Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dangers of running in bad weather go beyond the actual conditions

If throwing up wasn't going to stop me from running and keeping my holiday streak alive, then the blizzard conditions that hit Des Moines on Dec. 19-20 weren't going to, either.

My backup plan, if I couldn't manage to run a mile around the apartment complex parking lot, was to run up and down the building's halls, just like the kids upstairs do on occasion. (Though thankfully not when I'm trying to sleep. No judgment here.)

Those two laps around the lot were neither fast nor pretty, but they did happen, and as I drove to work that afternoon I observed that I wasn't the only runner braving the conditions. To counter any middle fingers or angry honks these folks probably received, I waved vigorously at them and gave a thumbs-up — even though I'm sure they couldn't see.

That hunch became less of a suspicion and more of a conviction when I went on Facebook that night. One acquaintance had posted: "I appreciate a good workout/run as much as the next person, but to the 3 people I saw out for a run this morning — relax and take a day off!"; one of his friends had chimed in: "Seriously, if you really want to get an outdoor workout in today, make yourself useful and shovel someone out!"

And I began thinking again of the people I'd passed during my two parking lot laps: scraping off cars, blowing off sidewalks ... glaring at me? I hadn't sensed malevolence, but I sure hadn't wanted to call attention to myself, either.

It reminded me, on a much smaller scale, of Mark Remy's piece in Runner's World's post-NYC Marathon cancellation analysis. I haven't found it online, but the headline sums it up: "Are We Running in a Bubble?" 

The point is that while generally people don't sit around and fume over marathoners' perceived smugness as a group, the resentment is there, simmering — then exploding in such a situation as allowing a race to go through a community demolished by a freak storm — while marathoners themselves receive constant affirmation in their "closed system."

Don't believe it? "Recipe for Resentment: Claims of Running Prowess," posted on The New York Times' Well blog, addresses that same disdain in regards to the (disputed) recent study that running too fast and too long is actually bad for your health.

I wasn't inspired to write this post in order to defend us poor, despised runners. Like Remy, like the other authors of the NYC Marathon piece, like the marathoners who'd registered for the race long before Superstorm Sandy was on the radar, I was just surprised — and yet unsurprised, as a former nonrunner — at the sneers.

Surprised, because I didn't blather on to anyone, in person or online, about how I needed to go running and how this blizzard was really cramping my style. Surprised, because plenty of other people surely did weather-inappropriate "frivolous" things (while not shoveling anyone else out). Surprised, because I waved at cars — and snowblower operators — to indicate that I was moving off to the side to accommodate them, rather than demand all the space for myself.

And a week later, as fresh snow fell lightly, surprised at the disdain because of the smiling, encouraging folks who were doing outdoor chores as I ran past, who waved and apologized for being in the sidewalk. After online hate, it was nice to see real-life nice.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Celebrating the little things at Christmas

Christmas, once I made it out of central Iowa, was a low-key affair — much-needed after the stress of a blizzard right before the holidays in a town full of transplants.

The closer I got to home, the more my spirits rose, and not just because my drive was about to conclude with three happy family members and three beloved pets. It was also the sight of my country roads ... my snow-free, ice-free country roads.

I may have been slightly loopy from getting up at 6:15 a.m. and not having stopped in almost 2.5 hours, but a big silly grin crossed my face: "I can't wait to go running!" I told the empty car.

Of course, the urge to run was the strongest when I was least able to act upon it, and it weakened as I spent more time near a woodburning stove in my PJs. What, besides my still-living holiday running streak, got me out the door?

Premonitions of the big meals that lay ahead. And a rare chance for a naked run.

In Des Moines, I bring keys and a cellphone every time I run. There's no one who can open the door for me, or who can go looking for me should I fail to return, back at my apartment. (The cat definitely cares; he just lacks opposable thumbs and necessary skills to do these things.)

I don't resent it, because it's better than the alternative — being stranded, or spending the entire run worrying. But I sure don't mind only stuffing a Kleenex, or the gloves that I no longer need, in my pocket, and having my hands free.

In fact, it wasn't just laziness that kept me from venturing out farther and on more daunting hills than the ones in my neighborhood. It was the sense of obligation to bring my phone if I left a small neighborhood with a sometimes-obeyed 25 mph speed limit.

OK, it was laziness. But of my arms, not my legs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I ran/walked 900 miles this year, no big deal

With two weeks left in the year, I reached my downwardly revised goal of 900 miles for the year.

I was at 894.74 through Sunday, so Monday — my day off — seemed to be a good time to cross that line. So after much trial-and-error in planning a long-enough route, I got myself out the door, onto the trail and across the 900-mile marker.

It was just like any other unremarkable milestone (turning 20, turning 25, reaching 100,000 on your car's odometer, etc.), in that it happened without fanfare. Heading in, I'd felt like maybe a sparkler should go off.

It didn't. I knew I'd achieved the goal, but I didn't spend much time congratulating myself on it — one text, only because someone else had texted me good news before; one brag on Daily Mile. Mostly I wondered: What's next? That is, how much closer can I get to 1,000 before 2013?

Poor 900. First it was a consolation prize, now it's a stepping stone. My gaze has moved on to 925 ...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The run streak and the runner are still alive

On Thursday — the beginning of week four of the Holiday Run Streak — I was bursting with confidence. My streak and, more importantly, my motivation hadn't faltered.

There'd been days, of course, where I sat on my couch and listened to my legs muscles grumble, and I thought: "I can't WAIT for this to be over." (If the muscles were shrieking, I'd quit, but they're just occasionally a little bit whiny.)

But there were also days where I'd squeeze in a short run before work and find myself beaming at the end. Without the streak to push me, I wouldn't have gone into the cold any earlier than I had to, and without the streak, I wouldn't have appreciated that early-winter crispness.

All that said, though, it had been a long time since I put my streak in any real peril — Thanksgiving weekend, with all the visitors, was the last threat. And week four marked the slightly-more-than-halfway point: New Year's Day falls on a Tuesday, meaning that week (number six) isn't a full one.

I got this, I thought on Friday. What should I run this weekend? Maybe an easy threeish-miler on Saturday and four-plus on Sunday?

Then Saturday hit with a vengeance. My stomach was in such turmoil that I was turned back from work upon arrival.

There'd been no way I could run before work, because most movement accelerated the nausea, and as I hunkered down for my first of two multihour naps that afternoon, I accepted that a run was just not likely to happen, and that it was OK. I could start a new streak Sunday, once my insides calmed down.

After the three-hour nap ended, I gingerly sat up for a while, watched "The Big Bang Theory," read a little bit, tossed my cookies once more ... and noticed how calm my stomach seemed once it had emptied itself yet again.

Dare I even think ... ? Daylight was beginning to fade, and as my nausea seemed to be cyclical, that moment was probably the most auspicious one I was going to have for the rest of the evening.

Plus, what was I out? I'd thrown up enough over the course of the day that one more didn't matter — it wasn't like I was possibly going to break a no-vomit streak.

So I did it. I laced up and headed out. I didn't push myself, yet finished in less than 10 minutes. The stomach situation didn't worsen. No one from work drove past and honked and yelled: "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SICK!" And my streak lived to see another day.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snide radio guest: Even running is good for your brain!

I was listening to Iowa Public Radio on the way to work recently, fully enjoying the discussion about the positive effects of exercise on the brain.

Until guest Adele Diamond uttered the following phrase, that is: " ... even something as mindless as running."

I've complained about running-bashers before while always admitting that I used to be one, but most of the haters (pre-2009 Sadye included) focus on how much it must suck/does suck for them.

What's worse, being told your hobby sucks or being told that it's boring? People who ascribe to the theory that indifference is more hurtful than hatred — which I think holds true — probably would go for the latter.

Absolutely I daydream and zone out while running, unlike those who've told me or written about solving personal problems, talking with God, etc., when they're out; absolutely I take a more simplistic approach to running compared with those who focus hard on speed, heart rate, form, etc., as they go.

But that's just it: There can be and is plenty mindful about running. There's strategy and macrolevel story lines in it, just like in any sport. Runners aren't just slimmed-down oxen, plodding along with drool dripping down their faces. (Though spittle is a common sight at races or running routes.)

I promise that my feelings weren't actually hurt by Adele Diamond's offhand remark, and that I still applaud her research and its findings. But still — I rolled my eyes at her hard.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The experience of running just a mile

When I first told my friend Marco that I was embarking on the Runner's World Holiday Run Streak and explained the rules, his reaction was: "Yeah, but if you're a runner, you won't be able to run just a mile."

Marco underestimates my ability to dawdle before work, apparently, but he was right — sort of — that running a single mile would feel weird.

First of all, as Doug pointed out, it seems like it takes you longer to change into running clothes and get out the door than it does to actually run that mile. And with the exception of my PR-setting mile, these ultra-short runs don't make me break a sweat ... more like a gentle glow.

Why does this surprise me? Well, it doesn't exactly shock me, but it does stand in stark contrast to my memories of the mile run in middle school — which was probably the last time before fall 2008 that I ran a full mile.

God, did the mile feel long then. I was completely unathletic and as self-conscious as all of us were during adolescence, so not only did I turn beet red and sweat up a storm, but I also nearly died of embarrassment from doing so.

You had to go around the playground four times. Four whole times. So not only was I miserable — breathless, crampy, hot, sweaty — but I was also bored out of my mind, and I didn't have the lung capacity to chat with anyone to break up the monotony, either.

Basically, it felt like some of the rougher stretches of the half marathons I've done, only with the perceived judgment/mockery of an entire school full of adolescents. (Give me the blistery, limpy, gut-achey miles I've trudged in my first and third half marathons any day over that.)

I compare this now with my out-and-back miles, during which the first half-mile is often over before I even notice. How dry everything but probably my pits and the roots of my hair are. How my breathing is normal by the time I walk from the stoplight where I always begin/end to my door.

How I can let my mind wander far, far away from the act of running, yet spend too little time to have a full range of daydreams (only one or two topics, far fewer than the dozens that float through my head on a longer run).

Running just a mile is weird. I don't feel any more deprived than I do any other time I'm out in beautiful weather or on fresh legs — I just don't feel like I've exerted much effort.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My 11th check-in on the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge

The last month of the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge should be the easiest, thanks to the Runner's World Holiday Run Streak — I'll have double the guilt trip to put the running shoes on and get going.

Where I stood as the calendar page flipped: about 855 miles. I'd hoped to finish November at a point where a single mile per day would get me to 900; instead, it'll take 1.5 miles a day to get there.

I'm not worried, though. I'll still break 900. And the challenge's full name on Daily Mile starts with "everyone wins." So being a member of the generation that proudly displays its participation awards, I'm perfectly happy with just having joined a challenge.

On a less sarcastic note, my old running buddy and supporter Doug finished November by truly winning the 1000 Mile Challenge: 1,002 miles achieved on Friday. There were injuries and training readjustments along the way, if I recall correctly, which makes it even more awesome. Way to go, Doug!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Attempting a 2012 goal for the first time since February

Throughout the Holiday Run Streak – now at 11, assuming (safely) that I run today — I've thought to myself: "At least one of the single-mile runs I do should be fast." While I have no qualms about using one slow mile as a stand-in for a rest day, I don't want to baby myself, either.

Yesterday was my first such attempt. Having been out late the night before, my hopes were not high. I knew that, with moderate effort, I could most likely finish in less than nine minutes, though.

Off I went. The first quarter-mile, I succeeded in keeping the pace I do on my faster intervals. The wind and the yogurt I'd eaten pre-run were mostly vague irritants more than hindrances.

As I've mentioned before, in my four years of running, I still haven't nailed "don't go out too fast and totally wipe yourself out." During the second quarter-mile, I felt cautiously optimistic that this was a good pacing day; I wasn't going to sustain this pace for 5K, but it was comfortably hard rather than excruciating.

I turned around at the half-mile mark. No surprise, then, that my legs felt the heaviest during the third quarter-mile. My lungs weren't exactly happy with me, either. However, my ego was doing just fine, having seen that I'd done a little over a half-mile in 4:10. The very likely positive split wouldn't keep me from finishing under 9:00.

The desire to get this over with powered me through the final quarter-mile. I've found "you can do anything for two minutes" to be a pretty powerful positive self-talk, so I went to that well almost nonstop during the final 0.25. I was sucking air fairly hard, but even worse was how the morning's yogurt and the previous night's alcohol were sloshing around in my stomach.

Finally I hit 1.00. My time? 7:57.

Let me repeat: 7:57.

Back in February, I'd set three running goals for myself: finish the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge, run a mile in 8:00 and average a 9:00 pace for a 5K (which I'd forgotten about, until re-reading my blog post).

At the time, I'm sure I expected to succeed in the first and fail at the second two. But as it stands right now, I've missed the first and nailed the second two. (Remember the Remembrance Run 5K?)

Plus, I've done more than survive the two speed challenges. I've finished maybe not with a smile, but with a great rush of endorphins and that ridiculous feeling that I can do anything once I get into some dry clothes and chug a big glass of water.

I'm still pinching myself: 7:57. I hope my gym teachers are reading this.

Monday, November 26, 2012

I believe in bribes

I like to bribe myself, especially when it comes to running. (I've been doing this since before reading Gretchen Rubin's advice to treat yourself like a cranky toddler, but now I feel vindicated.)

And I hit the treat jar jackpot last week when I took my friend Ashlee's recommendation to check out the Aveda Institute in West Des Moines.

It started when, a few weeks ago, I discovered that the unsightliness of my feet was growing too powerful for home exfoliation tools. In exchange for splurging on a professional pedicure, I told myself that I had to at least attempt the Holiday Run Streak.

The experience was well worth it — multiple soakings, two rounds of exfoliation, lotion and a seaweed/hot towel wrap, in addition to the uber-precise nail polish application — and became even more so when the student mentioned the massage room. Massage room?

At home, I spent a little more time on the services page of Aveda's website and discovered all the extra pampering available to me at incredibly reasonable prices: massages, yes, and also something called the Caribbean therapy foot reflexology.

This creaky, worn-down runner participating in one challenge and preparing to embark on another nearly salivated. I wanted it all, right then and there.

But how much more rewarding — and long-lasting — would it be if I just waited another month-plus? If I delayed it until I'd surpassed 900 miles for the year and until I'd done a mile a day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, wouldn't it be a bonus for my recovery efforts?

So I just have to be a diligent little runner for another six weeks. And then it's spa time.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The RW Holiday Running Streak is on

The idea of doing the Runner's World Holiday Running Streak intrigued me, a week or so before it would start, but I had one reservation: the holiday part.

Thanksgiving — the kickoff day — posed the biggest challenge, at first. My parents were coming to visit me on Thanksgiving Eve and leaving before I headed to work on the actual holiday at 3 p.m.

Our plans were pretty loosey-goosey, but I figured that getting in a single mile (the bare minimum to keep the streak alive) was completely doable; if it didn't happen before work, it most likely would happen after my 11 p.m. punch-out.

Though that didn't turn out to be necessary on Thanksgiving — we said our farewells at noon, and I headed out in sunshine and 60-degree temps — the mental preparation paid dividends two days later.

A friend I'd made in Rockford was visiting family in Ames over the weekend, so we hung out Saturday before I headed to work at 1 p.m. There wasn't time before work, but there was after — at 11 p.m.

I'd gone running after work plenty of times during the summer and early fall, but never this late, never when it was that cold and never for that short of a distance. The first two factors dragged on my enthusiasm, but the third one pumped it up. Only a mile. Less than 10 minutes. I'd be safe and snug on my couch before I even knew it.

That same guarantee had pushed me out the door Friday, when temperatures were in the 30s or maybe even upper 20s, and when the wind was whipping around the prairie. I ended up knocking out a solid set of intervals rather than the slow mile I'd promised to do at minimum.

So the first three days were the toughest, but the challenge is working exactly as it was intended to. Mac 'n' cheese, eggs Benedict, sweet potato pie, egg nog, adult beverages — I'm downing them all in moderation AND without guilt.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Should I streak this year?

Yes, I titled the post thusly in hopes people would click on it.

No, I'm not talking about the naked kind of streaking. Please keep reading.

I'm talking about Runner's World's holiday run streak, however, in which one runs at least a mile per day from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.

(Does that mean pedicures and bonding time with the couch should be scheduled for Jan. 1 or Jan. 2? I'll need to clear that up.)

It's a strange thing for someone who hypothesized that her body is starting to whisper "uncle" to decide to do, which is partly why I'm only considering and not committing.

But on the other hand, it seems like the perfect thing for someone who's running just to run to sign up for.

I'm not training for any races, and barring a sudden surge of motivation, I'm not even following a thought-out regimen right now. (It's been on my to-do list for about two weeks.) A little structure — and really, this challenge is barely structured at all — might be welcome.

Additionally, I'm an abstainer, not a moderator. Like Gretchen Rubin says in her post, it's often easier for me to do something 100 percent of the time, rather than follow the nutritionist's 80 percent/20 percent rule.

The biggest test will be Thanksgiving Day itself, obviously, and though I know how my worst-case scenario run would fit in, I'm hesitant to stick my neck out and declare that the challenge is on. Check back with me on Black Friday.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm ready to reach the finish line for 2012

A friend asked me a few days ago: "Are you excited for 2013 to arrive, or are you not ready for 2012 to be over?"

In a change from past "A Long December"-ish years, I couldn't say I was necessarily eager for 2012 to wrap up. At first.

When the cider started to kick in, I stood up to go to the bathroom and realized it hadn't fully taken effect yet: Though I did need to visit the ladies room, I still could feel all the knots that tied themselves up while I sat for extended periods of time. (A long night at the bar relaxes all knots, regardless of origin, though it might tie a few new ones the next day.)

If I work out for the first time in a while, those knots have tended to be in the quads or the hamstrings. Not this night — it was my new nemesis, the hips.

It's more tender than painful. It creeps up sometimes during, sometimes after a run. And it's relatively new to me. 

Whatever it is started sometime after my move to Des Moines, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't during the first few months. It could've been September; it was definitely in play by October.

My best guess as to its origins is my unprecedented mileage this year. In 2010 and 2011, I basically stuck to biking during the summer, but this year, my job change worked out to summer running's advantage.

The way to test this theory would be to back off the running, which I would do — despite the great mental boost it is for me, especially during the fall — if it weren't for the 1000 Mile Challenge. As of this writing, though not as of the cider night, I've broken 800 miles and will reach 900, most likely.

So I'm not going to spend the next few weeks on the sofa. I've taken the first step of finding hip-strengthening exercises (now I need to actually do them), and I'm going to keep running until Jan. 1, 2013. Then it's couch time.

And so if this friend asks me again: "Ready for 2013?" I'm going to say yes. Not emphatically as in "I-hate-running-and-can't-wait-to-quit"; more accepting with a splash of regret, because while runner's hip isn't the greatest, runner's high is.

I realize that writing this makes me sound like an idiot who deserves any medical comeuppance. In my defense, I could tell when it was time to quit running on buniony, weak-jointed feet and wait it out. The way my hips feel is nowhere near comparable.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Take off the rose-colored glasses

My train of thought while running recently:

"This is perfect weather for running — I won't overheat with temps in the 40s. ...

"I'm so glad that cold air doesn't hurt my lungs like other people complain about. ...

"Man, I love how clean the fall air feels. ...

"Too bad the leaves are gone, though — WAIT WHAT IS THAT SMELL?"

For the second time in two damp days, I had encountered an intensely musty odor, like a whole pile of wet towels, on the run. (No, it wasn't my clothing. That would've been a consistent stink, instead of an ambush.)

It had to be all the leaves that weren't on the trees, glowing in the sunset, and that weren't delightfully dry and crunchy underfoot anymore. Welcome to November, where they rot in clumps along the sidewalk.

I found drier land after going on the Jordan Creek Trail and especially through Knolls Park, and grew misty-eyed again.

"Done with hills. Flat final mile FTW! ...

"Wow, I'm really close to being done, and I feel good still! ...

"That soup is gonna taste so good. Can't wait to shower first. ...

"LOL, goose droppings. ...

"There's more? OK, well, pretend it's an agility exercise ...

"I just vacuumed, better watch my step. ...

"Seriously? Is this a minefield or a sidewalk?"

It was a dangerous effort, weaving around dropping upon dropping in still-slightly-damp conditions. I am happy to report my shoes survived unscathed, but my inclination to call geese cute, unfortunately, did not. It may recover; I can't say for sure.

(But seriously, I enjoyed the run. My sense of smell may be keener than other folks', and this is just a drawback to my powerful sniffer, and wildlife dung is never not funny.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Runner's World explains it all

On Friday, my Runner's World magazine, as well as chocolate-covered almonds from my bank, arrived in the mail. It was a very exciting day, obviously.

I'm still madly in love with Runner's World and am so glad my sister bought me a subscription for my 23rd birthday ... mostly because of the magazine itself, but also because the subscription arrived just as I was contemplating quitting running.

Anyways, the top three reasons why I'm giddy over this month's issue:

1. The article called "One-Pot Wonder," about warm, easy and nutritious post-run meals. Though I have to admit that I've only actually tried one recipe during three years as a RW subscriber, the magazine seems to usually offer at least a few that this C-student in the kitchen could handle.

2. The photo spread "The Runner's Body (A Celebration)." No, I wasn't leering. I was squealing gleefully upon seeing all those female legs that look like mine — calves that don't fit in knee-high boots and thighs that completely fill walking shorts. Rawr.

3. "Good Question, Great Answer!" I've read many a reference to doing long runs at slower-than-race-pace. I've never encountered an explanation for it. (I'm not a natural runner, so this just seemed counterintuitive — trust that on race day, you'll be able to kick it up a notch despite your body's protests? Insanity!)

But in this Q&A, I found the reason for going slower: Bart Yasso points out that if you don't, then you're essentially racing every weekend, which of course wears you down. It was a lightbulb moment that became a lighthouse moment, as my thoughts swung around to the five half marathons I've trained for and the three that I actually did.

Other factors certainly contributed to my two DNSes and the two I did but suffered through, but this has given me something to chew on for any future halfs as well as my recreational long runs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I'm lopsided, part II

I mentioned earlier this year that one of my legs is slightly longer than the other, according to my esteemed podiatrist, Dr. Pandya.

I discovered yesterday after a run that there's something else uneven on my body: sweat gland placement. Check out this picture.

There's a lake on the left side of the picture (my right side), a little puddle at the center of my throat and a desert on the right side of the picture (my left side).

At first I thought perhaps I was favoring my short-leg side — the drifting that's a red flag was in full force on that run — and thus the sweat was running downhill.

But my left one is the short one, or so I theorize because I list toward port, and yet my left clavicle is dry as a bone. Also, I ran in a loop, so the wind couldn't have dried off one side while letting the other one get soaked.

Are my sweat glands distributed unevenly throughout my body? Was there considerably more hair trapping heat and funneling sweat on my right side? Was I stretching out one half of my torso as I ran, legs pulling me left while my head fell right ...

Is my head to blame? I do suspect my ears aren't level with each other, because my glasses don't seem very straight. Could my right earlobe be lower because it's carrying more weight?

Don't tell me to get a hobby, because running-related mysteries are just a natural corollary of my hobby (running, duh). This is the most interesting one I've encountered since the case of the abandoned underwear along the main country near my parents' house.

Friday, November 2, 2012

My 10th check-in on the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge

I keep forgetting it's so late in the year; typing "10th" reminded me of it for the billionth time.

So through Wednesday, I've run or walked 778 miles this year. For some reason — maybe seeing a friend's "900" on Facebook — I thought I'd be closer to 800 than that, but it turns out I'm on track for my settling goal of 900 miles this year. (As long as I average 14 to 15 miles per week.)

It was a pleasant surprise coming after a startling one, but my sister was right: Spending six days in Europe (plus two in airports) will rack up some distance. Maybe what I think is rust on my legs right now is actually fatigue.

Anyway, to pre-empt anyone trying to convince me that 1,000 is still mathematically possible, I counted out the remaining weeks in the year and divided the remaining miles to 1,000 by that.

Again, it's freaking late in the year: There are eight full weeks, plus some change, left until 2013. It would take a weekly average of 27 miles to get there.

Out of curiosity, I checked to see whether I've hit that this year ... nope. Technically I haven't broken 26 in one week, though I'm sure that if I were a diligent pedometer user, that would change.

Where I'm at, though, isn't a disappointment. I neglected my bike all summer, that's true, but I've well surpassed my 2011 run/walk mileage, and I'll blow it out of the water by the end of the year.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The final step back into my routine

Yesterday was a day full of back-to-normal activities. I drove, and on the right-hand side of the road. I spent American dollars. I took a long shower without flip-flops. And I went on a run.

As I shuffled up the road outside my apartment, my pace was deliberately slow for two reasons: the wind and the rust. I'd spent six days in London, sandwiched by a full day of travel on either side. And then it occurred to me that I didn't remember the last time I'd been on a run (excepting my failed attempt to grab a departing train).

The last true run before my Oct. 29 effort, it turns out, was Oct. 17. The following two days, I had meant to run, but life got in the way, and then after that it was either travel preparations or the actual trip (which, I had already decided, would not feature a run).

I felt a bit of regret, knowing it would put me behind on my 1,000-mile challenge, but it seemed like my Google Reader had been trying to send me a message. All the running blogs I follow were extolling the virtues of rest ... so I embraced my 7.5-mile week.

Still, it's a bit scary — at least for this nonnatural runner — to go so long without running. Each day that passes after a run seems to chip away at my motivation to get back out there; I'd taken nearly two weeks off. (Which isn't to say I was lazy — I estimated that I walked 22 miles over the course of my trip.)

Thank God yesterday's run went off with only the expected hitches, or, rather, stitches. I lost my breath and stride at the same spots I always do on this particular route, no matter what shape I'm in.

Once I hit the flat final stretch, I was mostly fine — I knew there'd be another run after this one. No pain, only mild and fleeting discomfort; no anger; and no excessive sweat (less than normal, in fact).

I'm unequivocally glad now that I took that time off. I had a few aches before I did, and I'm sure they'll return if I ramp up the mileage again, but I hadn't given myself the summer break I'd been used to in 2010 and 2011. Maybe fall break was a must for those muscles and joints.

And given the mild yearning I felt while watching Londoners run, my mind might've needed the time away to grow fonder, too.

Monday, October 29, 2012

London loves to run

I recently spent six days in London, my first international excursion since my monthlong study abroad in France in 2007.

Some of the culture shock was expected, some of it wasn't, but here's the part that bears relevance to the central theme of this blog: London has lots of runners. High-tech, low-tech and everything in between, just like on the Midwest sidewalks I'm used to.

I don't recall seeing many runners in France — mostly bicyclists — but then again, I wasn't a runner back then and probably wouldn't have taken much note of any runners. The author of "French Women Don't Get Fat" did mention, though, that her countrywomen exercise enough by walking and riding bikes that they don't need to go to gyms, run, etc.

Was that in the back of my mind when I first began noticing British runners with surprise? Possibly, and the nightly fatigue in my entire lower body would agree with any Londoner who made the same observation about life and health in his or her city.

After all, the strong suspicion that daily life would be enough of a workout for me led me to leave all my running gear at home. (Also, the strong suspicion that the Old World's haphazard city planning would confuse this grid-based brain.)

But now that I'm not jet-lagged, I can think of more than just one famous British runner — Paula Radcliffe was the only one that came to mind, over Roger Bannister and Mo Farah — and it seems less odd that so many Londoners would head out for a run.

It made me just a little sad that I left my gear behind. Not a lot, because I knew I didn't need to start each day of sight-seeing with three miles already on my legs, but just a little. Especially when I thought of the pints, chips and gelato I'd be diving into shortly.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tough enough for Iowa in the fall

I've been feeling pretty tough lately — at least when it comes to handling the recent erratic fall weather.

Sunday morning, when it was mild but insanely windy, I probably wore a long-sleeved shirt and shorts, and on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, I was able to go back to my T-shirts. Yep, even in the drizzle.

I only bring this up because I'm smug about what I saw other runners wearing those days: jackets. Some even fleecy-looking. Guys, the high on Tuesday was 70 — the temperature at 9:30 a.m. couldn't have been fleece-worthy!

Monday, I took a much-needed rest day, but I still found the energy to be smug as I drove past a runner wearing a ear-warming headband at 9 a.m. in the sunshine. I'm pretty sure Des Moines broke 70 that day.

Part of me realizes I'm being a jerk and a hypocrite, because the blanket I curl up in at work has earned me quite a few incredulous "it's not that cold!" comments. Someone who's had to defend — or agree with mockery of — her internal thermometer probably shouldn't give side-eye to others.

But with that workplace wimpiness in mind, I think we can all agree that I deserve to at least take pride in my jacket-free runs of late. I'm the toughest in West Des Moines, as long as I can keep moving.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pardon my whining

One enormous complaint I want to get off my chest and into the blogosphere:

I generally run at least 12 miles a week. The previous two places I've lived have involved a flight of stairs in order to leave/access my bedroom, and both of my post-college jobs have involved several flights of stairs per day.

So why do I still get out of breath at the top of the stairs? And why don't other people? Are they all secretly Olympic-caliber athletes and laughing at me?

(Yes, I would like some cheese with this wine. That can't be helpful in solving this problem, though.)

Sure, you can tell me, like the handsome swimmer classmate did in college, that one must train for stairs in order to conquer them ... but when I work five days a week and take the same set(s) of stairs with the same amount of weight (i.e., my lunchbox and any reading material), how does that not count as training?

It's somewhat embarrassing — OK, it's not really, because I'd like to believe I'm not so narcissistic that I assume everyone's thinking about me and consequently judging — to be known as a runner and yet to be caught flushing or panting at the landing.

A former co-worker once told me that in his youthful soccer-playing heyday, he ran up and down flights of stairs. His face grew wistful as he remembered how fit he was back then; mine, sort of frightened by the sweat, side stitches and possible falls that this workout would cause.

But is that what the universe wants me to do? If this winter is as fierce as last one's was mild, is that what I'll have to do, in lieu of running on icy sidewalks in frigid temperatures?

God, I hope not. And, I'm sure, so do my fellow complex residents.

Please share any insight ... or commiseration.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Getting back into intervals

When I was training for my second half marathon, I did 400-meter repeats, because that's what Hal Higdon told me to do.

I didn't have a smartphone then, so I picked a spot based on easy measurements rather than on optimal terrain. Nor did I have a clear idea of interval pace versus recovery pace. Going slightly downhill at top speed could be fun, but that wore off quickly after just a few recovery jogs up a long, slow incline.

When I was training for my third half marathon, I reluctantly returned to repeats — but I sure wasn't diligent about them.

However, I had a smartphone by then, which meant I could just start wherever a certain traffic-free rural road became mostly flat and run until MapMyRun told me to stop. The plan wasn't perfect: There was still a slight drop and an oh-so-helpful tailwind as I sprinted; there was still a slight incline and frustrating headwind as I recovered.

Plus, I still went too fast, but at least this time — having read that if you have to stop and gasp for breath, you're going too hard — I was aware of the problem. (But not quite able to stop it.)

Now, I'm not training for anything in particular, which I realized yesterday morning is not optimal. But with evidence of potential improvement in my 5K PR, I decided that it was time to raise the bar a little bit and sought help from Twitter.

Brad of On the bus ... Running answered: 400-meter repeats. More importantly, he recommended using the McMillan Running Calculator to determine what my times should be. I'm sure I've read/heard about the calculator before but just forgotten. Kind of like how I knew intervals were helpful for improving, but "forgot."

Anyway, yesterday's intervals went as follows: 2:02, 2:00, 2:00, 1:58, 2:00, 2:02.

I gave myself major pats on the back for the following: consistency, rather than flying and crashing; proper route choice, with no hills either way and all gusts coming during recovery jogs; mostly continued movement, even after the sprints.

As for the McMillan suggestions? I came up a little fast if I'm treating this as a stamina workout (2:06 to 2:10), a little slow if I'm treating it as a speed workout (1:49.5 to 1:55.5 for speedsters, 1:50.9 to 1:57.8 for endurance monsters).

So I'm a little off, but I'm very much encouraged. At no point did I consider keeling over, which was a frequent problem in past interval sessions; it's just that next time, I might consider being a little bit less comfortable.

Is it improved fitness, improved weather or improved feel for pacing that got me through? I'd like to think it's a mix of all three (because I can't deny that this fall has been better for running than last spring).

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Making good decisions on accident

I spent last weekend in Ohio for a wedding — and I'm still feeling its effects.

Nope, it's not the world's worst hangover. It's muscle fatigue that makes me feel three times my age, thanks to Saturday night's exuberant and orthotics-free dancing.

My knees and ankles ached most of Sunday, and my calves were still so tight Monday morning that I could barely stumble down the hall to feed my cat. Wait a minute, I'd squandered a nice day and motivation to run on Sunday afternoon in favor of recovering ... and this is how I felt?

A shockingly smooth and easy 4.5-miler brought me brief relief. After averaging 9:24/mile, I thought the rest of the day would be limber and comfortable. I thought wrong, apparently.

But to the point of this post: It could have been worse. I could have started Saturday out with a five-mile run, which is what one of my hotel buddies had suggested we do.

Emily's getting ready for the Hot Chocolate 15K on Nov. 4, and last weekend being the halfway point of her training plan, she wanted to get a five-miler in ... even though she was on vacation. Nice dedication!

One friend shook her head in envy at our motivation; another scoffed at our decision to go out on a chilly, blustery day. We were not deterred. Maybe we wouldn't get five miles in, but our track date was still on.

And 10 minutes later, it was over for a grand total of 1.05 miles.

What happened? Well, at the time I thought it was a solo runner's naivete — I hadn't asked Emily how fast she normally went, so I didn't realize that I was pushing her at a 9:30 pace. (In fact, I'd thought: "Wow, she's speedy for a recent runner!")

Over my profuse apologies, though, Emily pointed out that the benefits of short, fast workouts aside, an abbreviated workout was probably best for the calves and feet that would take a beating over the course of a raucous wedding reception.

As my calves continue to stiffen if immobile too long, 48 hours later, running a single mile suddenly doesn't seem so silly after all. It seems like a good way to loosen up muscles pre-emptively and the culmination of a rare chance to be excited about running — on vacation, no less.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My adventures in trying to run fast

Thrilled with my Remembrance Run 5K results, I decided that it was high time — after 3.5 years of running — to push harder. I'd seen what I could do, after all.

After three attempts to repeat said speed, I'm starting to fear that I peaked Sept. 30, 2012.

On my first attempt, a too-strong start had me gassed before I hit the hilly portion. Those hills, by the way, weren't supposed to be there. Splits: 8:35, 8:22, 9:03, 8:58, for an average of 8:44.

On my second attempt, I knew what I'd done wrong the first time. That didn't mean I was able to avoid repeating it. Splits: 8:19, 8:18, 9:44, 9:20 for an average of 8:56.

CAVEAT: I fudged my numbers the first time by pausing the clock for things like nose-blowing, retying of shoes and catching my breath/swearing. I was more honest the second time, resulting in some larger numbers.

On my third attempt, I went with some boring out-and-backs along a not-quite-mile-long, flat stretch. Surely this would help, right? Wrong. Over 3.35 miles, I did average 8:47, with another incredibly speedy first mile catching up to me on the following 2.35 miles.

None of this was fun, except for each run's first mile. I was frequently angry and in some sort of discomfort. Surprisingly warm weather on one day and surprisingly strong winds on another contributed to my frustration.

During one low moment, though, a perfectly timed quote floated into my head: "If it were easy, everyone would do it."

That doesn't magically make it all kittens and bon-bons — I still feel only an average amount of accomplishment after these runs — but it does remind me to be a little more rational and realistic.

For example: Perhaps instead of repeatedly trying to run four miles at a pace I only achieved during a 5K full of positive peer pressure, I should remember all the advice I've heard/read about good speed workouts and do one each week.

Instead of assuming that one extraordinary race meant I'd learned pacing and mental endurance overnight, I should expect a learning curve. Even after 3.5 years.

And finally, instead of being grouchy about my failure to relive the magic, I should applaud myself once more for ever finding appropriate race-day aggression — I earned that medal.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My ninth check-in on the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge

The further into the 1000 Mile Challenge I get, the more diligent I become about tracking my walking.

No, I don't log the distance from my work to my car, or my apartment to my car — though maybe I should — but if I'm going to save my sanity and stroll to an event rather than move my car a half-mile closer, or if I'm going to spend a few hours at a festival, yeah, I'm gonna record that. Particularly if I feel any sort of burn the next day.

It's really like saving your spare change here and there, but there were definitely a few weekends in September where that walking put me up over 20 for the week. The recent short-term goal has been to get closer to 20 than 15.

So anyway, through Sunday, I've logged almost 705 miles for the year. The weekly average to win creeps ever higher: I'd have to get 24-plus per week, and that's just not in the cards.

But to get to 900, it looks like about 16 or 17 per week will do the trick. I just have to keep remembering that running chases away the grumpies and the caloric remorse over beer.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I rocked the Remembrance Run

I did Sunday's Iowa Remembrance Run practically on a lark — taking over for an injured friend, I hadn't trained for speed, nor did I turn in early the night before.

But somehow, it all went right anyway. It went more than right, actually. I finished 108th out of 402 total (and 88th among men, because I was filling in for a male friend, but I would've been 21st out of the women, I believe).

My official race time was 26:22, though I used MapMyRun to track me from the start line to the finish line, and it said I did 3.05 in 25:59. So, to those of you who received boastful texts about my 26-minute 5K: Sorry, I technically lied to you. You can take back your congratulations.

Still, my splits according to MapMyRun: 8:48, 8:34 and 8:16. I'm going to have to start trying to push myself more often, if this is what I can do when I put my mind to it.

I don't have many 5Ks to compare this one with, but even had I not notched some epic speed (by my standards), I would definitely say this was my favorite so far. The organizers definitely put together an event, not "just a race" — a flyover, a good prerace speaker, and a postrace concert with Jethro's BBQ that I sadly did not attend — and they did a great job.

What I liked the most:

* Seeing service dogs in training during the prerace events. I think they were freshmen, because they kept getting distracted by each other and invisible things in the ground.

* The costumes. Some people wore T-shirts that honored a particular fallen service member, and one woman went all-out with patriotic colors/patterns ... and a tutu. A few men even ran while carrying flags.
I was working on my 8:16 mile at this point, so forgive the questionable photography. I think I may have passed him at the end, but he definitely gave me a run (ha!) for my money.
* The woman playing music on her iPhone without earbuds. I briefly considered sticking with her just to benefit from her tunes ("I Love Rock And Roll"), but I was on a roll.

* The final stretch — posters next to flagpoles had photos of the fallen service members.
 
* The finish line welcomes. Someone called out your name (or, in my case, my buddy's name) as you approached, and staffers were waiting with a medal to hang around your neck.

* My start-line buddy. We only made running small talk for a few minutes, but it was definitely an Iowa nice moment.

* The racing chips — all you had to do was strap on a Velcro band to your ankle. No complicated lace weaving or twistie-tie usage.
I didn't wear glasses or contacts during the actual race. If I had, I might've noticed that this angle makes me look like I have cankles — which I most certainly do not. Not that there's anything wrong with cankles.
What I didn't like:

* Like most races, the first half-mile or so was a bit of a bottleneck. The poles that held up a big START banner didn't help, and the walkers who didn't listen to directions (go to the back) also caused me a little (OK, maybe more than a little) frustration.

* The earbud wearers. When 800 people register for a 5K on a park path, you should probably not block out the world — especially during the first mile, and especially if you're walking.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Art on the run

I began this blog with lofty ambitions, one of which was the weekly "seen while running" roundup.

That feature fell victim to complacency, in two ways: One, the more I ran the main roads around my apartment, the less extraordinary their infrastructure/architecture seemed; and two, the more certain I was of my whereabouts (during the daytime), the less I felt compelled to carry my smartphone and invite shoulder twinges.

But still, I appreciate the views I have, particularly the opportunity that running gives me to observe them safely, and I like seeing my overall time/splits after a good stretch and a tall glass of water.

So, while it took me a month or so, I've managed to gather a few works of art and creativity:

Is it Herky or Cy? I'm from a noncollege town and graduated from a Division II college; I have no idea! But seriously: He perches along Woodlands Parkway. Very appropriate.
Whew, something I understand: NFL loyalty and passion for the color purple. And no, Packer fans, I am not going to join you in vitriol against the Vikings just because they're also in the NFC North.
Here's the reason for the creativity reference. It's getting darker earlier, but I love my sweatbands. What to do? Loosen my headlamp as far as it'll go and wear it around my hips — so that it also keeps my shirt from rolling up.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Upcoming race: Remembrance Run

Remember when I said I was toying with the idea of doing the Des Moines Half Marathon?

As it turns out, I already have a pretty firm commitment elsewhere that day — but I'll be breaking my racing drought sooner than that anyway.

My friend Marco signed up for West Des Moines' Remembrance Run, a 5K that honors Iowa's fallen service members. Then he pulled a calf muscle. Walking sometime was out of the question, let alone running. What to do?

Over a few beers, we decided that I should run the race for him and let him take the glory. (I tried to tell him that he'd picked the wrong replacement for glory, but he did — correctly — point out that a did not start brings even less glory than a 30:00 5K.)

But seriously, the Des Moines Register's preview piece on it made me glad to be joining, even if it is as a substitute and not as my own idea.

Clearly, I haven't trained specifically for a 5K. But jokes about inglorious times aside, I'm hoping and vaguely planning for a strong showing: bring the smartphone, run MapMyRun and see how comfortable I feel around the 9:00 pace.

Ambitious? Not in the least bit; it's a speed I've done before over longer runs. It's mostly a target to strike a balance between my regular ole shuffle and the race-day adrenaline that pushes me to start too fast and fade.

Still, I'll end with this quote from George Sheehan, author of "Running and Being": "The difference between a jogger and a runner is an entry blank."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Last week was great for running

My old blog, Get Running, appealed to runners as well as nonrunners because I didn't bog them down with splits and complicated workouts measured in metric increments. (That's partly because I don't bog myself down with any of those things, either.)

So while I'm thrilled about last week's numbers, generally speaking, the goal here is not to cite too many figures or to wax too rhapsodically about my efforts.

That said, I have to repeat, stunned, my splits from last Monday's run: 8:55, 8:49, 9:49 and 8:44. If you don't remember/weren't in Des Moines that day, it was crazy windy in the late afternoon, which is when I decided to run a loop.

So there's a reason each mile is what it was: 8:55 was downhill with the wind at my back; 9:49, uphill with the wind in my face. 8:49 and 8:44 were on beautifully flat stretches.

Still — daaaaamn! And more importantly, it felt great. That wind definitely blew a ton of cobwebs out of my brain, and brushed a lot of oh-my-god-you-spent-three-hours-on-your-couch grossness off my skin.

Tuesday's numbers were not quite as sexy, but they represented my breaking last year's recorded run/walk mileage of not quite 670 miles. (Emphasis should be placed on "recorded," because I wasn't tracking tourism-related walking as diligently as I am this year.)

Thursday stunk in regards to performance. I was able, however, to psych myself up for the run — before I felt bleh and overly warm with long sleeves on — by deciding to run a familiar route clockwise rather than counterclockwise, like always. And I was also able to justify it by knowing that it still leaves hills at the end, even though I attacked it from a different angle.

Then Saturday — oh, lovely Saturday! — I found myself in the Iowa City metro area on a crisp, 60-degree day at Sugar Bottom. Aside from the giggle-inducing name, Sugar Bottom had a nice gravel path through the woods that gave me wonderful flashbacks to northern Illinois' Stone Bridge Trail.
Also giggle-inducing (but frightening as well): the names of some Sugar Bottom trails. I did not encounter the Troll Bridge or Becky's Revenge, though one hill did feel like a Hell Trail.
I'm very grateful for Des Moines' city trails, which wind through green space and muffle traffic noises, and I'm grateful for the solid sidewalk system, too. But I cut my running teeth on country roads and small-town paths. Sugar Bottom felt like home, and I felt like a million bucks after that run (and a delicious breakfast at Bluebird Cafe).

Monday, September 24, 2012

A month's worth of Google Reader goodies

I kept starring blog posts that I enjoyed and failing to write about them. I'd like to blame some unexpected out-of-town trips, but it was mostly laziness.

A prime example is Competitor's post about Run At Work Day, starred over the summer. It was last Friday. I neither ran at work nor encouraged others to do so. I feel like my running license should be suspended.

Anyways, I did learn a few factoids that are still relevant:

* Something called the Handana exists, so you don't have to mop the sweat that eludes your sweatband off with just nonabsorbent fingers or already drenched shirts.

* Female runners' rears have to work harder than men's do, raising the possibility of knee/hip pain and terrible pickup lines: "I must compliment you on your higher average gluteus activation. I was just admiring it from back here." (Courtesy of Mike at Running Is Funny.)

* Women were competing in races back in the 18th century, with Warrior Dash-like trials such as "climbing greasy poles, grinning and grimacing through horse collars, chasing pigs with soaped tails, and wrestling and cudgeling matches." The prize, according to Running Is Funny's source, was a dress. And some people think running 5K for a T-shirt is too much effort ...

And I believe that I have discovered my favorite finish-line photo ever (or at least this summer). It's not of me, or of anyone I know personally. But click on this post by Katie (run this amazing day) and tell me your heart doesn't melt. I dare you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's been a year since I did the HOBO 10K?

Two Mondays ago, Doug posted about preparing for the HOBO race series: three races over one weekend in the fall — a 10K night run on Friday, followed by a 25K on Saturday and 50K on Sunday — all at Rock Cut State Park.

I did the 10K last year, and I actually think about that night frequently — the postrace part more so than the race, though it was definitely a pleasantly different running experience.

In addition to the fear of being alone in the woods at night, the plans to meet up at my favorite local bar (yeah Olympic!) with friends afterward motivated me to keep moving.  Nothing "Hangover"-esque happened; it was just a bunch of people meeting up for a few beers, but I remember it so fondly because it made living in Rockford feel as best as it ever felt.

My postcollege time in my hometown got off to a prolonged underwhelming start, but by fall 2011 — exemplified by the post-HOBO Olympic drinks — I'd gathered high school friends, work friends, newly made friends, high school friends' college friends, and their co-workers together into a positive that outweighed the negative.

When I thought about this during the more summery weather, it was in the context of "wow, what took four years to build in Rockford has been built in less than four months in Des Moines" — the people I already knew here, the ones I've met since moving and even the ones who don't know me yet always seem game for adding another seat at the table, in the bleachers or at the movie theater.

Back to the HOBO run. Until Doug's preview post, it hadn't dawned on me that nearly a year had passed since that race night; reflecting on it now, it does feel like a year has passed.

And I'm glad it passed. Reaching the HOBO run was a long uphill battle, but it also marked a short plateau that dropped sharply and dramatically over the rest of 2011 and into 2012. Of course — obviously — it turned around just as sharply and dramatically: I wish I could've given the HOBO 10K a second try ... but I'm glad to be in Des Moines instead.

* * *


This post was only marginally about running. If I had made any running breakthroughs since the HOBO run, I would mention them, but unless you count running consistently through the summer — made possible by a new job that lets me be at home at night instead of working at night — it's been fairly status quo.

That's not a slight, though. Maintaining a status quo that is "keep running" for more than three years ain't bad for someone who, as my dad is so fond of saying, could barely be moved to walk down the driveway and fetch the mail as a child.

That also doesn't do justice to the help running was, before and definitely after HOBO 2011: endorphins and stress release, yes; employer-hosted blog that could be added to resume, of course; but most of all, sense of accomplishment — that I'd done something difficult and that I made connections to people through doing it/writing about it.

(Token, non-insightful link to the rest of the post has been stretched to its limit.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Today I answer personal questions

The bloggers at Another Mother Runner wanted to make "10 Running-Related Personal Questions" go as viral as possible (their expression).

So because I love Dimity and SBS, despite not being a mother runner, and because it's been probably a decade since I filled out one of these and emailed it to all my friends/tagged all my friends in it, I'll pitch in with the viral effort.

1. Best run ever: It would be a tie between my second 10-mile effort, back in August 2009, and a short run sometime in the spring of 2009.

The 10-miler took me on country roads in western Winnebago County and was surprisingly comfortable, giving me the confidence that I could indeed run a half marathon within a month and not die/want to die doing it. (Also, the Arny Johnson 10-miler this spring felt fantastic.)

The short run was in central Wisconsin in the early spring, at my beloved Schmeekle Reserve — I had been pretty grouchy about life in Rockford, so I drove up to my sister's college town for a change of scenery.

It was actually snowing on me as I ran through the woods, but the flat terrain (plus the refreshing cool air and pine needle scent) made me realize running could feel good. Major turning point for me.

2. Three words that describe my running: Surprising, unglamorous, encouraging.

3. My go-to running outfit is: Either one of my Target T-shirts is fine, but the black shorts are my favorite, because they don't show the sweat like the blue ones do.

Balega socks, my orthotic inserts and a Kleenex tucked somewhere are absolute musts. A sweatband and sport sunglasses are preferred but optional, given the conditions.

4. Quirky habit while running: I don't — won't — listen to music while on a run. If I were on a treadmill/indoor track, I might, but I also avoid both of those things like the plague.

5. Morning, midday, evening: Whenever fits with my work/social schedule and the weather. There are reasons to love runs at any time of day!

6. I won’t run outside when it’s: Sunny and/or hot and/or humid. That's my Viking blood speaking.

7. Worst injury — and how I got over it: Bunions and weak foot/ankle joints, which are all genetic but mitigated significantly by wearing custom-made orthotics (thanks, Dr. Pandya!).

Knock on wood, I haven't been injured from an accident or wear and tear yet.
 

8. I felt most like a badass mother runner when: At the Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon over Memorial Day 2011, I PR'ed, did NOT have a GI tract crisis and managed to finish before the sun and humidity broke through the clouds.

I ran the race with three friends and beat all of them, even though they all have much longer strides than I do, and as I chowed down on a delicious bagel afterward, felt so chipper that I said: "Let's do that again!"

They may have punched me.

9. Next race is: TBD. Kicking around the Des Moines Half and am very likely to do the Living History Farms Race, particularly if a co-worker peer-pressures me into joining her.

10. Potential running goal for 2013:
I've thought more about my biking goal — to do RAGBRAI — than my running goal for next year.

This may be the Google Reader subscription to Competitor.com and the magazine subscription to Runner's World speaking, but it crosses my mind every so often that I should try to improve, not just to keep going. So maybe adding a little more technical training wouldn't be a bad goal.

My standby goal is to do a half marathon without feeling miserable. Because I'm not a hard-core dedicated runner, I don't aim — or expect —  to PR at any distance, but because I've encountered enough race-day suffering, I do put in work (and prayers) to hopefully avoid throwing a temper tantrum and demanding a car ride home.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Warning: Extreme grossness ahead

I'm serious: If you're squeamish about bodies, don't bother reading any longer.

This is either the second- or third-grossest running-related experience I have had. Here goes.

Over the course of last night's run, I occasionally saw clouds of gnats, or wiped one off my face as I flicked away sweat droplets. This is normal-level gross for runners.

I suspected that one or two had probably flown into my mouth. This is also normal-level gross, though I'm sure some runner at some point already has made the crack about midrun fueling or alternative protein sources.

Like many runners, I find that running loosens things up in my sinuses, and it comes out both through the nose and the mouth. So once I returned home, I spat into my bathroom sink ...

... and saw several colors. Red, from the Gatorade I'd gulped upon my return; yellow-brown, from the mucus; and black, from the gnat that had apparently lodged itself in my throat, where it would've remained had I not acted like a 19th-century saloon patron.

If that wasn't gross enough for you, I'm sorry (not really); I just figured that, given how my former co-workers were afraid to hear that a gnat had been sucked up into my vortexlike nostrils while I was on a run, this would freak people out.

Also, any resemblance in the structure of this post to "The Monster at the End of This Book" is purely subconscious. It was a big favorite of preschool-age Sadye.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My legs' message finally cracks through my thick skull

Last month, it seemed like my Rockford running buddy Doug's posts on Daily Mile were consistently gloomy. I almost felt bad clicking on any of the smiling emoticons when I saw the grim-faced ones he was selecting.

Eventually, he blogged about making a change in his running routine, going from longer weekday runs and medium-long weekend runs to shorter weekday runs and truly long weekend runs.

It had paid off for his legs and thus also for his psyche as of the end of August, and judging from his tweets and Daily Mile posts, it's continued to work.

Meanwhile, the running routine I've sort of adopted/sort of fallen into is exactly what Doug had decided to quit — several four- or five-milers scattered throughout the week, plus one run of up to eight miles.

I didn't fret about it too much at the time. Runners aren't all made the same, and I kept going with what I thought was working.

Last Thursday, I started my morning with a seven-miler that felt about how most of my recent runs had been feeling: slow and heavy. I blamed the humidity and unexpectedly sunny skies. The next day, I did a four-miler that felt just slightly better.

Then, for 48 hours, I didn't run at all. Only on Sunday morning, more than 48 hours after I'd finished the four-miler, did I hit the road. And it felt great, not at all like every run in recent memory. On Monday night, I embarked on another run — same conditions, same route — and had the same strangely springy result.

Not even the strong winds and 60th Street hills on Wednesday afternoon could dampen my spirits or frustrate my legs, which were moving after another 48 hours of inactivity.

What changed?

Each run was no more than four miles, and they had more than 24 hours of rest as buffers. Looking back, I probably shouldn't have added "increase short run distance" to my training style without dropping "run frequently because you feel like too much rest makes your legs rusty," or at least adjusting it.

Also, having a wide range of run distances was a theme of previous half marathon training plans, but not my most recent one's — the training for which featured a lot more stopping and starting than past ones had, back when I was more of a noob and supposedly in worse shape.

Mystery possibly solved. I know I'm supposed to listen to my body, and I was trying to. I just couldn't interpret what it was saying, until a travel-heavy week and the memory of Doug's blog post served as a Rosetta Stone for runners.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I love Runner's World magazine!

The October issue of Runner's World magazine arrived a few days ago, but it wasn't until yesterday — the first day of my "weekend" — that I read it.

Usually I read it in two or more sittings, saving the long article for its own session. This time? I gobbled it (appropriate, because it's the nutrition issue) in one chunk. It was just a knock-out edition of a normally solid magazine.

What was I so cuckoo over? One small factoid, and the two biggest spreads:

"Race-Day Disasters: Don't Let Them Happen to You!" The small factoid: Researchers suspect runners are more vulnerable to allergies because, by being outside more often and breathing heavily (or heavier), they inhale more allergens. That's probably why I'm a Kleenex queen despite being only in my 20s!

"The Ultimate Guide to Pancakes." I do like pancakes, though not nearly as much as Ted Spiker. The variations on your basic pancake, running from as safe as cranberry oat to as wacky as guac it out (yep, with avocado), inspired some great pictures ... even if I'm unlikely to make regular pancakes, let alone ones with corn, chile and avocado in them.

Other fun pieces from the article: Pancakes date back to the 1400s; the roots of a pancake race in Olney, England, go back just as far, dating to when a woman ran to church flipping a pancake in a skillet; there are many other pancake races around the U.S. today, including one in San Antonio that encourages participants to run in their pajamas.

All this food talk — did you know that food historian is an actual career? — had me almost on a runner's high. And then came the runner's low.

" 'Don't Go Out in Those Hills. There Are Dogs Out There.' " Two brothers, out on a run with two of their sisters and a niece, encounter a pack of pit bulls – literally a pack; up to six attack them at once. UTTERLY TERRIFYING.

It's not just that I run outdoors and could conceivably find myself in their boat, though I don't usually run through isolated tribal territories like they did. It's that I too had a run-in with pit bulls once — in my parents' neighborhood, near plenty of houses where I could've sought help — but I was luckier, because the owner came to my rescue within minutes.

Seeing pictures of what the dogs could've done instead of leaving scratches whose scars took a year to fade and reducing me to tears ... chilling. I like dogs, and I do believe that the problem with a bad dog is a bad owner, but I won't apologize for disliking pit bulls.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

If the government does add licenses for runners, I'm apparently mentally ready

I have no idea whether this makes me normal or abnormal, but even though I'm a runner in my waking life, I almost never dream about running.

Last winter was the first time I could remember having a running-related dream that wasn't the short tripping-and-falling one that jerks me awake when I thud to the ground ... i.e., when I roll over in my sleep and jolt myself awake (doesn't mean it hasn't happened, of course).

That dream was an unpleasant one. It took me nearly a year, but I've had another one, this time more uplifting: My college roomie Ally and her husband, AJ, were visiting me at my parents' house, as were a whole bunch of other people.

Instead of socializing, though, AJ and I began examining a map/diagram as he explained the training program he'd lead me through so that I could get my running license. We all have snarky thoughts on what people should be required to prove before they're allowed to run, such as that they can tolerate it without playing music at ambulance-masking levels, but in this instance it seemed to be related to actual physical skill.

In real life, AJ is a serious runner who's making the leap to triathlons, so if there were such a thing as a running license and if it required serious training effort, AJ would be a smart choice to prepare me.

Mostly my dreams aren't worth analyzing — just a jumble of people and places I know, mixed up and out of order — and this is no exception.

I am, however, glad to recall that the idea of training for a big event (there were lots of markers on this map thingie) didn't frighten me in my dream: It was intimidating, but exciting.

No vague, subconscious negative association with running this time around!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Seen while running: Week of Aug. 26

First, the sights:
This is someone's driveway in Clive. My college's mascot is Spike the Bulldog, so my attention is always drawn to pawprints.
The least-guarded private lake ever. It's a beautiful sight, though, because it always marks the end of a long ascent.
Then the smells: dead animals. Fortunately for you readers, I was on a naked run when I found the mummified squirrel on the 60th Street sidewalk, so I wasn't at all tempted to take a picture.

Even if I had brought the iPhone, though, I would have had to linger near the stench source to get the picture. No thank you.

And last, the sounds. A fellow runner on the Clive Greenbelt Trail seemed to be having just as mediocre of a run as I was — walking breaks, grimace, shuffly feet, etc. I, however, didn't make a coughing/hacking noise every few steps.

In her defense, though, she probably couldn't hear her own coughs. She sure didn't seem to hear me when I called out "on your left" like the other folks on the trail did. Seriously, people, turn down your mp3 players.

Friday, August 31, 2012

My eighth check-in on the Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge

First order of business: Happy 26th birthday to me!

If you'd asked me four or more years ago what I'd be doing on my 26th birthday, I never would've said: "Sitting in Des Moines, Iowa, and adding up how many miles I've run and walked — but mostly run — this year while my bike grew dusty and cobwebby."

Second order of business: That total is 612 through yesterday. Over Labor Day weekend, I might add some walking miles, but I'd rather post now and overdeliver instead of post later and underdeliver.

Apparently I've been averaging about 17 miles per week, which is below the 19ish that would've put me on pace for 1,000.

Though at 35 weeks into the year, falling two short a week puts me well off course, I'm pleasantly surprised at my weekly average — at this rate, I'll still break 900 miles for 2012.

It's a good thing I didn't give in to the moderate pessimism I felt the other day, after not running and checking Thursday's forecast (why so hot again?), and then assuming I was so far off course that it no longer mattered.

Checking my stats after putting in 6.2 miles was a much better call, creaky neck and tight hamstrings and sluggish muscles aside.

And no doubt the runner's high — I love that it still hits you, even during a crappy run and even only with tenths of a mile to go — was speaking ... but it did occur to me that fall and early winter will bring me my preferred running conditions.

Who knows what'll happen then. Yeah, there are out-of-town trips and holidays galore, but maybe I'll have more giddyup then. Or maybe I'll persuade myself to run the Des Moines Half, which doesn't much appeal to me now during the sluggish days of summer but might seem more doable when it's cooler.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Confession: I break rec path traffic rules

During a generally unremarkable six-miler along the Clive Greenbelt Trail, I heard the following warning from a rider: "On your right."

Nope, this biker wasn't offroading, or perfecting her precision by sharing a lane with me. I had once again broken a cardinal rule of rec path use and failed to stay in the right lane.

I'm a drifter. I can't help it.

Often, I can correct myself, if it's oncoming traffic, and swerve out of the left lane. But when the passer is behind me, I'm figuratively caught with my pants down.

(Figuratively is a key word here, because outdoor runners sometimes must do things that require their pants to be literally down.)

During one of my first Des Moines runs, I had a rather breathless conversation with a friendly older gentleman about this issue. Congenital foot problems, and why I still run despite those problems, aren't something one can generally explain in passing with an elevated heart rate, but I tried.

First of all, my bevy of foot problems are for once not to blame. In this case, my podiatrist in Rockford told me, it's that one of my legs is shorter than the other.

Not at a level where it's visible to laypeople or where it needs surgical/orthotic correction. Just enough to create the wobbly stool effect — which would mean my left leg is the extra-short one, if that's how I'm leaning.

Soon after my latest noob-in-appearance-but-not-mind moment, Mark Remy posted his ticket for running violations. I clicked on the link with much joy, because I love Mark Remy, but with much trepidation, because part of me didn't want to find out what else the veteran runners were hating me for doing.

Good news: Lane violations didn't appear in Remy's post or the comments section. The folks passing me on the right don't seem nearly as irate as drivers who have to pass on the right on the highway (not, um, that I would have ever caused that to happen).

Maybe this infraction isn't as severe as I thought. Or maybe everything else about me just screams rookie and my comrades feel sorry for me.

Regardless, if you're ever the passer in this situation, spare a little sympathy for that person who might be an experienced, but slightly physically deformed, runner.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Triathlon before age 30? Technically and maybe ...

I don't remember exactly when or why the idea "do a triathlon before you're 30!" popped into my head. (I'm sure Runner's World deserves some of the credit/blame.)

It's been at least a year, though, since it crossed my mind, and even with ample warning, I still didn't manage to do my hometown's annual duathlon in the spring. Weird work schedule blah blah blah, I told those who called me out on it.

The true barriers to achieving this goal, though, are my poor swimming skills and refusal to pay for access to a pool.

Enter some college besties with a brilliant solution: "Let's do the Hy-Vee Triathlon next year as a relay team," they said as they showered me and my cat with housewarming gifts.

A shortcut to a bucket list item? Even better than catnip/shiny items/fleece blankies/fluffy new towels!

Chelsea can swim the 1.5K, because Zach sinks like a stone and I dislike getting my face wet and struggling to breathe (completely different from having my face merely damp from sweat and struggling to breathe).

I can run the 10K, because Chelsea and Zach, despite having completed the Warrior Dash with me in 2011 and pounding the pavement like champs during heat waves, hate running.

Zach can bike the 25K, by process of elimination.

And I can ironically call myself a triathlete before age 30 — with three years to spare, even.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fan mail call

By the time I left my old job — and old blog — I had established a fan base that wasn't entirely made of relatives or family friends (though there were plenty of those, and I'm still glad they read my posts!).

Many of those nonrelative readers were active with the Rockford Road Runners, whose ranks I joined in 2011 but left the following year, knowing a move was on the horizon. Once a Road Runner, always a Road Runner: I received an email from a member named Ed recently, saying our mutual friend Coach Mike had suggested that he invite me to join a Road Runner committee.

After I emailed Ed back saying thanks for the thought, but I'm 300 miles away in Iowa now, he surprised me with his response:
"Good luck in your new endeavor. I am the old guy that passed you in one of the races you wrote about. Guess I can relax in my future races now and not need to push myself to beat the young girls."
The race to which he's referring? My very first one, in September 2009: the On the Waterfront 5K.

My then-co-worker Mike DeDoncker, knowing I was training for a half marathon, recommended doing a local race to get all the newbie jitters/mishaps out of the way before the real deal.

So we signed up for the Labor Day weekend 5K, and as DeDoncker also had suggested, I ran with him until I grew tired of his pace and stepped it up. (I'm not being mean. He had told me that he was easing back into running after a hiatus and would be going slower than me, so I should pass him whenever I wanted.)

I was actually picking off runners during the final stretch — and that's when Ed blew through. To be honest, I believe my first thought was "are you freakin' kidding me, dude?" but my second thought was "props to you, sir; you're older than my parents and you left this spring chicken in the dust."

Nothing like having your pompous balloon burst. It was funny (and self-deprecating) enough to me to include it in my race report, which later ran in the health section. Ed recognized it, probably patted himself on the back, and told DeDoncker about it — earning himself another mention in the Rockford media folk blogosphere.

Ed, you've earned your claim to Rockford health blogger fame, and I'm assuming that you remember your time in the spotlight fondly. Thanks for finding such amusement in it!