Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Why random nice days during wintertime are great

Recently, it occurred to me that I could kill two birds with one stone, with a certain topic for a blog post.

If I wrote about why winter running is great, I could not only put some content up, but I might also end up convincing myself, thus saving me the half-hour it usually takes to psych me up.

But to be perfectly honest, inspiration was a little lacking. It also didn't help that my best recent run came on the warmest recent day.

So instead of appreciating the cold weather on its own merits, I'll have to settle for appreciating how the cold weather makes me appreciate milder temperatures ... as unimpressed as I am with myself for being so cliche here.

Seriously, though, while I wasn't frustrated at how slow last week's runs went, I was a little sad.

I did succumb once to "if I can barely do three miles, what right do I even have to think about thinking about doing a whole marathon?" though fortunately that thought dissipated once I got to the top of whatever hill I was climbing.

It's one thing to tell yourself that you're struggling because it's windy and below freezing; it's a whole lot more convincing when you log 5.25 miles at a 9:25 pace on a day when it's at least 10 degrees warmer.

With my 5K training plan kicking off next week, I needed to see that kind of result when I'm still in base-training mode — proof that there is something to build off. Especially as winter doesn't show any inclination to ease up.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Shorts report

Anyone else feel like we're stuck in the same weather loop?

One or two sunny, mild days that lift our spirits sky-high, only to be crushed by the deep freeze that follows and sticks around for several days before beginning the cycle anew.

I mean, I live in the Midwest by choice, and I don't have a gym membership by choice, so I'm not asking for sympathy.

If nothing else, the arctic spells make me determined to take advantage of the nicer days — not just by going outside, but by wearing shorts in January!

The legs were out last Sunday! (PS — I *am* wearing shorts in this photo. They just got cut off.)
I've managed to run outside in shorts three times so far this month, two of those times in a T-shirt as well. One of those days I probably could've been comfortable in tights, but I wasn't suffering in shorts, either.

I like to think of the mud splatters all up my calves as badges of honor, especially when I pass at least one runner who's clothed head to toe as I sneak the summer gear out months early.

Doesn't look like I'll have another such chance for a while, but we'll see what February brings. At the very least I should be able to leave the fuzzy hat and gloves behind here and there.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

First installment of 2014's quarterly goals

When I initially posted about goals for 2014, they didn't feel inadequate.

But that was before I binge-read Runner's World, which for the first time in my years as a subscriber started to pile up unread.

Now I'm full of ideas for what to focus on this year. Is it weird to be excited about how many areas in which you feel you need to improve? (Even if so — it's healthier than the alternative.)

Once again, I think I'll break the year into segments, to avoid resolution overload. So here's what I hope to focus on and achieve through March:

1. Continue working on being mentally strong. (Goal already set.) This is kind of a prerequisite for everything else I hope to achieve — or, really, just running outdoors in the Midwest in wintertime in general — so expect to see it recycled on every goal list I ever make.

2. Break 24:00 in a 5K. (Yep, another repeat.)

3. Focus on running slow runs slower and fast runs faster. Runner's World and Competitor seem like they're beating this dead horse, and I'm starting to feel like I'm part of the problem.

I haven't crunched any numbers, but most of my runs that aren't in extreme weather, on extreme terrain or part of a speed workout tend to average a fairly consistent pace. That probably means I at least go too fast on easy days, if not necessarily too slow on hard days.

4. Incorporate stair workouts. It would really be nice if, during my daily climb of three sets of stairs into work, I didn't arrive breathless and insecure about my physical fitness. It would also be nice if it helped my running, too.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A first for Little Runner: Running errands

During this past Holiday Running Streak, I did consider combining small, nearby errands with my workouts.

But unlike Run, Karla, Run!, I never actually did it. I forget why. I'm sure the reasons weren't very convincing (though in my defense, I have done errands by bike instead of by car).

I broke that particular streak this week, however, and I think I may have found the perfect motivating factor: laziness/incompetence.

Let me explain. I'm well aware that often, it's easier not to drive because of parking and traffic, and when it comes to downtown events after work on Fridays, I wholeheartedly support hoofing it. And while I haven't made a habit of it, I have willingly done a few errands on two wheels instead of four.

But returning a library book midday on a Wednesday, when you literally will pass by the library on your commute to work? It was tempting to find an easier route — coming back from downtown is slightly uphill and into the 9 mph wind (imagine a baby crying) — and just head to work a few minutes early.

And then I thought about parallel parking, which I never learned in high school and never attempted by myself until I moved to Des Moines in May 2012; and parking meters, which no one likes, but which especially annoy people accustomed to living in second-rate cities that don't dare discourage shoppers by charging for parking.

Oh, and don't forget how, if you park with the driver's side next to the curb, which I find easier, you have to climb over the frozen snow to get to the meter and sidewalk.

That settled it. I may be the world's biggest baby, given all the minor inconveniences I just listed, but I can carry a single, pathetic paperback book for less than two miles as I glide downhill, the wind at my back, while deliberately running slowly because it's base-rebuilding time.

Fashionistas would likely be horrified to hear that not only did I do it and survive, but that I also realized there's no reason I can't actually pick up a book or a few small groceries while doing more errand runs.

There will be spandex and a light sweat. But hey, even though Des Moines is cool enough to make people pay for parking, it's not so cool that it can't handle my midrun rosy cheeks and messy hair once in a while.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Recovering from hibernation and from that first run after

My brain is happy to report that hibernation ended Sunday. My muscles are now, finally, no longer annoyed to share that same news.

I lucked out majorly by picking Sunday as the day to quit plowing through holiday leftovers and move off the couch: Highs in the mid-40s called for shorts in January!

We went for an easy route, with no shame. The out-and-back from my place to Salisbury House and back was about 3.25 miles, with only short, slight hills. (We did have to leap over puddles quite a bit, though, so — sarcasm — we're not total slackers.)

Based on Cory's criticism of his own first post-hibernation run and my own experiences returning to running, I'd expected to suffer quite a bit. For me, though, the misery didn't hit until later.

I was a dutiful runner and made sure to stretch afterward, but that didn't prevent the stiffness in my upper lower body and the soreness around my shins/ankles.

However, I was lazy and didn't use the foam roller until Tuesday — um, for the first time since sometime in November — and holy moly was that a punishment. Surprisingly, it was my quads and not my IT bands that suffered the most (IT band was second-most painful).

The best part of course was re-realizing how much pleasant/chatty I feel on days that I run. Too bad that doesn't linger like the aches in unused muscles do.

Friday, January 10, 2014

2014 goals: Shaving seconds and at least trying

I was waiting to write this post until I'd reflected at length on what I wanted to accomplish in 2014.

But then, honestly, I realized that I already knew what I hoped to achieve, and while they may not be especially ambitious given what I did in 2013, I'm OK with that.

Maybe I sound like I'm from the participation-award generation — and that's because I am — but the past few years, I've been setting low-threshold goals and not only meeting but also exceeding them. And that feels good.

Whatever keeps me doing something that's healthy for me physically and mentally, right?

1. Break 24:00* in a 5K.

2. Break 2:00:00* in a half marathon.

2a. At least consider doing the Des Moines Marathon this fall, instead of the half, if I do Dam to Dam in the spring and accomplish the sub-2:00:00 goal there.

Please note: I AM NOT SAYING I WANT TO AND PLAN TO DO A FULL MARATHON. What I am saying is, I've definitely improved as a runner, and my personal life is probably as marathon-friendly as it'll ever be — no kids, no spouse, workweek basically guaranteed to only be 40 hours and a five-minute commute.

If I'm ever going to try a marathon, this year wouldn't be a bad time.

3. Run a mile in less than 7:30*.

4. Try biking to work.

5. Continue working on being mentally strong.

* Also, lest people think I'm a huge baby, I'd also like to point out that once I start running again, I'll likely develop my perfect-race-day, good-race-day and bare-minimum-race-day goals for these events. For example, if I notch a 7:30 mile on my own, the best-case goal could become 7:00.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hibernation arrived at a good time

It's tough to maintain a running blog when one is not actually running, but rather than use this platform to yammer on about my personal life, I'm going to use my personal life as a backdrop to why now is a good time for me not to run:

* The historic cold blast arrived barely a week after the Holiday Running Streak ended. The six-day difference between the 2012 and 2013 streaks saved my buns ... or my whole body ... or my streak's existence ... or whatever it would've cost to hop along to a friend's gym on a guest pass ... or the people in the skywalk from seeing a weirdo run a mile through the skywalk.

* Post-holiday parties — friends who felt bad they didn't spend enough time at my place over New Year's made a return visit.

Because I made them wait an extra 30 minutes to see me to finish off the streak on New Year's Day, I luxuriated in NOT making them accommodate a hobby they respect my interest in but would really rather never participate in.

* Our household grew! A 9-year-old tabby named Ringo has moved in, and it's taking him a few days to adjust.

An excuse to post cat pictures? Guilty as charged, and unashamed.
* I was mentally and physically tired of running, while my muscles had just about had it with my limited stretching/nonexistent foam rolling.

Though I have to be honest and point out two reasons hibernation came at a bad time:

* The latest issue of Runner's World arrived recently, so not only do I feel guilty about not running, but I also feel guilty that I haven't used my spare time to even read about running.

* Holiday leftovers.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 run streak is in the books

It's official: Cory and I both won the 2013 Holiday Running Streak, and I can finally take a solid week off from running.

Last year's victory came with more of a sense of accomplishment, though: It was my first time, so I had doubts; Thanksgiving was earlier, so it took longer; and I suspect I did more longer runs.

I totaled 77.66 miles over 35 days, for an average run length of 2.2 miles. More than half of the days, I didn't break three miles (my mental milestone for a full run) — 16 single-mile days, plus three two-ish mile ones.

Cory and I agreed that we each had intended to rely less on single-mile runs, but this was definitely an example of life being what happens when you're busy making plans. Weather, travel, parties ... all legitimate reasons to not worry about getting more than one mile in.

And it's still a mile more than I might've run on the days when our highs were in single digits, when an ice storm struck Des Moines, when I spent all day unpacking my new apartment so I could cook for a Thanksgiving potluck at which I spent six hours, etc.

This year brought more fun in addition to more obstacles (and, um, six fewer days).

It's good to have online partners in this challenge, but it's more helpful to have a real-life partner with you — particularly on the days when you grumble that you really don't want to do this, and your partner reminds you there's always the option of just running to the half-mile mark though you'll probably want to keep going at that point.

(He's right, and he's actually punished for that because he is the one who wants to turn back at the half-mile mark, but you're loving the downhill route too much to remember how miserable the uphill return will be.)

The real-life buddy keeps you accountable when he's already gotten his run in for the day, while you've been procrastinating, or vice versa; and the real-life buddy will still laugh every time you're high-stepping through snow/tiptoeing around ice spots/rubbing feeling back into your frozen face and you say, "Man, this hobby sucks," or, "Why did we decide to do this stupid streak again?"

My real-life buddy and I concluded the streak together on New Year's Day, well before sidewalks were cleared in my neighborhood and also before most dog-walkers had been out to forge a trail for us.

It was like being a kid again, and we were already giddy at how close we were to finishing this streak when we heard honking and yelling — it was Zach and Chelsea, visiting friends waiting for us to get this one last run in so that they could see my new place and have brunch, driving somewhere to kill time by walking their dog.

Hooting and hollering about a quarter-mile from the end, no missed runs and no wipeouts at all? Sounds like a successful streak to me.