Thursday, February 28, 2013

A better runner than blogger

At times in the past, I have been a better blogger than runner. Right now, that's not true — and not just by virtue of my inconsistent posting.

When I last wrote, I was coming off a good set of intervals that made me feel great (oh hi, runner's high!). Since then, I've also had:

* Two collegial group runs on absolutely gorgeous days.

* One three-miler in which I averaged a sub-9:00 pace.

* One three-miler in which I averaged a 10:39 pace because it had been snowing for about 24 hours straight, including during my run, and because it felt like 14 degrees. I still went out, people.

* One seven-miler done before work, done in subfreezing temperatures and done slightly faster than race pace. With stop-and-breath or stop-and-blow-the-nose breaks.

* A few "meh" runs. It happens.

* But most importantly, one eight-miler where I kept a 9:08 pace and could still walk afterwards.

Yeah, let's talk more about this run, even though I definitely went faster than I wanted to.

I didn't purposely plan a route that babied me through terrain or through weather; there were some inclines (one at the end, no less) and some stretches that went into the wind, and the reverse was also true. Factor in the tempo run two days before and the longer-than-expected shakeout run the day before, and this becomes a legitimately good run.

My splits were reasonably consistent, as was my mental state. I used the count-backward-from-100 trick to get me through mile one's never-ending hill, and shortly after that, I began suspecting I was en route to a strong effort.

Though my early hunches are often right, I didn't want this one to cause me to push too hard, or to send me into deep despair if I hit a wall. So I reminded myself that I'd barely done two miles and not to get too excited.

A little fatigue did sneak in after mile three and continued to flicker on and off for a few miles, but part of that seemed to be navigational stress. (I took a stretch of path I've only biked coming from the opposite direction.) Once I hit a familiar spot, I could feel my legs perking up again.

The only part that was a true struggle was the final half-mile. About a mile before then, I'd felt my energy — mental and physical — start to waver, but knowing the end was in sight kept me going.

It almost doesn't matter how fresh or faded I am, though; the long hill north on 60th from EP True to Ashworth, is going to take my breath away. Suffering is a given; the only question is how much.

This run was close enough to perfect to counter any panic over half marathon distance (it can overwhelm me when I haven't gone long in a while!), but far enough to highlight a few areas for improvement. I'd say I definitely deserved the chicken parmesan I dug into that night.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Getting what I wanted on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is long past, yet I'm still starry-eyed over how I spent that particular holiday evening.

Given the name and focus of my blog, it should come as no surprise that it has to do with running rather than romance.

I woke up that morning expecting to do my interval run while the sun shone and high temperatures approached 40 degrees — I had the night shift — but at the last minute, a co-worker with an earlier shift asked me to switch.

I found myself looking at 7 p.m. freedom. Everyone asked what I was going to do with that sudden bonus, and I think everyone was disappointed with my answer: run intervals and take a long, hot shower.

Everyone, that is, except for me. And that's what matters.

It was a little chilly and quite a bit dark when I got outside, but I knew the sidewalks were clear, and I trusted my headlamp to illuminate any other dangers for me.

Despite losing my Kleenex sometime during the warmup (sorry, environment), it was a solid workout: consistent times, great speed and strong recovery. When I add more repeats later in the training cycle, I think the fatigue will slow me down just a bit, to the speed I think/hope I can sustain over a 5K race.

The best part of this workout, though, was how fantastic it made everything else after that. I've said it before, but a warm meal and long, hot shower become earth-shatteringly good. And the combination of all that made the couch — and later, my bed — feel like heaven.

My heart was all a-flutter, the light was low, and the sleep was blissful. What more, besides a foot rub, could a runner ask for on Valentine's Day?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Where did my runger go?

I love the word "runger," coined to describe the increased appetite that comes along with running.

After my running sabbatical ended, I sat at work one day with a growling stomach and thought with delight: "The runger is back!"

It's not something I necessarily love on its own virtues, like the runner's high and the improved sleep quality, but I was glad to see it because it meant I was back running again.

I'm still running, but I'm not as rungry lately. I didn't notice this until yesterday, when (oddly) I took a rest day. My breakfast was the same — oatmeal — and came at the same time, yet before I'd even left for work, I could hear rumbling.

This wasn't a deviation from run days. What was a deviation was how it didn't subside after an hour or so at work. I broke into my lunch much earlier than normal, anywhere from one to two hours early.

Normally, I blame an increased appetite on either lack of sleep or substantial exercise; neither were true yesterday. What went on?

It dawned on me much later that night, after my usual hunger cycle had been upended a few more times (to the other extreme), that I'd read something on the New York Times Well blog about running actually suppressing appetite.

At the time, I most likely viewed it with skepticism. Not entirely unwarranted, because only at the end does it make this statement:
And longevity counts. You need to stick with the program for several months, (researcher Catia) Martins says, to truly fine-tune appetite control.
But it's true that in the early days of my running career, I was ready to plow through a snack as soon as I returned, while in the past year or so, the peanut butter graham cracker sandwiches began to sit rather heavily in my stomach.

So it's probably also the case that my midmorning cup of coffee — in between a run and lunch — satiates me and holds me over until that second meal, while a run-free morning has me eyeing my lunch bag greedily.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The hardest half-mile

After probably a month of talking about it, we were finally doing it: Three friends and I had met at Raccoon River Park last Sunday to do an easy 5Kish loop.

The sun had been shining earlier; temperatures had been well above freezing; the route was flat as a pancake. It was a perfect time and place to inaugurate our running club.

Except that we missed the window of faux-spring weather. And the wind was gusting at least 20 mph at times. And as we deliberately set out into the wind — to get it over with, pre-sweat and pre-fatigue — our skin began to prickle: rain, or snow or sleet.

We hadn't reached a half-mile yet, and we were tiptoeing around puddles that had somehow survived the day's onslaught of drying wind, while barely surviving it ourselves.

There was no conversation, only grimaces. Maybe the friend who'd refused to join us had been the smart one.

I waited for someone to say it: "Forget it. Let's go home."

As we rounded the corner that eased the wind's ferocity, we began to speak again, but not of quitting. Our feet splashed and squished through the gravel that hadn't drained, but no one complained seriously. (OK, maybe I did.)

We'd lived through that first, horrible half-mile. We paired off by pace. We dealt with runny noses in our individual fashions (sleeves, snot rockets, Kleenex tucked into sports bras).

And back in the parking lot, we joked about doing it again "in nice weather" next Sunday.

I think we made it official: We're a running club.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spring dreaming

Yes, I've been finding the joy in running during Midwestern winters.

But that doesn't mean a little part of me wasn't sad when, recently, I decided to tuck away a pair of running shorts to save shelf space.

And considering how foolish I look in a strapless dress after a summer spent running or biking in T-shirts and tank tops, I was pleased to see my tan lines have mostly faded away. Goodbye, remnants of sunburned shoulder blades and collarbones; goodbye, awkward sleeve line around the middle of my upper arm.

But that doesn't mean I don't wish I could step outside with either bare calves or bare forearms.

So it was with much delight that I saw tomorrow's weather forecast: 46 degrees. Maybe the shorts will come back out (shield your eyes from the glare!). And definitely I'm going to pretend I didn't see the "feels like" caveat.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Emerging from winter's crucible

I stepped outside Sunday for my five-miler, bracing myself for a blast of arctic air.

The tips of my ears trembled in anticipation of the horrible freeze-and-defrost cycle I was sure they'd go through, because I wasn't wearing my fleece headband.

And yet — all I felt was a little shiver. Was there a cruelly cold wind gust lying in wait for me somewhere? Or was I actually dressed appropriately for what my computer said was 21-degree weather?

It seemed so, when the gloves came off at mile one, and the cotton sweatband kept my ears perfectly comfortable. But still, it was below freezing, right?

Tuesday, the phenomenon repeated itself: I saw 30 degrees on the weather widget and tempted fate further. No jacket this time, just a long-sleeved T-shirt; no ear coverings, just a sweatband; and no gloves at all. (A scouting expedition/trip outside to take out the trash persuaded me to leave them behind.)

The past month of Iowa winter had changed me, it turns out. Flaky skin, nosebleeds, frozen thighs and dead iPhone batteries led me to overreact — do I no longer thrive on cooler weather? — and believe I needed spring to arrive posthaste.

But at the same time, it toughened me up. During the nonwinter of 2011-12, I had forgotten the lessons and fortitude I gained during 2009-10 and 2010-11. The winter storms of 2012-13 so far have not just recalled that knowledge, but also built upon it.

That is to say: I didn't just walk outside Sunday and Tuesday and think, "Huh, it doesn't feel like a meat locker with a fan on," I stepped out and thought, "Wow, it feels nice outside."

Twenty-one degrees felt nice — "a great day for a run!" I even declared in a text. My Viking blood* didn't get drained after all.

*My grandpa's cousin was told by a doctor that she had a tendon condition only found in those descended from Vikings. Yes, this may not have come from our common ancestors; no, that doesn't mean I'll stop declaring that I have Viking blood, because they probably still impregnated one of my ancestresses.

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's like being a teenager again

I think I'm in my running adolescence.

It's been more than four years since I went on my first run that wasn't hustling through a parking lot to avoid inclement weather, and this spring will mark four full years of regularly running.

Have I improved physically? Yes. Have I improved mentally as well? Yes. But do I still whiff on good decision-making sometimes? Oh, heck yes.

It's like being a teenager again: I think I'm smarter than I really am, then find out through mishaps that I should've maybe thought that move over a little bit more.

Consider the past week-plus in running for me, and you'll see what I mean.

Good decision: Baking cookies before going to the apartment of a friend who was going to serve me delicious homemade soup, two Sundays ago.

Bad decision: Skipping a run to make those cookies, "because of the ice," which turned out to only exist on the first yard of sidewalk leading out of my apartment building.

Good decision: Listening to my body and taking Wednesday off.

Bad decision: Listening to my whiny mind and relaxing Wednesday morning, the last time for a couple of days that it wouldn't be slick and/or horrifically cold.

Good decision: Doing laundry Thursday, a dangerously cold day, instead of running. Carrying baskets of clothes up and down stairs counts as cross-training, right?

Bad decision: Doing laundry Thursday instead of running, but doing so after an hour-plus of errands, only to come back and find one lady repeatedly washing the same load, even though she saw me waiting at least twice for a washer to open.

Thankfully a different neighbor decided her second load of laundry was too small to be worth it, and instead of using both remaining washers, she gave me one.

Good decision: Adjusting my expectations for Friday's run to the conditions. Race pace, not to mention intervals, was not going to happen on a single-digit day and slightly snowy/icy sidewalks.

Bad decision: Not wearing yoga pants over my tights Friday and leaving the balaclava at home. I applied the winter sunblock my dad gave me to my face, except apparently my upper lip, which did feel a little tender for the next 12 hours.

And to end it on a high note, here's a good decision/better decision scenario: For my Super Bowl Sunday five-miler — a balmy 21 degrees! — I left the fleece ear warmer behind, which was pretty apparently the right choice.

But the even better choice was to realize that my knit sweatband could be pulled over the tips of my ears, rather than tucked behind them, when the wind came through.