Sunday, January 26, 2014

The road more travelled...

I've been running since I was a kid.  I started, grudgingly, when I was about 10 years old.  My dad would drag me out on our bikes, and ride to the 1 mile grass loop at Cal State Bakersfield (go Roadrunners!).  I usually had to run at least one mile, which elicited a lot of complaints from me.   I grew, and I started up again when I was about 13 years old and now living in the Taylor Street neighborhood of Chicago.  My parents now both worked, and during the summer I had ample time, and few friends as we lived in (a) graduate student housing (read: no kids around, at least my age), and (b) we just moved from NYC.   After getting board of hanging out at home and playing Nintendo 8-bit, I started running during the heat of the summer.  I started with one or two miles and began moving up to longer distances - about 5 miles or so.  

I had speed work of necessity.  At that time, our neighborhood was bisected by public housing.  So a pasty white boy with a Los Angles PD t-shirt running through the projects didn't go over to well (took a bit to figure out why...).  Anyway, I booked it through the houses.  I'd run towards the loop, under the elevated, and basically roamed the industrial wastelands west of the Loop.  I kept doing it, even as I made friends and played tennis, then signed up for JV wrestling in high school.  I kept doing this high school, into college in Colorado, marriage & moving to upstate NY (with some brief flirtation with triathlon and vegetarianism - both failed), and back to graduate school.  In Boulder.  The running mecca. 

So most of my life, at least until college and graduate school, all my milage was like 99% spent on roads.  I gave no thought to surface.  If it was there, I ran on it.  Not quickly, but rolled along like a tank.  I ran trails in college and graduate school - and when I began running again in late 2012 I started running on some local trails within running distance to my house and work.   

I've sped up more in the last couple months then I've ever done in my life.   Probably because I've lost weight and gone over my personal max of 40-50 miles per week.  In December I scored a 2nd place overall at a local half-marathon at the Houston Running Festival - a 1:42:23!  For a guy that looks like a rugby player that was pretty quick.  I'd never held sub 8 (7:49 min/mi) for that long.  I also decided to try a full marathon.  Today I ran a marathon - the USAFIT/Memorial Hermann marathon out in Sugarland TX.  I had never really given much thought to the surface I was running on - it was road or trail.  Or a little of both - kinda like the Osmonds.  

Man, was I wrong.  The whole marathon was on concrete - and it trashed my legs.  Even my Hoka One-One Stinson Tarmacs couldn't ameliorate the pounding.  Then I realized, that all my runs - even runs longer than a marathon distance or in the vicinity - were always on mixed surfaces (concrete and trail), or trail.  

I ended up finishing in 4:16:17.  I was hoping to finish in sub-4, and perhaps a year ago I would have been beating myself up during and after the race.  Today, I was just happy to finish.  I finally ran a marathon.  I no longer wonder what they're like, even though I've run farther.  Mentally, I feel it was tough because of the long straight views and unchanging surface.  The aid crews were fantastic, the organization and operation of the race were phenomenal, and Sugarland PD was great about keeping traffic at bay and keeping runners/walkers safe.  The race even accommodated longer marathoners by even having a 4:30 AM start and 12:30 PM finish - roughly a 18 min/mi pace.

Did I mention the medal was pretty swanky?  The little star that sits over the greater Houston metroplex actually spins. 

So, in closing, I think I had a one-morning affair with a road marathon.  Maybe I'll try one again, but I think for the sake of my legs, sanity, and love of dirt - I'll stick to the trails.  Not a slam on roadies - I still will do a lot of my runs on hard surfaces.  I just don't know that I want to do another for a while.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Choco Loco 5k -- Race Report

So I think my new goal is to do at least one extra race every month.  There's always the free Houston Wellness Project 5k to do, so I think it's pretty reasonable.  January's bonus race was the Choco Loco 5k.  That means that I've done two chocolate-themed races in a 7-day stretch.  I am very, very loyal to my favorite candy.

We picked up packets during the week, so it was nice to not have to show up any earlier than necessary in the cold.  We got to the site 20 minutes before the race start and still found a close parking spot.

There's something fun about walking on streets that are usually super busy but for a brief time get completely closed to traffic.  There were tons of police on the course to ensure driver compliance.  The mile markers seemed to be where they belonged!  There were three water stations, too, so there's no way anyone could have ended up thirsty.

This was the reason we'd chosen the race.  There were cookies, brownies, strawberries, all to be dipped in a chocolate fountain.  Also, Katz coffee!  Some people said the volunteers were rude in the food line and I'm sorry they felt that way.  Being a back of the pack person, I'm glad that they were trying to keep people in check so there was something left for the stragglers.  Maybe they need some signs so there's no ambiguity?  The finisher shirts were regular t-shirts, but I really like them.

The kids' k shirts were the same design in a different color and the medals were the standard for the company that runs these races.  I like that they give medals to the kids and they're amassing a collection of them with different colored ribbons.

My race
Since I technically set a 5k PR in the last 5k of my first half marathon, I decided to do an actual 5k race to have an official new PR.  To help me with my goal, I recruited #1 to be my pacer, since his 5k PR is a few minutes faster than I was hoping to accomplish.  He was thrilled to help and wanted to know exactly how much he was allowed to trash talk to motivate me.  Unfortunately, he got a horrible cold the day before the race and had to cheer from the sidelines.  Also, it was very, very cold.  Normally we are super gung-ho about taking everyone out (remember the super cold turkey trot?), but with #1 sick and #4 thrilled with his ability to remove hats and mittens, we ended up keeping the kids in the car while I did my race, then quickly swapping out Christian with #2 and #3 just before the kids' k started.  This didn't allow for much photo taking, so my moment of PR glory will live on only in my memory.  I finished in 35:22, which is an improvement of 5:51 since last June!  I'm really pleased that I'm able to walk a 5k this quickly and I still think I have room to improve my walking form.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cocoa Women's Half Marathon -- Race Report

We arrived around 6:30 for the 8:00 start. We had no problem finding free city parking about a block away and packet pickup was easy breezy.  There were so many bathrooms that there was barely a line even minutes before the race.  The start/finish area was in a lovely little plaza at La Villita, which was great for the kids to play while they waited with Christian.  There was a small pink tote bag, a women's tech tee and a really pretty race number.  They had Hershey's kisses out on the tables, which my kids definitely appreciated.

It was very, very cold waiting for the race.  The kids were bundled up for waiting outside, but I was dressed for the race.  Christian ran back to the car and got me a blanket.  I think he got the nicest picture of me while I was standing there shivering after I'd wrapped #4 with the blanket so he'd stop trying to take off his shoes and socks.

The race start was for both the 5k and half marathon and there was no chip mat at the start, so you only got your gun time.  Odd, but I do wear a watch so I made sure to start it right at the line.  I am not fast, so I started at the back.  A whole lot of casual walking pace 5k ladies had started near the front, but after a few minutes everyone was sorted by pace.  While some of the front runners had problems with the course marking, by the time the slower crowd came through it had all been resolved. We started through the historic King William neighborhood, which was full of beautiful old houses. We then moved to a river multi-use path, which was far less scenic and much more hilly. Some of the aid stations didn't have enough pre-filled cups of water, but I always carry a handheld water bottle with me. I did end up needing to refill it, but it was nice to be able to skip an aid station with a line because I had my bottle. I think Christian influenced me in this, since most trail ultra runners carry their own hydration.  The mile markers were definitely not placed accurately.

The food line was long, but very much worth it.  Truffles, chocolate covered strawberries and chocolate chip pancakes were the highlights for me.  Although it's only my second one, this is now my favorite medal since it's a cup of hot cocoa with sparkles.  Future races will have a tough time topping this.

My race
I was feeling good going into this race and for some reason though it would be very flat since it was downtown San Antonio. For the first few miles, I was happily distracted by the beautiful details in the older homes.  Interesting roof designs, stained glass windows, beautiful porches! I was also keeping a pace that was about 30 sec/mi faster than my last half.  This is going to be awesome, I thought to myself.  Flat and fast!  Then came the river multi-use path. It got very industrial very quickly (my, what scenic underpasses) and there were (gasp!) frequent little hills. I do not do hills, even tiny little hills. I tried them once months ago and my knees hurt for days.  Christian and I had been talking about people who DNF to keep their ranking higher on race results websites earlier that morning and counting our blessings that neither of us had ever had to DNF.  Right before I left he joked that unless I had a greenstick fracture I'd better finish the race.  So I kept on, wondering how my knees would feel. Much to my surprise, they felt okay. I did start to slow down because I don't train on hills, ever, and my legs were really feeling it.

With my legs hurting and the industrial scenery, I started to be less than thrilled about having over 8 miles to go. I decided then that I was going to find very single possible positive thing I could about being on the river path.
1. It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  Sunny and just warm enough -- one of those winter days that makes you glad you live in Texas.
2. I got to see Mission Concepcion, finished in 1755.
3. There are lots of little river crossings on the path.  One bridge was made of rocks painted in rainbow colors.  One had little line drawings of animals that had been pressed into the concrete.
4. The path had flat metal markers in the concrete every tenth of a mile, which let me check my pace.  Since the course mile markers were wiggity wack this was nice.
5. When I saw the race leader on the "back" when I was on the "out" for the part of the path we used twice, she was wearing Team RWB.
6. I was holding pace with a pair of run/walk ladies who complimented my walking speed.
7. They had these little manmade structures in the river to make the water flow in a way that let you hear the sound of it rushing.  There were 3-4 of these little spots every mile.  Rushing water is one of my favorite sounds in the world.

As the river path headed back into downtown, it got much nicer.  By this point there were lots of people just out for a casual walk and the race field had thinned so much that it felt odd.  I finally made it back to the street for the last half mile and despite having slowed by about a minute per mile from my early race pace, I felt good.  I felt much better, actually, than I had at the end of the RunGirl 13.1 race.  As I rounded the next to last corner, Christian and the kids were there to cheer for me and I was so happy to see them.  I gave them some of my trademark end of race goofiness and poured on everything I had left to get to the finish line at a good pace.

I finished with a gun time of 2:49:47.  My watch time that took into account my starting near the back of the pack was 2:48:41, or 12:52 min/mi.  I was so happy to have finished less than four minutes slower than my previous half, despite the hillier conditions.

What I Learned
I can, in fact, handle minor inclines and declines.  Not real hills, but after thinking I couldn't do them at all it was a nice surprise.  I have resolved my flying elbows issue and am now moving onto my hunched forward shoulders issue.  I was pleased with my conscious choice to find everything good about the river path instead of being upset that I was walking under underpasses.  I ended up ordering pizza for dinner and we went out to dinner after my first half back in December.  In the future I need to make something before the race so I don't give up on making dinner because I'm tired.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pre-race, second time around

I'm so much more confident about this race than I was about my first.  With a four hour limit and a chocolate feast waiting for me at the finish, I'm planning to slow down a bit so I have more of an appetite!  The weather looks awesome (forecast of mostly sunny, 48 °F at race start, 62 °F at my projected 3 hour finish) and I'm so excited to get back out in an all-women race field.

-- Since my last half --
Training miles: 76
Longest walk: 8

My biggest concern about my gear this time is that I think my shoes are pretty well worn and I don't have time to break in a new pair.  We went to the Houston Marathon expo is this weekend and I got two new pairs to add into the rotation.  The Cocoa Half will probably be the last race for my Gel Nimbus 14's.  These shoes took me through the exciting weeks of building my longest distance ever from 6.2 up to 13.1 miles, so I'm pretty attached to them.  Gel Nimbus 14, meet Gel Nimbus 15.

I've been thinking a lot about my long term goals and for some reason running again will not stop lurking in the back of my mind.  Christian pointed out that before I started walking longer distances I complained about knee pain when climbing the stairs with #4 in my arms.  I haven't mentioned that in months and my walking hasn't led me to take any ibuprofen or even use my former BFF, the magic self-heating knee wrap.  If I can keep building strength and stick to my nutrition, maybe I will be running 5k's with kid #1 by the end of the year.  I saw a motivational picture that said "The voice in your head that says that you can't do this is a liar."  While that's certainly not true in extreme cases, I'm not as far gone as I once thought I was.  I wouldn't ever have my kids give up on their dreams and the only way I can teach them that is to pursue mine.

San Antonio, here I come!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Weight Weight Don't Tell Me

Fun fact: I was on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me in 2002.  I won, but never redeemed, the prize of Carl Kasell recording my answering machine message.  The only question I can still remember was about Led Zeppelin.

Now -- onto something that I cannot seem to resolve as I'm putting in more miles and starting to think about faster paces.  I am technically at a healthy weight.  I don't eat much in the way of garbage food.  I am, however, 20 pounds over what I was before I got pregnant with #4.  I did Weight Watchers in 2011 and got incredibly motivated to follow it, but now I cannot seem to get back on track.  #4 is still nursing and hasn't slept through the night since he was 6 months old, which is probably part of why I'm still feeling so hungry all the time.  I know that a lower weight will mean less stress on my knees and faster times, so I'm not just fixating on some number on the scale.  I can make myself walk in the cold, in the rain, in the Houston summer heat.  Why can't I make myself eat slightly less?

Christian, who has already lost 60 pounds, wants to lose about 20 more, so I'm definitely not alone in this.  My first goal is to take some time to plan ahead so I don't end up eating, say, almond butter out of the jar at 4 p.m. while I'm starting dinner because nothing else is readily available.  It's not junk eating, but it's clearly not what I should be doing to optimize my limited athletic potential.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Race 2: January 2014

Cocoa Women's Half Marathon

January 19, 2014
San Antonio, TX
4 hour course limit

Why This Race?
When I came up with the idea to do 13 races in 13 months the Aramco Half Marathon in Houston was sold out, except for charity entries which are REALLY expensive.  (Note: If I ever become super wealthy I'm totally going to do charity entries because they come with the promise of things like private pre-race bathrooms.  Sounds pretty luxe.)  Christian is already registered for the USA Fit Marathon in Sugar Land later this month and we don't have backup to watch the kids so we can race on the same day.  That left me with no local choices.

Looking around races in Texas I found the Cocoa Women's Half.  Women?  Yes, I am one!  Cocoa?  Yes, I love it!  San Antonio?  Yes, it's our favorite local trip town!  The new part for this is traveling to a race.  Since I'm bringing my whole cheering section along, this should be a fun and challenging trip.  I've also never done a race through a downtown area and the course switches direction frequently.  Since I'm not as far toward the back of the pack as I thought I would be, I think I should always have someone to follow.  Also, the kids have no school on the following Monday so we can catch up on what we don't get done due to a busy weekend.

I am hoping to go below three hours again, since we're still in the nice cool weather part of the year in Texas.  I'm also focusing on efficiency of movement and seeing how that affects both my pace and my perceived exertion.  

I am pretty much doing the same as my first race, to go out a bit conservatively and try to keep my pace steady.  Although the RunGirl 13.1 course wasn't hilly by Christian's standards, it did have a few hills.  I train completely flat here in the interest of knee preservation.  Since this is a downtown course it should be flat as well, so it will be interesting to see how that changes things.  I'm not sure if I'm going to push as hard as I did last time.  I'd like to finish smiling!