Saturday, March 30, 2013

When walking the walk turns out spectacularly

On Friday night, I was discussing weekend workout plans with Regina, a member of our "running club." The club hadn't met in several weeks, thanks to various people's out-of-town trips, and she was ready for us to revive it.

Except I'd already made plans to go on a bike ride. I urged her to run Saturday instead; she countered with the wet weather forecast.

"So just run faster. Like my dad said to me before, 'Are you made of sugar?' " A pause, then I confessed: "Sometimes I am made of sugar, though."

Still, that moment of bluster fluttered around my brain as I slowly woke up Saturday morning to the sounds of water dripping off something -- was it current rain, or past rain falling off the roof?

Regardless, it didn't sound ominous enough for me to spend my free half-hour doing household chores instead of running while retaining any self-respect. The plan to attempt a fast three-miler, to gauge my preparation for next weekend's Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K, was still on.

And thank God shame, or even the threat of it, is such a powerful motivator. It wasn't raining during my sprint, though it was more humid than I like, and the air felt pleasantly brisk on my legs (yay shorts!).

Most importantly, I notched some impressive numbers that have me feeling optimistic (too optimistic?) about this upcoming 5K PR attempt. I'm trying not to build myself up too much on here and inside my head, because race day is always a wild card, but no matter what, it can't erase these numbers:

Mile 1: 8:17 pace. Feelin' good!

Mile 2: 8:25 pace. Feelin' good until I had to turn around and go uphill. I caved and took two brief walk breaks.

Mile 3: 8:09 pace. Loving the return to flat terrain. From 2.25 through about 2.75, the miles seemed to drag, but a quick break revived me and powered me to a dominant finish.

End result: 3 miles in 24:57, for a 8:19 average clip. My halfway point was 12:15, so it wasn't a negative split, but it wasn't as skewed as I feared it might be around mile 1.75 (that's when the uphills started to wear me out).

So Regina, I'm sorry that I was kind of a hypocrite and scoffed at your disdain for rain, but in a way I'm glad -- otherwise, I might be sitting here now, proud of my clean dishes instead of my mad running skills.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

You can't nail every decision

My dad gave me a good piece of advice a few years back that I remind myself of fairly frequently: You're not going to be able to make every decision perfectly.

Most recently, this applied to scheduling my long run. I was out on a five-miler last Friday, daydreaming about how pleasant the weather was, how good my legs were feeling and how much time I would have to do other things post-run, when I thought: "Maybe I should just repeat this route and knock out the 10-miler."

But then, of course, I came up with several reasons to just wait. Hours later, as I checked the weekend weather forecast, I saw snow and lower temperatures through Monday (the last day of my "weekend"), and kicked myself until Dad's saying grew louder than the "should" statements.

When Sunday afternoon — the first time I had available to do a long run — rolled around, I came up with more reasons to wait: The wind was biting, and the flurries made it hard to see; the ground might be messy; I was tired; I had errands to run; etc. After all, the weather widget predicted no snow Monday afternoon.

Cue the Monday midmorning weather check: Snow had fallen, temps remained low, winds were going to pick up in the afternoon. Crap.

I also knew, though that, the longer I waited, the less likely I was to accomplish the run. So I girded my loins and headed out.

It wasn't my best long run, but it was far from my worst. One thing I found myself not minding at all were the snowy rec paths — they were pretty and cushioned that way! — yet as I did errands in the afternoon, noting the dry sidewalks, I heard it again: "You went too early, Sadye. Should've waited until the afternoon."

This time, instead of Dad's voice, I heard the voice of Kristin Armstrong, Runner's World blogger (and, yes, ex-wife of Lance). Her most recent post addressed the courage to try:

"How often do we all do that? Think that we will try the thing when we are better prepared to try?
"Isn’t that the point of 'try'?"

I'd been doing that all weekend, and by running despite the conditions — and in fact surviving just fine — I'd put two powerful pieces of advice into action. I'm not a pro athlete in a temperate climate; timing a run "perfectly" isn't going to happen every single time, by any means.

And what do I gain by waiting for that ideal balance? I'm training for race day, not for perfect running day ... which the race day could very well not be. (See Rockford Half Marathon 2012 and its noon temperature of 80 degrees.)

By not waiting, I gained more confidence for the half marathon. I'd been averaging some good speed on long runs, but in good weather; in less-than-ideal weather this time, I averaged just a little faster than what I've done previously.

Additionally,  the fatigue I felt was far more mental than physical. Something I'm doing is paying off!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cleaning is more dangerous than running

When this winter first started — seems so long ago — I had a co-worker look at me in disbelief when I mentioned having run despite the recent snow.

"You ran in the snow? I would be terrified to. I'd be waiting to wipe out."

In his defense, he dislikes running no matter what conditions, and he also works closely with a Texas transplant who's experiencing his very first Midwest winter ... and has several bruises to remember it by.

At the time, I admitted to a scary slip, during which my flailing arms made contact with the side of a garage, but insisted that my worst running spills had taken place in perfectly mild weather conditions.

I maintain that stance, after cleaning my apartment Sunday night and going on a run Monday morning before the rec paths were completely cleared of snow.

The minor injuries I sustained during the cleaning frenzy:

* A bruised instep on my left foot. This came from stepping on the vacuum cleaner's plug in bare feet, and resulted in the most pain I've experienced since introducing my IT band to the foam roller.

Wait, that's not totally true; the IT band stops feeling tender once I'm done rolling, while the instep was tender to the point of not putting all my weight on it for several hours after that.

* A stiff lower back. I'd thought that the cat's litterbox was growing empty enough where it would be easy to just toss all the old stuff and replace it with fresh, clean sand. And maybe I would've been right, if I hadn't poured the entire contents into a half-full garbage bag.

I could barely lift the whole thing out of the garbage can, and I'm not sure what miracle allowed me to raise it high enough to put into the Dumpster. (Yes, I know, "lift with your legs, not your back.") Fortunately, the bag didn't tear at any point, and I woke up with more foot tenderness than back soreness.

In contrast, during the 10 miles I ran, mostly on snowy paved surfaces, I only suffered a few startled lurches when one foot landed off the path and one foot remained on it. (The snow helped the path blend into the grass.)

Maybe once or twice my shoes didn't quite get traction on an icy uphill slog, and I definitely splashed through a shallow puddle once — so shallow, though, that the absorbent part of my shoes were in the clear.

Still, the worst that happened the entire time? My skin is probably windburned. But I put lotion on it after my shower, which I always do, and it felt normal a few hours later.

Which leads me to the conclusion in the title of this post. I won't give up cleaning, because I'm a neat freak, but for those of you who hate vacuuming and taking out the trash, feel free to use my stories as justification for avoiding those chores.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

An exploratory run

I don't have any interesting commentary about my running performance Friday, a five-miler that was supposed to be race pace.

I averaged a 9:16 pace ... oops ... or hooray, because there were definitely some inclines?

However, I did indulge the wanderlust I've started to feel. Not that I don't love all the rec paths around the West Des Moines area, but as half marathon training ramps up, I feel like my routes are growing repetitive.

So I got creative and explored more of the chi-chi neighborhood that borders those rec paths. The terrain was good -- sometimes I worry that the sidewalk on unfamiliar roads will end abruptly, as it does on University and Westown Parkway -- and so was the scenery.

Beyond all the beautiful houses (and, OK, a few ugly ones, like the boxy avocado-green mansion), these were my favorite sights:

This does not seem like very good urban planning, but I'm no civil engineer.

I love lions. And all cats. And the intro to Chicago Bulls games.
I'll be back, Country Club Estates ... I've got several more runs in my future, and most likely a few bike rides, too. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Obligatory whiny post about the lack of spring

In case you couldn't tell from the calls to fire Punxsutawney Phil, yesterday was both frigid and the first day of spring.

I'm not truly a Viking, embracing cold and snow, but I like to think I'm not a crybaby about winter, either.

Still, reading "feels like 1 degree" in late March, pulling on the bug inspector mask, covering my tights with yoga pants and worrying more about saving my cellphone's strength than my own are not on my list of favorite things.

Worst of all, though, is dealing with my sinuses.

Flashback: Back in the day, I was a big fan of "The Baby-sitters Club" series and its spinoff, "Baby-sitters Little Sister," starring elementary student Karen Brewer. Karen had a friend whose grandpa died in one of the books and whose socks were droopy in every single book ... and, if I recall correctly, her nose was always running, too.

That's me. I'm Natalie Springer. It's not at allergy level, but I have Kleenex with me at all times, including on runs. (I have not mastered the snot rocket, nor have I tried since the era during which I was reading "Baby-sitters Club.")

Running doesn't make my sinuses behave any worse than normal, but being out in the cold does, obviously. And so running in the cold can be messy.

I tried to hold off on breaking my nose's seal yesterday — anyone else notice that once you blow your nose, your sinuses seem to overcompensate? — but I had to, eventually. No sooner would I get moving again than my left nostril would start tickling again.

Yeah, I can wipe my nose while moving, but blowing it as I run leaves me a little too breathless, and it also steams up my sunglasses if I don't push those back too, and forget about operating a zipper with my gloves still on ... so many first-world problems over a single half-hour.

It was quite the stop-and-start effort, so I'm glad it was only a short shake-out run. I still reaped all the mental and physical benefits of running, but I couldn't help thinking wistfully — and irritatedly — of last Friday's 60-degree temps and the mostly calm sinuses they brought.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Three additions to my long run routine

I incorporated three suggestions from various sources into my long run effort last Friday: 9 miles in 1:25:37, for a 9:30 pace. What they were, and how they went:

1. A new breathing method. I'd just read an article about rhythmic breathing the day before in the latest issue of Runner's World. The idea is that if you alternate which foot you land on as you inhale, rather than having it be the same one, you'll split the total impact of landing rather than concentrating it all on one foot.

That means you have to inhale longer than you exhale, or as I internalized it, "in-two-three out-two, in-two-three out-two." Seemed complicated -- I wasn't the star student of my marching band -- and a little silly. Like when the yoga instructor would insist that you inhale during one half of the pose and exhale on the other half.

Yet just like yoga breathing, rhythmic breathing seemed to work. I don't know why I decided to try it, but for about 75 percent of the run, I made the effort, and for about 66 percent of the run, I was successful in doing it.

As the article author promised, it helped get me in my zone and, more importantly for me, it kept me from speeding up too much: Faster strides meant shorter inhalation and even shorter exhalation. And afterward, I noticed that my right bunion, which has been crabby, was much quieter than it had been.

Hmm ...

2. Energy gels. A friend/co-worker/half-Ironman was the latest to remind me that you can't just run a half marathon on water and expect to keep your energy up.

So I picked up a few energy gels at Scheels and tried out the Clif chocolate-flavored one around mile 5.5 ... after which I kept close to gas stations and fast-food restaurants, in case of emergency. (Fortunately, all I had was one isolated incident of acid reflux around the eight-mile mark.)

It's tough to truly compare my two most recent long runs -- one gel-free, one with gel -- because the terrain and weather always play heavily into how I feel. For instance, the miles leading up to the last one were much better on the eight-miler, thanks to some wind, hills and traffic stops on the nine-miler; the final mile of the niner was flat and therefore infinitely smoother than the eight-miler's last one.

But the gel didn't cause me to throw up (or do worse!), so I'll keep practicing with them. Gotta get better at tearing off the top and eating as I go.

3. Foam rollers. I passed a sales associate at Scheels carrying the roller I was about to buy, and her eyes lit up. "YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE THAT!" she exclaimed. It was weird, yet encouraging.

And accurate. I can throw out the packaging, because there's no way I'm returning it. How can something that causes pain -- like, I literally groaned a few times while using it -- also cause me such joy? Why did I repeat the movements on my glutes and IT band despite the discomfort it inflicted on me during the first time?

Because, hours of sitting later, I was hardly stiff from running nine miles, and the spots that were sore had been neglected by the foam roller.

This isn't the first running trend I've been years behind on -- as you saw in the first two chunks -- but my God, it's the one I'm angriest about missing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The kindness of strangers

It used to be rare for me to greet people on runs, back when I was conquering the farm country of western Winnebago County.

Around my 'hood, it was expected, but beyond that, either I waved to acknowledge cars, shouted "STAY!" at loose dogs or silently cursed the friendly guy who liked to point out how steep the hill I was climbing was.

Now that I'm a city runner, I have a lot more brief and breathless conversations with people, mostly about the weather or hills (shorter and smaller than that awful one back home).

But the one I had a few Fridays ago with some teen girls definitely wins the prize for funniest.

The two were on the Jordan Creek Trail behind the Dahl's on EP True, and each was holding something that my nearsighted eyes couldn't make out. I also couldn't tell whether they were about to ask me a question, so I kept peering and slowed down.

As I approached, I realized one was holding a cigarette; the other, a pipe. Whenever I pass someone who clearly isn't a runner, I wonder what they're thinking of me and assume it's probably snide.

This time, though, we did more than exchange hellos. The cigarette girl looked at me, smiled and said cheerfully: "You're doing the right thing." (The pipe smoker was otherwise occupied.)

I laughed -- it was so unexpectedly self-deprecating and yet encouraging (even if she was being sarcastic), and so much more interesting than the brief hellos/thanks that I usually trade with other rec path users.

Friday, March 15, 2013

My legs are so bright ...

Yesterday, the sun was shining; the temperature (both real and feels-like), well above freezing.

It was time to pull out summer running gear, which I did with only the slightest of hesitation. One can usually turn back around and change clothes, if the weather teases you as it did to our running club.

Into the living room I walked to get my phone, sunglasses and shoes. The cat was sitting, loaflike, on the couch, and I started to mock him for his sedentary tendencies ...

... and then I saw the look on his face. Yes, my cat was making a face, one usually reserved for squirrels and small children, at me: a mix of horror and disgust.

You can call me a crazy cat lady, but I swear he was revolted by my survivor-of-a-Midwest-winter legs. Their blinding whiteness and visible dryness offended his eyes.

And once I got outside and pulled my sunglasses on, I too sneaked a fearful glance at my gams. Not even tinted lenses could hide how pale they were.

But on the plus side, at least they match my feet (which won't be true after a few months of wearing socks and shorts this summer).

Friday, March 1, 2013

I had a not-so-great run, and that's great!

The past two weeks, the running gods have been overwhelmingly good to me.

They've given me two 40-degree days, they've given me very few bitterly cold ones, they've given me back-to-back strong long runs ... and they've given me one clunker.

Yes, you read that right, and I wrote it right. With the clarity of hindsight, I'm glad that Saturday's tempo run kind of stunk.

At the time, I had many reasons to be annoyed. The numbers looked OK when I was done, but I didn't make it easy on myself — I didn't layer properly, I had two timing snafus and I started the fast portion too fast on a cold day. To add insult to injury, partway up the horrible 60th Street hill, the sidewalk suddenly stopped being plowed.

I briefly, crazily, thought I could trudge through it; realized that was idiotic and clomped right over to the curb (we're still ankle-deep in snow, here) to try to cross four lanes of Saturday traffic; and eventually had the presence of mind to give up ... but backtracked through that same ankle-deep snow to cross at an actual intersection.

Fortunately, it doesn't take a good run — just a run — to bring me my runner's high. Once it was done, I shrugged it off and wished myself better luck next time.

Listening to WGN Sports Night on Wednesday brought me all the way around from "que sera, sera" to gratitude: Brian Noonan (or possibly David Kaplan) said that as awesome as the Blackhawks' no-regulation-loss streak was, he was almost looking forward to it being over.

Noonan had a legitimate point: that he'd rather not have a tangential streak distract players from the real prize. I, however, have a borderline stupid point.

The superstitious part of me fears that if I don't have a few bad runs early in the training cycle, that I'll have huge blowups and meltdowns later in the cycle — early on during a 10-mile practice run, for instance, or even on race day itself.

The slightly more rational side of me knows that I need to practice suffering through a run, so I'm not floored by how demanding the half marathon will eventually become (hopefully not until my mileage reaches double-digits, but it's happened sooner) and so I know I'll survive that misery.

And the most logical part of me is glad that I had the opportunity to bounce back mentally and to appreciate the good runs even more.

That Saturday tempo run was like ripping off a Band-Aid. No more — OK, less — living in fear.