Monday, December 30, 2013

A look back at my year of running

Every time I do one of these, it makes me feel like I'm in middle school/high school again and am filling out those surveys you used to forward to all your friends.

But the slight discomfort with most early 2000s flashbacks is overpowered by the millennial love of sharing my special snowflake-ness with you all.

Also, it's nice when other bloggers help you write your own posts. So from Miss Zippy via Pavement Runner, here is my year of running.

Best race experience? Tough question, because I didn't do a single race by myself this year, I only truly bombed one, and I had three personal-record-setting races.

As far as the actual experiences go, though, I have to set the Woofin' It 5K and the Boone County History 5K Run/Walk apart.

Unlike with PR-setting races, or simply races that were freakin' hard, the challenges in these races were always inherently funny: Of course it's hard to run up a hill when an energetic large dog is pulling you (and you're not on roller skates)! Of course wearing an old towel that's masquerading as a toga will slow you down in the August heat and humidity!

I'm not knocking serious races or completely noncompetitive ones (like the Glow Run or Color Run), but both of these had the right combination of pushing myself and enjoying myself. Particularly because one came right after the Drake Relays disaster.

Plus, the causes were close to my heart: Furry Friends Refuge and our good buddy Pam's employer.

Best run? Either I'm getting old and forgetful, or I just run too much to keep many individual ones straight. So I'm going to pick the early spring run at Raccoon River Park with Regina, Emily and Zach, because of how it broke the seal on social running for me.

I rarely ran with others back in Rockton. In 1.5 years in Des Moines, I'm sure I've done as many group runs, if not more, than in the 3.5 years I ran in Illinois ... counting races.

I knew making plans to run with others would hold me more accountable, but I had no idea it would also prove to be a fun way to spend time with people.

Best new piece of gear? My Halo headband, which I bought for RAGBRAI and continued to use the rest of the year. It's officially my favorite sweatband.

Best piece of running advice you received? Definitely the rhythmic breathing method, which I read about in Runner's World this spring.

It's significantly reduced the aches and pains I would feel on one side of the body but not the other, and focusing on syncing my breath and feet helps pace me better. I don't even care if it turns out to be 100 percent placebo effect — the benefits for me are real.

Most inspirational runner? I should be able to list off Boston Marathon bombing survivors or any of the people who tend to be featured in a Runner's World article, but right now, the one that sticks in my brain the most is Katie of run this amazing day.

In her most recent Ironman attempt, another biker hit her, possibly breaking her arm, near the end of the bike portion of the race. And she still ran the marathon portion, passing people while she did it.

If I can continue to treat this like an essay test and not a fill-in-the-blank, though, I'd like to add that my friends who push their limits — either by starting to run, returning to running or taking the marathon plunge — inspire me as well. Thanks, guys!

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? Better than ever.

This was definitely a breakthrough year: I notched quite a few PRs; maybe more importantly, it seemed like most runs were generally good ones in terms of performance and how I felt; and I cultivated a group with whom I could run and do races.

When I realized that I'd been running for about five years this past fall, I half-believed it, but now, I fully believe it — because things are certainly clicking.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My 2014 race wish list

More fun than making New Year's resolutions is making a list of the races I'd like to do next year.

(And, not coincidentally, thinking about spring is more fun than worrying about staying safe during the winter.)

I of course have some general goals to go along with the races, but I haven't refined them yet or studied whether the training I'd have to do with each is feasible.

But if all the stars align and nothing unexpected happens (HA!), here's what I'd like to sign up for in 2013.

Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K: I know for sure that one 2014 goal is to break my 5K PR. However, I'm not sure whether I can do it at this one, because last year it was gun timing only, no chips.

The field was either noncompetitive enough or small enough for me to line up almost at the start line last year, but I want the benefit of every second I can get. And I want those seconds to be measured by something more official than my iPhone.

The timing of this one is the best one I can find in the springtime, though, so this might be it by default.

Grand Blue Mile: I never got around to doing Rockford's mile race, but I'd rather run hard later in the day and earlier in the year anyway.

* Woofin' It 5K: Furry Friends Refuge is my favorite charity to support, and who can argue with a race where you see dogs — in costume — of all sizes and breeds?

Dam to Dam: Before I realized this was going to be a half marathon, I figured I'd just run it to cross off my signature-Iowa-events checklist. Then I heard of the distance increase and remembered how much more pleasant the 2013 race's weather was than the Drake Relays half ...

RAGBRAI: Alright, it's not a race. It's definitely happening, though.

Boone County 5K History Run/Walk: Gotta defend last year's best costume title.

Maffitt Trail Race: I miss my occasional off-road adventures, so this should fill that void. It also has a decent chance of being a PR race, because I've never done a five-mile race, and I've only done one 10-mile one.

Either the Iowa Remembrance Run or the Capital Pursuit 5K: These races seem like good settings for PR attempts. If they're on different weekends, then I've got two chances; if they're on the same weekend, like they were in 2013, I have to balance my fondness for what I know I love against the feeling that I should try for variety ...

Des Moines Half Marathon: ... except sometimes I have no qualms whatsoever about saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." If I train in my hilly 'hood and lace up for a flat half marathon, I LOVE my chances of setting another PR.

Sycamore 8: This is one of the bigger "maybes" on my list. My feet and/or my budget might be tired of running. Or I might just chicken out. This definitely fulfills the urge for variety, and the urge to desire variety as well.

Feel free to weigh in on what I'm missing or what I'm right about!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The ups and downs of the Holiday Running Streak

As it turns out, when I claimed the first run of the Holiday Running Streak was the toughest one, I was wrong. Or at least just not clairvoyant.

I actually almost broke my streak Friday. Almost.

The ice storm that day knocked out my power, and that in turn nearly knocked out my ambition to head outside and run a mile. (Holiday festivities meant I would not be able to do so after work, so it was now or never.)

Thankfully, the electricity was restored about an hour and a half before I had to be at work, and so was my desire to keep the streak alive. For as long as it took to reach the sidewalks, that is.

The first few steps were fine. The next few, and almost all the ones after that, were not. I eventually resorted to running back and forth on the snow-crusted grass — at least there was traction there.

Not my favorite run ever, but I got it done.

On the opposite end of the fun spectrum was last Monday's run ... or, rather, runs.

It was bitter cold when Regina and I met at Water Works Park, but because of "my stupid streak" (as she confided she thought), we still got three miles in. During the run, I received a call from a number I didn't recognize, so I didn't answer.

Once my phone came back from the dead, I discovered what the call was: The Cheese Shop telling me that two spots were open at that night's holiday beer class. My Christmas present for Cory had arrived!

It meant delaying his run further, from after work to after a plate of cheese and a dozen beer samples, but I think we both agreed it was worth it. Because I'm a good sport — and easily made to feel guilty — I agreed to run that single mile with him.

So off we went around 8:30 or 9 p.m. with recently filled bellies. The switch out of jeans and into (elastic-waisted) running pants felt good, and so did the laughter over how ill-advised this decision probably was. I even got a side stitch from giggling, which didn't feel physically nice, but I didn't mind.

More importantly, no one threw up, and most importantly, no one broke their streak.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Crossing Polk Boulevard off my list

When I announced that I'd be moving to Des Moines, Mike at Running Is Funny sent me an article about the trails and good road routes.

Each time in the past year and a half that I've checked back, I think smugly, "Oh, yah, I know all about those rec paths," and then realize that once again, I haven't managed to hit up Polk Boulevard, the most intriguing (read: easy) of the road routes it mentions.

Co-worker Suzanne, a runner and longtime resident of Des Moines, has also mentioned its appeal. But despite willingly driving to Water Works Park or Gray's Lake from West Des Moines to meet friends, I couldn't manage to travel fewer miles to run Polk.

Then I moved close to Sherman Hill, and the obstacles disappeared. I've done a four-miler that covers about half of Polk and drops me off on an older part of Grand Avenue twice now, and I have to say — I can't wait to do it in the springtime!

OK, so that can be said of just about anywhere in the Midwest, given how dreary the dead grass and bare trees can look, even if you like running during the winter.

Cut me some slack; I'm clearly enjoying the switch from newer (albeit still lovely) suburban houses to older, stately ones. If anyone knows of running history or architecture tours in Des Moines, do share!

My favorite views from the runs:
Roosevelt High School — one of the prettier schools I've seen. Not on Polk, but close to it.
I love brick buildings, and I love cottage-like homes. So yes, I will take this as a Christmas gift.
The Butler House on Grand. I will also accept a yearlong reservation there as a gift, for when my lease runs out, if the Polk Boulevard home above isn't for sale. 
If I remember correctly, this is either a law firm or financial services office. Nothing wrong with our well-built, recently renovated office, but ... I wish I worked in a mock castle :( 
I appreciate the cheerful yellow on this one.
Other structures I liked from this run: the bridges over Interstate 235. Every time I drove to work, I'd admire the pretty blue arches as I went under them. And now I've conquered them.

The pedestrian-only one, as seen from the Polk Boulevard one. What a view!
I don't know what appeals to me so much about overpasses. Short flatlander syndrome?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The spoils of victory have arrived

Remember a few months back how I kept winning things, like competitions with boyfriends and free stuff from Another Mother Runner?

Well, the goodies — arm warmers and a baseball cap — arrived this week!

The obligatory selfie, before a four-mile test run:

No, I'm not chewing on a toothpick — that's a scratch in the mirror. Or a speck. Don't judge my housekeeping.
I was a little nervous about wearing so much new stuff on a run that definitely took me away from my place.

In particular, I wasn't sure that the arm warmers would fit properly — they're size medium, which in running tops I sometimes am, but which I almost never am in street clothes.

Also, the elastic on both ends brought back bad memories of my old iPhone arm case, which somehow both pinched and drooped/flopped all over.

Fortunately, this first-world problem did not occur. The warmers fit just fine and didn't creep anywhere; the hat, like all good hats, was adjustable. (And hot pink.)

So I'm happy with my free gear, but I do have to point out that this is a useless product review, because I didn't exactly test these in the conditions they're designed for.

The weather was just cool enough where I wanted to keep the sleeves on the entire time, rather than shed them midway through, and while being more visible to cars is a generally good idea, it wasn't exactly critical during a noon run along sidewalks in bright sunshine.

If nothing else, though, these freebies help the laundry rotation by converting two T-shirts into makeshift long-sleeved ones and adding one more forehead-sweat-catcher to my four sweatbands and one grubby baseball cap.

Monday, December 16, 2013

My new neighborhood is a little weird, and I like it

I've recently gone back to my dumbphone days and started running "naked" again — the cold weather kills my battery so fast that it's unnecessary dead weight in my pocket.

It's not like I'm training for anything, so I don't need to know my pace or splits; I'm also not doing solo night runs or venturing so far out into the wilderness that I fear for my safety when phone-free.

The most important purpose the iPhone has been serving, therefore, has been to take photos of the quirky things I find on my new routes. Such as:

A "little free library" outside someone's home. 
I've never seen an informal library outside of a coffee shop or a hotel, but I'm glad to find this — mostly because bookworms like to know they're not alone, but partly because then I have a backup plan if I run out of reading material while the library system is closed.

Traveling shrimp salesmen?
My parents live in the country, so I'm used to seeing roadside stands with produce. I've spent my entire life in the Midwest, so I'm *not* used to seafood tents. And no, I didn't buy any.

I think this was at the Jimmy John's on Grand.
I really hope someone has parked here illegally, and the business owner followed through with the graffiti's threat instead of calling a tow truck.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Things I've learned about running just one mile

I already knew from last year that running a single mile is an odd feeling at first, and that when you compare it with the misery you felt during the middle school mile run, it puts your fitness gains into amazing perspective.

The stretch of subzero wind chills and its corresponding single-mile-run streak have taught me a few more things about the experience:

1. Basically, my head will never not sweat if I'm moving faster than a brisk walk for more than a few steps.

2. My nose will still run, but I can make it back without a Kleenex break.

3. I still need to stretch afterwards. I'd gotten lazy about it, thanks to some poor time management, and after a few days of that, I woke up with my first charley horse in years.

I haven't skipped stretching since, and the charley horses haven't recurred. Correlation doesn't mean causation, but right now, I think my theory is a good one.

4. Though I happily miss out on the runger, I still catch a brief runner's high. That also might just be relief that the Holiday Run Streak lives another day, but hey, whatever lifts the spirits!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two types of people I'm thankful for

As I wrote last year, I sometimes fear more than wintry conditions when I brave less-than-ideal weather to run outdoors. I worry that others' judgment could turn aggressive.

I've had lots of chances to test Des Moines' tolerance, unfortunately, given the bone-chilling cold that doesn't seem to be budging; but I'm happy to report that no one has even honked at me.

Late last week, as the temperatures took a nose dive, I kept an eye out and exhaled with relief each time I saw another runner. It's not like there's really safety in numbers, particularly when we're going in opposite directions — but maybe I subconsciously feel less conspicuous.

During this stretch of single-mile runs, though, I've noticed there's decent sidewalk traffic already in my stretch of Des Moines, no matter what the wind chill is: College students and dog owners are still out and about.

Beyond providing camouflage, they also reassure me that yes, it's still OK for humans to be outside in this weather, and we can even exchange a quick grimace that while it's OK, it's not fun. (More pragmatically: If the sidewalks are used, they're likely to be cleared in a timely, thorough manner.)

It's true that drivers are still likely to think I'm a pretentious, self-righteous jerk for being outdoors by choice, while they'll see the students/dog parents as just unlucky souls not dodging responsibility because it's cold.

But that's OK, because their misery is my company.

A look at the run streak since I last posted:

Friday: 1 mile. Obligatory observation that getting dressed for a single mile in single-digit temperatures takes more time than actually running.

Saturday: 1 mile. Cory joined me for this one. Out-and-back miles pass even faster when you have company.

Sunday: 2.5 miles. Cory and I were both pretty excited for our first snowy run of the season. We would've run longer, but we had plans later. Big, fluffy flakes make the hills seem slightly less awful.

Monday: 1 mile. I'd daydreamed about scattering a few short runs throughout the day, because I'd been feeling bad about the streak-within-a-streak of running less than three miles, but it just didn't happen. I also finally remembered, though, that these are runs I wouldn't have done were it not for the streak.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Holiday Running Streak: One week in the books

When I mentioned earlier this week that the first day of my streak was the hardest, I had no idea how wrong I was.

In descending order of ease/ascending order of difficulty, here's how the follow-up runs have gone.

Monday: 3 miles. I waited until later in the evening so I could have some company, so I missed another chance to do shorts in December. I took full advantage, however, of a chance to be a running despot.

We'd gone two miles (one lap around Gray's Lake), and I said I'd keep going if anyone else wanted to. Regina didn't want to and left; Cory didn't want to but continued for another mile with me.

I guess I just find two miles to be a weird increment — if I'm going to break a sweat, I might as well do it for three miles/30 minutes; if I'm aiming for a token run streak entry, no point in doing any more than a mile.

Tuesday: 4.7 miles. The target was closer to four, but I was set on reaching the intersection of two trails, and that point happened to be a slight downhill. No regrets, though, not even after the uphills.

My route took me through Greenwood Park, and even in the ugly transition period we're in (from fall to winter), it was so picturesque. There's a pond! A theater shell! Woods! I can't wait to run through it this spring.

This memorial caught me off-guard in Ashworth Park.
Wednesday: 3.25 miles. Our weather had started to turn slightly. Both Tuesday and Wednesday were long-sleeve days, but Wednesday added mist, fog, clouds and raw-at-times wind.

I was intent on getting at least three miles in at this point, however, because I'd seen what a cold front was going to do, and I was scared. So I ran to Salisbury House and back, admiring the many other majestic houses along the way.

Never mind the anachronistic cars outside the Tudor-style mansion.
Just as I was feeling incredibly grateful for having such a beautiful old neighborhood so close to me, I hit one of the steepest inclines I've found in Des Moines. I felt like I was running in sand, it was so dramatic, but fortunately it was short. Hill repeats in the spring?

Thursday: 1.03 miles. The Holiday Running Streak is now officially in peril. Our high was reached at 12:05 a.m., when I was most definitely NOT running, and it was a mere 19 degrees. I'd searched in vain for a relatively warm (emphasis on relatively) time to run and found nothing until next Tuesday, maybe.

So post-nap, I pulled on long johns underneath my tights, zipped my jacket over my warmer long-sleeved shirt all the way to my chin, and basically covered my entire head (fuzzy headband, face/neck warmer and sunglasses).

I did manage to avoid most of the wind gusts, either by smart route planning or procrastination, and I got an A- in dressing. (Socks should've overlapped my tights, or vice versa.) The worst part, though, was knowing how many more days I'll have to dump distance in favor of not catching hypothermia.

Yeah, I definitely take the streak too seriously.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I may be taking the run streak too seriously

I dream frequently, and more often than not, the contents of those dreams make some sort of twisted sense. 

Either I'm in a place I go to often, and/or with people I spend time with; or I'm feeling the same emotions I've been feeling recently.

That said, I don't dream about running very often; I can only think of a few occasions that I've done so, the most recent being about a week before the Des Moines Half Marathon.

Last night I did. I was preparing to leave town at the same time as a group of friends — maybe we'd been on vacation together? — and realized my Holiday Running Streak was in danger. 

The mode of transportation varied from car to plane, but the jist of it was, if I didn't run before leaving town, I would arrive at my destination the next day without having run.

All of my stuff was packed, and I couldn't find the vacation friend who was also doing the streak until almost the last minute. But we did find each other, and we just ran wherever we were, in our street clothes, to get that mile in.

Just like in conscious life, though, I think running was a metaphor in my dream. Still, I'm glad my stress dream had a happy ending — hopefully that bodes well for my real-life to-do list.

That said — in a few weeks, if I keep streaking successfully, I very well might have nightmares that truly are about forgetting to run until it's almost too late.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Holiday Running Streak kickoff: First step is the hardest

There was no reason for my Holiday Running Streak not to start strong.

I had the day off work; my family had visited me the previous weekend to help with moving; and the potluck I was attending didn't start until 2 p.m.

So naturally, it was after 10 p.m. before I got around to running. Fellow streakers Joel and Cory had long ago logged their runs and made sure I knew it, so the pressure was on.

But run I did — a single mile, but that's all you have to do to make it count. Funny how much better I felt after that, physically and mentally.

Here's a rundown of my streak so far.

Thursday: 1 mile. Hills are not fun on bellies that, until you moved, were comfortably full of food and wine. 

Hills are fun, however, for minds that remember how many desserts you ate (four small ones), approximately how much wine you drank (and still didn't catch a buzz, given the food baby you conceived) and how excited you were to finally explore your new neighborhood.

Friday: 3.75 miles. I tested out what I thought was the best route to pick up the Des Moines trail system. I glided through quiet, winding neighborhoods down to a gravel trail through Water Works Park, then huffed and puffed back up the downhills that were so relaxing earlier.

Des Moines continues to surprise me by how suddenly it turns rural. And how hilly it is.

Unrelated: This sign made me laugh.

Saturday: 3.25 miles. What those hills give, they also take. I'd noticed a steep uphill and sketched a path around it, reasoning that a hill at the end was good enough justification. 

But because I barely know the roads around my new place, I ended up picking a roller-coaster ride. With the relatively mild weather and the novelty of unfamiliar roads, though, I didn't mind at all.

Sunday: 2.66 miles. Sunday was a classic example of why Runner's World organized this run streak. Regina and I delayed our run so that we could do this:

That is a beer-and-cookie flight: a breakfast stout with the brownie, a vanilla oatmeal stout with the vanilla chocolate chip cookie, a citrusy IPA with the lemon bar, and a chocolate porter with the chocolate chocolate chip cookie.
I had no regrets (OK, I wish only one of us had gotten the brownie pairing so we could've split that), but I did need a few hours for the stomach to settle. And to be honest, during the run, I realized it wasn't at 100 percent.

However — I went, and given how lovely it was earlier in the day (yeah, when I was drinking beer and eating baked goods), I dared to bare the legs. Shorts in December!