Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Difficult, Not so Difficult

The last several days have not been as I expected them to be.  A week ago, I would have told you that the following things in my life were difficult:

1.  last Sunday's 10 mile run, my longest since my half in April.
2.  hanging out with my crabby, refusing-to-nap, cutting-four-teeth-at-once (it's a good thing she's cute) baby girl.
3.  cleaning brown crayon off an entire load of laundry, which of course, I didn't discover until after it had gone through the dryer.
4.  cleaning brown crayon out of aforementioned dryer.
5.  organizing logistics for two school fundraisiers and a parish event.

Now all of those things are utterly insignificant.  The only truly difficult thing in my life is watching my grandmother slip out of reality.  In her 101 years on this planet, she's always been sharp as a tack with a witty sense of humor, a strong will, and a generous heart.  Without warning, she's begun a rapid descent, experiencing frequent moments of vast confusion where she doesn't know where she is, who she is, or what she is doing.  Heartbreaking.

So in a matter of days, my priorities have vastly realigned, and my runs have become an absolute necessity.  They help me take a break from care-taking duties and give me a chance to clear my head.  As I met up with Emily this morning, I was so grateful for the chance to work up a sweat and to take control of something in life.  Today, as it so often does, running reminded me that I can do difficult things.  Like last week's 5k, sometimes I have to resign myself to the fact that life is hard, and all I can do is hold on for the ride.  And keep running to balance the stress.  Always keep running.

My Strava title for today's run says it all: controlling what I can control,
which these days, isn't much.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Running haiku

Flashback to 1995 for this glimpse of high school mama kate: take a peek into my bedroom, where I am madly scribbling poems while listening to They Might be Giants (on cassette, of course).  Not a runner yet, I loved the freedom of poetry and used it as a creative outlet for teenage angst.  Nowadays, I'm more likely to work off my frustrations on a run rather than in a poetry journal, but I still enjoy creating poetry from time to time.  And I've discovered the perfect poetic form for running: haiku.

Sometimes, especially on long solo runs, I like to compose haikus on the go.  Capturing the feeling of a run in the syllabic restrictions of haiku is a fun way to pass some miles.  Or at least this nerdy runner girl finds delight in doing so :)

Some recent composed-on-the-run haikus:

burning lungs and quads
on dark, silent, moonlit streets
make me feel alive


lacing up at dawn
pushing limits, growing strong
only squirrels to see


How do you like to pass the miles on a long run?  Anyone else use the time to compose poetry?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Race Recap: Run for the Hills 5k

On Saturday, I returned to a familiar 5k course feeling a bit unsure and apprehensive, but I left feeling empowered and victorious.  In the week preceding the race, I had my heart set on achieving a new PR.  Come race morning, however, my confidence flagged, and my interest in that goal waned. My body was strong, and I knew I could run hard, but my brain was wimping out big time.

Pre-race smiles with Dan.
Emily and I are ready to go!
In perfect, 60* weather, Emily and I ran a 2-mile loop from our houses to the starting line, which felt very good.  As the starting gun fired, Emily said, "Don't stay with me if you want to run fast.  Run your race!  I'll see you at the finish."  We ran together for the first mile and then separated when she grabbed some water and I went without.  We clocked the first mile in 7:58, at which point I was sure that negative splits would not be attainable.  Logging one sub-8:00-minute mile is huge for me; to add a couple more sounded impossible.

I headed up the first hill, passing several runners along the way.  I cruised through a flat stretch and then a nice downhill, logging the second mile in 7:52.  I felt good as I approached my least favorite part of the course: the hill at mile 2.  Even on this hill, however, I kept my focus, thought about running tall and strong, and I passed many people as I climbed.

By the time I crested the hill and neared the 3-mile marker, I was mentally and physically spent.  I was exhausted, and running fast no longer felt fun.  I rallied mentally by telling myself that I do hard things all the time; this was just another hard thing that I had to do.  It was time to embrace the suck.  Taxed but still pushing, I finished that third hilly mile in 7:29.

Coming down the final stretch, I surprised myself by finding some extra gas in the tank and kicking it into yet a higher gear for a strong finish.  I finally closed the gap on a man I'd been trailing for half a mile and crossed the finish line alongside him.  Official finishing time: 24:24!  I blew my old PR out of the water by 3:04!!

The best cheering squad on the planet!
My generous parents wrangled my kids and my nephews so we could run. 
After refueling, rehydrating, and cheering for the rest of our gang, I ran the 1-mile kids fun run with my 6-year-old.  We had a disastrous experience last year, so I felt a bit unsure as we set off.  He wore a cape my sister had made for him, which inspired cheers from many spectators.  He fed off their excitement and had a great time.  We did a mixture of running and walking, as we had planned, and he was happy throughout.  What a difference a year makes!

Super D. and I are ready to race!
After crossing the finish line with Super D., I checked the standings and saw that I placed 4th in my age group.  I finished 75th overall (out of a field of about 350), and I was the 19th woman.  To say I was ecstatic is to say that an ultra is a little race.  We stayed for the beginning of the award ceremony to cheer for my friend David, who finished 3rd overall.  As we were heading away, David came racing toward us, medal in hand.  "You won 2nd in your age group!" he cried as he handed me the medal.  I was confused but excited.  It turns out that the top two women in my group were 2nd and 3rd overall, which moved me up to 2nd in our age group.  A technicality but still a win - and a medal!  I wore that medal with pride all day :)

Special shout-out to Sparkle Athletic for my blingy skirt.
I think the sparkles gave me speed!
I left the race thinking that this PR would probably stand for quite some time.  Now, 48 hours later, I'm thinking about what speed work I could do next summer to try to top it again next fall...  This is what I love about running: it always pushes us, calling us to be the best that we can be.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Race Goals: Run for the Hills 5k

For the fourth consecutive year, I'm running a local race in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood.  Aptly named, Run for the Hills is an annual tradition for my family.  The race originated more than 20 years ago, and my parents have participated in the event every year since its inception.  Not runners, they walk the 1-mile course around Francis Park, the heart of the neighborhood.  I walked with them for many years until I ran it for the first time in 2011.  I was thrilled by my debut performance - my first ever 5k - and my time from that race has proven tough to beat.  In two subsequent attempts, I've not bested my original time of 27:28.

Though I've been focusing on distance rather than speed lately, I would love to set a new PR on the course tomorrow.  I know I am a stronger and smarter runner now than I was in 2011, and I would love a shiny new PR to prove it.  The course has some hills, as its name would suggest, and the most relentless one comes at mile 2.  I know that hill intimately - my childhood best friend grew up on that road - and I've run it countless times.  Yet somehow it always seems to hang me up on race day.  Tomorrow I hope to keep laser focus on that stretch of the course, forgetting that last year I was passed on it by a woman pushing a double stroller.  Ouch.

As always, tomorrow's event will be a family affair.  My husband, sister, and brother-in-law are all planning to run, too, as is my BRF, Emily.  I want to enjoy the event with them, chat with other runners from the neighborhood, and eat some frozen custard at the end.  My oldest will be running the kids' 1-mile race after the 5k, and I'm excited to be running that with him, too.  (Fingers crossed that this year's fun run will include more fun and fewer tears than last year's.)

While I would love a PR, I will be happy with a strong performance and a time under 28:00.  There, I put it out into the world.  Now let's see what I can do...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What if Everybody Ran?

Inspired by Mizuno's current marketing campaign, I've been toying with the thought "what if everybody ran." Mizuno commissioned a statistical study to examine this question and compiled a number of figures: 48 million fewer cigarettes smoked per day, 20 million more great grandmothers, 7 billion more hours spent outdoors, etc.

I love this sentiment and the fact that Mizuno took time to actually study it. I always say that the world would be a better place if there were more runners, especially mother runners. All runners are amazing, but mother runners (or BAMRs, as we like to be called) are a special subset of this special group. They know how to work hard, make sacrifices, and persevere until the job is done. BAMRs pass these lessons on to their children, who learn by example that discipline, consistency, and persistence pay off; that strengthening one's body also strengthens the spirit; that faced with failure, we can shake off our disappointment and try again. How radically different would our society be if these were the messages we handed down to our future leaders?!

Ok, deep breath. I'll step off my soapbox now. I intended to take a more comic approach to this question, so let's move on to the lighthearted part. If everybody ran:

  • well-stocked and perfectly clean restrooms would be available on every corner. 
  • you would find Gu and Nuun in grocery checkouts as impulse-buy items.
  • last season's running shoes would be perfectly acceptable footwear for any social occasion. 
  • yoga for runners and basics of foam rolling would be a required component of high school PE programs. 
  • tax refunds would be given in the form of race entries. 
  • compression gear would be considered work - and date night - appropriate. 

If everybody ran, the world would be full of healthy, balanced people working to better themselves and their environment one step at a time. What do you think the world would be like if everybody ran? Both serious and silly responses welcome :)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hungry Runner: Refrigerator Oatmeal

When I come home from a long run, all I want to do is stretch, refuel, and take a long, hot shower.  Most often, however, my children have other ideas.  Their (mostly) happy faces implore me to help with Legos, refill their drinks, and read countless books.  Stretching, food, and showers take a back seat. After all, it's hard to demand more time to myself after I've been gone for hours running.  To ensure that I can quickly ingest a few calories, I love to make refrigerator oatmeal the night before a long run. It sits ready to go in the fridge, so I just have to grab a spoon to refuel while I play Lego foreman.

How my dining room table looks most weekend mornings:
endless Legos just waiting to be created and recreated.

Like many of my recipes, I take a loose approach to preparing my refrigerator oatmeal. (As an aside, I'm a bit astonished how many of my recipes are unstructured. I used to hate when my mom would tell me to add a dash of garlic to our homemade pizza or a pinch of oregano to pasta sauce. I guess it's true: eventually we all become our mother.)  I took my inspiration from this recipe, and my basic process now looks something like this:

1/2 cup oatmeal (not quick oats)
1/4 tsp cinnamon and/or allspice
1 tsp. chia seeds
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/3 cup milk
1/2 of a banana, cut into thin circles
1/3 cup fresh or frozen berries

Put the oatmeal, spices, and chia seeds in a Ball jar or another lidded 16 oz. container.  Stir to combine.  Add Greek yogurt and milk.  Stir again to evenly coat the oatmeal mixture.  Add chopped banana and berries.  Stir one last time to combine all ingredients.  Put lid on container and store in refrigerator for 8+ hours.  Enjoy it cold, straight out of the fridge.

The fruit and spice possibilities are endless.  I love the cinnamon and allspice combination with banana and berries; it tastes like a little slice of heaven!  I've also experimented extensively with the liquid components.  I've used both milk and Greek yogurt on their own and haven't been thrilled with the results.  The milk solo is a bit runnier than I prefer, but the Greek yogurt is too chunky.  At the risk of sounding like Goldilocks, the combination of the two is just right ;)

If you've never tried refrigerator oatmeal, I highly recommend that you put some together before your next long run!  Report back and let me know what you think.  Do you have other go-to post-run foods?  Let me know in the comments.  I'm always looking for easy ways to refuel.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lessons from my first 13.1

While we're reviewing progress on my current training cycle, why not relive the beauty (and the misery) of training for my first 13.1?  I like to think that I learn from my mistakes, but maybe you can learn from them, too.  If you've never tackled 13.1 before, read on to learn the highs and lows of my first attempt at that distance:

Find a plan that works for your life and stick to it.  A simple Google search for half marathon training plans will yield an unfathomable number of results. Some have you run 5 days a week while others help you get by on 3. Some include speedwork, others rely heavily on cross training, and yet others focus on time rather than mileage. Find what works best for you and make it happen.

Train with friends. I had the pleasure of training and racing with my neighbor, and the friendship and accountability she provided was invaluable. The long runs seemed less hard with her alongside me, and I couldn't blow off a cold, early morning workout knowing that she would be out there waiting for me. I also trained virtually with a terrific group of ladies through Strava. My BRFs, both physical and virtual, made the training a wonderful experience. 

Log all workouts, both runs and cross-training. I'll admit that I'm a super nerd and a data junkie, and I love checking off boxes to mark my progress. Seeing the vast number of workouts at the beginning of a training plan feels overwhelming, but slowly checking them off feels gratifying and serves as a reminder of how far I've come.

Look at all those boxes to fill and check off!

Recognize an injury early on and seek immediate treatment. I lived in major denial for the three weeks preceding my race, believing that my body was cranky rather than injured. Seeking help after the race, I learned how pain-free running could be! If only I'd admitted injury sooner, I could have enjoyed race day more fully.

Learn the difference between niggles and serious problems. The aforementioned injury was of the serious variety, but I treated it like a niggle. Now I'm more keenly aware of what is an acceptable level of discomfort and what requires a call to a professional. 

There will be crappy parts of the training cycle. There will be workouts you don't want to do and days when sleeping in sounds better than lacing up. When those moments hit, know that it won't last forever. Do your best to ride the wave and hang on until you make it to the other side. Like all things in life, running and training are all about ebb and flow. Without the crappy runs, we couldn't fully appreciate the good ones. Embrace the suck.

A training plan doesn't just train your body; it also trains your brain.  During the training cycle, you will encounter moments of doubt when the magnitude of 13.1 miles seems overwhelming, to say the least. Doubt is part of the process. Knowing that doubt will come and dealing with it constructively is a huge piece of half marathon success.

Hold on to the finish line feeling.  After crossing the finish line, my feeling of pride and accomplishment was indescribable.  I chose to do something hard, I worked my tail off, and I made it happen.  How often in life are things so cut-and-dried?  In the months since my race, I often reflect back on that day and the finish line feeling.  I call on that strong, confident, badass version of myself when I need a little extra push to get through life's current challenge.

Courage, strength, resolve: a perfect recipe for 13.1 success!

If you've raced 13.1 before, what other tips or lessons would you add?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rock 'n Roll St. Louis training update

Halfway through our 12-week training plan for the Rock 'n Roll St. Louis half marathon, things are rocking and rolling along.  We suffered through a few sweltering long runs in late August, but what else should we expect in the steamy Midwest?

Last weekend, we were blessed with an amazingly wonderful long run.  With 8 miles on the docket and a weekend of wall-to-wall activities, we set off on our long run at 5:15 on Sunday morning.  The air was perfect - crisp, cool, and clean - and the miles felt effortless.  We combined a few of our usual neighborhood routes while the conversation flowed and our feet floated through the miles.  (Or nearly floated: after running these roads several times per week, how did I still manage to find not one but two potholes?!)  I felt healthy, strong, and unstoppable throughout the run.  I was a bit sad to see it end, knowing that such runs are few and far between.

Insert my foot here.  Twice.  Le sigh...

We've interspersed a bit of speedwork into our training, varying between hills, intervals, and fartleks.  The speed sessions have added a new challenge to our usual runs, but the jury is still out on whether we are actually gaining any velocity.  When the cooler weather comes to stay, we may see some noticeable difference; at the moment, we look consistent but not extra speedy.

I've been far less diligent with strength training than I was during my last training cycle.  In the winter, I did strength circuits twice per week through the duration of the training plan.  This time, I've averaged about once per week on strength, but I've incorporated more yoga.  My body feels happier when I practice yoga regularly, and I love the chance to relax and focus on taking a slower pace.  Yoga and running are saving my sanity these days!  Though I could certainly stand to do more squats, lunges, and planks, I'm overall rather satisfied with this cycle's cross-training.

Five and a half weeks until race day, and I feel far more confident than I did at this time in my last training cycle.  Now that I know I can cover the distance, the race feels a bit less scary.  It's certainly not a gimme, but I know both my body and my mind have the strength to run 13.1 miles.  I'm more excited than terrified, looking forward to the crowds, the bands, and the other runners.  Anything can happen, especially with several more long runs to tackle, but I'm feeling optimistic and hopeful for good weather and a terrific race day.  Bring it on!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A New Chapter

I had (have) beautiful, detailed plans for this blog. Scheduled posts. Timely subjects. Interesting perspectives. But life is preventing me from executing my plan. Kids refusing to nap. A broken washing machine. Mental exhaustion from major life changes. Mercifully, I've still had time to run, just not time to blog about running. If I have to choose just one, I choose to sweat, but I've missed blogging.

Back up a step.  Major life changes, you say? Yes, of the employment variety. Yesterday, I left a job I've held for the last 8.5 years. Though it wasn't ideal, it was a big part of my life for a long time, and the parting feels bittersweet. I've been preparing for this day for months, but I've been surprised by how mentally taxing the change has been. I'm sad to leave behind friends and work that I did well, but I'm looking forward to new challenges, new opportunities, and more time for my family. 

Deleting the work e-mail account from my phone.
A wonderfully liberating moment.

Moving onward, starting this new chapter of life, feels a little scary, like standing at the bottom of the hill with a full slate of hill repeats on deck. Looking up is overwhelming but strangely exciting. The climb(s) will be grueling but the rewards are sweet - the endorphin rush and badass feeling that only comes from conquering something truly difficult; from trying something that looks crazy to outsiders but that you know will make you stronger, faster, better. Today I stand the at bottom of this new hill, looking ahead and not knowing what awaits me at the crest. I'm excited and terrified, sad and elated, ready to start the climb and embrace the journey. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

My Favorite Mantras

When I'm sure I can't go another step. When the hill is too steep, the humidity too high, my enthusiasm too low. When my carb-starved brain can't convince my achy quads to keep moving. At such times, I rely heavily on mantras. 

Mantras are brief phrases that I can repeat endlessly in my head (or on desperate occasions, out loud) to help regain my focus. These phrases bring me back to the present moment, rooting my body and brain in the here-and-now rather than in the where-I'd-rather-be. I find that when I can focus on this moment, this step, this square of pavement, I can survive lengthy runs. When I get ahead of myself, however, thinking about mile 8 when trudging through mile 2, I feel overwhelmed and want to quit. To refocus, I pull out a mantra, repeating it for miles at a time, if need be. Some of my favorite mantras include:

Be where your feet are.

I am here now. 

Inhale peace, exhale doubt. 

Long, tall, strong. 

Forward is a pace. 

Earn it!

Embrace the suck. 

It's supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. (a Jimmy Duggan quote from A League of Their Own, one of my all-time favorite movies.) A bit long, but it encapsulates so much and gets me through the ugliest runs. 

I like to have many different mantras from which to choose. Depending on my mood or situation, different mantras keep me moving forward. When I'm feeling zen-like, I love using "I am here now." But when I'm crabby and miserable, I need a kick in the pants rather than zen. "Embrace the suck" usually pulls me out of such funks, reminding me to take all of the run - the good, the bad, the ugly - and appreciate it for what it is. 

Do you have any go-to mantras? What helps keep your feet moving when your spirit is sagging?