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.