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 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.