Friday, November 29, 2013

Living History Farms Race photos

Yesterday we binged — on food and on words about running. Today we hold back.

The '80s, the '90s and the '60s, before we set off to find the '70s.
I made the bell bottoms. Seriously. That's how I prioritized my time during a cross-town move. 
We had our photo taken as a group after the race, but Regina's phone ate the evidence, and none of my neighbors were around to take a group shot in the hall of my soon-to-be-former apartment complex.  
To close the book on Living History Farms 2013: When Matt, our '70s representative, checked the weather shortly before race time, he found that the temperature was 13 ... but the wind chill was 6 below.

How did we flower children survive?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Belated race report: Living History Farms Race

What am I grateful for this Thanksgiving? Well, a number of things, but the most relevant one to this post and blog audience is that I did the Living History Farms Race and that I survived.

(I'm also grateful that if I had to plunk a race in the middle of a week's worth of moving/unpacking, it was one that didn't require a serious training plan. There's my excuse for my silence.)

So about Living History Farms. People warned me about the bottlenecks, the costumes and the water crossings. I listened closely and believed them, but there are some things one must experience to truly understand.

The bottlenecks worked to our advantage, in one respect, because one member of the team hadn't ever run more than three miles, and another had maxed out at four miles. There may have been equal parts running and walking in this race from our team, but almost none of it can be blamed on fitness.

The bad part of it, duh, was that we were moving slower in less-than-ideal conditions. Also, beyond the cold, the terrain made me nostalgic for the forest preserves back in Rockton and what a fun challenge running there was. When else will I look back on difficult running with such fondness?

As for the costumes, I was pleased with how well our team members managed to represent our respective decades -- yep, that was our theme -- despite our last-minute tendencies and the incredible cold.

Other runners definitely delivered on the costume front as well. I was surprised to see nearly naked guys committed to their plans of being nearly naked, but I guess I shouldn't have been. The costume that made me laugh the most, though, was the adult African-American man dressed as Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz."

Close runners-up were the people who wore plastic butt cheeks on the outside of their tights, but they lose points because I had to stare at that ridiculous image as I scrambled up a hill that I honestly was afraid I'd slide back down.

And now for the water crossings and, equally important, the actual weather reading. I'd read online that there would be eight crossings and that midday highs would be in the low 20s ... but very little prepares you for that reality.

Neither, honestly, was quite as bad as I expected. The first creek was fairly shallow; the second and third ones (back to back) were deep and made me yell for quite a few yards afterward; and after that, it became a point of pride.

The prerace warning of a crotch-deep creek never came to fruition, unless someone shorter than me was the measuring stick (unlikely), but the warning of "wear shoes you don't want anymore" was spot-on. RIP, pink Brooks Ghosts.

My biggest hurdle with the water and temperature was self-inflicted: The flares on my bell bottoms froze after the second-third creek crossing, so instead of merely kicking the cloth out of the way as I climbed a hill, I nearly tripped a few times. CLOP-CLOP-CLOP was how I sounded at the end.

Now for my great reveal, for those not there. The temperature at the end of the race? 16 degrees.

And by "end of the race," I mean that we took off at 9 a.m., ran/walked/climbed/waded for 2:23:01, had a bowl of beef stew and walked back to the car to check our phones ... at THAT point, it was 16 degrees.

Before the race, I was a little cold and a little whiny; during the race, I was a little cold when the wind blew and a little whiny; after the race, I was absolutely freezing -- like, my fingers were painful -- and absolutely insistent that we get into the car as soon as possible.

OK, so what does all this rambling mean, as far as my experience goes? As I said earlier, I'm glad I did it ... but I'm perfectly fine never doing it again.

I like completing/attending Des Moines' signature events, and having teams at them is definitely a bonus. Doing LHF this year -- without skipping a single water obstacle -- earns us some serious bragging rights, especially when more than 1,000 runners backed out because of the weather.

But I think I prefer the challenge of running the entire length, or of pushing myself to finish as fast as possible, to having the quirks of LHF or the Warrior Dash.

To come full (enormous) circle? I'm grateful for the discipline that training-required races provide, for the huge sense of accomplishment they give me afterward and for the light-hearted races in between that make me realize this.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I'm getting cold feet, literally

It was only a few days ago that I looked at the 10-day weather forecast and saw little chance of precipitation and highs in the 40s for Saturday's Living History Farms run.

My celebration was premature, however. Depending on which forecast I look at, the highs are in the mid-20s to maybe 30, if we're lucky.

A co-worker who's survived Living History Farms about four times offered some words of encouragement, when I suggested that perhaps this was not the best reason to use my final vacation day of 2013: "When it's that cold, the mud won't be muddy anymore. And the creeks might be frozen too!"

I'm not being sarcastic when I say that is somewhat comforting: I don't like getting my feet wet. (OK, I generally don't like being wet outside of the shower or the hot tub.)

That means the run will likely be fine — once I get going in the cold, I warm up pretty quickly. And on race day, getting going isn't as much of a challenge as it is during everyday runs ("just one more chapter/blog post, then I run").

It's the waiting around before the race that I dread.

I'm doing night-before packet pickup, so that will shave some time off the amount I'll need to huddle with my teammates in hopes of not freezing.

But that walk to the start ... and any extra time we left to make sure we'd get there in time ... I have a feeling that some profane and grumpy language will be used.

End whining, cue bragging: At least I won't be alone — Regina and Cory will be braving the cold with me — and at least we came up with a cohesive, warm costume idea for our team.

My victory as Julius Caesar continues to inspire me, and I'm putting forth some actual effort on the costume. Stay tuned for the great reveal!

Monday, November 18, 2013

I need a change from this scenery

I've listed off the serious and facetious parts of West Des Moines running that I'll miss.

But don't worry; I'm not going to shed tears over this weekend's move. Besides my visual fatigue with the same roads and trails, here's what I'm looking forward to leaving behind:

5. The geese around my current apartment complex: I try to dodge their doo-doo along the sidewalks, within reason. In winter, with icy and snowy conditions, this becomes a real hazard.

Also, Doug's affirmative answer to my question of "do geese attack?" has reinforced my paranoia that they'll choose to herd ME off the sidewalk, instead of the other way around.

4. Construction all over: First it was the Jordan Creek Trail underneath Interstate 35. Then it was the Walnut Creek Trail under Interstate 235. Now it's the Jordan Creek Trail pretty much everywhere east of 60th Street, it seems.

Yes, I like safe and smooth infrastructure, but that doesn't mean I can't wish the trails could remain open when they're not being repaired.

3. That rough spot on the Jordan Creek Trail that I either had to detour around, or ride gingerly to avoid another pinch flat: After discovering two pinch flats either during or after a certain stretch along EP True Parkway, I reacted not by learning to change a flat tire, but by scouting out a detour that added miles and a crossing of EP True that didn't have a traffic light.

It's definitely one of the rougher spots on the trail, and compounding the issue is that the slope from sidewalk to street (of which there are several) isn't very smoothly done. I'd forgive lengthy construction closures if this were what was being fixed.

2. The 60th Street hill(s) and Westown Parkway overpass: When your parents' house/your apartment sits close to several hills, you become a stronger runner without even trying — unless, of course, you're motivated enough and organized enough to drive to a flatter starting point consistently. (I am not.)

Here, I have a dramatic downhill to the north and south on 60th Street, meaning there's a dramatic uphill if I do an out-and-back those directions. Then, to the east, is the Westown Parkway overpass. (And yes, there are hills to the west, but just not of the demonic sort.)

I've definitely developed a strategy for these hills, and I don't deny the value of running hills, even if your race courses will all be perfectly flat. And I even recognize that, with my new apartment being close to the Sherman Hill neighborhood, I'm not escaping all elevation increases.

Still — good riddance to these particular inclines. Familiarity breeds contempt, in this case.

1. The traffic lights at the beginning/end of these hills. Funny how when I'm flying downhill, they turn red, but when I'm crawling uphill, they turn green as soon as I reach the top — leaving no excuse not related to my fitness to linger.

Friday, November 15, 2013

What I'll miss about running in West Des Moines

I mentioned in an offhand way a few posts ago that I would be moving soon.

Soon came sooner than I thought: By Thanksgiving, I'll be out of my West Des Moines apartment and living in Des Moines proper.

There are, of course, many aspects of the new apartment that I'm excited about (otherwise I would've just renewed here), but, duh, one of them is fresh running scenery.

At the same time, I'll miss certain things about my current place, some of them related to running routes. I've been planning a few runs (not all of them) with the intention of hitting some spots I likely won't return to very soon.

The top five features of West Des Moines running that I'll miss:

5. Proximity to Raccoon River Park: I didn't even go there to run very often, but its gravel trail and heavy tree cover reminded me of a beloved trail back in my hometown (which in fact I want my ashes scattered along, some day far in the future).

It's where I set two 5K personal records at the past two Remembrance Runs, and it's also where I first went running with fellow "Scoop Chasers" Regina, Zach and Emily — setting the tone for a year of meeting up to run or bike.

4. Nearby restaurants: I frequently run past Biaggi's, Culver's, Taco John's, Arby's and a few other fast-food joints, and they all put out heavenly smells. Sometimes it's a cruel taunt, but mostly I just enjoy another reason to think about food.

3. The Ashworth Road overpass over Interstate 35: I just really like this overpass. I'm not sure whether it's because of the vines growing over the chain-link covering, or whether it's because I often cross it after coming up a long incline.

2. The variety of trails in all directions: I'm within a mile of the Jordan Creek Trail, within about 1.5 miles of the Clive Greenbelt Trail and at most seven miles from the Raccoon River Valley Trail. That doesn't even include the minitrails around the city.

Best of all — they're not all in the same direction, so I could pick based on where the wind was coming from. Or where I wanted to deal with hills.

1. Its wide, smooth, continuous sidewalks: In the part of the city where I live, West Des Moines' sidewalks are twice as wide as my new neighborhood's are; almost every street has nonstop sidewalk; and nearly every one is either smooth or along a road so quiet that I can just hop into the street.

Coming next week, to ward off any nostalgia as move-out approaches: what I'm ready to say goodbye to.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shivering ... with delight?

As I mentioned previously, dressing for winter runsand just getting excited about running, period — has been a struggle of late.

Once a week, though, I've relied on peer pressure to get me out there. The recent strategy is, after too much eating and sitting on a Saturday, I text Regina on a Sunday to make plans to run Monday.

Including this past Monday, we are three for three on following through on those plans. What's more impressive: Our most recent one was on the evening of Des Moines' first snow.

Throw on a blanket as you read the key figures from the Monday night run:

28: Actual temperature.

16: Feels-like temperature.

18: Wind, in mph.

10: Minutes after sunset that this run began.

1: Other people spotted during this lap around Gray's Lake. (Two other runners wrapped up before we started, and one biker took off before us.)

I arrived before Regina did and made the mistake of looking up these weather stats. If I hadn't thought it would be rude to bail while she was en route, I would have. (I made another mistake in confessing this to her, at which point she told me that it would've been OK this particular time.)

Instead, I went through with it. And you know what? It was actually kind of fun. Very cold, yes, and slippery in spots. But I'm glad I put on an extra layer instead of texting "actually never mind."

Despite the pitch-black sky at 6 p.m., as I drove back, I felt cheerful and enthusiastic — OK, less negative — about winter running. I might not go into early hibernation after all!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The puzzle of what to wear

The past two times I've gone running, I've had an uncomfortable realization:

Those people I secretly laughed at for being so overdressed? I, right now, am one of them.

Each time I've set out in tights, a windbreaker, a fuzzy hat and gloves, I've ended the run wishing I'd left at least two, if not three, of those items at home.

One run even found me bundling the gloves and hat in my windbreaker as I slogged up a hill, the sweat pouring unchecked down my face.

I bet those drivers on Westown Parkway were totally inspired to pick up running, after watching that spectacle. (Sarcasm.)

The offending hat and windbreaker. This is my "I-don't-wanna-go-run!" face. The "too-hot!" face is much redder and wetter.
Is this better or worse than the too-cold run to which my overdressing is reacting? Probably, because overdressing at least gets me out the door. Right now, this Viking princess is more princess than Viking.

But all self-deprecation aside — I know, when I'm not alternately thinking "SO HOT" and "I hate running," that it just takes a few runs to fine-tune my winter clothing strategy.

I'll also choose to believe, in lieu of lumping myself in with the springtime windbreaker-and-earmuff-wearers, that I overheated because I ran such smart routes: The same obsession with that uncovered "feels like 35," sending panic through my veins, also showed me the wind direction.

That meant I planned my loop going into the wind, then returning with it at my back, as running gurus have advised. So when my overheated body turned around to head home, it at least stayed too warm instead of turning into an icicle made of sweat (a sweatsicle?).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Resolutions for the rest of the year

The post-PR buzz has officially faded into a mild case of burnout.

It's nothing serious or new to runners — it's been an ambitious, busy year, and I've completed the last of my big events for the year. Now what?

Part of me wants to just spend the rest of the year on the couch, but the rest of me thinks that's a bad idea. So we're striking a compromise.

In three weeks, I've got the Living History Farms race, so aimless, mindless, directionless running won't fly. (I'll just end up running three miles a few times a week.) But because it's an adventure more than a race, I just need to make sure I still have functional muscles.

The compromise: run three times a week at minimum, without concern for time/speed, and add one or two days of cross-training. Also, I'm inspired enough by a recent post on about taking care of the little things to declare I'll foam roll more often.

After Living History, it's couch time until Thanksgiving, when the Runner's World Holiday Running Streak begins.

As amazing as hibernation sounds, I'm going to delay it until 2014 because I enjoyed the challenge last year. It gave me something different to focus on/strive for, and like it was designed to do, it kept me moving during prime eating season.

Tentative plans for the run streak are to have three one-mile days, and then to set an upper limit (I'm thinking four or five) for the other days.

And on Jan. 2, I will give up running for at least a week, if not two. Last year, that was easy because I caught a nasty sinus infection; this year, it might be easy because my lease runs out Dec. 31 and I intend to move and adopt a second cat.

But who knows. If we have a beautiful nonwinter like we did in 2011-12, laziness might turn out to be tough after all.

Friday, November 1, 2013

About those 20 seconds

I don't think I've addressed the 20 seconds in a blog post yet. Now it's time.

Don't worry. I'm not going to berate myself or demand sympathy, because I honestly don't see either of those as necessary.

I will admit to realizing, fairly early on, that I had a decent shot at hitting or breaking 2:00:00 during the Des Moines Half Marathon.

As the miles — and my strength — wound down, I checked back frequently to gauge the possibility. Around mile 12, as one of my cheerleaders biked past me on his way to the finish line, I shouted back at his words of encouragement that I thought I could break 2:00:00 still.

Obviously it didn't quite happen, and the instant that I realized that — probably a minute or so out — I was as disappointed as my low energy levels would allow me to be. Not devastated, but definitely negative.

But after the race, until I'd gotten the massage that I so desperately wanted, I was crabby in general. I don't know how much of it was disappointment, compared with fatigue, irritation with the crowds and anxiety over finding/waiting for the massage.

I can honestly say, though, that once I was on the table and telling the DMU student about my race, I no longer cared.

Even if the woman hadn't been stretching me in wonderful ways, it would've been difficult to tell her that I took eight full minutes off my previous best — set 2.5 years ago — and I finished 4.5 minutes ahead of my best-case-scenario goal, but I should've finished at least 20 seconds sooner.

Yeah, I can be a harsh critic of myself, and I can often find a reason to look past the fact that I trained diligently for two-plus months and finished a half marathon, sometimes in adverse conditions, to focus on the end numbers.

Not this time, though. The PR-breaking margin is enough to keep me from second-guessing anything, like the two nausea-fighting walk breaks or the post-gel-water-drinking walk break.

Sure, if I'd kept running, I might've been able to break two hours. But I also might've thrown up, spilled the entire beverage, choked or just missed a chance to catch my breath and refocus.

And if all I walked during a half marathon (more than a half marathon, because I haven't mastered running the tangents) is 20 freakin' seconds ... that's something to be proud of. Which I am.