Monday, September 30, 2013

Race report: I'm still rocking the Remembrance Run 5K

For the second time in as many years, I set a 5K personal record at the Iowa Remembrance Run.

Actually, "set" is an understatement. Smashed, shattered, destroyed ... those are all better words: My chip time was 24:09 (a 7:47 pace), compared with my old 5K PR of 25:30.

While the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick was an ugly PR, the Remembrance Run was a thing of beauty. I did a slow warmup jog before the opening ceremonies, found my pace right away AND kept it (a range of three seconds!), fought off the urge to walk at mile 2.75 and subsequently placed in the top 10 women (No. 7!).

All but one of these accomplishments are thanks to the tempo runs in my half marathon training plan. Hal, I'm virtually high-fiving and fist-bumping you.

The one that I can't thank Hal for? Not walking at mile 2.75.

I may or may not have gotten cocky after all those successful tempo runs, and I may or may not have told my gentleman friend that I thought I could beat him.

And then on Saturday, the day before the race, he notched a 5:45 mile at the Brew Mile ... so I definitely got nervous.

We took a moment's pause from talking smack to each other, and I even dropped my nervous grimace. Fortunately I ran better than I photographed that day.
We started out together, but as we wove through the crowds, I lost sight of him and hoped that meant I was ahead of him, not choking on his dust. But without knowledge either way, when I hit the final stretch — in full sunshine — I absolutely could not allow myself to walk.

Thank God I didn't. Cory would've overtaken me. Instead, I crossed at 24:09, and by the time I'd gotten my medal, returned my chip and walked to the sidelines, he'd finished.

Even if I hadn't been able to walk the walk, it would've been a lovely day. We cheered on and lunched with fellow runners Sharyn, Laryssa, Pam and Regina; it was Sharyn's first race ever, and like me, Regina bested her Friendly Sons of St. Patrick time.

Check out those sweet medals! From left: Cory, me, Pam, Regina, Sharyn and Laryssa.
Like Van Halen says, though, "the more you get, the more you want," and I eventually came down from the post-race high ... but that's fodder for another post, and it doesn't take away from the fact that both Remembrance Runs I've done would have been wonderful regardless of my performance.

Each time, I've come away just so impressed at the work the race organizers put in at this one, compared with an annual 5K I used to do back in Rockford. No wonder I used to be so lukewarm about 5Ks.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The prairie knows

I went back to Rockton, Ill., last weekend, and among the many pleasures of going home is the chance to run old routes that have become unfamiliar after months away.

The Sugar River forest preserves were on my radar, but after traversing the Midwest, my motivation to hop back in the car was fairly low. Our neighbors' prairie path, which they've graciously invited us to use, was far more tempting.

Turns out it was probably best that this urbanite didn't hit the true trails. Nature seemed to sense that a softie was there, ready to be taunted.

If these scratches look insignificant, it's because I took the photo Wednesday, a few days after my Sunday run.
My recent run at Raccoon River Park had reminded me of how lovely it is to run among trees; my runs around West Des Moines' ponds had me trained to dodge animal droppings.

But all this time in the city made me forget how much ducking and weaving one must do in the real wilderness, where prickly plants line narrow walkways.

A little blood did bubble up, and after the stinging stopped, the itching started — the outdoors used to occasionally give me little patches of irritation back in northern Illinois, something I'd nearly forgotten about until the bumps popped up again Sunday.

That's OK. Clearly I survived. I didn't abandon the run, either. I'll just think of it as a warning or preview for the next trail run I do ... especially if that one is the Sycamore 8.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Late to the story, but that's OK

Runner's World's latest issue included a brief on the Seattle runner who successfully who chased down a bike thief.

This happened in June — maybe I even saw/skipped a link to it back then — so the rest of the running world probably already read it.

I'd either been unaware or had forgotten it, so it was a delightful bit of new news to me.

The part that made me literally laugh out loud was the line about the thief asking the marathoner to back off. Really? You're stealing someone's bike, and you think asking the rightful owner to go away will work?

And geez, talk about tipping your hand that you couldn't outlast her ... that is, if she couldn't already tell by your labored breathing.

We can all find amusement in how this bad guy chose to pick on the wrong person and paid for it — but I think what also satisfies us runners is the change in tone of running-related crime stories.

Especially if you're a female runner, all you ever seem to see are lurid stories of assaults on "joggers." (See Mark Remy's blog for excellent facetious coverage of the jogger-versus-runner word choice.)

This time, we're not just passive victims. Thanks, Sarah Tatterson.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Third-period goal: Shake up my race routine

I wrote a post earlier this year about setting quarterly running goals (except I split the year into thirds ... so maybe trimesterly goals is more accurate).

Rereading it is funny to me for two reasons:

One, my predictions as to which I'd attain were way off. I expected to reach my 2:05:00 half marathon and ended up falling way short; I doubted I'd break my 5K PR of 26:22 and cleared that by almost a minute. As for pacing, I think I've gotten better ... just not during races.

Two, I never formally made any goals for May through August. I'd totally forgotten about the chunk approach to goal-setting until I started this post. Unofficially, I wanted to at least not give up on running through the end of RAGBRAI, and I attained that bare minimum, so we'll count that as a win.

Anyways, we've reached the third period of the year, and some idle thoughts over the past few weeks have formed a loosey-goosey goal: add more variety to racing.

I almost never did 5Ks before moving to Des Moines; since moving here, I've done four, soon to be five — which I think is directly linked to positive peer pressure. (Thanks, friends!)

I've found that with a little creativity, they can be loads of fun. Examples: add beer at the end; add dogs to the event; add costumes; add celeb treatment and barbecue.

I also used to think there was no point in my doing a 5K, because it was a distance I knew I could cover (no need to train), and because I didn't think I was capable of speed or making myself go fast. That's changed.

Now that I've been in town for a full year, too, I'm getting a better handle on what races to watch for. Applicable to my third-period blog post: the Halloween Hot Chocolate Race and the Sycamore 8. Applicable to next year: the Grand Blue Mile, Loop the Lake and the Maffitt Trail Race.

With all these fun things available in the spring ... and with two consecutive years of poor performance at spring half marathons ... I think I'm going to reverse the stance I took a few years back against fall half marathons.

I took that stance for two reasons: nearby race availability and a dislike of summer running. But the past two springs have reminded me that Midwest weather is unpredictable, and I think the summer-fall wackiness could work better with my strengths than the winter-spring wackiness.

So that's my plan for the rest of the year: keep an eye out for and an open mind toward new distances or race gimmicks. Oh, and continue trying to pace myself better.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Upcoming race: Remembrance Run 5K

Last year, at the very last minute, I filled in for an injured friend at the Remembrance Run 5K.

To my great surprise, I ended up PR'ing (which I've since broken) and enjoying myself. (Don't judge me: It was Oktoberfest weekend, and while I was not hung over, I also did not feel like waking up early and working out.)

I told everyone how great it was — Jethro's BBQ at the end! Names called as you crossed the finish! Flat! — and then ... for some reason ... never got around to signing up for this year's run.

Fortunately, several of my friends did: Pam, who organized the excellent 5K in Boone, and Sharyn and Laryssa, who told me at the Boone afterparty that they were training for a November race.

I came to work after an excellent speed workout to learn this development from Sharyn. "You should join us!" she said, unnecessarily, because simply hearing about her registration had already nudged me to commitment.

So in two Sundays, I'll be back at Raccoon River Park, where my latent desire to run fast, and not just forward and steadily, woke up.

I look forward to spending time before and after with friends; to cheering those three on; and to hearing the right name called as I cross the finish.

And yes, hopefully, to another PR.

Hey, during the tempo run that preceded Sharyn's invitation, I kept a 7:55 pace for 20 minutes. Those stats can't be unseen. It's not inconceivable that I could break my 25:30 5K PR, if not at the Remembrance Run, then another time.

More important than my social life and speed, however: This race benefits families who lost someone at war. If you're in the Des Moines area and haven't signed up for this race, consider doing it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Five-year anniversary run

As far as I know, yesterday wasn't the exact anniversary of anything important in my life.

But as I ran around Raccoon River Park, the mix of fall and summer weather, plus the forested gravel trail, I kept reminiscing about similar places I used to run — the Stone Bridge Trail in Roscoe, Ill.; Schmeekle Reserve in Stevens Point, Wis.

I rode that wave of nostalgia all the way back to 2008. That fall, I went on my first non-rain-related run since high school.

I didn't get hooked on it until spring 2009. But if I hadn't, one fall evening, for absolutely no reason at all, seen how far I could jog around my neighborhood until I got exhausted (not very far), there would've been no springtime running obsession.

So I guess it's the equivalent of first-date anniversary versus wedding anniversary, and as I have married friends who celebrate both of those milestones (and why not?), I think I'm well within my rights to declare my first five-year running anniversary.

I am also exercising a little bit of poetic license, because the run during which I thought "huh, it's been about five years now, give or take a month" was a rousing success.

Spurred by some gentle teasing, I decided to at least run the 10K my training schedule told me that I should do this weekend in a race. Going fast wasn't necessarily my intention, but it happened.

Five years after I couldn't even run half a mile, I ran 6.2 miles at an 8:25 pace. The later miles were a little bit of a struggle, for sure, but I have a hunch that they still felt better than that first quarter-mile in fall 2008.

(Which, by the way, was definitely uphill. Raccoon River, on the other hand, is beautifully flat.)

It's hard for me to say what I'm prouder of: that I've come so far with running, or that I've stuck with it through the bumps.

It's also hard for me, as an inherently unathletic person and as someone self-conscious about bragging, to acknowledge how I got to this point.

For all the credit I jokingly give to beer and pork (which I consume more now than ever), or the pointing at perfect weather and terrains, this is actually because I'm putting in the effort. Discipline and persistence is paying off.

Friday, September 13, 2013

One month until taper time

Training for the IMT Half Marathon has absolutely flown by.

That might be another benefit of fall half marathons, compared with spring ones. I tend to get so bored with aimless running that I expand my training schedule in the spring; whereas if I continue doing RAGBRAI, as I hope to do, I won't start training for real until the first full week in August.

Yesterday, as I did my nine-mile long run, I realized how fast it had crept up on me — and subsequently how little time I'd spent looking ahead with dread.

Particularly during the flat miles — approximately from miles 3 to 7.5 — I was flying. Being in the cool, shady, flat stretch of the Clive Greenbelt Trail really helped, but there was a sense of confidence, too.

After all, as I've been reporting on Daily Mile, I'm getting better about gently encouraging myself up hills by focusing on consistent effort, not speed. I'm also notching about the same speed during my shorter runs in hot, humid weather as I would during more favorable conditions.

So once I warmed up (even before the flat stretch) and until I slowed to grab my water bottle and tackle the horrible hill from Greenbelt Park to Sunset Terrace, I found myself thinking: "I could totally tack on four miles to this run. I could do the half marathon right now. Especially if I didn't carry my own water at any point."

All I've got left in the long-run department now are 10- and 11-milers, and then it's down to a medium-length run during taper week. Wasn't I just finally running longer than 4.25 miles for the first time since the Hy-Vee half?

(I sound so mournful, but I won't mind ending the pre-long-run anxiety and post-long-run cramming in of all the other things I want/need to do that day. And if I finally set a new PR and/or break 2:05:00, there will be no regrets that it's over.)

I'll end this rambling post with this:
I wrung my Halo headband out after the nine-mile run onto the sidewalk, to see how much liquid it held. "A lot" is my best measurement.
Yep, I'm a sweaty runner. However, let me also add that it took more than eight miles for any of it to roll into my eyes. I'd say the Halo was a good investment.

Long run stats, for those who are interested: Nine miles in 1:23:23 (9:16 pace); splits of 9:31, 9:35, 9:00, 8:59, 8:47, 9:34, 8:49, 9:48 (the hill) and 8:58.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Taking "long-term goals" to another level

Among people who've known me for more than five years, the thing that surprises them most about my running is that I do it.

Among those who've met me more recently, that changes to the fact that I don't like bananas.

Yes, I know that they're full of potassium and help ward off cramps. Yes, banana bread is delicious. I still don't want to eat them; you can have my share.

I know I'm not alone, but it sure seems like it. Which is OK, because it helped me set the longest-term running goal that I have.

But first, some back story: Long-lived ancestors crop up on all branches of my family tree. Even among the older generations — the ones who probably were malnourished on occasion and never had the advantages of modern medicine — seeing death ages in the late 80s and 90s isn't uncommon.

So it's occurred to me that I've got a great genetic background for living to age 100, and I like to think I live a fairly healthy lifestyle. (I do have a desk job and an appreciation of alcohol, but most supercentenarians have at least one "vice" ... )

I was probably running when it dawned on me to combine these two fun facts about myself. What if I were to become the oldest runner who didn't ever eat bananas?

This is not a serious goal. Well, I'd like to run as long as my body allows, and I'd like to live as long as it still brings me pleasure, but I don't think I could prove that I was the oldest anti-banana runner — or that Guinness World Records would care.

But I'll hang on to it for my own gratification. There has to be some upshot to disliking such a common food.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why I (have to) run

When I first mentally committed to a fall half marathon, I was just excited about the better chances of cool race-day weather.

Then I did the math and saw how fast after RAGBRAI I'd need to start training. I wasn't daunted, but I wasn't exactly thrilled, either.

However, when August started happening, I realized what a boon the IMT's timing was.

First came trips to the Iowa State Fair:
Maple-bacon funnel cake and a fellow Truman grad. Not pictured: two other college friends; the orders of deep-fried Oreos and doughnuts that we split amongst us; the Bauder's peppermint ice cream bar that I snarfed by myself; or the two trips to Zombie Burger that I made with said friends.  
Bacon-wrapped riblet — the runner-up for best fair food, behind the ice cream bar — and beer. The fair square was already in my belly at that point.
My pants had hardly a reprieve, as Restaurant Week hit. I tried Hoq, Gramercy Tap, Baru 66, Trostel's Greenbriar and Proof, with a repeat visit to Cosi Cucina.

Some of my favorite eats from those visits:
Mussels and pork belly, in a delicious buttery broth packed with hunks of bread, at Proof. Like bacon but better. I wish I'd slurped up the broth.
Lemon semifreddo at Proof. So light I could've eaten 50 times this much.
Chicken and polenta, with a much fancier name and much more complex taste, at Baru 66. 
Floating island at Baru 66. Please come back to me.
Bacon-wrapped scallop at Greenbriar. I came for the lamb, which was excellent, but if there had been several more scallops for my entree, I would've been over the moon.
Not pictured but also absurdly good: the potato ravioli and cheesecake (voted Des Moines' best!) at Cosi Cucina.

And after that wound down, my sister paid me and the cat a birthday visit. The culinary/caloric high points of our long weekend were dinner at The Cheese Shop (splitting the tomato pesto mac 'n' cheese AND the ham and cheese royal toastie? yes please!) and a visit to Creme Cupcake dessert lounge.
Blueberry semifreddo. Can't feel guilty about dessert when it's this compact and light, right?

What a great way to keep my motivation up for running, especially as summer smacked us in the face. I had no grounds for skipping any workouts.

In a way, though I almost welcomed that heat and humidity. A girl can pretend it's sugar and not sweat that's coming out of her pores, right?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I am almost ashamed to write this post

I did not spend Labor Day sleeping in and lounging around. 

I spent it running 4.25 miles at a 9:10 pace, did some cleaning around the apartment, then joined a group of friends for what turned out to be an almost 45-mile bike ride.

Normally I would be proud to write this. But it's not the frequent stops that are tamping down my pride, nor is it just the next-day fatigue that also delayed my actually blogging about it.

It's that two of my bike companions had done the Hy-Vee Triathlon the day before. Individually, not as part of a relay team. Seriously. 

So no bragging from me — the toughest thing I did the day before my multisport effort was play "Just Dance" with a stomach full of Jethro's and wine.

This is just about all I'll applaud myself for: When I received the text, midrun, suggesting we go biking, my first instinct wasn't to decline because I was running. 

Oh, and at no point during the ride did I complain of fatigue. (Maybe it was because I didn't get too tired, just hungry during the same day and incredibly sore and sleepy the next day.)

Self-deprecation aside, I'd spent the long weekend mostly indulging myself and definitely not working out (again, unless you count "Just Dance"), so I was glad of the chance to sweat it out. 

The weather was just absolutely perfect in Des Moines — I walked outside at 9:15 a.m. in shorts and a T-shirt and was chilly! — and evidently my short layoff from running/long layoff from biking hadn't totally erased all my fitness.