Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beach Party

Every December there are some crazy people who come to the Beach Blast 5K and run it in their swim suits. I have not attained that level of insanity yet, but I had a blast at the race today and had one of my fastest times ever!

It's surprising that today went so well, because I almost decided not to go. I wasn't feeling the greatest (as in: would rather be curled on the couch in the fetal position with a heating pad on my lower abdomen), but I knew that there aren't many opportunities for races in the winter, and I wanted to show my support for this small, local race, and I figured that I'd go and give it what I could. It turned out to be my best 5K time of the year by far, and I brought home some delicious homemade jam as a prize for being 2nd in my age group!

The race was at a local state park, where I've been running various races for years, but today's course was new. It was a triple loop through the parking lot and campground. I've heard some scuttlebutt that it was a little short of the full 3.1 miles. I plugged the route into Gmaps Pedometer, and according to that, it was either 3.07 or 3.08 miles, so I can't really boast a new PR. If I factor in my pace for that distance, however, I was still over a minute faster than any other 5K I've run so far this year, so I am very pleased with the result.

The three-loops gave us a lot of opportunity to pass spectators in the parking lot, and the crowd support was encouraging, but I have to say, it almost broke my spirit to have to do the loop 3 times. My favorite courses are there-and-back routes. For some reason I just find them psychologically easier to run. I guess that I was lucky this time, though, because I had forgotten my watch at home, and passing by the clock twice during the race let me know how I was doing with my pace.

There wasn't much excitement to report as far as trying to pass people or racing someone to the finish. I was shocked though when I came down the final stretch and saw that the clock read 24:5x. I tried to put a little more into my kick to try and come in under 25:00, but it wasn't enough. I ended with a time of about 25:05 or 25:06, I think. Times will be posted by the end of the week, so I'll have to find out for sure then.

Unfortunately, my weekend has been a whirlwind of activity, and the race seems to have been the final blow to my immune system. My nose was a little runny during and after the race, as it usually is after running in the cold, but by the time I started heading home, the floodgates unleashed and I've been glued to a tissue box ever since. I can't say that I regret doing all that I did this weekend, which included a holiday party hosted by one of my college friends on Friday night and then going into New York with her yesterday to see the King Tut exhibit. If anyone has the opportunity to see the exhibit before it closes (or when it moves to a new location), it was absolutely amazing, and I highly recommend it. I learned so much and was awed by the beauty of the artifacts and the fact that they were so well preserved after thousands of years.

Well, right now it's time to curl up on the couch with some tissues and that heating pad. I hope that after some rest I'll feel better and that later this week I can get back to running.

Oh, and here's a video for the song that I was rocking out to before the race to get pumped up and then after to celebrate. It was a beach theme, so I couldn't help it! ;-)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Race report: NJ Winter Trail Series: Race 1

I started off yesterday thinking "So this is the meaning of an epic fail." It must not have been that epic, though, because in spite of some very fail-worthy moments on my part, the Winter Trail Series 5K was amazing.

The weather was great, the trail conditions were perfect, everyone was courteous on the course, I felt great, and there was soup and hot chocolate waiting for us at the end (among other much-appreciated refreshments). If there are any pictures of me out on the course, I'm probably unnaturally smile-ly in them, because I was having a blast.

Who would have known that just 2 hours before, I was cursing my unbelievable stupidity and trying to find some sufficiently-angry music to listen to for the remainder of my drive. Actually, it wasn't that bad, but I was pretty annoyed at myself. Even though I had laid out all of my gear the night before, I forgot my wallet at home. I was alone and driving about an hour away with no driver's license, personal identification, or money of any kind. When I went home to get it, I set myself behind by about half an hour. Then I remembered that there would probably be twice as many people at this race as there had been at the one I ran last year, and all of the parking lots within half a mile of the start would be taken. Then, I realized that I really had to go to the bathroom. I started weighing options like "Will it be better to be late for packet pick-up or the beginning of the race?" to determine when to go to the bathroom, and my spirit was almost crushed.

The gods smiled down on me, though, because -- even after one of the roads I needed to use was closed and I had to take a detour -- I ended up not being the only one running late. There were so many people waiting to register/pick up their packets at the time registration was supposed to close that the organizer decided to push the start time back a little! (Cue "Hallelujah Chorus".) So I parked in Timbuktu, ran to pick up my packet, received my bib and a fleece blanket (which is an awesome give-away for a winter race), ran back to Timbuktu, drove to Antarctica where I knew that there was an unoccupied porta-potty, drove back to Timbuktu, and ran to the start, where I was actually able to get some stretching in before the race began.

The fleece blankets came in neat little bundles with the event logo printed on them.

I did not have any time goals or expectations for this race, so I started at the back of the pack and took it fairly easy while everyone was bumping and jostling for position. I knocked elbows with a girl in a red sweatshirt and NY Giants hat, and after running near her for a little, thought that I'd try and pace myself off of her for a while. Then my next fail moment came when I noticed that my shoes weren't laced tightly enough. They were securely double-knotted, but my heel lifted too much out of them, and they were uncomfortable. I don't know how I hadn't noticed that when I was running to and from my car. I didn't really want to stop and re-lace them, so I kept going as we followed a dirt road around a pond. On the other end of the pond, the course turned onto a single-track trail, and when I saw how bottled up it was from 300 runners trying to squeeze on one-at-a-time, I figured that I might as well stop to fix my shoes. By the time I finished and hopped onto the trail, I was almost dead last. Honestly. Out of 300 runners in the 5K and 10K combined, I was probably 296th. And so I started passing people.

The course was largely how I remember it, but my experience feels so different this year. Last January, when I ran this race for the first time, it felt like the hills would never end. I remember being exhausted and needing to walk to get through the first half of the race. This year I was focused on regaining lost ground and carefully balancing the amount of energy I used. I'd wait until my breathing was even and I felt that I had a lot of energy and that the footing was secure to pass as many people as I could. Then I'd tuck in for a little while until it was time to move up again. I usually tried to announce myself with an "on your left" before passing. I slowed down on the hills but kept jogging, which in itself let me pick off a lot of people, and I was rewarded when we finally reached the downhills. I was pretty winded at that point and used some time to coast and get my breath back before passing anyone. I ended up getting my breath back at a kind of flat section where I saw some spaces where I could pass, and I took off. I abandoned a rhythmic running cadence and hurdled over the rocks and roots as quickly as possible, landing wherever had the best footing. This was so much fun! The trails I've been running on my own are so rocky that I rarely have the opportunity to open up like that and get a lot of speed. I eventually caught up with someone and got stuck behind her as the trail moved very steeply downhill. I followed her for a while until the next opportunity to pass, and I took off again and was pretty much alone from that point until the end of the race.

If I've ever experienced runner's high, today was it. In the car on the way home, I was singing made-up lyrics along the lines of "I feel amazing" to the tune Josh Kelley's "Amazing" and was in a great mood for the rest of the day. I had such a good time running this race, both with how I felt physically and mentally, since moving up as far as I did was a big confidence booster.

So, thank you to the gracious gods above and to the planets for aligning in order to turn my bad day into such an amazingly great race. I'd also like to give a big thank you to the volunteer who was ladling hot water for the soup and hot chocolate. It didn't seem like a fun job, but we all appreciated it!

Time: 35:51
Place Overall: 72/128
Age Group: 9/21

Lexie approves of the new blanket and has already tried to make a puppy nest with it on the couch.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Winter Trail Series Race Goals

Ok, so I lied. This is not a post about race goals. I don't think that I have any expectations going into tomorrow's race. I just want to get out and run some trails with a lot of other people.

It will be my second time running the Winter Trail Series 5k. The first time was last January, and looking back over my recap, it's strange to see how new trail running was for me then. (That is, technical trail running - not the flat, easy rail-trails.) Since then, I've run in another race and trained several times on technical trails in three different parks, and I actually feel just as comfortable lacing up my shoes for a trail run as I do for a run on the road.

The race is put on by the NJ Trail Series, which seems to be gaining a lot of popularity and has begun putting on a lot of events in northern New Jersey that range from 5ks to ultras. I love that they're providing the opportunity to race different distances throughout the winter.

The temperature at the start should be about 32*, and I'm trying to decide what to wear. I've been running almost all of my runs lately in an Under Armour ColdGear Mock shirt that is probably the most amazing article of clothing I've ever worn. I don't know if it will be too warm, though, and I might just go with a technical tee under a cotton long-sleeve. In any case, I've been feeling really good lately, so I expect to go out and have a good race!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Running after work in the dark

The chill in the air makes my nose run a little, but it feels good after the stuffy heat of the library. The sun set about 10 minutes ago, and I can see into all of the lit business and shop windows in town as I run along the sidewalk. Concrete sidewalks make for a hard, unforgiving surface to run on, but I seem to be able to spring off the ground so much easier from it that I feel fast. There really aren't that many people out and about. I am still cautious when crossing streets, though, because even decked out in reflective gear, I can't tell if cars can see me or not.

I turn toward a more residential section of town and focus on a section of brick sidewalk ahead, which dips and rolls in bumpy waves from the tree roots beneath. The street-lamps provide just enough light for me to high-step over the bumps and cracks. I keep going straight for a few blocks and start getting into a groove. I don't feel cold anymore, and I might even be taking it a little fast for an easy run.

I turn at the church on the corner of 4th Street and enter the quietest part of the neighborhood. The houses here never seem to have much going on. Maybe the southwest-style place with the tiki hut and plastic palm trees in the backyard has some activity in the summer, but in the fall and winter, it looks sad and out of place among the old Victorian buildings around it. It is one of the only houses along my route without a sidewalk, so I hop up onto the grass to avoid a car coming my way.

I run down another block before turning again. Here I start to see a lot of houses that are decorated for Christmas. I feel a little tired now. I probably did start out too fast, so I take it down a notch and look around at the lights and glowing reindeer. A dog barks at me from one of the houses, but I don't worry about it. The houses are so close together here that people always keep their pets fenced in or leased.

The road ends, and I turn into a fairly new housing development. Here the houses are modern, and almost every single one is decked with lights and lawn ornaments. The people who live here are coming home from work. I see them as they get out of their cars or string a few extra lights on the porch. The glow from inside the windows looks warm and comfy, but my legs are fully warmed up now, and I feel good running by in the cold.

I follow this road through to the end of the development. It empties out onto one of the main roads through town, right by the high school. I wait for the traffic to clear before dashing across and starting on the last leg of tonight's run. This is a straight shot, and I push a little harder knowing that I'm almost finished. As cars come up behind me, I see my own shadow against the fence growing clearer as the headlights get nearer. It's almost strange to be running alongside this shadow me. I run faster and see the shadow looking straighter and more purposeful. It looks strong and fast. I break the cadence to leap off the curb at a road crossing and back up on the other side, but my legs feel nimble now, and I can maneuver over the curbs and uneven sidewalks without losing speed.

When I lift my eyes up from the ground, I see the library up ahead. This is very familiar territory now. How many times have I had to park my car around here because the parking lot was full? I continue just a little way past the now nearly empty lot and turn at the corner to come around the library from the front. And jogging up to the side entrance, where I will go to collect my things and head home, I end another after-work, after-dark run feeling strong and exhilerated.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't shoot me, please!

Have you ever noticed the runners who look so sleek and cool clad in all-black cold-weather running gear? Ninja-like from balaclava to compression tights, they look like they're probably as fast as ninjas, too.

I am not one of them.

Instead, I'll be super stylish this winter in my brand-new "Hotfingers Hunting" orange knit hat. Until I find somewhere else to run besides wooded trails and back roads, I have to stick to wearing the brightest colors possible, and with hunting season upon us, orange is the best color.

I came across the hat when I was looking around at an outdoor recreation store for pepper spray to carry with me on runs. The pepper spray was the jogger model, with a strap to put around your hand to make it easy to carry. With the pepper spray, orange hat, and iFitness belt to carry keys, phone, and extra fuel, I'm well-prepared to run safely this winter.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things To Be Thankful For

Every time I feel a little sore lately, I remember back to last year when I took time off from running to check to see if I had a stress fracture. Not being able to run drove me crazy. I remember that, because it reminds me of how thankful I am to be able to run. There are plenty of times when I'm lazy and choose not to, but the ability to get out and put one foot in front of the other is more valuable than I can say. So today, on Thanksgiving, I want to say how thankful I am for the ability to run. I'm not especially talented, and, compared to others, I'm not even that dedicated to training, but it's something I love to do, and I am so grateful for it. But that's only one of the things for which I am thankful this year. Here are some of the others:

There isn't much more to be thankful for in life than family and friends, although I admit that there are many times when I do not appreciate them enough. I had a wonderful time sharing the holiday today with family, and I look forward to many more opportunities to continue traditions and make new memories. Pictured above is one of my favorite family memories: an unexpected rainstorm during my cousin's housewarming party. A little rain couldn't dampen our spirits!

I've tried to come out of my little librarian bubble and be a little more social in the past few months, and every time I do, I remember what great people my friends are. There's nothing like a buddy for hanging out watching chic flicks, spending a road trip listening to Harry Potter audio books, or just talking.

(Cue Gollum voice) My precious:
I think that I'm thankful every single day for my darling, precious, fluffy little Yorkshire Terrier. She is annoyingly yappy, very disobedient, and stressful to take care of (with health issues like cataracts and seizures), but this little dog is so sweet and lovable that I am thankful for her even when she's running around the house with a stolen sock.

Last week I tried to take my bike for a ride on the trail and was stopped by a flat tire. Luckily I got that fixed on Tuesday, and you wouldn't believe how happy I was to be able to ride again. I was actually surprised how much I had missed using the bike, even though it was such a short time.

Summit Trail:
This is a trail that I explored for the first time on Tuesday. I am thankful not only for having discovered it, but to have so many opportunities to run trails so close to home. This one starts halfway up the mountain, so it does not take too much effort to reach the summit and take in the beautiful views from the ridge. I can't wait to try out some of the other trails in the park!

Sharing old recipes - and discovering new ones:
There's nothing that brings people together quite like sharing and enjoying food together. In the past month, I've been helping my mom type her collection of recipes, and I've often felt like I've been transported back in time to when my great-grandmother was alive and making meatballs with my mom in the kitchen, or when I'd visit my grandmother and she would put the entire bowl of her home-made cole-slaw in front of me because she knew that it was my favorite. I struck out with my standard stuffed mushrooms at Thanksgiving dinner today (they were bland), but I am not discouraged. In fact, I can't wait to try out many new recipes. I might even be bold enough to get fancy and try one of Julia Child's recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Bon Apettite!

Snuggly socks:
I really, really love warm, snuggly socks -- especially if they're made of fluffy material. They cushion your feet and make them so warm, all without making annoying flopping sounds like slippers usually do. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for snuggly socks.

Warm gloves:
Last spring I bought some biking gloves on clearance, and, since the weather had been too warm, I only just wore them for the first time on Wednesday. I am now in love. If it sounds like I have an unhealthy obsession with fluffy socks, that is nothing compared to my attachment to these gloves. Not only are they blissfully warm, but the padding is supposed to prevent your fingers from going numb from the vibrations of the handlebars! That is seriously good news, because I have Raynaud's Disease, which is constriction of blood vessels in fingers and toes (usually caused by the cold, or vibrations, such as a car steering wheel or bike handlebars) causing them to turn white and go completely numb. I am so thankful to have found a pair of gloves that will help me keep my fingers warm and toasty, that I've taken to putting them on even when I'm inside, just to feel how warm and cushiony they are. They fit me, but they are really big, and the palm side looks really technical with all of the different padded areas, so when I wear them I kind of feel like a combination between Hakeem Nicks and Darth Vader. No problem, though. They're amazing!

The Cowboys losing today's football game:
No explanation needed!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Not exactly the fast track

So I'm not exactly on the fast track to my first marathon or a new race PR. Since my last post (in which I decided to build a base by working my way up to and then maintaining 20 miles per week), I set up and have been following a schedule combining running with arm/leg strength training, core workouts, and cycling. To fit everything in to a week with enough rest in between workouts, I started out at only 10 miles of running. It's a good start, but it will definitely take a bit of time to progress to where I would like to be with my running.

The first week of the schedule was successful, and I finished all of the workouts as planned. The second week was also successful, and I think that I can already sense a change in my fitness. Although one of my workouts was cut short, resulting in another 10-mile-week, I still got in almost all of the workouts as planned, and during my long run of 6 miles on Saturday, I felt stronger than I usually do. At mile 4, where I would usually be slow and shuffle-ly, I was holding pretty good form and a steady pace. Then I kept that pace up through miles 5 and 6, with a nice push for the last 100 m, which I was able to sustain right through to the end. It was a great, confidence-building run that makes me feel like I'm taking the right approach to fitness and running.

Yesterday was a rest day after the 6-miler, but the weather was too perfect for me not to be outside, and I decided to take the Trek out for a little spin on the trail. There have been some long gaps in between rides in the past few months, so I didn't think much of needing to fill the tires with air before every ride. This time I just needed to fill the back tire. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough. By the time I had ridden a mile, the tire was almost completely flat, so I turned around and walked it back to the car. I had stashed the air pump in the trunk, but I think it's too far gone and will need some professional maintenance. Of the two tires on the bike, the back tire was the newer one, so I'm a little bummed that I'll probably have to replace it again. Luckily I can still train on my indoor bike-trainer until the Trek is back in commission.

I don't know if I'll be in shape to run a fast 5k by Thanksgiving or the beginning of December, but I'm pleased with how my schedule is going after 2 weeks, so I'll stick with it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What would it take?

I have a problem. I've never logged more than 20 miles in one week. I keep getting injured or turned off by bad weather conditions, and so I haven't given myself the opportunity to improve. Just this week I stopped running because I've had some pain in my hip/iliotibial band/knee/lower leg. And today I sat down and wondered to myself "what would it take for me to run a marathon?" At this point, it seems almost impossible.

I'd like to try and do it, though. It might not be for a very long time, but completing a marathon is high on my list of things to do. And to get there, I need to gradually build a base and maintain it. So my long-term goal is to slowly work my way up to 20 miles per week and maintain it. Then I can evaluate whether or not I can handle a marathon.

My first step now is to buy new shoes. The second step is to get out and use them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bringing home the hardware

I was just scrolling through my blog roll and saw a giveaway for a medal hanger. The one displayed by the blogger had 14 medals on it, and it was fun to try and guess what kind of race each one came from, given the varied shapes, sizes, and colors of the medals. I have to say, the display was very impressive. Whether they were finisher's medals or age group awards, each one signifies a great deal of training, and probably a fair amount of pain that was endured.

I've heard some people joke about racing just for the hardware, but to tell you the truth, receiving a medal really means a lot. When I was shuffling through my half-marathon in May with my hip aching, one of the things that kept me going was knowing that if I didn't get to the finish line, I wouldn't get a medal, and I wouldn't have that tangible proof that I could do it, even though I had trained so hard for so long. The motivation of knowing that I would be rewarded not just for the miles of agony I was running at that moment, but also the months that led up to it helped keep me going. And after the race, my support staff surprised me with a shadowbox with a copy of the medal, my bib, a photo, and a plaque with my time, which now reminds me daily of what an accomplishment it was to finish.

I have to admit, though, that I feel a little behind my fellow runners. Four years after my first 5k, I had one finisher's medal to my credit, and one medal would look a little pathetic on a medal hanger. I had been hoping that this summer I could improve my speed and come home with a new 5k PR and some age group awards. It didn't quite happen that way, and I've learned a little bit of a lesson.

On September 25th, I ran the Fall Foliage 5K in the town where I work. I thought that it would be an easy PR, since the course is flat, I'm familiar with the area, and being fall, the weather would be cooler. I was wrong. It was warm, and I felt tired and just drained. In the first mile, I thought that I was going out too fast, and it turns out it was 9:30. I would have been behind even if it had been a minute faster. So I tried to speed up and ended in 27:54.

I admit that I was embarrassed. I hung around for the awards ceremony and discovered that I was 3rd in the female 25-29 yr. category. That was it: my first age group medal! But I didn't feel any less embarrassed. In fact, I figured that there probably were only 3 in the category to begin with and was kind of really bummed that my first age group medal was one that I didn't really earn. (Side note: I like how in the picture of me receiving the medal, I'm shaking the woman's hand and taking the medal at the same time, and it looks like we're about to do-se-do in a square dance.) I've received some delicious homemade jam as an age group award for several races in the past, and I almost received a medal last summer, but had to leave before the awards ceremony to get ready for a friend's wedding. So for years I never had the pride of bringing home the hardware, and then there was my first, barely deserved.

Thankfully, when the official results were posted, I saw that I was 3rd out of 4 in the age group, so I feel more deserving, but I've learned that I can't expect to do well without training. I ran this summer, but I didn't train, and that made all the difference when it came time to toe the starting line.

So I have decided not to run the 8-mile Chilli Challenge trail run on Sunday that I had been planning on doing. Last week I did 8 miles easy on the road and felt very out of shape. My right leg hurt from the knee to the hip, and I'll probably injure myself if I go out on the trails for a race while I'm this undertrained. The jury's still out on the trail half-marathon next month, but I'm guessing that I might not have enough time to prepare for it.

For the time being, I'm going to stretch and cross-train more and try and run more consistently. Even if I can't get outside or do a particular prescribed workout, I've told myself that if I'm feeling well and it's not a rest day, I should do at least one mile on the treadmill, no excuses. I hope to improve my fitness, feel generally better from the extra exercise, and maybe run a turkey trot with a little more confidence than I've had this summer/fall. I'll definitely be more motivated now that I have my bronze medal hanging up to remind me of what I can earn with a little more work.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Hobbit Day!

Go for a hike (or run) in the woods today and enjoy the outdoors in celebration of Hobbit Day!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's a previous post that explains it.

My celebration will consist of running through town after work trying to guess the course of the 5k on Saturday. I hope that everyone else will have a chance to get outside and enjoy the sun and trees!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Official results

I just checked the official results from today's 5k, and it looks like my sprint to the finish put me in 4th place in my age group and 43rd among female runners. Not too bad! Full race report (with these statistical corrections) in this post.

100-Meter Darling

If I can't do anything else, I can sprint fast. That doesn't help that much in distance running, but at the end of a race, when the finish is in sight, and when there's someone in your age group you want to pass, it can come in handy.

As I've mentioned before, I'd been anticipating today's Spirit Run 5K for a long time. I've never run it before because I knew I wouldn't be very fast and didn't want to embarrass myself in front of former track teammates, and I hoped that this would be the year to not only run it, but also do really well. As it turns out, I ran it and did moderately well and feel really good about it.

I made an effort not to start out too fast. I knew what kind of hills were coming up, and I wanted to have enough energy to not only get up them, but to also stay strong for the second half of the race. I stayed behind an older man who looked like he was keeping a steady, reasonable pace. I forgot my watch at home, so I didn't have many other options for pacing myself. When the hills started, I continued to follow him, but he started to lag behind as it got steeper, and I pulled out in front of him to take on the monster. The hill on Alpine Trail was very steep and not very forgiving. It didn't seem as long to me as it had when I ran it on Labor Day, though. When I got to the top, I was so pleased to know that the worst was over, and I still had energy to keep going. From there the hills were slightly rolling, and I was soon directed onto the flat, paved path to the Alpine School. Note: This was definitely not the path I took when I tried to run the course on my own. Oops. It completely skirted the scary marsh and did not have any rocks or tree branches littering the path. Well, I know for next time. My apologies to whoever's yard I ran through the first time.

This race benefited the county's Catholic school association, so many of the participants were students from those schools, ranging from elementary to high school. I liked seeing all of the kids out there running, but I have to admit that it also made the race a little more difficult. For about 2 miles I was in the middle of a pack of 8-year-old boys who liked to speed up to pass me, hang right in front just enough to be in the way, and then speed up when I tried to pass them. So as not to interfere with traffic, we were made to run along the narrow area to the right of the white line on the side of the road, so I was stuck with them at the time I really needed to move ahead and make up time.

When I finally pulled ahead of one of them for the last time, I thought about saying something encouraging. He was talking to one of his friends, though, and it was on the last major hill, and I didn't have much breath to spare. A second later, though, a girl behind me told him that he was doing a good job. She breezed by me, and I realized with a jolt of annoyance at myself that she was probably in my age group.

Exit quiet, run-for-fun me and enter ruthless competitor me. What if I just gave up an age group prize? I told myself that I could not let her get too far in front of me. I pushed it a little to the top of the hill and tried to get as much as I could out of the downhill, which wasn't much, because I was pretty tired. We probably had less than a quarter of a mile left. I had no idea how much gas I had left in the tank, but I looked ahead at her ponytail and thought that she looked like someone who had been on the track team with me - someone whom I had run in a race with - someone I had beaten. I pushed myself into the school driveway and up to the entrance to the track. I tried to squeeze through the gate with too many other people and was slowed up. Then I was on the track and started my kick. The finish line was at the end of the straightaway - the same straightaway that I had run my single high school track race on. She was far ahead of me but wasn't sprinting. I could catch her. I had to catch her. There was nothing else in the world except her white shirt and ponytail getting closer to the finish line. If I had any stored energy left before I got to the straightaway, I burned it all in that final sprint. I don't even want to know what the race pictures look like, because I'm sure that my face was contorted into some horrible expression of agony from lack of oxygen.

And at the last possible second, I caught up to her and passed her.

I crossed the finish line alongside someone wearing the school mascot outfit (go lions!) and willed myself to stay upright and walk around the track until I caught my breath. I hadn't been paying attention to the clock, and didn't have a watch, so I didn't know my time until it was posted. It turns out that I was 4th out of 11 in the female 20-29 year age group, coming in one second before the girl in the white shirt (who was, indeed the girl I had been on the track team with). My time was 29:42.7, with a pace of 9:34 per mile. I came in 127th place overall and 43rd female.

The time is obviously not my best, but I did give it a lot of effort and had a good experience. I'm even more motivated now to do more hill work so I can tackle the monster of Alpine Trail again without slowing down so much. (And now that I won't get lost finding the Alpine School path, it will be easier running the course on my own).

One of the best things that I came away with today was the exhilaration of sprinting. It feels different when you run in the lanes of a track, and today brought me back to my beginning as a runner. I feel that, physically, I'm more naturally a sprinter than a distance-runner, and the shorter the sprint, the better. Laying it all out along the 100 meter straightaway to the finish line will always be much more natural for me than endurance running, and today it was fun to do it again and feel that it is something that I can be really good at it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Running down memory lane

I went for a walk today that got me psyched up about running. Weird? Instead of sitting in the park or on the front porch of the library reading a book, I laced up a pair of sneakers and took a walk through the residential neighborhood. In the winter, when the sun sets at 4:30 and I can't bear to run on the treadmill, I often run in town right after work, since there are sidewalks and street lamps, and this walk reminded me of those runs.

The real walk run down memory lane will be coming tomorrow morning, though, when I head back to my high school for a 5K. I'm nervous about it because, besides my reconnaissance run of the course and a few short, easy runs, I haven't done much running so far this month. I'll have to change that soon. Maybe I'll even bring my gear to work one day this week and run around town again before a 5k there next weekend. For this race, I haven't set a time goal, so we'll just see how it goes.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Always an adventure

Somehow it got to be September. The heat dragged on and on all summer, but for some reason, I was a little surprised to notice a refreshing chill in the air and to find myself behind school buses on the way to work. Fall is almost here. That means that the two 5Ks I'm intending to run this month are coming up soon.


The first race is just over a week away and will be held at my high school. I've been anticipating this race for months. My high school was/is known for its successful sports teams, and track is no exception. I was always more of a bookworm than athlete and didn't even consider joining the track team until my senior year, and at that time I had knee issues and didn't really get my chance to be a track star. Maybe it's high school insecurities coming back, but I don't want to go back to the school, see people who I haven't seen since my days of getting hit in the face with soccer balls in gym class, and come in, huffing and puffing, among the last quarter of finishers in this race. I want to go back and prove how far I've come since then. So, as I said, I've been anticipating this race for months.

My original goal was to place in the female 20-29 year age group. Honestly, I did not train enough to reach that goal. In fact, August was one of my lowest-mileage months of 2010. I'm not so insecure that I won't still run the race, though. I ran the course on Labor Day so I could see exactly what I was getting myself into, and it's tough, but I think that I'll be able to survive it and maybe even enjoy it. The first mile and a half has a 200 foot incline, which is what I had been worried about, but which isn't nearly as daunting after my recent mountain-running exploits. After that, the course follows the "Alpine Path" through the woods, and it will be interesting to see where that path is on race day, because I'm still not sure if I took the right one on my trial run. I didn't see it as I jogged up the road, so I asked someone who was out watering plants in his yard. (Entertaining note: He initially thought I was approaching him because I wanted to be sprayed with water.) He told me that I had passed by the path and gave a vague description of where it was. So I turned around and looked for it. Between two houses near where he said it would be there was a path, and it looked like it could have been separate from their properties, but I could not tell for sure. I took a few tentative steps down it. Was I trespassing? Was I going to find myself in a private section of someone's backyard? A man was in the yard of the house on the right. I called over to him and asked him if the trail led to the Alpine School, and he said it did. Just watch out for the bear. He said that the path led down to a marshy area, but I wouldn't get wet because it was covered with boards. I was relieved that it was the correct path (at least, it seemed to be), so I started on my way and quickly found myself on some pretty uneven ground, littered with tree roots, rocks, and branches. Then I got to the marshy area, where I ran into what seemed like a sea of 8-foot high corn stalks. I heard noises around me and thought about the bear, and was kind of scared, because I could not see around me, and the boards were coming up in sections. Quickly, though, I ran through it and emerged from the scary sea into the open and made my way over the rest of the course. Now that I go back and look at the course map and satellite map images, it seems like I should have ended up more to the right side of the school's grounds than I did, and I seriously think that I took a private path that just happened to lead to the same place as the one I was looking for. It's always an adventure.

As if it wasn't enough fun getting lost, I finished running the course and ended on the track at my high school, cooled down and stretched, and tried to leave, only to find that the gate to the track had been locked. Luckily the person who locked it was still around. Talk about accidentally trespassing, though!

I was pretty exhausted, but the weather was perfect for running, and I didn't want to stop, so I drove a few minutes to a state park with great single track trails. I stopped in to the park office to pick up a trail map, but the only one they had did not have the trails color-coded and was not very useful. So I set out with an idea of what trails I wanted to run and proceeded to miss a turn and get very lost. What I thought would be a fun 20-minute jaunt in the woods turned into a 45-minute quest to be reunited with civilization. I can't deny that I was having fun on the trails, but I had started off the day sore from some sprints I indulged in the day before, ran a hilly 5K course, and then had no idea how much farther I'd need to run to get back to my car. Again, it's always an adventure.

I think that the workout I got that day was really good for me. On Tuesday I was sorer than I have been since the half-marathon in May, but it was a good feeling, and Wednesday I went for an easy run during which I loosened up and just felt so good. Being outside, feeling my heart pumping, and putting one foot in front of the other was pure happiness. I can't wait for tomorrow's run to see what new adventures lie in store for me.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Poetry, ultra-running, and another mountain run

Some of my favorite literature is the poetry written by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, and Shelley. For me, one of the most fascinating things about these poets is that many of them knew each other. They moved in the same circles, visited the same places, and wrote about those places, and yet, each of them had a different perspective. Mont Blanc, a mountain in the French Alps, is one of the places that appears in almost all of their writings, and it takes on different meanings in the different works. (It even appears in the novel "Frankenstein", as the doctor trails his monster across glaciers in the Alps.) And this weekend, the mountain took on even more meaning for about 2,000 people who gathered to run the 100-mile North Face Trail du Mont Blanc.

The librarian part of me was excited about following this race to gain my own experience of the mountain (however far removed from it that I am). The runner part of me wanted to follow it for awe and inspiration at the amazing feat so many participants would achive by completing the race. So I was really psyched up at work yesterday when my lunch break coincided with the start of the race. Only about 2 hours after it started, however, it was cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

If I was disappointed at the cancellation, I can only imagine what the runners felt. To have trained, traveled, and already invested so much mental and physical energy into the race and have it called off in the middle must have been immensely frustrating. I decided that as a nod to their efforts, I'd run up my own mountain this weekend, so this afternoon I took another trip to Mount Tammany.

I had run 6 miles yesterday afternoon, so I was a little tired, but I took it easy and rested a few times on the way up. It was warmer than last week, and I really noticed it when the trees began to thin out and I came into the full sun.

Although I did a lot of hiking today, when I did run, I felt more confident in my ability to navigate around rocks and roots than I did last week. In fact, I felt more stable running than I did walking. It's as if the lightness and quickness of the steps got me past the point where I would trip or stumble before it had time to happen.

I brought my camera this week, so when I reached the summit, I asked one of the people already there to take a picture of me. Here it is - me after running up a mountain:

I stayed around for a few minutes to enjoy the view. A lot of other hikers were gathering there, including some of the canine type. Here's one that I almost didn't notice because he was curled up in a little puppy nest between the rocks. He was so cute, but the poor thing looked hot and exhausted.

When I started back, I felt really refreshed, and was able to run over the rocky trail that I could barely walk over on the way up. Here's a picture of the top of the ridge before the trail leads down the mountain. It's amazing how, with enough energy and focus, you can pick your way over and around the rocks. I definitely was careful about it, though. I didn't want to trip and hit my head.

The way down was fun. I took the opportunity on some of the flatter stretches to really pick up the speed, and it felt great. I noticed that my quads did not hurt like they did last week, so I suspect that I'm already benefitting a lot from the workout. After making my way down the mountain, I climbed out into the middle of Dunnfield Creek. It rained a lot in the past week, so there was more water in the falls than last week's trickle, but you can see that it wasn't much. It was still a very pleasant spot, and I felt even more energized when I continued back to my car.

So I have now completed two runs up the mountain, and I am sure that it has made a trail runner out of me. I'm thinking of visiting a different park and running some hilly, single-track bike trails as a safer alternative to the mountain for now, although I hope to reach many more summits over the course of my running career.

"Mont Blanc yet gleams on high: -- the power is there,
The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death."

From "Mont Blanc: Lines written in the vale of Chamouni "
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1816

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Running on top of the world

At an elevation of only 1,527 feet above sea level, it's hardly the top of the world, but it sure felt like it was when I reached the summit of Mt. Tammany yesterday. And I think it's made a trail runner out of me.

I had planned an early 8-mile run on the road for yesterday morning, but when the alarm went off at 6:30, my head was pounding with want of more sleep, and I turned the alarm off and buried my head in my pillow. When I did get up, it was about 8, and my head felt like it would begin pounding again if I moved around too much, so I decided to postpone the run until the next day.

The only hitch was that the weather was beautiful. It was sunny and about 61 degrees with no humidity - which has been almost unheard of this summer. I had to do something outside. I thought about taking the Trek for another spin down the trail, but then I thought about hiking. I hadn't done that for a while. It seemed like a perfect way to spend the beautiful day.

I checked with one of my running buddies to see if she'd like to come along for a hike, but she was busy, so I planned to go myself. I told my parents when and where I was going and even gave them a park map showing which trail I would take. I used my iFitness belt, which carried my cell phone, ID, keys, and food. And to be extra careful, I wore a whistle.

I got to the park and decided that I wasn't really in the mood to hike. I wanted to run. So I jogged through the parking lot and onto the Appalachian Trail. That section was heavily traveled with people, so I slowed down and walked when appropriate. At one point, though, I heard someone tell someone else to stop for me. It went something like "Anyone jogging the Appalachian Trail deserves the right of way." That part was actually not difficult to run on. The ground was rocky and the path was moving steadily uphill, but I didn't have trouble picking my way. Then I turned off the AT toward Mount Tammany.

Once I moved farther up the mountain, the rocks in the path became looser and more numerous. I started feeling the effects of not stretching or warming up, as my calves started to cramp up. I stopped running and hiked up the loose, rocky spots and began running again when my calves felt better. It was a thoroughly good workout. I stopped one or two times to drink from my water bottle and take a breather, but for the most part I was steadily running and hiking up the mountain. As I moved up through the forest and the trees thinned out a little, I noticed that the sky had clouded up a bit, and some humidity had crept into the air. Instead of being green and gold with sunlight, the forest was green and gray and had a calm, subdued atmosphere.

After one steep, exceptionally rocky slope, I came to a grassy space which I knew must be the top of the mountain ridge. The trees were sparse, and the ground was covered with scrubby vegetation. The path was still rocky, but grass grew up all around the rocks. I followed the trail blazes until I saw a break in the trees and went to take a look. It was a scenic overlook. I stepped up to it and got my first view of the height I had just climbed: miles and miles of valleys and hills sprawled out below. I snapped a few pictures with my phone (Maybe someday I'll get text-messaging and be able to actually post the pictures from my phone. For now they're stuck there.) and went back to the trail to follow it over to the summit.

I started running again here, albeit slowly - as I picked my way around rocks - and came to a brush-covered pile of boulders and the blazes marking the end of the trail. In between some of the larger rocks was a little pathway. I stepped through and came out, it felt, on top of the world.

There were the mountains of Pennsylvania rising in a peak directly in front and stretching on in a line. The Delaware River snaked through the gap below, looking like a little creek beneath the mountains. Leaning over, I could see the parking lot where I started far below.

A lot of other people were at the summit. One girl was wearing flip-flops, and I can only wonder how long it took her and her boyfriend to get up there. I took a picture for a family that had hiked up together, and in return, one of them took a picture of me with my phone. I keep looking at that picture and remembering how good it felt to run (and hike) up a mountain.

When I began to make my way back down, I was rested and really felt like running again. I ran over rocks that on the way up I had walked over and surprised myself with how much easier it was to run. There were definitely places that were un-runnable, but I took those slowly and carefully and had a blast running down the mountain the rest of the way. I really felt it in my quads by the time I had come to the end of the mountain trail. I felt so good, though, I thought that I'd run a little further up the AT before heading back to the car. I turned onto the AT, which headed uphill. I was tired and took it slowly on that incline, but I didn't get far before I realized that I had a party to go to that night, and if I didn't get home soon, I wouldn't have time to get ready and eat dinner. I also didn't want to fall asleep the minute I got the the party. So I turned around and ran back toward the parking lot.

This was one of those amazing runs. The kind that comes around every once in a while that reminds you of why you love running. It made me feel good in every possible way. And it made me want to run trails much, much more often.

I know that I'll be following the Tour du Mont Blanc next weekend -- awed by the mountain peaks that the runners in that race will be ascending. And I am almost definitely going to run a trail half-marathon in November.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Not sure what to do

I went for a really great bike ride yesterday. I mean really great. The weather, for once, was perfect, and I felt amazing and so happy and didn't want to stop riding. I probably would have ridden through a couple of towns if there was enough daylight.

If every day were like that, I'd have many more miles behind me. Unfortunately, my mileage dropped off severely this summer once the hot weather kicked in, and when I do run, I feel slow, out of shape, and basically like a hopeless case, even though I probably have it in me to be faster and stronger. Long runs always feel too slow -- sometimes so slow that it's nothing more than a shuffle. I've tried to kick up the intensity by doing some hill and interval training, but it's not consistent. None of my running is consistent, unless you count that it's consistently slow.

I feel like I must be doing something wrong. For example, one day I went out for a 7.5 miler. I felt exhausted from the beginning. I dragged myself through it at snail speed, and by mile 6.5 had blisters on my feet and stopped to walk. I figured that I'd try and give it one more shot, at a faster pace, and started running again, probably about twice as fast as before. And you know what? It felt great. I kept up the pace for the rest of the run and actually flew by other runners on the trail. How could I have such a great finish after 6.5 miles of not being able to go faster than a shuffle? Why can't I go at least moderately fast for the entire distance? I must be doing something wrong.

And I just don't know what to do with my training. The weather in general has been so hot that even if I have the motivation to push myself, I can't always physically do it. I had hopes of running some speedy 5Ks in September, but I'm afraid that I'm not getting the training in to make that possible, so I should probably re-evaluate those goals.

Maybe the nice weather will stick around long enough to get some runs as enjoyable as yesterday's bike ride to boost my motivation, and with any luck, the fall will bring some nice training runs and fun and successful races.

I think that I'll begin writing in this blog again to help keep track of how things are going. I've been getting into the habit of writing in my journal again, and I think I can split my writing between the two now.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Christmas in August

Last Thursday I ran the Christmas in August 5k for the 3rd time. Last year, this was my race. I had just set a PR a week and a half before at the Frankford Foundation 5K, and then smashed that by over a minute at Christmas in August. This year I was not quite as amazing, but I have to admit that my time was not as shabby as it could have been. I ended up only one second behind the Frankford Foundation 5k time, making it one of my best race times, even though the weather was very hot and humid.

My dad came to cheer me on at this race. We were running a little behind schedule and got there to register with about 20 minutes before the race started. I had to laugh when they ran out of safety pins and handed me my number with duct tape to attach to my shirt. (I had contemplated bringing my own pins, but I thought I wouldn't need them!) It wasn't a problem, and once I had my number on, I went to warm up. Instead of jogging through the parking lot, I took a trail in the woods. It led to some picnic tables and barbecues for campers at the state park, and continued to a boat launch at the edge of the lake.

I felt tired just from jogging. I had only gotten about 2 or 3 hours of sleep the night before (a combination of being kept awake by my Yorkshire Terrier who has a pathological fear of thunderstorms, and then being awoken at 4:45 a.m. by my little sister coming home after being out all night). I had made sure to have lots of caffeine (and then extra water to re-hydrate) throughout the day, but maybe it wasn't enough to combat the tiredness caused by the heat. I sat on one of the benches and stretched and enjoyed how quiet it was in that little corner of the park. The sun glinting off of the lake and filtering down through the trees was calming, and I liked having that little bit of "me" time to keep me from getting too anxious about the race.

The race started with the usual "Ho, Ho Ho, Ho Ho Ho!" and we were off. I kept toward the back and tried not to start out too fast, but I also tried not to lock into too slow of a pace. I found a light, quick cadence that I felt I could sustain and went with it.

The course was mainly flat, but the mild inclines felt hard thanks to the heat and humidity. When I got to a water stop, I couldn't decide what part of my body to splash the water on - my face, the top of my head, my back? I splashed a little down my front and then dumped the rest down my back and kept going. I made it to the turn-around at 12:54 minutes.

I tried to keep up my pace in the second half but couldn't. I watched as a number of people passed me and tried to hold on and not slow down more. A woman in a yellow tank passed me with about 1/2 mile to go, and I tried to keep her in reach. She was about 75 meters in front of me when I started my kick, and I actually almost caught her. I ended up only 1 second behind her. Here we are coming in to the finish (I'm the one trying to look like a ninja with the black sweat band and sunglasses):

My final time was 26:29. I obviously slowed down a lot in the second half, which is something that I really need to work on. Overall, though, I'm happy with how I ran. I know that I don't run well in the heat, and I still managed to reach one of my best times.

Now, if I can beat the heat, I'm going to try and commit to a schedule. In about 6 weeks is a 5K at my former high school, and the week after that is a 5K in the town where I work. I would really like to be speedy for both of those races, and I'm thinking about setting a new PR at the second one, but I know that I have to put in a lot more effort than I have been lately.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

By Dunnfield Creek

It's usually not a good idea to wake up my sister early in the morning. It's never a good idea to wake up my sister early in the morning and ask her to be active. So what was I thinking when I woke her up and dragged her out hiking with me to the Delaware Water Gap this weekend?

The answer can be summed up with this photo:

Or this one:
And of course, there are the trails that lead to that vista and creek.

For months I've been wanting to run some hills and technical trails, but I've been reluctant to drive my car off the beaten path just to get to a trail and afraid of being alone in remote places with no cell service.

Luckily the Delaware Water Gap is close, has an easily-accessible (and paved) parking lot, and it's a huge tourist attraction, with many other people around. I did some research about the trails there, and I became determined to try out one of the two trails that leads to the top of Mount Tammany, which is the mountain on the NJ side of the gap. Our hike this weekend was to scope it out and see if my idea was even possible.

We got to the park and started up the trail. There was only one color blaze, but the paths branched off in a number of directions, and I felt like a complete amateur as I looked around helplessly while backpackers strode confidently by. We followed another hiker who was being directed to the Appalachian Trail, because the trail I was looking for followed the AT for a little before looping around the other side of the mountain to approach it less steeply.

We passed a map stand and picked up a trail map and started on the AT. It was a little rocky and uneven, but it was definitely runnable. I imagined myself running smoothly over the terrain, taking quick, light steps. We were walking along Dunnfield Creek, and I looked down into the gorge and took in the fact that I was only 15 minutes from home but felt like I was in another world.

I love rivers and streams, and some kind of gravitational pull must have drawn me to Dunnfield Creek. I had no idea how beautiful it would be, and now I can't wait to go back and see it when the water level is higher. Even though the cascades were trickles, I wished that I could take off my shoes and wade in the clear pools beneath them or to climb on a large dark boulder deep in the gorge.

After leaving the AT and walking the Dunnfield Creek trail, we turned off onto the blue trail heading toward the top of Mount Tammany. This trail was steeper and rockier, with a lot of loose dirt and rocks to slip on. Many portions of this trail were not runnable.

The blue trail climbed through green forests, and although it was a hot, humid day, it felt cool and comfortable under the leaves. At some points, the footing was firm, and I was tempted to bound up the hill. My sister reminded me that she's not a runner and couldn't keep up a fast pace, though, so we walked slowly and took frequent breaks. I envisioned myself running the firm parts of this trail and walking the dangerous parts to recover. I can't imagine the feeling of accomplishment to reach the summit and know that I had run up a mountain.

I don't know how close we were to the top when my sister asked if we could turn around. I didn't want to push her further than she was able, so we turned around and headed back down the mountain. I was disappointed, but I am positive that there will be other opportunities to see the view. That gravitational pull has me planning my next visit.

I enjoyed the way back as much I enjoyed the way up. I felt at home in the green forests on the mountain side and noticed more places where people could climb out onto the rocks in the middle of the creek. I wish that my camera had been working so that I could have taken some pictures to share.

When we reached the AT again, I felt that I was just warmed up and ready for a big workout. I think that's a positive sign that I'm ready to try out these trails for more than walking.

I feel so drawn to this kind of natural environment and want very much to explore different places and bring my running there. I am still concerned, though, that it may not be entirely safe. There is the possibility of getting injured, encountering an animal, or even being confronted by a creepy person and having no help. I have some running buddies, but they are not fans of trail running, especially rocky and hilly trails. In the event that I do venture out alone, I ordered an iFitness belt to wear while running to keep keys, cell phone, ID, extra fuel, pepper spray, etc in. I've read a little about that brand (in particular, the Chic Runner and lots of her blog followers love it), and supposedly it is very comfortable and doesn't bounce while you run.

I'm looking forward to trying it out and going for a trail run by Dunnfield Creek soon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pulled pork and a notebook

All I wanted in the world was a pulled pork sandwich. I had just gone for a 10-miler after work and was running some errands before I went home and had dinner, when I passed the local barbecue restaurant. I thought that I could really go for some barbecue. Then I passed it again on my way to another stop, and I became obsessed with the need to eat a pulled pork sandwich. I was so focused on my memory of the smell and texture that I could almost taste it as I drove along. There was nothing that I wanted more than a pulled pork sandwich. I would have even forgone eating off of the cute pig-shaped plates at the restaurant if I could only devour some barbecue goodness. And I guess that is why it is necessary to properly refuel after a run.

I made my way home and ate some left-over London broil slathered in barbecue sauce, which wasn't nearly the same, but it turned off the crazy craving. The run had been a very good one. I met the support staff at the half-way point of an out-and back route on the trail, and he rode his bike with me for the last 5 miles. I really appreciated the company and felt as if I was keeping the pace up better than if I had been alone. I also surprised myself by pushing for a stronger finish than usual. Having him biking alongside certainly helped. With about 1/4 miles to go, I started picking up the pace. At first I thought that I wouldn't be able to hold it, but once the end of the trail, down a bit of a straightaway, was in sight, I pushed harder and picked up the pace again. Half-way down that last stretch, I pushed even harder. And a little before the end of the trail, I reached my top speed before letting up and coasting in to the finish.

As I mentioned before, I had some errands to do, so I didn't get a chance to eat anything for about an hour after the end of the run (it was 8:45 p.m. by the time I drank my recovery drink), and I think that inhibited my recovery a bit. After I finally ate dinner, I took a cold-water bath for my legs. I don't know how anyone can take an ice-bath, because 15 minutes in moderately-cold water turns my toes blue. I actually had to get up in the middle of the night last night to put woolen socks on because my feet still hadn't warmed up after the bath. I feel good now, though, so it must have done some good.

So where was I going with that? Did I just feel like complaining about my toes turning blue? Do I want to record my cold-water bath experience to refer to as my training progresses? I'm not really sure. I'm actually wondering what this blog is doing for me in terms of training and writing. When I started it, I had been keeping a private journal that I thought of as a kind of travelogue of my life's journey. It was a record of everyday events that focused on a theme intertwining my running and academics into my personal life - the road that goes ever on. And I wanted to continue that here, although I don't really think that I've succeeded.

Sometimes on this blog, I just record stats, but I often put a lot of thought into my posts, and even then, there's something that isn't there. Somewhere the ability to weave events together to bring about a greater meaning and symbolism got lost, and I think that it's back in my private notebook. In that notebook, I could record things that no one else would read. I didn't hold back anything for fear of the audience getting bored or thinking that it was trivial or that the language was too flowery. Most of it was unoriginal and trite, and honestly, garbage -- in terms of literary merit -- but it had me thinking in ways that I don't think anymore. I had more potential then to grow into a writer.

So, for a while, I might be focusing more on my pencil and notebook than on this blog. I'm sure that I'll come back, but I think that I need to get back to basics for a little while.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"We ran the race, the race was won by running slowly"

And apparently the theme of this week's posts is Jethro Tull lyrics that mention running.

There's actually a lot to say about running slowly in order to achieve a goal. For me, I'm going to take my time training month by month to improve my 5K time, and then hopefully run another half marathon in the fall.

Here's my race schedule for the foreseeable future:

June 25th: Summer Solstice 5mi Trail Run
I just sent the registration in for this race, and I'm getting more and more excited about it. It will be on a mix of single track and rail trails in a local state park.

July 14: XC Series 5K
This is just a maybe. If I really feel the need to race, I'll try out this 5K, which is part of a series of races every Wednesday all summer long.

July 24: Ole Towne Festival 5K
This is a race I've never run before, but my co-worker's husband will be running in it, too, so they'll both be there. Not only does it look like a nice annual event, but there will be extra company both on the course and at the finish line.

August 5: Christmas in August 5K
This isn't the easiest course, but I've PRed every time I've run it, so it's time to give it another try!

September 18: 5K Spirit Run
This run is held at my former high school, so I really want to do my best. The course is hilly, and there are a lot of very speedy people running it, so it will be a challenge, but I definitely want my return to the track there to be fulfilling (if not gloriously triumphant).

September 25: Fall Foliage 5K
This run is held in the town where I work. I walk around town during my lunch breaks and run there in the winter. Now it's time to race there, too!

October 10: Hot Chili Challenge 8mi Trail Run
This is held along the same trails as the Summer Solstice run and will definitely be a lot cooler than the summer run. And there's chili afterward. Yum.

November 7: Thunder Run Trail Half-Marathon
I think that I'm going to try another half-marathon! This is also held along the same trails as the Summer Solstice run. I plan on keeping my long runs between 8 and 10 miles all summer and fall, so I should be ready for the distance. I just have to get out on more technical trails.

November ?: A Turkey Trot
What is Thanksgiving without a turkey trot?

December ?: Beach Blast 5K
This is the race where you can get your registration refunded if you run in a swim suit. I will not be one of the bathing beauties, but I am looking forward to running this race again.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"I think she was a middle-distance runner"

Since last fall, almost all of my runs have been slow and easy -- which is not a bad thing -- but now that 5K season is here, it's time to crank up the intensity, so last Friday I went to the track. I didn't really know what kind of intervals to run or at what speeds, so I used an extremely handy VDOT calculator suggested by Mrs. CJ. It gave me paces for various types of training, and I used the easy and interval paces. As I said, I didn't really have a plan, but this is what I ended up doing:

1-mi warm up - 11:30
200m - 0:57
200m - 0:61
400m - 2:06
800m - 4:45
400m - 2:08
400m - 2:06
200m - 0:57
200m - 0:58
200m - 0:56
200m - 0:56
1-mile cool down - 11:32

Afterwards I thought that it seemed too easy. I thought that I might have given myself too much rest in between intervals, or maybe the pace was too slow. But the next morning I was sore and felt as if I had just done a hard workout, so it must not have been too light after all.

On Sunday, my running buddy, who has not been running since last summer because of a foot injury, called and asked if I wanted to go for a run. We met up at 10 a.m., which was a little late, considering it was almost 80 degrees and 90% humidity, and headed out for a hilly 6 miler. I am in awe of how she can not run for a year and then go and run 6 miles with hills. She did it though, which is a testament to her awesomeness. We ran a loop starting at her home, which covered a lot of roads that I was not familiar with. I like exploring new routes, and it was great running with her again, although I'm not used to talking while running. In the end, it was too hot to run the whole way, so we started our cool-down walk early and ended up running a total of 5.2 miles. Not too bad, considering I had only anticipated doing 2 or 3.

I didn't feel tired afterwards, which is good, because I needed to stay awake for a concert that night. The support staff and I were going to get a blast from the past seeing Procol Harum and Jethro Tull. According to my co-workers, I'm too young to even know who those groups are, let alone see them in concert, but it was a really good show.

I was really only familiar with Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale, but everything they played that night was amazing, and I will soon be purchasing some of their albums.

Jethro Tull was the main act, and they didn't disappoint. In addition to their concert staples, they played a madrigal written by Henry the VIII, two songs from their folk-y "Songs From the Wood" album, as well as this one: Budapest, from the infamous album that denied Metallica a Grammy award in 1989. I love the melody, and the first line is "I think she was a middle-distance runner." !

This isn't my video, but it's really close to what I saw, considering it was filmed at another concert only 2 days before!

After Sunday's run, my shins were pretty sore, so I've been icing them and resting. This morning I biked 10 miles on the trail instead of running 10 miles, as I wanted to. Maybe tomorrow or Thursday the shins will feel good enough for me to get my long run in.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My first energy gel

At the half-marathon expo, I picked up a sample PowerBar energy gel from the Team in Training table. I thought that if I continue going for runs longer than 2 hours, especially in hot weather, I might need to try out some other types of fuel. I gave it a try on an 8-mile run last week. (Coincidentally, that was the getting-dive-bombed-by-psychotic-bugs-run, so I forgot to mention the whole gel experience in my last post.)

For this run, I ran an out and back on the trail, and my first problem was when to take the gel so that I could benefit from it and also have a trash receptacle to put the left-over packet. I had stashed the packet in the key pocket of my shorts and did not want to put the gooey package back. I decided on a spot at about mile 3 where there was a parking area and trash can, but I really think that I should look into getting a belt that will allow me to carry more stuff - just to have room for an extra plastic baggie to put the left-over packet would be better than jamming keys, phone, and fuel into one tiny key pocket.

When I got near the spot with the trash can, I pulled the gel out, tore off the top, and tasted it. Was it just the apple flavor, or are all energy gels that disgusting? Really. It tasted like apple-flavored amoxicillin - the same texture, too. I washed the initial amount down with some water and swallowed some more. Wow. Now I know why the companies have come out with so many other fuel products, like sport beans and gummies and water supplements. Energy gels are just gross. But I finished it, deposited the trash in the appropriate receptacle, and continued on my run. I did not feel like I had to take massive amounts of water to go with it, which I did encounter when I experimented with some household foods, so the gel did serve its purpose.

Besides the dive-bombing bugs, the run went very well after that. I didn't feel that drained, even though it was my first long run since the half-marathon and I was expending massive amounts of energy by flailing my arms wildly around my head. I also did not have any GI problems at all, which I know is an issue with energy gels. So dispite the gross taste and texture, energy gels are a fuel option for me. I'd prefer to stick to things like raisins, but it's good to know.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mental recovery, a few adventures, and I'm back!

Over the last few weeks I didn't get out to run that much. 4 miles here, 2 miles there, a slow 5K, and that was it. It was a bit of a physical and mental recovery, though, after my (fairly) steady training for 5 months before the half-marathon.

I had a few adventures in the past week and a half, including "The Skunk Run" and "The Dive-Bombing Bugs Run". The skunk run happened on a night when something snapped in me and I thought that I would go crazy if I didn't go for a run at that exact moment. The sun had already set, so I wore my reflective vest and carried a flashlight. It was the first time that I intentionally ran in the dark, and I have to admit that I was pretty scared the whole time. I ran on the road in my neighborhood, but the area is pretty heavily wooded, and I know that there are a lot of animals in those woods that I don't want to run into. Every time I heard a noise (probably just squirrels), I started talking to myself, hoping that the sound of my voice would scare whatever it was away. I was almost home when I started to relax a little. I saw a cute little bunny in the grass on my left and shined my flashlight on it, only to find that it was a skunk, NOT a cute little bunny. I shifted to the other side of the street and almost had a heart attack when it lifted its tail. I was at the base of a hill and sprinted up it so fast that I probably could have rivaled my high-school 100m record. When I got to the top, I was relieved to find myself not skunky. I don't think that I'm going to do much more night-time running in my neighborhood, though...

On Memorial Day my dad and I went kayaking in the morning, but I was getting the itch to run again, so I hit the trail in the afternoon. I wore a new pink sweatband and brought water and took it easy since it was hot and humid out. I was doing well for about half a mile when bugs started attacking my head. They'd fly in circles and dive-bomb, causing me to flail my arms wildly trying to swat them away. I'm sure it was quite the spectacle. After a little while of this, I realized that my cute new sweatband was probably the culprit. That had happened to me once before when I wore a red bandanna. When I took the bandanna off, the bugs left me alone. When I put it back on, they dive-bombed my head again. I haven't seen the movie Furry Vengeance, but I imagine that between the skunk and the bugs, I was experiencing my own real-life version of it.

I didn't know it at the time, but June 2nd was National Running Day. That must be why I was inexplicably drawn to the local high school track to run a few laps before dinner that day. I ran some errands and happened to be wearing athletic gear, and I just couldn't pass by without going to the track. I ran 6 laps and timed a few 400s. I realize that I don't have much of a concept of my pacing, and I would really like to do some more work on the track. I'm thinking of alternating between going to that track and the one near the library after work. It would keep things a little varied, and I think it would help me push myself to run at a harder intensity, which I have to do if I want to improve my speed.

I'm feeling more excited about running than I have since I finished the half-marathon last month. I'm working on putting together a training schedule to get me back in 5K shape and a list of races for the rest of the year. It should be fun!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cherokee Trail

On Wednesday I came home from work and knew that I probably should go for a run. I didn't feel particularly motivated, and I ended up heading out without any kind of plan. I thought about running down a road with a nice view of a valley and a mountain ridge beyond it, but that road does not have a shoulder or any room to step out of traffic's way, has blind curves, and is heavily traveled. I decided instead to run a familiar 4.5 mile loop. I started going that way when I was struck with the need to go exploring. A private road called Cherokee Trail was coming up on my right, so I decided to see where it went.

Cherokee Trail sounds like it should be a wide path across the American Wild West. This one wound up a mountain in the woods. As I climbed, I felt surprisingly strong, and I pushed without having any idea where I was going or for how long the ascent would continue. It actually wasn't too long. As it turns out, the hill was steep, but only about 100 feet tall. At the top was a beautiful white house that looked like an old country farmhouse. I don't know if it was just built in that style to great effect, or if it really was built in the 1800s. (I've tried to do some research using library reference tools, but I can only find tax information.) The road continued straight on for a little while, flanked by more modern-looking houses, before ending in a cul-de-sac.

My way back was downhill at first, but I soon came to a sustained uphill. I didn't attack this hill at all. In fact, at it's steepest point, I walked. But as I kept going, I felt stronger and faster, and I enjoyed the feeling. It was one of those moments where you surprise yourself and think, "Wow, I didn't know I could do this. What a great feeling." It was one of those moments that defines why I run. I later discovered that by the time I reached home, I had climbed another 185 feet.

My little expedition took me 4.1 miles, and it really has me looking forward to exploring more new places. I think that for the next adventure, I'll go to one of the state parks in the area and check out some of its single-track bike trails.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Stillwater Stampede 5K report

It had been in the back of my mind that I wanted to run a 5K this month, even though I had just tackled the half-marathon and was not trained for shorter, faster, distances. When I walked for Parkinson's in April and saw so many other people running, I knew that 5K season was upon us, and that as soon as I reached my 13.1 goal, I would like to get fast again. I figured that I'd run a 5K in May to determine my 5K pace, and then start doing some interval workouts.

I decided to run an annual local race called the Stillwater Stampede. It is put on by the same youth running club that also puts on a lot of the other races I run (the ones that give out the delicious jam to age-group winners!), so I was familiar with the course and recognized a lot of the other runners, as well.

It was a beautiful day for a race. It was sunny, but cool enough to be comfortable. I lined up at the back of the pack and started out at a fairly easy pace. The course was a double loop through the campground of a state park, and we gave the campers a lot to look at as they cooked their breakfast! Some of them set up chairs along the path and cheered us on. Others just watched from hammocks or as they unpacked their cars.

I started passing people after about a half mile. I didn't feel that I had that much in me, but I was able to move up a little bit in the pack. I reached mile 1 in 8:36 and knew that I was going to have a slow finishing time. An overall 8:30 pace would be average for me, but negative splits were not in my cards that day, so I just kept going and didn't worry too much about the time. When I reached the turnaround point, the support staff was there to cheer me on, and I headed out for the second lap. As I ran back towards the campground, a really fast runner passed me in the opposite direction as he came in for his finish. It turns out that he was the first-place finisher and shattered the course record.

I kept going, passed a few people, waved to a lot of campers, and made my way to the finish line with a time of 27:26. It was certainly not my best run, but I had a good time, and now I know what my 5K race pace is when I run some intervals. I'll probably be back for next year's stampede, and definitely for the Christmas in August 5K, which was so unbelievably wonderful for me last year.

On a different note, the support staff and I hung around for some of the activities after the 5K, which included a mile fun run. The fun runners didn't get 100 feet before one of them lost his shoe...and kept running without it! Talk about dedication! A woman picked it up and ran after him, so hopefully he was able to complete most of the race evenly shod...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Long Branch Half Marathon race report

Distance: 13.1 M
Time: 2:48:58
Pace: 12:53

It feels like I was building up to this race forever. And once it came, the race itself felt like it took forever, but now I can proudly say that I did it! I am now a half-marathon finisher.

My dad and support staff came with me, and on Saturday we drove down to the sunny, sandy Jersey shore to the expo and packet pick-up. This was my first race expo, and unfortunately it was so crowded that I didn't get a chance to really look at each booth. I did pick up a few cards and might check out some of the company websites, though. I'd always like more running (or running-themed) gear.

After the expo, we took a walk on the boardwalk where people were setting up the finish line columns and timing mat. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the boardwalk was filled with people enjoying the beach. We even saw a bridal party taking pictures under a gazebo.

After hanging out for a while, we decided to go to Long Beach Island to get the best New England clam chowder in the Mid-Atlantic region from Country Kettle Chowda. My dad had never been to the Country Kettle before, and he was not disappointed. I savored my soup and thought that I had to do well in the race if I was going to be powered by the best chowder (ok, chowda) ever. For our main dinner we went out to another restaurant, where I had spaghetti with clam sauce, which also happened to be really good.

Here I am with my support staff by the bay on LBI after enjoying chowda.

We stayed at a hotel in Long Branch. On Sunday morning, I got up around 5:50 and prepared my feet with moleskin and BodyGlide, then went to the fitness room to get loosened up a little. I spent a few minutes on the elliptical trainer, then the stationary bike, and then a few minutes on the treadmill. I went back to the room to stretch a little, trying not to pay too much attention to my hip, which was already showing some resistance to exercise, and then headed to breakfast.

Then it was off to the shuttle. We were so relieved at how efficient the shuttle service was. We got there around 7:15, were guided to a parking spot, walked to a line of buses that extended almost all the way down the road, and climbed on board. In minutes, we were dropped off a few blocks from the starting line. It really helped my nerves for everything in the morning to go so smoothly.

I dropped off my bag and warmed up by jogging around the parking lot near the starting line. For some reason, I did not see one other person warming up before this race. There were plenty of people stretching, but not warming up before doing so. Is it me, or is something weird about that?

Here's the crowd hanging out before we started lining up. The very strange thing is that when I began walking to get in line, I recognized a woman who I often see running on the trail. I wasn't positive that it was her until I noticed a woman standing next to her who I also recognized. I introduced myself, and it turns out that the first woman lives only a few miles from me and often runs on my road, as well as the trail. I couldn't believe that I ran into them when there were so many other people around. They were both running the marathon. Congrats to Kim and Wendy!

I lined up behind the 5-hour pace group, thinking that with the heat, that was a safe pace to start with. I stood in line for a while and couldn't believe that the race was finally happening. We were lined up on the boardwalk, and I looked out at the ocean and felt really excited and happy. After a few announcements and the national anthem, the clock started, they played Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run", and the first wave of runners took off. We barely moved for about 5 minutes, then the second wave was let out, and we started inching forward a little. It was very crowded, and before I knew it, the pace group was gone. I could see the orange flag bobbing up and down ahead of me. Oh well. After a few more minutes, I crossed the starting line. The sun broke out from behind the clouds, and we ran along the boardwalk for about a half mile before turning onto the street. It was on!

Once we left the water's edge, the temperature rose about 20 degrees from around 60 to 80 degrees. Bad. I haven't trained in hot or humid weather, and this was both. I locked onto a pace and just focused on keeping a rhythm while enjoying all of the sights.

There was a lot to see, since I hadn't seen most of the course before, and there were tons of spectators. The miles definitely dragged on, though. I looked at my watch after about 10 minutes, expecting to see that 30 minutes had gone by. I was already dripping with sweat, so I made sure to drink some Gatorade from my hand-held water bottle. Thank God I brought it!

I kept up a steady, easy pace. Unfortunately, my hip started bothering me at mile 3. That was really discouraging. How could I possibly run 10 more miles in that heat with it hurting with each step? Luckily some of the spectators had an answer: sprinklers and hoses. They stood out on the sidewalks with music playing and their hoses misting or showering us with cold, clear, beautiful water. To every resident of Long Branch, Oceanport, and any other town the course went through, thank you so much for the sprinklers and hoses! I really don't know how I would have made it through the race without your help.

A lot of other spectators were out just watching or cheering. I was really entertained by an elderly couple sitting on the steps outside of a beautiful house playing some drums for us. There was even someone blowing a conch shell to cheer us on.

I ran without walking or stopping at a water station until about the 6-mile mark. By then my hip was really bothering me, and I didn't know if I'd be able to finish. So I walked through a water station and kept walking for a few minutes. This period was pretty difficult for me. I wasn't even half-way, and I didn't know if I could do it. I thought about how my running talent is in sprinting, and I wondered what brought me to a 13.1-mile long course when I should really be flying down the straightaway of a track for 12 seconds instead of languishing in this misery.

Somehow, I kept going. Mile 7 went over a bridge that we had first crossed at mile 3 or so, then went into Long Branch, and I knew that my cheering section was waiting for me. I was in a lot of pain at that point, but I kept running just so I could get to mile 9.5. I stopped for one of the longest periods around mile 9. I walked for a while and stopped and stretched. After that I felt a little better, and when I got to a section with lots of spectators, I kept my eyes out for my support staff and dad. I saw them as I was coming up to a turn and felt really invigorated. I waved as they took pictures, and I may have given them a thumbs up. Then I headed into the center of Long Branch for the final 3.6 miles.

After about a mile, I lost some steam, but I kept running. I walked through the last water station and poured some water down my back. (There was no risk of chafing, because the water dried so quickly in the heat.)

At this point, I had begun to pass a lot of runners who had collapsed with heat exhaustion or dehydration. They were whisked away in ambulances or surrounded by medics. I hope that everyone who had trouble finishing the race that day has recovered.

I had stayed well-hydrated, but just before mile 12 I thought that I felt dizzy. I still don't know if I really was on the verge of passing out or if my sunglasses were just bouncing a little. I honestly couldn't tell, though, so I sipped the last of my Gatorade and focused on staying steady and easy. By this time, we had turned back onto the boardwalk, and there was a blissful, cool ocean breeze. Finally an end to the stagnant heat and humidity!

I began running with a girl in a purple shirt. We had made a few comments to each other and were running about the same pace, so we stuck together for the last mile. When we were just about a half-mile from the finish, I heard some women talk excitedly about using one of the beach-side "comfort stations" (nice way to say bathroom or changing room!), and I realized that it was Kim and Wendy! I had no idea that they were running near me! I wished them luck and made my way to the finish with the girl in the purple shirt.

When I saw the finish line, I got pretty excited. The half-marathoners were directed to the left, while the marathoners going for their second loop stayed to the right. I told the girl with the purple shirt that I was going to push it now that we were so close, so we picked up the pace. It was hard staying together because a lot of people ahead of us were going slowly. Finally, with about a hundred yards to go, I broke through into a hard sprint.

Whoa, look out. I don't know where all of that energy came from, but I was going so fast that I felt I didn't even have control of my legs. I flew by everyone else like a Toyota Prius with a faulty accelerator.

Then I stepped under the banner and .... there was no timing mat. WHAT?! Then it hit me: that wasn't the finish line. Ahead of me was an identical banner, but that one had the clock and timing mat. I'm still mystified about why they would do that, especially because it wasn't there at the start of the race. I had slowed down, but I started to sprint again. The clock read 2:58 something, and I thought, "No, I cannot possibly come in over 3 hours...must run faster!" And with that, I crossed the finish line.

I received my finisher's medal and a hat, and the support staff and my dad found me. Here I am right after the race. Don't you love the little kid on the right sticking out his tongue?

After I sat down and rested and re-fueled, we headed back to the shuttle. Unfortunately, when we got there, there was a line wrapping the full square around the block. We had to wait for over an hour in the hot sun to get on a bus. This was me hiding out next to the line at the beginning of the wait, when there was shade, which is why I was still smiling.

Dear race directors, in the future, I have 2 requests: #1, Please do not make anything except the finish line resemble the finish line. #2, Please fix the after-race shuttle service so that it is not torturous to people who are already hot and sore. Thank you.

So now I've finished my first half-marathon. If anything, I am proud that I was able to push myself through it. It wasn't as much fun as I had hoped it would be. I enjoyed my training runs so much, but the hip pain and the heat made this race too uncomfortable to have fun. It was important to me, though. I ran farther than I ever had before, even when miles back I thought I couldn't run another step. I will run other half-marathons in the future, and someday, I'm sure that I will run a full marathon as well. This was just the beginning.