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.