out there. Even now, my longest run ever is 15 miles. I don’t think I need to run 60-mile weeks—I think my body might not hold up to that kind of mileage. I realized that I’ve been loosely following the FIRST (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training) training plan—in short, you’ll get faster and have less injuries by running 3 times per week: the long run, the tempo run, and the speedwork. That’s it.

Like any runner, I’ll have a moment out on the racecourse cursing out loud and asking myself why I voluntarily choose to do this to myself. But I love the mental challenge of it just as much as the physical. That’s why we continue to run and race. I’m intrigued by this dark lady beckoning in the night; the marathon. Most people think it’s masochistic—but I want to experience the agony. I know that’s the only way to earn the euphoric reward of racing and pacing for 26 miles in a row. I’m glad that I strategically have the New York Marathon on the radar for a mere six weeks after Berlin—it forces me to give it another shot if I crash and burn in the first. Who knows, maybe I’ll hate it and vow to never run anything over thirteen again. But then again, maybe I’ll become an ultra runner. I have to find these things out!

RT: Do you perhaps think that there exists an entity from a completely different universe (a universe who’s energy constant comprises just a “slice” of “the bulk” that makes up all universes) that has completely taken over your mind, but that your body (being its own brain—this is key) is attempting to run away from this entity, and do you think this essentially blind body intelligence of yours is relentlessly attracted to other bodies in similar predicaments (partial take-over, complete take-over) and like a deep-soil worm drawn to specific concentrations of seeped-in ultraviolet waves (as adaptation to darkness plus mineral solids / barriers to movement) have learned to enjoy the whole process?

KM: Mind-body lives for that process—is perpetually on high alert, tuned to the attraction or distraction of others; mind-body strives constantly to be stronger than the mind and uses and learns from such predicaments, and, as you say, Rodrigo, it relentlessly “attracts” as we’re slathered by “others.”

RT: Yeah?

KM: Yeah.

RT: Alright, so, which team others are currently lighting up your mitochondria these days?

KM: I’m constantly inspired and intrigued by so many other mind-bodies of this team. This is not just to say the people, specifically, but the collective mind-body of the group, the situations, events, feelings that a particular moment in time creates. The ingredients are the personalities, the individual energies, the sounds heard, the temperatures felt, the very mood of the room, the atmosphere that is concocted. Sometimes this has an effect on me mentally, emotionally—in the form of a bond formed with another. At other times, it’s the sheer physicality of it in the form of a fantastic run, workout, or race when everything just lines up and simply works. NBR is special because it fosters these kinds of reactions.

I’ve never achieved the kind of entranced mental state on a long run enough to really feel why it is that people can say they enjoy running long distances until I did a recent one with Fernando. I’ve never had as much fun picking up garbage and cleaning up a street until I did so with Carla Clifford whilst volunteering for the NYC Marathon.

I’ve never had such a smooth, natural run until I went out for a cool-down mile after the Fifth Avenue Mile with Owen Kendall. The run turned into an easy breezy five miles—I barely even noticed the added distance. I’ve never felt such glowing pre-race nervous confidence for other people as I did when I was invited to Just South’s pre-Marathon dinner gathering. Brian Calavan once brought me a piece of pie to the Runners Mixer; Sayo and I are now bikram yoga buddies; Chantel Antonietti still gives the best hugs. There are silly splices of memories—eating macaroni & cheese with Linda at the gala after-party; running my first speed workout alongside Emma; eating salmon on an East River Park picnic table on a freezing cold December morning with Charlie and the rest of the group—these stick to my ribs and build on each other. There are moments that involve everyone and no one at the same time. I felt a glowing happiness when standing off to the side at the Gala looking onto the dance floor and seeing everyone smiling and moving. I felt welcomed and like I belonged when people from my first run remembered my name on only my second. I felt like my heart might burst of pride watching the marathon.

The fact that these are my moments but also a part of everyone’s moments, all swirling up into each other and tornadoeing around creating a NBR greater than itself, well, is just beautiful.

RT: Yes. And can you write us a hymnal for eight voices based on this tornadoeing?

KM: Of course!

I hereby claim today / ♪ mitochondria culture day ♫ / a day to celebrate and honor all past / present and future mitochondrial visitors of other mind-bodies in ways to enhance relationships among all citizens of the cosmos / known and unknown ♫

♫ ♪ a day where we are but not friends across the wrinkles of time but brothers on the straight and narrow / ♪ where we learn in fortitude and without futile attempts to cherish these beings of time ♫

RT: Bravo!

And speaking of metabolic processes, have you found any particular foods to be “good burners” before a training session or race? Are there some foods that don’t agree with you in terms of running? And what do you prefer to eat afterwards, what works, what restores you? Also (and this surely is a club-wide quandary) how much alcohol consumption can you indulge in and still remain an effective club runner?

KM: Nutrition has had a huge effect on both my running and racing this year. I’ll lead off by saying that I can eat. My claim to fame is that I ate a four-pound burrito in college; it was called the Big Juan. A crowd of about 15 teammates and friends came to cheer me on and I ate it in about 30 minutes no problem and was hungry again about 2 hours later.

However, remembering to curb what I shovel into my face before trying to race makes every difference in the world with how I perform. Exhibit A: Last November, the night before the Van Courtlandt Cross Country race, my roommates were hosting “friendsgiving dinner,” which is exactly what it sounds like. I figured if I ate at 7 p.m., I’d be good to go for a race 14 hours later. Wrong. Sitting on the starting line, I could feel that turkey, mashed potatoes, and second helping of stuffing just sitting in my stomach. It was awful. I felt terrible the entire race, slow and heavy. Never again! Or so I thought. I made another mistake recently of having Greek food before the Cherry Tree relay. I thought, a nice light veggie pita with hummus, right? Eh, not so light: same pit-of-stomach, hunched-over-when-running feeling. I got so mad at myself during these food blunders because they could so easily have been avoided and the race wouldn’t have been “wasted.”

What I’ve started doing instead is hosting a dinner party the night before races with a small group of friends. It gives me a chance to see them on a night that I wouldn’t normally because they are going out and drinking, and I get to practice cooking new dishes and don’t have to go out spending money anywhere. They bring their own booze while I chug water. Before Coogan’s 5k, I had friends over and made this deep-red beet pasta along with a cheese plate, garam masala-spiced roasted chickpeas, and roasted red pepper boats with lemon/arugula/goat cheese salad in them. I plan the dinner to be served around 12 hours before the start of the race, and make a conscious effort to stop eating when I feel the slightest bit full so that I feel light and powerful in the morning. I wake up 2 hours before start time regardless of the meetup to have a small bowl of cereal, one banana, and make coffee. This is what has worked for me when I’ve run my best races this year, so now that I have found something that works, I’m not going to mess with it!

Eating is just one part of the trifecta of running impact activities, the other two being sleep and, as you goaded me to talk about—in person—drinking.

First of all, I am a tried and true, textbook example of the three-hour sleep cycle. I’ve tried to prove myself wrong with this, but it just doesn’t happen. I will feel absolutely awful—I’m talking zombie-like, absolute shit dread when the alarm goes off—if I get five, seven, or eight hours of sleep. If I get six, I wake up fresh as a daisy ready to take on the day, no matter what time it was that I fell into bed. I can even function on three hours as long as I don’t try and do that too frequently. Most of the time, I wake up at the 6-hour mark without an alarm. Medically trained friends of mine tell me that the optimum effective cycle for regeneration is 90 minutes, so that I should be functioning the same at 7.5 as I do at 6.

So it’s very fitting that the Nite Owls run is one of my most frequented runs, because I really am a night owl. It’s very difficult for me to ever go to sleep before 2 a.m. I remember Fernando and I chatting online at 3 a.m. one night planning our meetup to run the Sunday Funday Runday together the next morning. We proceeded to not only make the meetup, but accidentally did the 13-mile long run at a faster pace than either of us had ever run a half marathon!

I tend to go very hard in whatever it is I’m doing in my life—a total work hard / play hard mentality. I only let myself play hard if I put the work in. The rewards, the fun, the good memories to be had, are what motivate me. Despite all that, I should say that am very controlled from the few days to a week before a race (depending on importance level of the race: club points = high importance), but after, at brunch or whatnot, once the work is over, I am very fond of celebrating. As Brian Calavan put it, “What about the balance between running more and more of ‘other life?’” Perhaps that’s the secret behind Maxwell’s speed!”

RT: Perhaps, indeed!

I think much like we “activate” or transfer the energy of one running “system” (aerobic base, anaerobic endurance, lactic acid threshold, etc) onto each other, Life (with a capital L) seems to require infusions of energy from distant locations. I say, Life, instead of “lives,” because “lives” we tend to over-manipulate in the “interest” of “ourselves.” You know what I mean? This constant “managing” of oneself—it’s such deep ideology these days.

Life, on the other hand, doesn’t care about the arrangement of energy just as long as it’s flowing. It seems to like spilling over; it wears down solid structures without a second thought. It can be dangerous too, Life, it messes with your “management” schemes, even when plans are “good” for your “life.”

But here’s the quandary: does running directly stem from Life? Or is it only an occasional, even occluded manifestation of Life? According to most running articles you read, it’s all settled, running is an activity, pure and simple, period, end-of-story, it can even be “improved,” even integrated into your lifestyle. But isn’t this helpless (erotic!) intoxication with this idol (running) powerful precisely because it resists being tamed (commercialized) into a “lifestyle choice?”

My gut tells me that this idol doesn’t give a damn if we “believe” it in or not, as it enjoys us—our crazy shuffling, willful agonies, and wakeful dreaming. This wily demon demands sacrifices!

Do you think we might be something like druids and witches in modern dress, making monuments, weaving legend? Kate, get your witch on! Flip the red switch—tell me something.

KM: Running-life is a series of passionate encounters. Running is passion emulated in physical form; it is attraction and desire, culminating in either the satisfaction of getting what you want (in which you then concentrate in making the “good” better), or unrequited pursuit. You can’t choose where or why or when attraction like that occurs, just like Life’s beautifully disastrous attraction-encounters.

Human attraction elicits the exact same response as when I’m on the starting line for a race. I like to call this nervous excitement. There have got to be research studies done on this, no? It’s an actual physical flare-up that I feel between my lungs and ribcage. You can just feel the endorphins getting ready. This running-attraction model—ergo, idol—not only resists being tamed, as you say, but it is burgeoning. It pushes the limits of what you think is possible to feel and, therefore, achieve. Your mind is sensible. It is the rational, overprotective force that tries to methodically guide you through what “makes sense.” The most intriguing and charismatic people, the finest personal relationships, the breakthrough races…when the ingredients are right these are the creations that are able to fight through and dig deep into the burn to catalyze and create otherworldly experiences. We may be this idol’s playthings, but I’m ready to see what it has in store. Or?

RT: Or fight it? And risk missing the hairpin turn, the dash back home? But whether that dash is “away from”or “towards” home—hell, what’s the catalyzing word we’re looking for?

KM: Go.

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