Thursday, July 31, 2014


I recently completed all of RAGBRAI — no skipping the extra miles on the Karras Loop, no riding the sag wagon, no agreeing to drive someone's vehicle for just one day.

That's 483 miles on a bike. Some of that time passed in conversation (and whining); some of it, in detailed observation of my surroundings; the rest of it, in thinking.

None of my thoughts were particularly deep, but I did come to one conclusion that I've stuck with since getting off the saddle:

It's time for me to retire from blogging.

Nothing in particular prompted the feeling, but once the thought entered my mind, it stayed there.

This seems like good practice in trusting my gut, and if my gut has steered me wrong, well, I'll trumpet my relaunch to round all of you back up.

Anyways, the past five-ish years of blogging have been a good run/good ride, puns not intended but also not deleted. 

I appreciate everyone who's followed me from Illinois to Iowa, and those who have joined somewhere along the way.

I'll still hopefully be providing snapshots of my meals, workouts and cats on Twitter, Instagram and Daily Mile. Let's keep in touch virtually!

Friday, July 18, 2014

A reality check right before RAGBRAI

I've had a lingering case of the PFSes for a while now.

PFS, of course, stands for "poor (freaking) Sadye."

I'll admit it, and I won't run through its various recent manifestations.

I will say that it was flaring up rather significantly yesterday, when I rode to work after having failed to make time for a short run. (Gotta pack my bag and prep my apartment for RAGBRAI ... )

I was locking up my bike and soaking in the absolutely perfect weather, regretting that I was merely standing in it instead of running in it, when I heard someone call: "Isn't it harder to bike in a skirt?"

My questioner didn't send out any creepy vibes, so I just smiled and said: "Well, yeah, but I wear shorts underneath the dress."

"Ah, gotcha," he said, riding away cheerfully.

It was then that I noticed his lower leg was a prosthetic.

Man, did I feel ashamed of all the self-pity I've indulged in for the past few months.

Why should I feel sorry for myself? There's nothing wrong with me but my attitude.

I've done all the prep work I need to do, from packing to travel planning to riding. All that's left now is to wait for the fun to start — I'm going on vacation, not boot camp.

"See" you all after RAGBRAI.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rain on my parade? I think not

I went for my first run in nearly six weeks on Friday: two miles.

I'd planned to alternate between running and walking every quarter-mile.

That lasted all of one walk segment. Partly because I got a late start; mostly because going slow felt just fine.

I also didn't plan to get caught in a downpour, but it happened anyway. And yes, when I saw that there was a light drizzle with chances of thunderstorms, I considered staying in and staying dry.

Obviously, I didn't cave, and my determination was applauded by a bicyclist chugging through the same storm.

Many of my leg muscles were less thrilled the next day, but I'll tolerate their complaints after their surprisingly good performance during the run.

A text from running/riding buddy Regina that arrived later summed up the experience best: "So I went for a run and it didn't suck! This bodes so well for post-RAGBRAI."


Friday, July 11, 2014

Plenty of people are nice to bikers

I read the Des Moines Register just about every day, and I see Des Moines Bike Collective posts in my Facebook newsfeed almost as often.

There's been a lot of negativity about bicycling from both those sources — angry letters to the editor, stories about bikers dying and refutation of criticism of riding.

Add in some pretty meh rides of my own, and it was starting to feel like I lived in Eeyore's world.

Fortunately, though, the doom-and-gloom clouds recently broke, and I realized just how nice the majority of people I encounter are.

The security guards in the building where I work are incredibly helpful. If one's not opening the doors for me, another's telling me how I can get in and out easier.

Just as nice was the woman who saw me the day part of my skirt got stuck in my front wheel while I was walking through a doorway. Thank you, good Samaritan, for holding the door while I untangled myself.

People inside the building, as well as on the trail, have quite a bit of praise for my milk-crate-carrier and the kitty litter tub I use to protect my stuff on rainy days. (Maybe I should see whether Tidy Cats will sponsor me.)

Those compliment-givers include volunteers with the Bike Collective, whose valet service I've benefited from a few times. It's very sweet that they volunteer to park bikes during events instead of attending them.

Running has taught me not to expect people to cheer on my hobbies unless they also share that pastime — it's a pleasant surprise to receive support from people who may or may not share my biking habit.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

No trail left behind

I have been a somewhat lazy blogger, but I've been a relatively ambitious biker. You win some, you lose some.

As I mentioned recently, the mileage is certainly adding up, and I am happy to say I've been able to vary my routes — even in spite of recent flooding.

Trail fatigue was a problem for me last year, so that's why I'm patting myself on the back for exploring new trails.

Here's what I would've crossed off my Des Moines biking bucket list, if I had such a thing.

* Great Western Trail, south of Cumming. I was surprised by quite a bit about the Cumming-to-Martensdale portion of this trail.

It's hillier than the north chunk — not truly hilly, but definitely with more inclines. It's in rougher shape, too, despite being so rural.

And man, is it rural. The roads are neither straight, nor on a grid, nor paved. I've definitely become a city slicker.

* Raccoon River Valley Trail complete loop. I'd never been north of Panora or north of Minburn until the BACooN Ride.

Since I'd done large chunks of it before, nothing necessarily surprised me, but I was glad to have conquered the entire loop. (Still unclaimed: the northern stretch from Herndon to Jefferson.)

Especially on a day where I felt pretty blah physically and mentally, and where I seriously feared I'd melt in the humidity. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

* High Trestle Trail. My most recent exploration came when Cory and I rode from Ames back to Des Moines, after returning a truck we borrowed from a buddy who lives there.

After 12 hot, hilly, humid miles, we picked up the High Trestle and did it all — and it was totally worth that first challenging portion!

I don't think photos do the bridge justice (especially not my sweaty smartphone selfie).

Conditions weren't great for lingering over the perfect shot.
I can't wait to go back along that smooth, spacious pavement, maybe take a detour to Snus Hill Winery, and hang out on that overlook ... after putting bug spray on.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A month's worth of fretting over RAGBRAI preparation

I can always find something to worry about. This blog is jam-packed with proof of that, if you've somehow missed every race-run-up post.

RAGBRAI is no exception, and some of the folks I ride with are good at — inadvertently, I'm sure — feeding that tendency.

One participated in the RAGBRAI pre-ride, so he has plenty to say about the extreme hills at the end.

Another waxes dramatic about the lack of long rides he's gotten in and how the ones he has done have knocked him out, sending me on a frantic mental search of lengthy rides and how fatigued I was after them.

Recently, yearly mileage started to be tossed around. Comparisons were made, to each other and to the suggested 1,000-plus threshold to attain before RAGBRAI.

By that point, all the negativity from others (but mostly my own self) had worn me down to where I couldn't even be bothered to work up a panic over my mileage.

Then the humidity broke, and I rode for nearly 50 miles at my own pace with plenty of water. And I started to wonder just how many miles I'd put in.

As it turns out, that ride put me around 900 for the year, if I've been accurately reporting my mileage on Daily Mile.

How many more times do I have to tell myself?



This year, hopefully, Independence Day means freedom from turning what used to be a beloved holiday into a source of frustration and fuel for self-criticism.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A day full of firsts

I had two good reasons not to commute by bike yesterday: scattered thunderstorms and a slow leak in my back tire.

But I did it anyway and am disproportionately proud of myself for it.

The light rain on my way to work wasn't much of a problem. I tossed everything that needed to stay dry into a clean cat-litter tub and congratulated myself on a first successful commute in the rain. (It's been a very lucky two months.)

The leak was a little bit more of an issue. It was slow enough that I knew I could pump the tire up right before leaving and arrive with plenty of pressure left.

After that, though, I'd need expert guidance on how to patch or replace the tube. Fortunately, my bike-mechanic boyfriend was only a block away.

It was the perfect opportunity for me to finally try doing it myself — we weren't on a trail with bugs swarming us, or in a hurry to get somewhere.

So after three years of owning a road bike, I did it, with Cory talking me through it and lending a hand (literally) at times, and I'm confident that I could do it by myself if need be.

Granted, it would take much longer and involve much more struggling. That's fine. It's preferable to being afraid to take a long ride by myself, to feeling powerless, to hoping a friendly expert happens to be nearby in case of a flat.

With that done, I was ready to ride home — and the rain was ready to begin again. This was no light drizzle; it was a steady stream that, by the end, stung my forearms and clouded my vision.

Honestly? It was kind of fun, especially because home was at the end of a 1.5-mile-ish ride. (Much more fun than being 10 miles away.)

It also might've been excellent training for tomorrow's Bacoon Ride, if the forecasts are right.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The urge to run is stirring

A strange thought flitted across my mind the other day, as I thought about the upcoming week's workout regiment.

It was: "Hm, maybe I'll run Wednesday. Or run-walk. But definitely not bike, and definitely more than just walk."

Three weeks into my month of not running, it seems that I haven't quite lost the bug yet, in spite of all my head-shaking as I see runners braving the heat and humidity. What good news!

Did I run? Nope. But that's OK — I fear the loss of interest more than the loss of fitness. (I may retract this statement next month.)

Granted, several factors that weren't the sheer love of running kindled this desire: Smashburger, a Drake Diner milkshake, a Bauder Pharmacy hot fudge sundae, a weekend devoid of any exercise, and an unwillingness to devote an hour-plus to exercise when I had a long to-do list, to name just a few.

That's also OK. I don't care why I want to run, I just care that I do want to run.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Crazy, creepy and sometimes cute: A week of bike-ride sights

This week's rides covered country roads, nature trails, well-traveled thoroughfares and old-money neighborhoods.

Unsurprisingly, I saw a few things that amused me on those bike excursions, though I only stopped to take a picture of one.

You'll have to use your imagination with the crazy, creepy and cute sights listed below.

* A man riding west on Grand Avenue carrying a garbage bag with at least one case of cheap beer. I'm not kidding. Maybe the case was empty? I don't know how he held it up.

* A turtle on the Neal Smith Trail. They're bizarrely cute, for all their scary beakiness.

* Runners out on concrete, sunny trails during 80-plus-degree, full-humidity weather.

* Stumpy. Don't worry, Iowans; he's safely parked in northern Illinois.

* The third lost motorist who's asked me to rescue them from Shirland, Illinois.

* A biker stashing toilet paper and a tub of cat litter in a milk crate ziptied to the back of her bike. ... Oh wait, that was me.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My plan for returning to running

I haven't run in almost three weeks, but I have at least been thinking about it.

Specifically, I've taken time to be my own sports psychiatrist, and I've diagnosed myself as needing to ease back into running and learn to like it again.

So here's what I've come up with.

July 1: Open my mind back up to running. Twice a week at most. With only the expectation that it won't be easy or fast.

July 27-Aug. 3: Relax and rest up after RAGBRAI.

Aug. 4: Start a 10K training plan.

Last year, I started training for a half marathon at the beginning of August, right after I'd done RAGBRAI, and it worked out great. This year, the thought of doing that makes me tired and overheated.

As my hairdresser said when I told her I'd most likely skip the 2014 Des Moines Half Marathon: "Yeah, you wanna have fun during the summer."

Yes, I do. I like having something on the horizon, but the local long races are just too close to the dog days of August and two months of intensive biking.

A 10K seemed better-suited to the conditions. Plus, I've never done a road 10K race — only a nighttime trail one — so it'll be interesting to see what I can do.

Sept. 8: Do the Maffitt Lake five-mile. This should be the right combination of fun and challenging — i.e., exactly the kind of carrot/motivation I need.

Fun, because off-road running is scenic and lets me lower my expectations for myself without feeling like I'm a wimp, and challenging, because Living History Farms is the only off-road running I've done since moving to Des Moines.

Sept. 20 or 21: Do a 10K. Preferably the one on a Sunday, if I can find sign-up info and not just a date on the local sports store's race calendar.

Sept. 28: Do the Brew Mile. I again won't have time to do much mile-specific training, but I'll have more residual strength than I did before the Grand Blue Mile.

I'll have the power of the crowds pulling me along, and because I work Saturdays, I'll have the advantage of sobriety over the participants who have already hit up Oktoberfest.

Oct. 11: Do the Boone County 5K History Walk/Run. I'd better start thinking about a clever costume that also allows for good movement, because this time of year is much better for running.

If my schedule and motivation level allow, I might look for a serious 5K in hopes of breaking my PR, but I'm not going to stress about it. I'd rather be a little lazy the rest of this year than risk ruining my hobby for myself.

Friday, June 13, 2014

RAGBRAI training report, two weeks in

As I mentioned last week, RAGBRAI crept up on me while I was fretting about Dam to Dam.

So I'm happy to declare today that I feel positive about the state of my seat, about two weeks into training.

I did download the training plan; I do look at it; I do write down my mileage; and I have compared my weekly totals to what the plan suggests. Key word — suggests.

Here's my approach so far:

* Go on a long ride each week.

* Get a ride in the day after that, if possible.

* Incorporate a hill in most recreational rides.

* Design loops to avoid trail fatigue.

* Ride to places far away at which you need just one, portable thing. (Examples thus far: produce from a quarter-share in a CSA from a Johnston apartment complex; medicine from a pharmacy at 100th and Douglas in Urbandale.)

* Invite people to join at least portions of the rides.

It's only two weeks in, but I feel comfortable with this attitude, and I feel comfortable in my fitness level. It's not perfect, but it's good enough, and it'll get better.

What's helpful is having done RAGBRAI last year, and with the same people I'm doing it with this year — I know their tendencies, and this time I'll know how to balance my own with theirs.

Basically that means ride my pace, rather than struggle to keep up, because I don't like prolonged stops anyways. Let them get their first beer out of the way before I hop off the saddle.

Our long ride on Sunday — 75 flat miles — was critical to both realizing I'm on the right track, fitnesswise, and to reminding me of my riding preferences versus others'.

The next test: not falling off the wagon over the next two weeks, which are fairly busy with nonbiking commitments.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

At long last, my Dam to Dam numbers

My missing Dam to Dam results have come in.

I did hear back from the results contact person a few days after I posted about being MIA (and of course emailed him).

As he said they would, the official stats — mine included — rolled in over this past weekend.

The good news is, they're not as ugly as my race photos, seven of which show me apparently trying not to cry.

The bad news is, the one silver lining I sought was more like a tin lining.

My five-mile time was 46:05. Remember how I thought I was just flying through the first six or so miles? If "flying" is 9:13 per mile, then I was right.

I mean, it was a good showing for my mental state and the weather conditions. It also wasn't far off the pace I would've needed to break 2:00:00.

My 10-mile time was 1:35:45. If I'm calculating correctly, that means I covered five miles in 49:40 — basically a 10:00-per-mile pace. Seems reasonable, given the amount of walking I began doing.

My overall time was 2:08:08, working out to a final 5K covered at a 10:25 pace. Which isn't bad at all for the limp-walk-cry method.

Absolutely I wish I'd done better and behaved better. Absolutely I'm disappointed.

But at the same time, with the perspective of some time and no running whatsoever, I'm honestly surprised in a good way to compare this to my 2011 then-PR of 2:08:32.

I ran the 2011 half marathon with seriously only one quick walk break, with the exception of water stops, and I still finished 24 seconds slower back then.

There is hope. But not until July.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Holy smokes, RAGBRAI is close

Good thing I embraced Bike Month, because RAGBRAI is basically almost here.

Of course I exaggerate — slightly. But I did just download the training plan and do a double-take at how few weeks remain on it.

I do have a couple long rides under my belt and more of the medium-length rides that the plan incorporates. The longest of those even involved heat, humidity and a few hills.

So I think it's fair to assume I at least managed to develop a base before the real training.

One good development: the fact that a team member spoke ominously about the hilliness of this year's route, causing me to panic every time I had to work hard going uphill.

How is that good? It means that I've at least vowed to hit the horrific Neal Smith Trail hill once a week, and that when my options for traveling by bike are short-and-hilly or twice-as-long-but-flat, I feel obliged to pick the former.

Another good development: Training for Dam to Dam kept me from burning myself out on biking. (Granted, the fact that I did both meant I felt like I mastered neither, but that's another story.)

I remember last year, when I dutifully followed the weeklong rider plan for four days of RAGBRAI, I found myself tiring of riding.

I have no intention of ramping up the training plan to "make up" for the lost month, so I should be much mentally fresher this time around.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reasons to be excited about running again ... later

Every time we've seen a runner since Dam to Dam, Cory and I have said to each other "don't they know running is over now?" and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have no urge to go on a run right now. (Nor do I have the ability, judging from my failed attempts to hurry while crossing the street.)

Yet I find myself thinking idly about what race to do next. That urge hasn't translated into actual Googling action, but it's slightly more active than dormant.

That's good, because two friends who aren't serious runners have expressed interest in future events:

* Annah, who did the St. Patrick's run, said she and her boyfriend had just been wondering what their next race should be, in response to my post-Dam text of "let's do 5Ks and 10Ks ... in the fall."

* And Chelsea, a fellow Warrior Dasher, sent me a text, seemingly out of nowhere, proposing a ladies' agreement. She wanted a favor from me in exchange for her doing a 5K of my choice.

(The favor involves a good surprise for a friend, so I'm being purposefully vague.)

Chelsea and her hubby own and love pets, so naturally I'm going to call her in for the Woofin' It 5K. The backup plan, if that doesn't work, would be the Boone County Museum 5K History Run/Walk.

Just give me a few weeks to let the bad memories fade, folks, and I'll be sending you links to local races like it's going out of style.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Race report: Dam to Dam Half Marathon

All you need to know about my Dam to Dam experience is that I'm not truly angry about the fact that my official results have yet to materialize.

(I think this is operator error, because my sweat-soaked shirt came off in the last half-mile, and with it went my race-chip-bearing bib. I've got an email query out.)

If it had been a quarter-marathon, I'd be singing a different tune — through mile seven, I'd channeled my negative emotions into strong running — but around mile eight, I melted down physically and mentally.

Because I finished slightly before Cory, I know that I ran faster than 2:08:10, which means I did manage to notch my second-best half marathon time ever, in possibly the most humid conditions I've ever raced in and potentially the warmest weather on record for Dam to Dam.

A few moments of levity I still managed to appreciate:

* A shirtless male runner hanging his bib from his nipple rings. If only I'd had a camera or a smartphone.

* A Christmas tree-costumed person at mile two. No reason for the costume was apparent.

* A Disney singalong around mile nine, begun by a couple of bros who were mangling the lyrics to "I Just Can't Wait To Be King." I couldn't let that continue, so I filled in most of the words for them.

In their defense, they stepped up when it came to "I've been working on my ROAR!"

* A kid offering beer to runners around mile 10. Better yet, I saw a man actually take the can.

* "Never trust a fart" posters. If there's bathroom humor on a sign, I'm almost guaranteed to smile, or at least grimace, at it.

* A T-shirt (or were there several?) that said: "Run? I thought you said RUM."

The only circumstance under which I'd consider doing a Memorial Day half marathon in the Midwest again would be if a newer/less trained runner sought support — but I'd consider the Dam to Dam 5K, only because of the afterparty.

Hands down, it had the best refreshments after a race in my entire running career. I got a grocery bakery cookie as I left the finish line area; found ice cream; finished that en route to Fighting Burrito nachos; and moved right over to Smokehouse Catering's sandwiches.

Not the way I'd hoped to close the book on spring running, but it's confirmation that I'm right to call it quits on spring half marathons and take a mental breather.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Looking ahead to race day

It's Dam to Dam Eve! I've planned my meals, checked the weather, washed all my running gear so I can pick the "luckiest" items, not the cleanest, and drafted a set of goals.

Picture this list as an inverted old-fashioned food pyramid, with the first items being the base (things I can and must do) and the final ones being the top (not critical for survival).

1. Be happy for other runners. 

Cory is running with me, of course, and will likely beat me despite training less; our friend Chris, a natural athlete and known speed demon, will be there, too; and another friend, Anne — a wife, mother and full-time employee — is doing her first half marathon ever.

No matter my race outcome, these folks deserve wholehearted congrats when I see them afterwards.

2. Don't melt down, physically and mentally.

The weather doesn't look fantastic, but it doesn't look terrible, and the route is supposed to be fairly forgiving.

Even if it's not my day, I should be able to keep plodding away — and I'm going to have to, because 13.1 miles is too long to do the start-swear-stop routine when I have other places to be later in the day.

Plus, it's my last run for a month. If that doesn't get me to the end faster, I'm not sure what else will.

3. Record my second-best half marathon time.

There's a HUGE gap between my current and past PRs — almost eight minutes, in fact. Though I may not feel like I'm at the top of my running game right now, I'm certainly in shape enough to beat 2:08:32, set on a hillier course in D.C.-area humidity.

4. Finish in 2:05:00.

That's a 9:32 pace. Seems reasonable in this situation, given that I did train. I'm running by feel, so whether I achieve this might depend on what kind of pace groups are nearby.

5. Finish in 1:59:59 or less.

Can I keep a 9:09 average? We'll find out Saturday.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Exiling "should" from my running vocabulary

Before my recent face-to-face sympathy session with the repair guy, I had another virtual sympathy session, this time with a post from Susan Lacke.

In "There Is No 'Should' In Running," Susan recounts a conversation she had with a friend who'd just completed a half marathon.

This friend, like other runners Susan's talked to, said with some resignation that she guessed she'd have to do a marathon next. To this view, Susan responds: "You don’t have to do anything. Do you want to run a marathon?"

The post goes on to defend all distances as being perfectly acceptable to qualify you as a "real runner." But that part wasn't what spoke to me — it was the line excerpted above.

As you may or may not remember, I decided that this year's goal would be to at least consider running a marathon, and I've explained it as "if I'm going to do it, I should think about doing it now, with a child-free life and a 40-hour workweek."

But while struggling mostly mentally, sometimes physically, this spring, I've thought about how the hurdles are twice as large from a half marathon to a full ... and it's made me 99.5 percent sure I won't be trying a marathon this year, or, honestly, any year.

After reading Susan's column, though, that conclusion seemed less gloomy. The answer to "do you want to run a marathon?" is no.

And man, there is a huge difference between, say, going to a movie you don't actually want to see all that badly, and running a distance twice what you've ever done when you don't want to.

I didn't even fall short on my goal of "think about doing a marathon," because I did think about it. Having the most time and fitness that I'm likely to have just doesn't translate to having the desire.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Scratch those second-quarter goals

I recently had a pretty crappy run — definitely the worst one since my 5K dud or since any possibility of spring first emerged.

Because it was such a slog, I had plenty of time to re-evaluate some life choices and arrive at a few decisions.

These weren't the kind of decisions I spontaneously, angrily make while frustrated by a tough run ("I quit running!" being the most frequent). These were the culmination of a month's worth of observations.

The first big one is, my goal-setting has been far more ambitious than my goal-attempting.

It's obvious that some second-quarter goals were just not working out for me — namely "regain mental strength" (that one required a plan, more than just saying it) and "do 10 stair repeats in 10 minutes."

That latter goal was part of another big problem. My half-marathon training plan had too many pieces beyond the necessary runs: strength yoga, mobility, core, stairs.

Each workout seemed so overwhelming, time- and energywise, when I looked at my fridge.

I'm not denying the value of strength training, but realistically, some of these were just too complicated for me to follow through consistently.

So for the rest of the month, I'm settling for consistent stretching and foam rolling, with a few planks tossed in there. It's taper time anyway; hopefully I remember to keep it simple in a few months when I next work on a training plan.

As for next month ... I might not run at all.

That sounds extreme, I know. I could also quite easily do it: The temperature and humidity are both rising, and RAGBRAI is approaching far faster than I've gotten bike miles in.

Plus, if this month is any indication, trying to run and bike will just end up with my being frustrated that both are difficult.

I may amend it to allow for short, social runs, but at the same time, my friends who run are also doing RAGBRAI. There won't be much peer pressure, if at all.

And finally, I think I've finally committed to giving up on the spring half marathon for good.

Assuming no injuries between now and Saturday, this will be the third consecutive year I've done a spring half, and each time, the weather has dealt a different sort of wild card.

The unpredictability of Midwest spring might not bother me as much if I had less riding on its whims, like training for a 10K instead of a half marathon.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How runners do Iowa Nice

Yesterday I rode my bike to fetch my car from the mechanic's. It was a minor victory that turned into a major victory.

There were actually two minor — and I mean minor — wins:

1.) I decided to leave in the morning, when there were scattered light showers, instead of waiting for 1:15 p.m., when told me the showers would end. It turns out that I am still not made of sugar, because I did not melt.

2.) Rather than tack on extra miles to avoid a hill, I took the more direct route and made it all the way to the top without stopping. Not without swearing, but without stopping.

Because my ride was cool and slightly rainy, I was rocking my fluorescent Des Moines Half Marathon zip-up jacket that morning.

When I returned home and parked, my neon top caught the eye of a repair guy who'd parked near me: "Hey, I have that same shirt! Did you run it, too?" he called to me.

And so, in what seems to be very typical Iowa fashion, we embarked on a five-minute conversation about local half marathons and our successes/failures in training for them.

I told him I'd run it last year but was on the fence about doing it this fall; that depended somewhat on how Dam to Dam went.

"Oh, I'm doing Dam to Dam too! The funny thing is, me and my wife, we're really just not looking forward to it. Not sure why. Maybe that horrible winter just got us down."

There's something so magical about when an outsider expresses the exact negative, possibly unpopular view you've been nursing for a few weeks.

I told him I could empathize, 100 percent, with him. He was relieved to hear he wasn't just being a big baby — another emotion I shared.

It was one of the most cheerful whine-fests I've had in a long time, and certainly a rare occasion on which I appreciated a strange man commenting on my clothes.

I may hate how the past few springs here have turned out, but I sure do love Iowa and Iowa Nice.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Votes for and against tapering

Partly by accident and partly by design, taper time has come in my Dam to Dam training.

And I think the only living creature around here who is sad about it is the local FedEx guy.

My cats aren't fans of anything that keeps me out of the apartment (except maybe my job, because they're fed when I leave for it, when I return from it, and by virtue of that job). Lighter running schedule = more time with them.

Lately, I find myself agreeing with the cats' stance: Apartment time, or commuting by bike, just sounds better than running.

It's not like past half-marathon-training burnouts, where the misery of each run made me want to give up the hobby entirely — most of my efforts have been OK; the anticipation of a long and/or challenging run, however, is consistently terrifying.

My Italian adventure provided a good break from running, and at first I was glad to dive back in, but I think it was only a temporary reprieve.

I'm not sure whether to blame the lack of extended time off (two weeks at a time isn't all that long), the mental fatigue from pushing through the polar vortex that just wouldn't leave, or the timing of Dam to Dam.

As for the local FedEx guy? It seems that my midweek runs have lined up with his midweek deliveries to my apartment building, which has an open-to-the-public lobby but a locked door that leads to actual apartments.

I've returned, sweaty and out of breath, from runs a few times recently just as he's shown up to make deliveries.

I don't know what he does with the packages when I'm not there to let him in, but each time he's thanked me profusely ... and sworn that he's not deliberately showing up on days that I run.

That's good, Mr. FedEx, because soon enough, I'll be doing a LOT less of that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Race report: Woofin' It 5K 2014

"Are you up for a challenge?"

That was how Furry Friends' director greeted me at Saturday's Woofin' It 5K.

Last year's "borrowed" dog, Sam, had been bursting with energy, but Cory and I had survived. (Taking turns holding the leash helped.) So I laughed and said sure, bring it on.

Enter Rowan, a 6-year-old American Staffordshire terrier mix. As I took the leash of this ball of muscles, the shelter folks warned: "Just so you know, he's a bit of a puller ... "

And we were off! By the time we met up with Cory, who was pinning his bib on and stashing his belongings in the car, I'd already broken a sweat. This didn't bode well for my "costume."

It turns out that cheap eyeliner is NOT waterproof. Should've taken a picture before the race, I guess. Not pictured: Cory's awesome socks, with a cat saying "woof" and a dog saying "meow."
Because we showed up a bit late, we hadn't quite made it to the start line when the race began, but with Rowan towing me, we caught up, no problem.

After we crested the first hill, my legs already complaining about the previous day's 21 bike miles/3.1 run-walk miles, I happened to glance down at my shoe. The keyholder was gone.

CRAP. I handed Rowan off to Cory and fled down that hill, sweat pouring from every pore (oh hi humidity!), to find it at the very start of the race.

How many college grads does it take to secure car keys on a pair of shoes while a feisty dog itches to race? More than two, evidently.

The good news for me, I guess, was that doubling back helped tire Rowan out a bit. Don't get me wrong, that dog was ready to run, but after the first mile or so, I was able to maintain some semblance of form and not spend every other breath shouting fruitlessly "heel! heel!"

Still, Rowan was determined to save face in front of other dogs. He might slow to a trot when it was just Cory and I, but let another human-dog duo pass us, and he'd leap to action.

Or when he needed a break, 8 times out of 10, he would act like he was marking yet another plant. (Though I didn't look closely, I had a hunch that nothing was coming out from under that raised leg.)

On the other hand, he seemed determined to make Cory and I look like bad pet parents. The other race participants chuckled indulgently at our swerving, abrupt stopping/starting, and bathroom breaks; the couple sitting on their porch seemed less amused by Rowan's liquid present on their lawn.

All three of us were glad to see the finish line, I think, but it was a happy tired.

There sure wasn't a dull moment with Rowan at the helm ... though if Furry Friends has an even more energetic dog waiting for me next year, I might ask about hooking him/her up to my bike instead!

For the record: Even with our doubling back, I finished this 5K faster (42:11) than the Girls on the Run one the night before (somewhere around 46 minutes).

Monday, May 12, 2014

Race (?) report: Girls on the Run 5K

I experienced two personal firsts at the Girls on the Run 5K last Friday.

First, obviously, it was my inaugural time helping out with the program, and it is every bit as impressive —maybe even more impressive — than one might expect.

The party was in full swing when I arrived at Raccoon River Park: a DJ blasting tunes (appropriately, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"); face painting and glitter hairspray; and coordinated funky headbands and tall socks, at least in "my" school's case.

There were school and running chants, and the head coach of my friend's team ran a warmup drill of jumping jacks, tae bo moves, stars and clapping — and as silly as I'm sure I looked, I thought it was hilarious.

With all this and the lovely weather, it would've been hard not to catch the spirit of the event.

Enthusiasm during the actual run seemed fairly high, too. Of course there were a few strugglers, but their buddies and the spectators didn't let them sulk or fall behind too much.

It really was cool to see not just the girls' accomplishments, but also the amount of time and energy that the adults put into getting them there. Warm and fuzzy feelings all around!

Second, less obviously, it was my first brick. I toyed with the idea of driving to Raccoon River, either from work or from my apartment after I'd biked back from work, don't get me wrong.

The spirit of Bike Month ultimately won out — plus the realization that it really wouldn't take that much longer to bike versus drive, with the time spent getting to the garage and dealing with rush-hour traffic.

It wasn't really a brick, in the truest sense of the term, because at least a half-hour lapsed between my arrival and the start of the run. And the run was definitely an easy shuffle.

But hey, if the book club members were impressed that I rode eight miles to a 5K, then hopped back on to get to dinner, I'll go ahead and pat myself on the back. I did end up feeling it the next day, I think, so it counts as far as I'm concerned

Friday, May 9, 2014

Upcoming race: Girls on the Run 5K

It turns out that this weekend is Noncompetitive Charity 5K Weekend for me.

Tomorrow is my beloved Woofin' It 5K, and tonight, as I learned just two days ago, is the local Girls on the Run chapter's 5K.

This came about through book club. Back in April, one member mentioned she'd been coaching Girls on the Run and might need a few adult runners to help out at the final event — she'd check with other leaders and let us know.

I never heard anything, so I assumed they had enough adults. Actually, they didn't, and that information didn't make its way to my book buddy until this past Wednesday.

Fortunately, my boss was able to adjust my work schedule just a little bit, so I could then make good on my weeks-ago offer to accompany a young runner.

My understanding is, all I need to do is encourage my buddy to keep running and not walk. Shouldn't be too hard, unless I'm matched with a future track star who leaves me in her dust.

I also intend to appreciate Raccoon River Park, where I haven't been since my epic 5K last fall, and which should be springlike enough to make me believe winter is over.

And it'll be a chance for me to participate in, as well as observe, the running community's incredible supportiveness.

As I was either biking or running recently — I can't remember which — I found myself thinking about my experiences as a relative n00b in both areas.

Bicyclists seem happy to share their sport, but something about runners has always put me more at ease, regardless of my skill and knowledge gap.

Maybe it's that most of us agree running is harder, so runners have to go the extra mile (ha!) to welcome newcomers.

Or maybe it's because one's body is easier to understand than one's bicycle, if you're not mechanically inclined. And it could also be that I entered running with so little knowledge that being clueless wasn't embarrassing — it was expected.

Regardless: I'll be paying the Rockford, Ill., running crew's good deeds from 2009 to present forward tonight.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Runner's World mobility test provides a small victory

I like to think of myself as being relatively fit, but when a Runner's World fitness test offers the opportunity to prove that perception, I often decline.

Part of the problem is that I like to read before bed, then sleep off any ambition the articles might've stirred up.

Most of the problem is that I don't want to find out everything that's wrong with my running form, my strength, my flexibility, etc.

The mobility test in May's issue looked so easy, though, and I was so awake when I read it that I decided to actually take it.

I figured I would fail all three. The backs of my legs, from waist to ankle, have always been tight. Evidently I can blame my bad feet for that, which is some comfort but no cure.

Part one tested my ankles' mobility. I failed. Sort of a surprise, because I never think of my ankles, but not shocking.

Part two tested my hips' mobility. Another failure, this one far more expected. Deep into half marathon training for the past couple years, I'll notice stiffness and soreness there.

Part three tested my knees' mobility. I PASSED.

Given the difficulty I had simply prepping for the test — you lie on your stomach and loop a string around your foot, which is more coordination than I evidently have — I was waiting for an epic fail.

Instead, I got a victory. A double victory, really, because if you fail this test, it means your quads are tight, and that's what limits the knees' mobility.

So my knees are fine, and my quads — which are the stiffest for the longest after a half marathon — are are as well.

This might be the only time in my life when I consider 33 percent a passing score ... but I'll take it!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Goal unlocked: Bike to work

I set five main goals for myself this year, and I've already achieved two of them — run a sub-7:30 mile and, now, bike to work.

As one co-worker pointed out: It's "bike all the way to your desk" month, apparently.
This one was about as easy to achieve as any fitness goal will ever be, I think:

* It's Bike Month, so there's huge positive peer pressure.

* My commute to work is 1.75 miles downhill, or two miles downhill if I want a separate bike lane almost the entire time. (Heading home, obviously, is then uphill, but the cats care less about how smelly I might get than co-workers do.)

* Spring has finally arrived in Iowa — it's sunnier and warmer, but definitely not blinding and boiling.

* My gentleman friend has equipped the Shrimp with all the add-ons she needs: rack and bungees for hauling lunches; and front and rear lights to see and be seen.

Out of the three days I've worked thus far in May, I've commuted by bike for two of them, and I've enjoyed it so far. It's made me more punctual, as well as more eco-friendly and healthier.

We'll see how I feel about it as the temperatures climb — or the rain falls — but right now I can picture myself sticking with this beyond May.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Upcoming race: Dam to Dam half marathon

As I mentioned in earlier posts about second-quarter and overall 2014 goals, I've signed up for this year's Dam to Dam race.

I'd been interested in doing it in the past, but its transition this year from a 20K to a half marathon sealed the deal. (OK, and so did the reports of how flat the route is.)

The race is May 31, which also lined up quite well with my two-week hiatus in early April as I prepared for, went on and recovered from vacation.

If the past two years are any indication, the heat and humidity might hold off a few more weeks; if not, the early start time (7 a.m.) could be my savior.

So of course, my goal is to break 2:00:00. I probably should set alternative goals, especially if the weather isn't looking auspicious for me, but I'll do that later.

Right now, hitting or breaking 2:00:00 looks feasible. It's not a slam-dunk, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the polar vortex and my time off won't be insurmountable obstacles.

I'll have to average a 9:09-per-mile pace to do it. Not a guarantee, yet also barely faster than what I averaged at the Des Moines Half (9:11). So how close am I?

During my first long run, an eight-miler, I was only concerned about getting the miles in without suffering. I ended up actually enjoying the whole run, except the buggy parts, so I achieved my only real goal.

I treated my second long run, a nine-miler, as a more important test, which I passed, with a 9:12 pace.

The splits are all over the board, from an 8:30 (flat path, calm weather) to 9:54 (half-mile-long hill into nearly 20 mph winds), but the majority are as fast or faster than goal pace. 

Overall, the run took 1:22:55, leaving 37:04 for the remaining 4.1 miles. Though that's not outside the realm of possibility, I'd like more of a margin -- and, fortunately, I have faith that I can get it.

Race-day adrenaline will likely speed me up and keep me going earlier in the race. It's also safe to say the Dam to Dam route will be flatter and spend less time going west, which seems to be where Iowa winds come from.

So keep your fingers crossed for pleasant weather, and I'll handle the rest. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I was nominated for a Liebster Award!

Just as I felt myself fall into a blogging slump, Karla nominated me for a Liebster Award!

It's not an award in the traditional sense — more like a chain survey to help introduce you to other blogs — but I'm happy to accept, especially when inspiration is running dry.

The rules are:
  1. You must link back to the person who nominated you.
  2. You must answer the 10 Liebster questions given to you by the nominee before you.
  3. You must pick 10 bloggers to be nominated for the award.
  4. You must create 10 questions for your nominees.
  5. You must go to their blogs and notify the nominees.
Here I go!

1. Why did you start running?

It's actually a very underwhelming and boring story.

Basically I went on a walk one day and wondered how long/how far I could run. Despite how little I could do and yet how sore I was the next day, I decided to try again, and then to keep going.

2. What’s your favorite distance to race or to run in workouts?

For racing, it's the half marathon. I enjoy the discipline of a training schedule — and I definitely have to train for a half marathon — and the sense of achievement when I actually finish it.

For workouts, I'd probably say four- or five-milers. Long enough to feel like I've done something, but not so long that I have to plan my whole day around it or that I'm wiped out afterwards.

3. What’s your biggest running goal right now?

Right now, it's to go sub-2:00:00 in a half marathon, because I'm running one at the end of May. Breaking my 5K personal record (24:09) is also on my radar, but not until this fall.

4. What’s your power song?

"Livin' On A Prayer." I listen to it before races, and whenever I hit the midway point of a run, I sing "Whoa, we're halfway there!" in my head ... or out loud to my running buddy.

But when I drive to races, I make sure "TiK ToK" plays before I get out of the car.

5. What mantra works for you when you’re pushing hard?

"You got this," if things are going OK; "just another [distance or time]," if it's a real struggle.

6. Who’s your running hero?

I don't really have one, but I will say that the Runner's World feature about the little people who nearly finished the Boston Marathon in 2013 was one of the best articles I've read in a long time. Running as a normal-sized person poses its own challenges, but add in the obstacles posed by dwarfism ...

7. What achievement are you most proud of?

Running-related: my current 5K PR. Never saw that coming, but I executed my race plan perfectly.

Non-running-related: I wrote two books about my family history (one for Mom's side, one for Dad's side). Many of the relatives interviewed have since passed away, so I'm profoundly grateful for what we've managed to preserve.

8. What’s your favorite vacation spot?

I'm going to do all sorts of dances around this question.

For places that I can visit often and that I find relaxing — I love just hopping over to Iowa City. It takes less than two hours to get there, and some very good college friends live there with three adorable pets.

For places that I can't visit often and that I find exhilarating (but definitely not relaxing) — I'm still buzzing from my trip to Italy. The French Alps, where I spent a month in college, were also fantastic.

Florence, as seen from Piazzale Michelangelo. What a stunning city.

9. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not running?

Reading. Books, newspapers, magazines, blogs ... especially food blogs. Because I also really love thinking about, discussing, making and eating food.

10. Dogs or cats?

Cats! I like both and grew up with both, but I "get" cats better. (And have an easier time taking care of them.)

Oh look, an excuse to post cat pictures! These are my boys: Ringo on the left, Dusty on the right.
Dear nominees: If you've already been nominated before or don't want to accept, that's totally OK. You are:

Pam, at Mada(M)useo

Stephanie, at Adventures in Picky Stomachs

Martha, at Miles and Motherhood

Dimity and Sarah, at another mother runner

Brian, at Pavement Runner

Mike, at Running Is Funny

Doug, at irunnerbuzz

Calee, at life+running

Abbey, at

Katie, at run this amazing day

And my questions are:
  1. What place would you submit to Runner's World's "rave run" feature?
  2. What race would you tell others to put on their bucket list?
  3. What's your worst race experience?
  4. What food is a must-avoid leading up to a run?
  5. What's the weirdest thing you've seen on a run?
  6. Do you have any special pre-race rituals?
  7. What foods/drinks do you crave during or after a run?
  8. How do you pamper yourself after a tough workout or race?
  9. Who would play you in a movie?
  10. What was the first concert you ever attended?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Race report: Grand Blue Mile

When I take time off from running, especially during the winter, I have concurrent and conflicting emotions about running.

One part of me never wants to lace up the shoes and feel the burn again. The other part of me becomes wildly optimistic, often just at the thought of mild weather and living plants, and wants to sign up for anything and everything.

My Grand Blue Mile registration was born of that latter urge, and I spent the time between getting off of work and toeing the starting line regretting it with every alternate breath. 

In between, I reminded myself that as miserable as I was during the Friendly Sons 5K, this had to be better — it was only one-third the distance.

These faces do not accurately reflect our pre-race sentiments, though we did agree that it was a perfect day to run.
Cory and his friend Drew weren't particularly sanguine, nor was Stephanie from book club, who ran with me in the competitive women's division. Only veteran athlete Steve, whom we'd only just met a few days ago at the Cumming Tap, seemed to be glad to be here.

My plan was to stay in back to give myself more time to warm up before actually crossing the line; instead, the race organizers corralled the 15 or so of us — seriously! — to the very front, and it was only a few steps before I was sprinting like my life depended on it.

Here's where my biggest victory of the day occurred. In the first quarter-mile, I got passed constantly, despite pushing myself as hard as the speedsters were. The pack in front of me grew so crowded that I started wondering whether I'd be the last to finish.

Suddenly I understood why people worry about that — there were a lot of spectators, and they'd be sticking around to watch the races right after mine. Everyone would see me come in last. Was anyone even behind me? Should I even bother suffering for another three-fourths of a mile?

But no. I didn't pay the registration fee and tell people that I was running it just to give up so early. There was no injury or true pain holding me back. I kept plugging away ... and even started passing a few people, some of whom sounded/looked far more miserable than me.

My second-biggest victory of the day: It was such a short race that I didn't bother wearing contacts or glasses, meaning the finish line was just one giant blue blob. I couldn't even let up at the end if I had wanted to, because I wasn't entirely sure where the end was. (See my game face here.)

But I could read the numbers as I crossed — 6:58.

The mats signal the end. I'm not *quite* there.
I was shocked to see that number, even more shocked to see the printout with "6:11" and then unsurprised to see this morning that I was knocked down to "7:11.88." 

I shrugged it off most of the day, because they're ALL personal records by at least 21 seconds, but I'll admit to much relief when at 5:20 p.m., Cory emailed me to say the database had changed. Official time: 6:57.64, ninth in my division.

For such a short race, I've blathered on a long time, so I'll just end it with this: I'm proud of the results, especially given what little training went into it, and I am even more happy and grateful that I had a cheering section. Thanks, Steph, Regina and Emily, for coming out, watching and photographing!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I race tonight; here are my goals

One week ago today, I returned to Des Moines from my overseas adventure and realized that, oh crap, I was running a mile race in seven days and a half marathon in seven weeks.

And it was with some trepidation that I set out on my first run since the March 30 5K last Wednesday — how much fitness had I lost, and how much of a waste of registration would today's Grand Blue Mile be?

We can look at the result of that run and the subsequent mile test (7:41) in two ways: Either I didn't lose as much fitness as I thought, hooray!; or I didn't have any real fitness to lose, boo.

I've clocked that pace during successful 5Ks, and I finished a test mile in 7:33 before rolling out to Italy, though, so I think it's fair and accurate to interpret 7:41 as not having lost much fitness.

So tonight, I know I can go sub-8:00; I expect to do around 7:45, give or take a few seconds; and I hope I can do around 7:30.

If I break 7:30 this year without training specifically at all, well, first round of beer at the post-race gathering is on me.

And maybe then this fall at the Brew Mile or next spring at the Grand Blue Mile, after making time for race-specific training, I can shatter the automatic personal record I set tonight.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The ultimate carbo-loading experience

You might've noticed that my posts for the past week and a half didn't actually mention any runs I'd gone on.

That's because I haven't run in more than two weeks, during which time I was busy prepping for, going on and recovering from a week-plus visit to Italy with my sister!

At the Forum — one of my favorite spots — in Rome. We'd already done the Colosseum, which you can see in the background.
Our trip was every bit as fantastic as one would expect, full of beautiful architecture, delicious food and drink, sunshine (take that, polar vortex!), amazingly ancient history all around us ... and runners.

I don't know why the sight of runners surprised me. I'd seen running tours for Venice advertised, and I've read about marathons in Rome.

Maybe it was the contrast with la dolce vita that caught me off guard — and before anyone suggests that Italians might need to burn off all that gelato and pasta, let me be the millionth person to point out that they do a lot more travel by foot and by bike than most Americans do.

Authentic margherita pizza in Naples. This restaurant — L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele — was the one featured in "Eat, Pray, Love" and was every bit as delicious as depicted.
Or maybe it was just their odd gear that made me do double-takes. I swear at least half of them were running in biking shorts, and more than a few were in what appeared to be everyday shirts.

They're a very well-dressed nation, no doubt, but why ruin those stylish tops with sweat? At least the odd outfits I saw in West Des Moines were athletic-gear-based.

Unlike when I went to London, I didn't feel the slightest twinge of envy watching Italian runners, though.

I was getting enough exercise not just walking, but also climbing monuments and ruins on sometimes-uneven pavement, and I think my mind needed a break from my 5K dud and from training during the polar vortex.

But I was happy to see runners. I'm so used to feeling like my leisure activity is scorned (even I call it a stupid hobby) that if a nation known for appreciating the finer things is engaging in it frequently, that's a huge selling point for our community.

* * *

Did you miss posts because I wasn't plugging them on Twitter and Facebook? Here's what went up in my absence.

April 5: Reflections on 5K training plans

April 7: Upcoming race: Grand Blue Mile

April 9: Running crafts are complete

April 11: Upcoming race: Woofin' It 5K

April 13: Second installment of 2014's quarterly goals

Monday, April 14, 2014

Second installment of 2014's quarterly goals

I had mixed success with my first-quarter goals, but maybe spring will bring a more nurturing environment for what I hope to accomplish over the next three months.

1. Regain mental strength. I know I can think positive rather than negative. I just need to dust off the tools I've used before and maybe retain some of the endless articles on the powers of positive thinking that I read.

2. Break 2:00:00 in a half marathon and 7:30 in a mile. I wrote about these earlier this year, and they remain valid. The testing grounds will be the Grand Blue Mile, or any training for it, and Dam to Dam.

3. Take more short trips on foot or bike. I live so close to bike lanes that once the snow is gone, I have no excuse for not riding to the grocery store/pharmacy/library for small trips. Spring, rather than summer, would also be a good time to knock out my commute-by-bike-once-this-year goal.

I mean, if I was willing to run a mile holding two paperback books — more challenging than it sounds — I should be able to throw on a backpack and helmet for that same distance.

Plus, I've been promised a homemade version of these panniers, so my grocery-hauling ability should improve dramatically this season.

Seen — and envied — during RAGBRAI 2013.
4. Do 10 stair repeats in 10 minutes. That's three flights, up and down, per minute. I kept this pace for five minutes earlier this spring, so depending on how warm the hallways in my building get, this might or might not be doable.

5. Keep up the strength yoga. I was OK at keeping up with this during 5K training — not great and definitely not enthusiastic, but more consistent as I felt more confident in the poses. And given the time demands of half-marathon training, I'm happy to take a two-in-one workout where I can find it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Upcoming race: Woofin' It 5K

I received an email recently with the news I'd been eagerly awaiting all spring: Registration was open for the Woofin' It 5K.

Last year's event was one of my all-time favorite race experiences and definitely my favorite fun run.

I mean, if you're an animal lover, how can you not enjoy watching dogs of all shapes and sizes galloping about, sniffing things, sporting costumes and never running the tangents?

I hope I'm able to borrow a shelter dog again, even though my companion last year gave me a sore shoulder. (No, I won't bring my cats just in case I can't run with a dog. Someone has already asked.)

I also hope that I'm able to round up a lot of registrants to help the awesome shelter that saved my Dusty cat, given the noncompetitive and super-cute nature of this event — some friends run, some friends used to run and some friends own dogs, so there's a wide appeal.

Does this guy look like he's ready to run? Nope, but he does look awfully dapper in that harness.
If anyone who's reading this hasn't already been gently nagged to register, it's at 9 a.m. May 10 at Campbell Park in Clive.

Last year, the location was perfect because I lived only a mile away; this year, it'll be nice to hit up a trail (the Clive Greenbelt) I haven't run on since probably November, if not earlier, and admire all the nice houses around there again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Running crafts are complete

I have officially finished the running-schwag crafts that I declared I would do months ago!

The T-shirt pillows are now complete. Behold the fruits of my labor:

When I googled "T-shirt pillow" at my crafting companion's apartment to find the written instructions I meant to use, I discovered video results for no-sew projects.

Out went plan A, and in came plan B with much improvisation and little measuring. (I wasn't going to watch a 10-minute video late in the "crafternoon.")

Somehow both turned into socially acceptable pillows, despite the slipperiness of tech T-shirts and my lack of fancy slicing equipment during the Arny Johnson project's creation.

Dusty approves of my work.
What to do next? Well, I'm adding quite a few bibs to my holder, and maybe those T-shirts will end up in a second quilt.

Or maybe I could just hit the pavement instead.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Upcoming race: Grand Blue Mile

Two-plus years ago, as I planned out my running year, I set my sights on something totally different: a mile-long race.

But the one I had in mind — the State Street Mile — is in Rockford, Ill., and within months of my announced intention to try it, I was out of Rockford and with other plans for my PTO that summer.

This year is the year, though. All the stars have aligned for me to try the Grand Blue Mile.

Instead of doing a half marathon that weekend, I'm doing one more than a month later, and the April 22 race day comes a few weeks after the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K. From speed training to speedier training — the transition seemed pretty natural.

Plus, because I already work downtown on Tuesdays, travel and parking will be a cinch. All I have to do is show up to work with a change of clothes.

Warming up could be a cinch, too: Just jog the approximately half-mile from work down to Western Gateway Park. Some casual Googling indicated to me that I'll need at least that much to prepare for such a short race.

I unfortunately didn't think far enough ahead to work more mile training into my 5K regimen, so I don't have much material for goals yet.

It is safe to say, however, that I registered for the competitive division — recommended for sub-8:00-milers — and not the recreational — all abilities, including walkers. I've done that in 5Ks, sometimes without even warming up, training or trying (boy, Sadye, you sure have long arms ... ).

And it's also safe to say that I'll get a PR ... because it only counts on race day, according to Runner's World's Ask Miles.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reflections on 5K training plans

As I made my racing plans for the first half of the year, I realized that the timing of races and vacations meant I'd be able to — and probably should — use a 5K-specific training plan.

It's been only recently that I aimed for speed at 5Ks, and in my running career almost every 5K has fallen during half-marathon training anyway.

So this spring, I was intrigued, excited and hopeful to implement a speed-specific plan.

Looking back, though, I have to say that I don't think I'll do that again. Or at the very least, I'll try a different routine.

Part of the fault lies with me, I'll admit that. I lost a week because of illness, and I made a few changes to the program that I thought would improve it.

But I do know, however, that I'm not alone. When I wrote earlier about adjusting my expectations for the 5K, I received a supportive tweet from Karla:
I always run my best times deep into training for longer distances. But to be fair, I've never properly trained for a 5K.
It made me wonder: Was it maybe not a coincidence that I shattered my 5K personal record at an event two-thirds of the way through half-marathon training that was going great?

The alterations I made to the training plan were an attempt to make it more speed-specific, but maybe I erred in dropping off some of the longer, easier runs (longer being relative, of course) — the half-marathon plan that I like does incorporate weekly speedwork, in addition to mid-distance and long runs.

Then again, running is definitely a head game, and I think that's especially true right now for me, considering the years of consistent running and biking under my belt and my age.

I could always try a 5K plan again. I might. But the next competitive 5K I have my eye on is during half-marathon training, so it won't be soon.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How I did on my first-quarter goals

When I set my goals for the first three months of the year, I thought I had most of them in the bag, except for one, which I secretly expected myself to wimp out on.

But the first quarter was full of surprises. Here's how I did.

What I said: Continue working on being mentally strong.

How I did: Terrible. (Which continues the negative self-talk I kept engaging in every time I caved during a run.)

It seemed like I successfully resisted the temptation to walk during last fall's speedwork far more often than I did this spring. All the stopping meant a lot of self-doubt, criticism and declarations that I should just quit running.

Better luck next quarter, I guess.

What I said: Break 24:00 in a 5K.

How I did: I was only about 2.5 minutes away from that ...

No, as Cory said, you can't PR at every race, and despite the runner's high I got from that 24:09 finish, I knew that would mean pushing even harder to do any better.

I don't think this was an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I wasn't surprised that I came up short. It's been a participation-award season so far, not an accomplishment-filled one.

What I said: Focus on running slow runs slower and fast runs faster.

How I did: The weather helped me out here — it's hard to go too fast when your thighs are frozen during the entire run.

What I said: Incorporate stair workouts.

How I did: The good news is, I dutifully did this once a week during 5K training. The bad news is, it didn't appear to put an end to my breathless arrival at work after walking three flights.

Seriously, though, while it was far more physically challenging than the yoga and core routines I picked out for myself, I found it much easier to force myself to get this workout in. The simplicity of it worked incredibly well for me.

The one goal I had faith I'd fail at was the most successful one. Huh.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Race report: Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K

Did you bet on a victory from me at the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick 5K? I hope not, because I came up short on every goal.

That's not to say I didn't even manage to have fun — before and after the race, I did enjoy myself. (And during the race, when a tiny dog who lived on the race route totally bandited it, I grinned.) So let's focus on that.

It was Annah's first 5K ever, though funnily enough she's done a half marathon, and it went great for her.

All of the advice she sought from me over the weekend was either right or not-wrong, because she ran the whole way and finished in about 42 minutes, much faster than her goal/prediction of 45:00.

I spotted her during the out-and-back course, as well as Cory and book clubber Stephanie, and she looked strong. She still looked good as she crossed the finish line — less smiley than in our pre-race selfie, but much more determined:

Three friends who had planned to run actually weren't able to, but they showed up in surprise support.

Pam and Marco fought through a flu bug to cheer on Annah (Cory and I had finished by the time they arrived), and Joel woke up obscenely early to drive back from a college-friend reunion weeked in Columbia, Mo., in time for Annah's big finish.

As we stood around enjoying the free beer afterwards, we happened to notice that 5K times had already been posted, so we meandered over to see what we'd officially done.

"What's that one next to my name mean?" Cory asked when we found his time. It means a trophy for finishing first in your age group, you speed demon! (23:14, and that includes the amount of time it took to get to the official start.)
Race trophy and trophy girlfriend. Cory had a good Sunday.
Annah rocked, Cory rocked, and Stephanie rocked, coming in just behind Cory. What about me?

I finished in 26:22, walking probably six times and finishing almost a minute off my last year's time (not to mention how far away from my PR I was). There's nothing I can blame it on but myself, not weather or terrain or training-plan gaps: I was just incredibly mentally weak.

I could analyze it and point out the positives in my splits, and of course I did those things over post-race food and beer.

But it's long over now, and I'd rather remember my genuine happiness for those who did well, the sunshine and support at the afterparty, and the summery weather we kept soaking up on our post-race bike ride.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Scoping out the competition

It's been quite some time since Cory and I ran together — months, possibly — so I was very interested to see how well he was moving at last Sunday's run date.

After all, we've been trash-talking about who's going to win this weekend's 5K since probably the last time we ran a competitive race together.

The good news is, I now know another way to sabotage his race experience, in addition to having him run an extremely fast mile at a race the day before, then filling him up with beer: Push a huge, rich breakfast on him.

The bad news: Huge, rich breakfasts also don't do me any favors, and he got to see that Sunday. So it'll be hard to trick him into having one while I stick with something safer.

Based on our four-miler, I think it'll be a fair matchup. Though my training hasn't gone like I'd hoped, I've seen how friendly competition and pleasant weather can pull me out of a slump.

I don't have to break my personal record, set during half-marathon training in perfect conditions — I just have to keep ahead of Cory.

(Also, not that I'm superstitious, but I *did* just lay out my luckiest gear for race day.)

Cory, meanwhile, has the edge on natural athletic ability and, given that he commutes from downtown Des Moines to Johnston every day on a bike, overall fitness.

The first 1.5 miles of that run were hilly and he hadn't found his stride, but he never held me back, nor did he make us stop to walk.

Last year's race was on roads, not a trail like the Remembrance Run, so assuming that hasn't changed, spotting each other should be easier.

I'm not sure whether that will benefit or bother me; not knowing how close Cory was kept me pushing hard last fall, but if his neon-yellow sneakers taunt me from well into the distance, I might get discouraged and back off instead of waiting for any signs of weakness.

Check back Monday to see who triumphed! "Only" pride is on the line.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Conflicting emotions about tapering

It's taper week, and I can't make up my mind how I feel about it.

On one hand, running has been a mental and physical struggle these past three months.

So I don't mind not planning my day, often around the "best" window of weather, and talking myself out the door, sometimes coming back frustrated or disappointed (or just plain uncomfortable!).

My tempering of 5K hopes probably hasn't helped, either. I suspect I'm already looking past this race to ones where I have no expectations or where I have higher hopes for better training conditions.

On the other hand, once I'm done running, I feel better mentally and physically.

There's a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, no matter how poorly I performed, and everything that follows the run is that much more pleasurable: stretching, sitting, showering, sleeping and eating. Emphasis on eating.

One thing's for sure, though. This is the least-fatigued I've ever been going into taper week, which is probably why I'm confused — all of my other tapers have come during half-marathon plans, not 5K ones.

We'll see what all this means for race day.