Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Review

In a year that was pockmarked by family illnessesmajor life changes, new realities, and civic unrest, running remained a bright spot and a source of happiness and fulfillment.  Focused on running alone, I couldn't be more pleased with 2014.  The one goal I set for myself for the year was to run a half marathon. I tackled that in April then went one better by adding another in October.  During the training process, I learned how to fuel, recover, and cross train in order to find race day success.

2014 also brought me oodles of support from running friends near and far.  Emily and I logged TONS of miles together, racing side by side for both 13.1 adventures and all the training miles that brought us to those starting lines.  I'm soooo lucky to have such an amazing BRF who lives a mere 22 houses away :)  I also met loads of BAMRs through Strava, and I cannot even begin to express their huge role in my running success.  They keep me motivated, inspired, and entertained.  If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be in Strava-ville.  So many positive people working to better themselves and encourage others to do the same.  Love, love, love!!

My BRF, Emily, who provides miles of laughter, companionship, and motivation.
Besides tackling new distances and solidifying friendships, 2014 also brought several big PRs at a variety of distances.  In July, I set a 10k PR on a hilly course.  I surprised myself in September with a smoking 5k PR, which gave me an age group award, too.  To round out the fall, Emily and I set a half marathon PR in October, blowing our April time out of the water.  Lots of hard work and many miles went into those PRs, and I couldn't be prouder of them.

5k age group award.  I'm ridiculously proud of this little medal.
When I wasn't setting PRs, I worked to expand my running comfort zone.  Formerly a sufferer of new route phobia, I broke free of that in June during my memorable run commute.  I ran 7 miles home from work just ahead of a massive thunderstorm; badass doesn't even begin to cover how I felt at the end of that run.  I continued to enjoy running in new places by running during our family beach vacation in July.  Sunrise run with a beach view?  Yes, please!  But the most memorable runs of the year were in August during our Alaskan cruise.  Running on the cruise ship was an experience unto itself with round-and-round monotony broken up by breathtaking views and crisp fresh air - and quizzical looks from the few passengers up in the wee hours to witness my endless laps.

A beach shoe selfie - a lovely end to my week of running in paradise.
Looking ahead, I'm excited to see what 2015 will bring.  I'm training for my first marathon in April - a guaranteed PR!  I'm looking forward to the marathon journey both in training and on race day.  I have no idea what those miles will hold, but I can't wait to find out!  In the fall, Emily and I want to try for a new half marathon PR.  Solo, I'm not sure that I could do it, but I think we can work together to make it happen. 

What were your 2014 highlights? Any big goals on the horizon for 2015?

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Road to 26.2: Week 3

Whew, what a whirlwind week!  Parties, church, and Santa, then endless reading of directions, finding missing Barbie shoes, and assembling Legos.  All good things to be sure (well, except the Barbie shoes), but just a bit hectic.  Fortunately, this was a cutback week on my training plan, so my overall mileage was on the low side.  Full disclosure: one reason I picked this training plan was because of the less demanding mileage during this busy week of the year.  My week's workouts in review:

Monday (12/22):  3 mile run.
Another rainy Monday!  We changed up our favorite Christmas light route to add a few more streets.  I'm going to miss the lights when this season is over.

Running selfie with Emily along Candy Cane Lane.

Tuesday (12/23):  walk and strength work.
A rare dry and sunny day found the kids and me itching to get out of the house.  We strolled around the neighborhood, checking out our favorite Christmas decorations, taking notes (literally!) of interesting sights, and meeting friendly dogs.  I did some legs and core strength work when we got back, which amused the Little Lady to no end.
Wednesday (12/24):  5 mile run.
Continuing the Wednesday tradition, I ran the early miles with Emily and then tacked on a few solo miles.
Thursday (12/25):  walk and mini yoga.
While the kids and hubby napped, I snuck out to enjoy a peaceful, sunny walk through the neighborhood while testing out my new gadget: a TomTom Runner GPS watch.  Reluctant to leave the unseasonably warm sunshine, I did a mini yoga session on my back porch.  My neighbors probably think I'm nuts...
Friday (12/26):  3 mile run and strength work.
Heavy post-Christmas legs made for a slow run, but it felt so good to get moving after the holiday madness.  I added some legs, core, and arm work after the run.
Saturday (12/27):  6 mile run.
Ugly but over.  As a relatively short distance for a long run, I expected this to be a piece of cake.  Boy, was I wrong.  But I finished it, complained about it, and am now moving on.
Sunday (12/28):  REST!
A supremely lazy day.  I appreciated using this day to recover mentally from the frustrating run on Saturday and to make a dent in laundry mountain, which had stacked up a bit during the holiday week.

The tree, week 3, still hanging onto its leaves.
The gloomy sky matched my mood.

Considering the holiday and other unusual activities in the week, I'm satisfied with this week of training.  Still not as much yoga as I'd like and my holiday food choices were certainly not the best, but frankly, I expected things to be much worse.  As before, I would like to tackle yoga twice in the coming week and get my food intake back on track.  Must step away from the cookies ;)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Not So Sweet Six

For some reason, six mile runs are not my friend.  They feel short enough that I don't spend much time preparing for them mentally, but they are long enough that I can't really fake them.  My fueling strategies are challenged.  Miles three and four just drag on forever.  Why do they taunt me so?

Six miles has really always been my nemesis.  When I first started ramping up my mileage in 2012, I plateaued around six mile long runs for several weeks.  I just couldn't get over the hump - mentally more so than physically.  I finally broke through, but it took a concerted effort.  And six continues to taunt me today.  This very day, in fact, I found myself facing my old foe six.

It was a dreary morning, and no part of me wanted to leave my warm bed at 5:45 to get ready for my run.  I nearly convinced myself to postpone the run until tomorrow, but dreary as it was, today's weather looked more promising than tomorrow's, so I forced myself out the door.

My new AMR gear: the one bright spot in today's run.

The run started off fine enough.  I was happy to be outside and to have a few moments to myself.  I quickly discovered, however, that I was not such a fun person to be around.  I was inexplicably crabby, feeling annoyed with the weather (not quite rain but not quite not rain) and tired of dodging ankle-deep puddles.  I was listening to a fabulously upbeat and positive podcast featuring the incredible Olympian and mother runner Deena Kastor, yet I couldn't stop myself from spiraling further into a funk.

Around mile four, I challenged myself to finish with negative splits, an attempt to salvage something useful from the gloomy morning.  That idea changed my mental focus enough that I could (finally!) settle into the run.  And I did it!  I managed to finish with a strong effort and completed the run with picture-perfect negative splits.

All's well that ends well, but I hope I can improve my relationship with that number which is afraid of seven (you know the joke, right?).  I have many midweek six's on deck in this training cycle, and I certainly don't want to suffer through each of them the way I suffered through today's run.  Is there any particular distance that taunts you?  How do you power through those tough runs?

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Road to 26.2: Week 2

Hard to believe but week two of this journey is in the books!  Last week was filled with Christmas preparations, last-minute school projects, and unsuccessful shopping trips (I'm a site-to-store failure!), but I managed to complete my workouts mostly as planned.  Besides Friday's shortened cross-training, I had a successful workout week, which looked like this:

Monday (12/15):  3 mile run.
Unexpected rainfall added some extra excitement to our usual neighborhood loop, but I'll take rain over ice and snow any day.
Tuesday (12/16):  yoga and strength work.
Some peaceful early morning yoga by the Christmas tree followed by strength work for my core and arms.  A great start to a busy day!
Wednesday (12/17):  5 mile run.
As we did last week, I ran the early miles with Emily and then tacked on a few solo miles.
Thursday (12/18):  3 mile run and strength work.
Easy neighborhood miles with Emily plus legs and core strength work.
Friday (12/19):  strength work.
The workout that almost wasn't: a Thursday night baking fail found me making cookies rather than doing yoga at 5:00am.  It was a jam-packed day, but I managed to fit in some legs and core strength work in the early evening.  Not ideal but good enough.
Saturday (12/20):  9 mile run.
Running solo, I set out to explore some parks I've never run to before.  I didn't map out the route in advance (an oddity for this Type A gal) and just headed out with a loose idea of where I hoped to go.  I ended up tracing a path around 4 nearby parks, which landed me at 9.3 miles.
Sunday (12/21):  REST!
A day off from running and other workouts but not exactly a restful day.  A busy day of Christmas prep and cookie baking left me as tired as if I'd logged a double-digit run!

When I looked back over my first week of training, I noticed that yoga was absent, and I wanted to fix that this week.  Yoga does wonders to keep my body aligned and healthy and to keep me running strong.  I had hoped to do yoga twice this week, and though I had to settle for just once, I know my body is the happier for it.  I'll keep striving to make yoga a priority this training cycle.

My neighbor's tree, week 2: still clinging to the last of its leaves.

Big life lesson from this week's long run: eat even if it feels like a pain in the neck to do so!  Mentally, I know that I should fuel for any run over an hour and that I should take that first fuel after about 45 minutes or so.  I've read it a million times.  I've heard other runners talk about it.  But I get into a zone and don't want to break my stride to do it.  On Saturday, around mile 5.5, I started feeling crabby, a clear indicator that my tank was running low, but I didn't feel like stopping to eat.  By mile 6.5, I knew I wouldn't make it through the final miles without additional fuel, so I took a short walk break to ingest a few calories and then resumed my run.  Wouldn't you know it, a few minutes later, I felt like a million bucks!  I felt stronger for miles 7-9 than I had for 5-7.  Without even trying, my final miles were the fastest of the whole run.  I've done plenty of long runs in the past, so inherently, I KNOW what fueling my body needs; I just need to get better at acting upon the plan.  This week provided such a clear lesson on the benefits of fueling and the immediate improvement it provides.  Now to remember it on my next long run...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Running through the Holidays

When our social calendars fill in November and December, it seems natural that things like exercise might take a back seat.  The days become gridlocked with parties, cookie baking, Christmas card writing, and shopping.  Who has time to workout when there are so many other things on the to-do list?  Why try to fit one more thing into an already overcrowded schedule?  For me, the answer is a no-brainer: I continue to make time for my workouts to maintain my sanity and some sense of normalcy during these months that are anything but.

I'm on a training plan this holiday season, so my attention is particularly focused, but even in past, non-training plan years, I've enjoyed running during the holiday season.  Amidst the hubbub, running keeps me grounded and helps me feel balanced, something I desperately need during this season of too much sugar and too little sleep.  On my morning run, I can clear my head and return ready to tackle the wrapping, baking, and shopping.  And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that running helps me feel (less) guilty over indulging in the all-too-abundant treats hanging around my house ;)

Yoga by the Christmas tree (with one of my favorite pairs of wild socks):
a great way to find balance at this time of year.

I'm certainly not casting stones at those who choose to pause their workout plans during the holidays.  If taking a break from your fitness routine can help you return rejuvenated and refreshed in the new year, then go for it!  But for me, running and yoga are key to my holiday happiness.  I enjoy the extras and the once-a-year events, but I also crave little pieces of my humdrum normal life.  Lacing up my running shoes is that little piece of normalcy that gives me the stamina to forge through all of the extras.

Do you take a break or run through the holidays?

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Road to 26.2: Week 1

One week down on my marathon training journey, and I'm feeling quite good.  The training load this week was fairly close to my maintenance routine, so it felt like an easy start to the training plan.  My first week workouts looked like this:

Monday (12/8):  Cross training and strength work.
I walked for 45 minutes at a brisk pace and did 15 minutes of body-weight strength training: squats, core, and ceremonial push-ups.  An anticlimactic but important start to the training plan.
Tuesday (12/9):  3 mile run.
Emily and I took our usual 3-mile morning run.  Though I nearly overslept, I made it just in time and counted that as a victory.
Wednesday (12/10):  5 mile run.
I ran 3 with Emily and then added a couple more on my own.  The miles felt too quiet and a bit lonely after we parted ways.  For the past year, 93% of my runs have been with my BRF, so it will take some time to get used to the solo miles.
Thursday (12/11):  Cross training and strength work.
Plagued by kid germs, I walked for an hour on our treadmill and did 15 minutes of body-weight strength training: squats, lunges, core.
Friday (12/12):  3 mile run.
Easy neighborhood route with Emily.
Saturday (12/13):  8 mile run and strength work.
Emily joined me for 6 then I added a couple extra solo miles.  Later, while the kids napped, I did 15 minutes of strength work, focusing on core and arms.
Sunday (12/14):  REST!
A much-needed day off from working out.  I'm feeling good, but my body appreciated the break.

The biggest lessons I learned this week related to food.  Around mile 4 of Wednesday's 5-miler, I remembered that I need to eat more before any run over 3 miles.  As an early morning runner, I can get away without fueling before a 3-miler, but beyond that, I need some extra calories.  I'll remember to grab a banana before this week's middle distance run.  I also made a concerted effort this week to improve my daytime eating habits.  I've gotten lax with my food choices, especially at lunch time.  Finally admitting that chocolate chips are not adequate lunch food, I'm trying to take more time to make better decisions about my mid-day meal.

My neighbor's tree, one of my favorites.
All in all, it was a solid week of training, and I'm happy to have the first week of the plan under my belt.  At the end of Saturday's long run, I stretched my calves on our front steps and thought about how 18 weeks feels both long and short: a long time to focus on one race, a short time in the grand scheme of life.  During my reverie, I snapped a picture of my neighbor's tree, thinking that both it and I will change remarkably over the next several months.  I hope to capture a picture of the tree each week as an external sign of the passage of time and progress towards the starting line.  Here's to hoping I can follow through on that plan ;)

Friday, December 12, 2014

By Degrees: What to Wear when the Temperatures Dip

Part of my evening ritual includes scanning the next morning's weather to see what I'll encounter on my run.  Taking the hourly forecast at face value, I pull out what I need to wear and make a tidy stack in the bathroom where I can stumble into it without further thought.  At 4:30am, I can muster enough brain cells to pile on the layers onto my body, but I can't think clearly enough to make clothing decisions.

I've joked for a while that I need to make a chart that would tell me what layers to wear based on the temperature.  Instead of wasting minutes pondering what would work best at 30*, I could just reference my chart, make the pile, and go to bed.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was actually a good idea, not just a joke, and I thought some of you might appreciate the details, too.  As a disclaimer, I am, of course, in no way qualified to give advice on cold weather running or fashion (definitely not fashion!).  But the following guidelines work for me, and if you are wondering what to wear in the cold months ahead, take a gander.

A sea of black with isolated pink: my winter running staples.

When temperatures are in the 50s:
We don't see many 50* days in winter around here, but when they show up, I like to wear:
  • capris
  • long sleeve technical shirt
  • vest
  • regular wicking running socks

When temperatures are in the 40s:
I love 40* runs!  The air feels fresh, my legs are speedy, and it doesn't take me hours to dress.  My usual layers include:
  • capris (in the upper 40s) or running tights (in the lower 40s)
  • long sleeve technical shirt
  • vest
  • wool running socks
  • gloves and ear warmers

When temperatures are in the 30s:
30* still feels pretty good to me, at least once I get going.  To stay warm at this temperature, I wear:
  • fleece-lined running tights
  • long sleeve technical shirt
  • vest
  • wool running socks
  • gloves, ear warmers, and arm warmers

When temperatures are in the 20s:
This starts to be the point at which I dislike outdoor runs: too many layers and too much cold air for my lungs.  But when I prefer frozen lungs to treadmill boredom, I keep warm(ish) with:
  • fleece-lined running tights
  • long sleeve technical shirt
  • short sleeve technical shirt
  • vest
  • wool running socks
  • gloves, ear warmers, arm warmers, and a balaclava

When temperatures are in the 10s:
These are usually the lowest temperatures we see, and fortunately, we don't usually have them for a sustained period.  When they come, however, I do my best to keep warm by wearing:
  • fleece-lined running tights
  • long sleeve technical shirt
  • short sleeve technical shirt
  • vest
  • jacket
  • wool running socks
  • gloves, ear warmers, arm warmers, and a balaclava
For me, the wool socks are a game-changer.  I wore them very regularly last winter and then couldn't find them before a 20* run in February.  Grabbing other socks, I figured it wouldn't be a big deal on a quick 3-miler.  Boy, was I wrong!  My feet were so cold throughout the run that I could hardly think of anything else.  Since then, I've been sure to have my wool socks handy for any run where the temperature hits 40* or lower; my body is much happier that way.

How do you layer for winter runs?  Do you have a go-to piece of winter running gear?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Journey Begins

This week marks the beginning of my marathon journey!  With the help of Hal Higdon's novice 2 program, I plan to toe the starting line of my first marathon on April 12th.  I've done the pre-training plan prep work: my weekly workout are all loaded into my Google calendar; a printed copy of my schedule hangs in my kitchen, full of boxes just begging to be checked off.  It's go time!

As I stand at the start of this training plan, I'm both excited and terrified, but mostly I'm just happy to be officially starting the road to 26.2.  My workout schedule for the week doesn't look much different than what I've been running in my maintenance mode: a couple three mile runs, a five miler, and an eight mile long run.  In some ways, it feels anticlimactic to have an "easy" start to the training plan, but in others, I think it means I'm in a strong position to do this thing.

Google calendar, with Hal Higdon's advice, will get me to the starting line.

Thanks to inspiration from some mother runners on Strava, I've been logging regular strength workouts this month, which couldn't be better timed with marathon training.  I know cross-training and strength training are keys to marathon success, and I'm glad that I'm beginning the program on the bandwagon; it's easier to stay on the wagon than to get on it.  With the other mother runners, I'm working on some new-to-me core exercises and revisiting some oldies-but-goodies.

I cross-trained and did strength work yesterday, so today was my first run of the training plan.  Because the universe has a sense of humor, this morning I experienced alarm clock issues for the first time in months.  Never hearing an alarm, I rolled over at 4:46, exactly 4 minutes before I was due to meet Emily.  I madly threw on my clothes and bolted out the door, sighing that this must be a bad omen to sleep late on the first day of the plan.  But by the time I had walked to her house, I'd turned my brain around.  Instead of dwelling on the negative, I spun it to the positive: I did get up in time!  It wasn't my finest effort, but I did get there just 4 minutes late (sorry, Emily!), and considering that my head was on the pillow a mere 8 minutes previously, I'll count that as a win.

This morning encapsulates how I expect this training cycle to be.  It won't always be pretty, and I won't do everything perfectly.  I'll make some mistakes, miss a workout or two, and eat some less-than-desirable foods.  And that's okay.  In spite of those errors, however, I will ultimately find a way to get it done.  I will log the miles, do the push-ups, foam roll my quads.  I'm a recovering perfectionist, so this way of thinking is a bit foreign to me, but I hope this training cycle will help me embrace it more fully.  I hope you'll join me for the journey!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Rainy Run

Running in the rain feels inherently badass.  While most people go out of their way to avoid spending time in the rain, runners lace up as usual and have some fun dodging puddles.  I enjoy a nice rainy run as much as the next gal, but I have to admit that cold, rainy runs are not as pleasant as their milder spring counterpart.

When my alarm sounded this morning, I saw that a cold, rainy run was in my immediate future.  Miles with my BRF - even frosty, soggy ones - trump miles on my lonely basement treadmill, so we headed out to run amid the raindrops.  We cruised through our run and paused to stretch outside her house, as is our usual routine.  As her husband left for work, he shook his head at us and said, "You two are really hardcore."  I'll take that as a compliment :)

Once finished with the soggy run, however, I wanted nothing more than to be warm and dry.  My badass feeling quickly morphed into a chilled-to-the-bone feeling.  I endured a hot shower (no more water, please!) and piled on layers of clothes.  I glanced at the clock and saw that I had 10 minutes before I had to wake my kids for school.  I could do laundry.  Or empty the dishwasher.  Or pick up misplaced toys.  Or snuggle under a blanket with a cup of coffee.

Warm at last!

I stand by my choice ;)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cross Training: DoYogaWithMe.com

Continuing my pursuit for high-quality, free cross training, I've recently focused my search on yoga options.  I've found some duds, but I've also found some keepers, including my current favorite: DoYogaWithMe.com.  This site offers an enormous quantity of yoga videos: detailed explanations of individual poses, guided meditations, explanations of proper breathing and posture, and full-length classes for all ability levels.  And it doesn't cost a dime.  Be still, my frugal heart!

Though the site offers an abundance of choices, many of which are available on YouTube as well, I am a creature of habit and keep returning to the same two classes.  My tried-and-true options focus on releasing tension in the hips, hamstrings, and lower back, classic trouble zones for runners.  When I'm in a time crunch, I opt for the 28-minute version, but my body is so thankful when I spend 48 minutes on the full version.

The classes are taught by David Procyshyn, founder of DoYogaWithMe.com.  His pace is slow, giving beginners time to find their way into the poses and allowing more experienced participants an opportunity to really settle in and feel the poses' effects.  He provides highly detailed explanations and moves fluidly from one pose to the next.  I appreciate that he spends equal time on each side of the body; it seems that some instructors shortchange the second side, but David does not fall into this trap.  And the poses included in these videos target all of the hot spots in my body!  Every overworked running muscle finally relaxes when I follow these sequences.

Both videos can be done without any specialized yoga equipment.  A mat, block, and strap are useful, but you can easily substitute for them.  I use an old tie in place of a strap and a diaper wipe container instead of a block.  (I wasn't kidding when I called myself stingy!)  I do have an actual yoga mat, which I highly recommend if you can spring for one.  Its cushiony surface is gentle on the joints, and its standard size helps me locate my body in the proper position and better emulate the instructor.

If you're considering adding yoga to your running routine, I highly recommend browsing this site.  Report back if you find other videos there that you enjoy!