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.