Friday, June 29, 2012

Happy (new) trails in Clive

"So what are your big plans for today?" asked the cashier at Trader Joe's.

Um, it's 9:30 a.m. on a Monday, and my presence here in sloppy attire does not mean that I'm on vacation ... it only means that I don't work until the afternoon.

That's what I thought, but what I said was: "Oh, not much, I work later today, but I'll probably go on a run before then."

I'd been grateful I could at least throw out something other than eat and work, but I didn't expect running to sound so exciting to the cashier. When he asked where I ran, I tossed out a safe, vague, "around my neighborhood" and hoped he wouldn't ask where I live.

Instead, he laughed and said: "That's it? You don't go anywhere more interesting?"

Ice-cold burn! I mumbled something about not running very far and about maybe exploring this one path that my bike group took me on, then grabbed my change and groceries and left.

Cashier whose name I didn't catch, you were right, and I knew it. My routes weren't boring me — yet. Eventually it would happen, though, and it was time to shape up my time management skills so that I could start building in that variety.

Fast-forward past the heat to tonight, when the heat index was predicted to stay below 100 during the early evening hours and quitting time was 6 p.m. Driving to a trailhead seemed like far too much work, so I let the sun set a little bit and prepared myself for a five-miler. (It was at least 1.5 miles from my apartment to the forested trail I wanted to visit, so there was no point in going short.)

Three miles zipped by, and although the conditions were nowhere near as pleasant as last Saturday's, I felt nearly as strong and as enthusiastic about running. I knew how I'd extend my route — if I were up for it.

It turned out that I was definitely up for it, but it didn't come easy. The Friday night traffic helped, by giving me guilt-free catch-a-breath breaks, because it's definitely still humid ... and the miles after my optimistic decision to push for six miles definitely had upward inclines.

As I approached my previous post-half marathon best of 5.5 miles, disbelief hit me — I was going to run six miles, no problem! In Midwest humidity!

You know what else hit me? A side stitch, immediately after I notched 5.5 miles. Way to jinx it.

It passed, though, and I broke six miles (it was officially a 6.04-miler). Pace was a 9:47 average, with some decent splits: 9:50, 9:30, 10:10, 10:25, 10:45 and 10 even. I'd read earlier that a recent study finds your heart is best served by doing about 20 miles a week at a pace between 8:30 and 10 per mile — this avoids too much wear and tear — so it's time to officially erase the shame from Monday.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I can only reminisce about running, with this heat

Unsurprisingly, I'm no fan of the past few days' heat wave.

I am glad to say, however, that I took advantage of the ample warning to work in a few runs before the wave hit. And I'm even happier to say that the three most recent runs were straight-up wonderful.

Saturday, I finished work and dinner while there was still plenty of light to hit the streets without fear. I picked a 4.5-mile route, to take advantage of the lovely late evening weather, and did something I might never have done before: extend a run simply because I felt so strong. Even after the extra mile, I could've kept going — I stopped for reasons other than fatigue (increasing darkness, interest in preserving motivation for the next day, etc.).

My splits: 10:16, 9:40, 9:20, 9:30 and 9:50. Nice, slow start; several sub-10:00 miles; average pace of 9:28. That run was the farthest, and possibly the fastest, one I've done since the May 20 half marathon. The only complaint I have about it? I couldn't just jaywalk (jayrun?) across the final street before my complex, because a police car was waiting across the same intersection.

I missed running Sunday, but that might've been a blessing in disguise — I was that much more determined to head out Monday and Tuesday. Both days, I faced the serious hill on Westown Parkway that crosses Interstate 35.

To help you imagine the duration and incline of this hill, I played a little game with my speedometer one night as I drove home from work. Going west on Westown, if I'm doing the speed limit of 35 mph and take my foot off the gas when I reach the flat top of the hill, I can approach 45 mph, just coasting, past where it levels off on the western side of the interstate.

And remember: I run this stretch in the opposite direction. Now that I know it's there, I could avoid it, but I'm just dedicated enough to running to take pride in not dodging every single hill. Hence my Monday route — head to the hill, run over it, double back to a certain point, and repeat.

I'm not saying it was easy, but I will say that I did my two hills without stopping midclimb, without swearing and without breaking down. I'll do it again, and I'll add more repeats. Speed intervals are a struggle for me, since I'm terrible at pacing myself, but maybe I can stick with some hill work.

For sure Monday's effort made Tuesday's more mentally bearable; I picked a four-miler that led me across the same beastly hill (but of course, only once!). It felt better than it looks on paper or on the screen: 10:00, 10:05, 10:15 and 9:40.

During that 10:15 stretch, I do remember taking a walk break, which was a little bit of a disappointment as I hadn't had to take a deliberate walk break up to that point — only a pause to take a photo or wait for the traffic light to change. It must've been a well-deserved one, though, if I cranked out a 9:40 pace after it.

I hope to sneak in a run or two in the next few days, even though my weather widget has nothing but the low 90s through Tuesday — I do, however, have my two early-start-early-finish days over that stretch, which should allow for evening (not night) runs. Or, even crazier, maybe the 100-degree-plus heat indexes will make the 90s feel tolerable?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Web wrap-up: June 18 to 24

Gems from the Google Reader account this past week — some fluffy, some serious.

Other Voices: Being Chased Down By A Car. Mom Dorothy Beal thought her biggest obstacle was her mindset going into a run pushing three kids in a stroller and sweating under the hot sun. Instead, it turned out to be a psychopath driver who pulled up beside her, screamed obscenities at her and followed her as she tried to run away.

Beal's post isn't just about adding to the unfortunately large pile of stories in which "running while female" proves to be a huge liability — she wanted to share what she did right and wrong in handling the situation, and several commenters joined in the discussion. (I always bring my cellphone now that I'm in a new city; this is a good habit, according to the post and the law enforcement official who commented.)

Still, it's incredibly frustrating that on every blog I read (no matter the topic) there has to be a story on how to protect yourself simply because people are bat-shit crazy and because you are female.

Running Is Funny: Women Marathoners Rank 978th on This List. On a somewhat lighter note, Mike at Running Is Funny shared a Deadspin post whose topic I will delicately summarize as "what women's sport has the most attractive participants?" After the top 10, the author jumps to 978th and ranks both women's basketball and women's marathon:
"I can’t imagine anyone getting off on watching 80-lb. women struggling to finish a full marathon."
Wait, has he ever seen pictures of female marathoners? Every Runner's World I receive shows toned — not gaunt — athletes of both sexes with defined-but-not-gross six-packs. And I really don't understand the "struggling" reference ... no doubt professional athletics, particularly marathons, are physically demanding, but these people train intensively for competition. 

On the bus ... Running: Sweating the Details. This post, on being dedicated to a serious training regimen, has been rattling around in my head for a few days. Blogger Brad links to the post-run strength routine he does as well as a training article called "The Kenyan Summer," intended to help high school runners build a base for fall cross country.

For a few minutes, I pictured myself jumping in. I clicked on the link, read it, thought about the heat and realized that I'm approaching a critical point in both of my sports: deciding how much effort I'm willing to put into each, and how I'm going to adjust my attitude and expectations accordingly. More on this later, I'm sure.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Seen while running: Week of June 17

I have an iPhone and new territory to explore. I'm hoping this adds up to achieving my goal of putting more artwork in my new blog than I did in my old one.

So here are some sights to share with you from the week starting June 17.

The sidewalks in West Des Moines have exceeded all my previous expectations for sidewalks (namely, that there are some). They're wide, smooth and continuous, including over interstates.

My favorite overpass so far is the Ashworth Road crossing of Interstate 35, primarily because the south end looks like the entrance to a garden (very "Secret Garden"-esque) and secondarily because it's fairly flat (unlike the Westown Parkway crossing over Interstate 35, which is a rolling uphill).
The Ashworth Road overpass, above Interstate 35. Taken June 17.
On the same run, I made a detour through a neighborhood so I could hit a full four miles. I spotted a lot of nice, upper-middle-class houses, a few dogs and their masters, and ... this creepy creation. Imagine visiting these people at night for the first time and having your headlights illuminate this thing. And to make matters worse, once I uploaded the picture, I spotted the tall one's companion crouched in the foreground.
A house not far from my complex. Taken June 17.
Speaking of creepy ... I noticed this during June 20's freaking hot run, but the call of the chilled Gatorade, air conditioning, ice-cold water and shower was too loud to allow me to stop.
Taken June 23. I hope this is the only Peeping Tom within running range of my place.
This one is sort of a cheat. I spotted it along 60th Street coming back from a bike ride, but since I checked it out the next time I ran, technically I saw it while running.
Apparently I live in the Wild West Des Moines. Taken June 23.
Not pictured: The couple in a too-close-for-this-kind-of-humidity embrace along a path/playground combo smack in the middle of a neighborhood. I was polite and glanced the other way ... but allowed myself to think — and post — smarmily that my night was hotter and sweatier than theirs was.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cross-training across Des Moines

I haven't run the past two days, but it's OK — recovery days are also reconnaissance days, as it turns out.

On Thursday I again joined the Scheels bike group for a 30ish-mile ride (my total distance was 33.5 miles, but that includes biking to the meeting place and peeling off to go directly home at the end).

This group serves a couple of purposes for me: socializing; challenging myself in something at which I actually can improve; and, duh, guiding me through the Des Moines trail system ... in particular, showing me a fast way to access a nearby trail, without making me read a map.

With a slower pace and better weather, I had more mental energy to spend on observing the trail, as opposed to gluing my eyes to the next-to-last cyclist's wheel. The trees, the creek, the gentle breeze were all so refreshing and energizing as we whizzed through at 15 mph. And it hit me — why the heck was I running on shade-free sidewalks, especially when the sun was out?

Maybe, in addition to the timing switches I've been considering, I should consider changing locations, to the forested valley through which the bike group leads me. It's less than two miles from my complex; a full-grown (mentally full-grown) adult should be able to manage her time adequately enough to make a cool run there happen.

Friday, I took advantage of my early-bird downtown parking spot to stroll over to the Des Moines Arts Festival after work. (Yep, I counted that, plus a short morning errand, toward my 1,000-mile goal. Every mile, and every mile increment, counts.)

One of the timing switches I've been considering is incorporating more evening runs into my routine. On Friday and Saturday nights, I'm off work early, leaving me time to head home, eat, digest and then exercise while it's still light. Other days, when I leave at 9 p.m., I don't have that luxury — but it occurred to me that I could stave off both dehydration/heat stroke and running route boredom by bringing running gear to work and heading out right away.

The link between this and the art festival: My co-worker mentioned, as we passed the Western Gateway Park sculptures, how beautiful it is when the pieces are illuminated at night. Aha! A new, well-lit place to run!

I feel very satisfied with this cross-training/recovery combination.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer officially begins, and I'm already over it

Two days in a row — yesterday and today — I've run in conditions that reminded me, in a bad way, of this year's Rockford Marathon. (I actually ran the half, but the T-shirts make no mention of such a thing.)

Even though I left the house at 8:30 or 8:45 a.m. and ran between 3.5 and 4.5 miles both days, the sun was blazing and the humidity high, making what was probably 80-degree temperatures feel much, much worse. Thank God for the energetic breeze, except that it was coming at me rather than propelling me for most of the way.

The drawback of wearing these pretty turquoise shorts, rather than the black ones, is that they show my copious sweat all too well. Taken after 4.5 miles on June 20 in 80-degree heat.

Yep, I'm cranky. Mostly at the weather, but even more so with myself.

Remember how I said I was going to phase out the sub-four-mile runs? That lasted until yesterday. As much as I'd like to blame my shortcut on knowing I was risking being late to an appointment, or on being smart in the heat, I honestly should only blame my mental weakness.

I kept thinking of this quote during the run, and even more so as I finished:

"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired."
— George S. Patton, U.S. Army general and 1912 Olympian

It would've been physically easy to run another quarter-mile past my complex and then double back, despite the heat, humidity and sun. But my mind was whining about wanting to shower in the air conditioning ... and inside I went. The runners I would later see in the early to midafternoon, cruising along unshaded pavement, shamed me even further.

Today I benefited from A) remembering the article in the Des Moines Register pointing out that we'll be prepared for the August weather after this heat spell, B) knowing what kind of misery I was getting myself into and C) preparing a new route, with which I wasn't familiar enough to abbreviate on the fly.

My splits and pace were worse, but my spirits slightly better. Finding this also might've helped:

Dear park somewhere along 50th Street, THANK YOU for having a water fountain.
And as today is the first day of summer, it looks like I'd better plan on using all of those strategies — and every available water fountain — for a while.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Staring down stairs

Courtesy of Mark Remy at Runner's World's RW Daily blog comes this beauty.

The original post is available here.
Confession: I've never run stairs to work out (only in order to hurry somewhere). A former co-worker told me that he used to run flights of stairs back when he was playing soccer; we shared a grimace at the thought of that.

But I still empathize with this poster ... I just have to break it apart into "running" and "stairs."

I've blogged before and surely will blog again – another day – about how I don't always like running, so today I'll just focus on the second part: stairs.

They shouldn't faze someone who runs and bikes, or so other people will observe when I complain about being short of breath and slightly sweaty at the top of long flights of stairs. (Thanks, guys. Appreciate the support.)

I always cite the collegiate swimmer who told me, when I was that jerk who passively mocked athletes who hated stairs, that one must train for them to get better. It's not just a matter of being in general cardiovascular shape.

If this is true, then I should be a stair master (ha!) before the year's out. My new office is on the fourth floor — the heavily air-conditioned fourth floor, which will quickly bring a warm, exerted body back to arctic temperatures. Plus, I don't have a free parking space, so I have to head outside midshift to take care of my meter.

Two sets of three flights of stairs, five times a week. If this pays off, maybe — just maybe, and only as long as I'm fully insured — I'll try being the man in this picture. Thanks a lot, Mark Remy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Web wrap-up: June 11 to 17

As you can see from the right side of my page, I keep tabs on several running bloggers who post frequently and engagingly.

Halfway through my Get Running days, I began using their best stuff as launchpads for my own posts. While I expect to continue that, I can't always build off what they've done — sometimes because I can't relate, sometimes because there's nothing more (or more eloquent) to say.

Three of that type of post have cropped up recently, and because I anticipate plenty more to come, I decided to mimic other bloggers and start a post compilation feature. This has nothing to do with the fact that writers experience creative blocks at times, or that sporty folks get sleepy, or that people who work office jobs sometimes become burned out on computer screens after putting in a day's work.

The timing does, however, have a slight relation to the weather forecast. It's not looking good for my running chances today: We're expecting highs in the upper 90s and heat indexes in the mid-100s. Send chilly thoughts my way today and tomorrow, please.

run this amazing day: on recovery. Katie is a triathlete in Alexandria, Va., one who's serious enough to hire coaches and who seems pretty competitive. This post (from June 6, but I read it sometime between June 11 and 17, so it's sneaking in) talks about how she used to cheat on her recovery time — she'd do a workout early Wednesday morning and then another on Thursday night — but eventually got smarter and learned to embrace a full lazy day between workouts.

I generally don't have a problem taking rest days; I just have a problem not feeling guilty about them and not endlessly justifying why I won't be running/biking that day. Last Friday, though, I overcame that: After a 31-mile bike ride Thursday, with a busy Friday planned, there was no doubt in my mind about the wisdom of resting. It felt good. Decisiveness is a rare, but pleasant, feeling for me.

Out There: Race Photos. Susan Lacke isn't the first person to write about ugly race photos (Runner's World's Mark Remy has made a full-fledged meme out of his own), but she turned out a great post about it. My favorite part:

"Perhaps the most outlandish thing about these horrendous race photos? I buy them. Yes ... I actually pay money to have documented proof of my ... er ... attractiveness."

Doug's irunnerbuzz: Not running in the Rockford half and other schtuff: Doug is probably my most devoted fan who's not related to me. I'd hoped to say hello/goodbye to him at the race in his blog post's title, but I never saw him. I learned in this post that he'd made a 12:30 a.m. conditioning-related call to skip the race. Having made a 5:30 a.m. conditioning- and family-issue-related call to skip a race in October 2011, I empathize 100 percent ... and also feel less embarrassed for having done so.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

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

At my old blog, Get Running, I'd been doing monthly check-ins on my progress in Daily Mile's Rock River 1000 Mile Challenge.

The goal is obvious; you can combine running and walking, but the description omits biking (which would make it pretty darn easy, IMO), so I haven't been counting that. "Everyone wins," according to the site ... however, I'm not sure I'll hit the 1,000 by Dec. 31.

But I digress. I punted on May's check-in because I'd quit my old job and was in the process of moving for a new one. Also, I lacked the energy, the time and the name for my new blog. So this entry gets a bonus week (the first full one in June).

Through those 22 weeks, I've run/walked 395.26 miles, which is, sadly and suddenly, way off-pace. I need to average about 19 miles per week, for a total of 423 miles through Week 22.

Almost 30 miles behind, with the halfway point of the year approaching. Not so good. Back in January, I was confident that training for a 10-miler and half marathon would've given me a cushion by the time hot weather arrived. Oh, that naive, foolish 25.42-year-old ... if only she knew what the 25.83-year-old knows now!

Wait, what do I know now, besides that my long runs weren't going to compensate for the two-week dry span that I suspect torpedoed my pace? (In my defense, I'd just finished a half marathon and was preparing for and executing a 300-mile move.)

Even before I confirmed my suspicions that I'd fallen behind, I'd been ruminating on my running behavior — specifically, my short/easy/just-get-'er-done run length. It's been three to 3.5 miles ever since I started running full time in spring 2008.

Several ingredients went into the realization that it was time to take that up a notch: reading other runners' lengthier workout summaries on Twitter; experiencing pleasant local weather and a fresh, new area to explore; eating cookies, ice cream, brownies and dark chocolate nuggets; noticing that I've long passed noob status and haven't ramped up speed or mileage; and, finally, knowing that I'd have to run six three-milers a week to stay on track with the 1000 Mile Challenge.

If I can make four miles my default distance, I can gain a little bit of ground on my challenge. I also then can start phasing in five- and six-milers as my midlength run distance.

With my new hours at my new job, this all seems slightly more feasible. Instead of wrapping up work at midnight or 1 a.m., I now head out somewhere between 6 and 9 p.m. right now, which during the hot summer days leaves me a decent window of daylight even after dinner.

So no distress calls on the 1000 Mile Challenge just yet — there's time to redeem myself and regain some ground.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Baby steps toward conquering the big(ger) city

On Thursday, I participated in a group bike ride led by a bike enthusiast employee of West Des Moines Scheels.

I've run fairly frequently since moving into my new apartment, first on the sidewalks in my neighborhood and later, once I spotted it, on the Jordan Creek Trail. This paid off Thursday, when I was both too lazy and too late to put my bike rack on my car and the bike on the rack; my exploration-by-foot of the Jordan Creek Trail led me straight to the mall that houses Scheels.

One of the bridges of Polk County. I took this picture heading back home from my first excursion on the Jordan Creek Trail.
EDIT: I think this is actually in Dallas County.

So I felt both efficient (what stop-and-go traffic?) and fit (what, you drive to workouts?) as I whizzed over to the meeting point. Once we started biking, from 60th to the Clive Greenbelt Trail, that sense of fitness began to dissipate, but that's besides the point.

I knew where I was all the way to the intersection of 60th and University Avenue — and then for the next 10 to 15 miles, I had no idea whatsoever. Around curves, through woods, down hills we whirred, and then at some point I saw the sign: Grays Lake, one mile. For a brief moment, I was oriented again, but then it passed, and we were winding all over the south side of town again.

When we reached the Valley Junction area, it began clicking. There was the farmers market, there was Furry Friends Refuge (from whom I adopted my cat), there was my veterinarian ... everything I recognized, I identified out loud with much glee.

Finally, as we reached the eastern stretch of the Jordan Creek Trail, our guide mentioned that we weren't far from where we began: "Oh, so we're not far from the underpass, then. It's I-35, right?"

The guide, a West Des Moines native, replied with some surprise: "Yep, exactly." He paused. "You sure know your way around for only being here two weeks."

I puffed up with pride. No one has ever before (and no one probably ever will again) praised my navigational skills — because I have none. I'd passed as a competent adult for years by living in my midsized hometown. However, I'd been determined since Day 2, when my head had finally cleared from the sleep-deprivation and tiny homesickness cloud, to achieve Des Moines fluency.

My strategy includes several components, one of which is running. It's easier to pay attention when you're safely on a sidewalk, it's a healthy, free, green way to roam the area ... and it's apparently a successful one. Hooray for discovering another fringe benefit to running!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Introducing Little Runner to Des Moines

There are two types of tired that I’m acquainted with: the one that results from too little sleep, too much concentrating, too much stress; and the one that results from healthy exertion.

The former drains me, the latter invigorates and then calms me.

On my first day in Des Moines, two weeks ago today, I was floored by the first kind of tired. I’d stayed up late and risen early, packed my car and drove it 300 miles to unpack it, hopped back in a car and taken a winding tour of my new home that culminated in a restaurant dinner.

Everything had gone according to plan — except the wave of homesickness that washed over me after my meal, making me feel my exhaustion even more acutely. It was too early to go to bed, and it was too rude to leave my host so I could privately wallow in my gloom. What to do?

Run. Run with no expectation of time or strength or distance.

My host showed me a 3.5-mile loop that combined a rec trail and sidewalks, and off I went, hoping for no rain and no creeper sightings.

The first quarter-mile was physically downhill and emotionally uphill. Clouds, rain and chilly wind from earlier in the day had faded into a fresh-smelling, sherbet-colored summer evening.

After about a third of a mile, I reached the rec path trailhead. I ran along forests, flowers, a river, rabbits, reminding me of home but better: Already I’d noticed that Des Moines’ downtown and suburbs had more plentiful and vibrant options than back home; already I had a few Millennials offering (and being offered) to take me out; and now I could see that this three-mile loop was only a tiny taste of what I could explore on my two feet or my two bike wheels.

This was the view that won me over, photographed the next morning.
Dripping with sweat, I wrapped up my run in 34:28, a 9:50 pace, having conquered hills — both metaphorical and literal — on the way. For the second time that day, I was glad to be in Des Moines, but this time it had nothing to do with being freed from a car.

With that out of the way, welcome to Little Runner, Bigger City, where you’ll mostly read about (and probably laugh at) the snafus and speed bumps I still hit after three years of running.

Curious about those three years? Check out my former blog, Get Running.

Curious about only the notable moments of those three years? Read my race recaps.