Tuesday, April 30

Preparation via Pinterest: Race Day Ready

A whole bunch of Oiselle ladies got together for the Eugene Marathon this weekend (jealous!), but Oiselle's #FastFriday contest shared the love on Twitter and extended into Pinterest and through the weekend into today.

For the contest, entrants are to create a Pinterest board called "Race Day Ready" and pin their essentials. The board should, obviously, include some Oiselle items (which the winner will receive!), but entrants are free to post whatever other items are crucial to race day preparation and success.

This ended up being a really good exercise for me to think about race day preparation. I've gotten way better at preparing for races--eating better, hydrating, resting, listening to my body's demands--but thinking about all the stuff I need for this race is different because I'll be away from home (staying with a friend closer to downtown) and it's the longest, biggest race I've ever participated in.

My Pinterest board went from being just a few pieces of Oiselle clothing (which are, in my opinion, essential!) to my shoes, socks, water bottle, hydration needs, sunscreen, nutrition, and inspiration.

When I was making the board, it felt like I was pre-packing. I wasn't even making a list, but visually putting together the things that I would need in order to be successful.

Here's my Pinterest Race Day Ready board.

Monday, April 29

Countdown to My First Half Marathon

T-minus six days till my first half marathon...

  • I'm studying the course map, aid stations, and restroom locations. 
  • I'm preparing food for the week to ensure I eat right and don't do myself in by not eating well.
  • I'm making plans for how to spend the time leading up to and after the marathon. 
  • I'm tapering my running routine by running fewer miles and running with a gentler intensity.

  • I've made tentative plans to meet up with Cherie from CherieRunsThis.com, who is a Pittsburgh native. (You may have seen her in Fitness Magazine, Women's Running Magazine, or on CNN.)
  • I've surpassed my fundraising goal for my charity, Animal Rescue League!
  • I've memorized the logistics for my car, my dog, and the morning of the race. 
  • I've studied the weather forecast--it should be quite friendly for a wonderful morning run.

  • I know where and when to get my packet.
  • I know exactly what I'm wearing, even if the weather varies a little.

I am SO excited!

Monday, April 22

Earth, Wind, and Furnace: Roaring Run Earth Day 15k

Note the people running uphill. They are far
above where I am standing... Far, far above.
Saturday's 15k at Roaring Run in Apollo, PA started off great. The initial section of trail--where the 5k runners would be racing after us--was relatively flat and friendly.

The bad part about the race was the wind. Oh, the wind. It was fierce, cold, and, by all accounts, made you feel like you were running with an open parachute behind you. (Important note: no one actually had any parachutes on the course.) The cool morning wouldn't have been so bad if the wind had let up. But, no, it didn't. Pennsylvania has endured a long winter and a strange springtime. On Thursday, April 18th it was 83º. Saturday April 20th? It was 38º. Mother Nature decided to invite herself to this Earth Day celebration, I suppose.

The course remained flat until about 4 miles in. Then we ran down into what's called The Furnace. I haven't got a clue why it's called that, but the hills--involving switchbacks!--that greet you are enough to make your legs burst into flames, so perhaps that's the cause for the name.

I stopped to take a few photos because I was incredulous at how steep the hills truly were. See the photo with my notations at the right. You can see the switchbacks as well as the vertical distance.
More hills, of the less ridiculous variety, but
still a steady grade... up, up, up!

These were the steepest hills I've seen in a race. (Even steeper than this one.)

Nevertheless, when I reached the top of the hill, I smiled and accepted a cup of very strong Gatorade from a boy scout and ran on.

I had trouble catching my breath because it seemed that the wind was worse on the return. I felt like air was being plumbed down my throat. I stopped to take my asthma inhaler, which I hadn't needed in weeks during a run. I didn't bring my facemask with me, unfortunately, so I had to improvise. I took one of my gloves and held it over my mouth and nose so that I could breathe in warmed air at my own pace--not the pace of the brutal wind.

After getting along to the seven mile mark, I noticed that the course was incorrectly measured. I know my iPod nano isn't completely accurate either, but I calibrate it regularly so I get the most accurate record of my runs... And when I reached the seven mile mark, my iPod told me I had just a little more than a mile to go in order to reach my 15k.
Finished! (Dad caught me with my eyes shut.)

I kept a faster pace than for any other long run near or over double digits. I was delighted to know that, as part of my 15k, I beat my 10k time (old time 1:08:57; new time 57:15).

And, since the course was longer than 15k or 9.3 miles, I beat my 10 mile time too (old time 2:08:29; new time 1:55:27).

So as I neared the finish line, a few things about my race preparation became evident:

  • I probably didn't eat well enough the day before
  • I drank too much during the race (to get rid of phlegm, but I have to stop doing that)
  • My lower abdomen and hip flexor muscles need to be strengthened to sustain the faster pace I kept for this race
I know my legs are still recovering from wearing shoes that were just not for me... That's been tough too. My left achilles is beginning to worry me a bit because it hurt all day Sunday and hurts this morning too... I've never had a problem with that, so I am just hoping that I can be well enough to get through my first half marathon in two weeks. Then I'll figure out what the heck is happening. :-/ Till then, it's RICE for me.

Monday, April 15

Adventures with "Love With Food" (review)

I received my first box from Love With Food today. I bought this box subscription through Fab, an awesome, excellent source for very cool things which I highly recommend based on my superb experiences with their products AND customer service.

I was delighted to receive it after only getting the tracking number four days ago. Considering that it arrived in my mailbox (i.e., via USPS), that's speedy delivery.

For every box Love With Food sells, they donate a meal to a charity. The start-up story is heartening too, so it's nice to know that a business has good intentions and kind roots.

My Love With Food box came chock full of items curated by Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel... not that I have cable. Because I don't. And I haven't for almost four years now, so I didn't know who he was before this box came about. (Apparently May's theme is for Mother's Day--"breakfast in bed." I love breakfast, so this should be good.)

The group of items that arrived are interesting. I can't say I would've gone out and bought any of them myself. I would say that if this was the "weird food" concept they were going for, then they nailed it. For my pantry anyway.

  • Cocomels coconut milk caramels, by JJ's Sweets
  • Lemony lover olives, by Oloves
  • Salty pepper sunflower seed snacks, by Somersault Snacks
  • Gluten-free itty bitty butter popped sorghum, by Mini Pops
  • Organic fennel pollen, by Pollen Ranch
  • Smoky chili and lime roasted chickpea snacks, by The Good Bean
  • Creamy buffalo ranch dip, by Buff Lo Dip
The stocked items are available on Love With Food's website for purchase at a discount. (But again, the prices there are such that I'm not seeing the real "deal" value of this subscription.) Some I won't be able to share with my boyfriend because of his food allergies, but I guarantee he'll want to try the olives and the buffalo ranch dip. :)

I was pleased that my box arrived as JUST the box--not packed inside a larger box. It had a plastic wrap on the outside with my address label affixed to it, but it wasn't like some other box subscriptions I've gotten where the smaller box with the goods in it is packed inside a larger box with smushed up paper padding--that's wasteful, if nothing in there is breakable or particularly fragile. So kudos on the eco-friendly front, Love With Food.

I admit I was a little disappointed with some of the sample sizes. I realize they can't send out giant containers of stuff, but I'm not convinced it was a "deal."

Anyway, I'll give my new food stuffs a try and see what I like. As it stands, I recommend Love With Food for its service and variety. I'm just not sure the value is there. Extra points for more eco-friendliness than some other boxes, though! :)

Friday, April 12

Out With the Old and... In With a Newer Version of the Old

I got new running shoes about a month ago and, after the hassle of getting them ordered, I was thrilled to have them and wear them. It was good to feel a fresh new cushion of a new pair of kicks. They were pretty and with my SuperFeet inserts they felt great.
Me in my Brooks after fording the muddy
stream to reach Penasco Blanco at Chaco
Canyon, New Mexico. No one died of
dysentery or lost any shoes. 
I switched back and forth with my old and new shoes while I wore the new ones in, mostly because the new ones were ever so slightly more neutral than my old ones. The people at my gym were probably pretty happy when I stopped wearing my old ones since I had worn them in New Mexico tromping around in the mud at Chaco Canyon with my bff in early February. I was still spreading bits of ancient desert with every step.

Once I was running every run in my new shoes, though, I started having pain. Every run brought pain. At first I chalked it up to not being diligent enough with my training. Then once I was back on track with training (after losing my job), that excuse didn't make sense. I ran races in pain. I ran training miles in pain. 

Until this point, my running life had been minimally painful (thank all things good!). I had a (fortunately) short-lived case of runner's knee in November and got stronger thanks to the physical therapy exercises my doctor told me to do. My original shoes saw me through every run of my newbieness until I started getting shin splints consistently around 350 miles. Even the fact that I broke my left foot twice in college hadn't stopped me. (The second time I broke it I got fired for it!) Sure, it hurts when the seasons change, but as long as it's not black and blue and as long as I don't feel "that" pain, I'm okay. (I know what it feels like all too well, sadly.)

Finally this week I was forced to do something about my pain. Track Tuesday with my running group went well. I felt great and did my speed pyramid without much trouble. That night my shins hurt and the fleshy part of my foot that should be an arch, but isn't, hurt. Both feet were mirrored images of pain. I iced my feet and went to bed. 

The next day I felt okay... sort of. I ran on the treadmill because we had some stellar thunderstorms brewing. I got to a mile and felt okay, but after that my legs hurt so badly that I had to stop. I got off and stretched and nothing felt better. I tried to walk on the treadmill and even that hurt. A lot. So I went home and hobbled around to make dinner, all the while wondering what the heck I'd done to myself. 

My concern grew because I now have about three weeks until my first half marathon (May 5th!). I also knew that being sidelined after just 1.5 miles is NOT okay. Something was really wrong.

I did a little investigation online about overpronation, the shin pain I was feeling, and causes. I emailed the coaches for my running group with my hypothesis. They confirmed it. "Go back to your original brand and style," they said. 

I took my new shoes back to the store and, thankfully, they were willing to exchange them. I'm very pleased that they were so kind about it (even though I felt like I was being a total pain). I'm confident that the new shoes--a newer version of my old ones--should help me feel normal again. 

I'm ready to get back to running without pain. I mean, I've worked SO hard to get to the point that I can run and breathe well... it's time to be able to enjoy that! :)

Saturday, April 6

Crack of Dawn

Morning runners baffle me.

I can get myself out of bed to drive two hours to a race--because the last four races I ran in 2012 were all in Ohio--but I can't seem to find a way to get myself up to meet my running group at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings for long runs.

Right now it's still 25º at 7 a.m. That's a kicker for me because I can't breathe as well in that cold. (Plus cold is cold, and I'm soooo sick of cold weather...) But I can't even get myself up to go to the gym. And it's warm in there.

Since I missed the run this morning (I definitely slept till 10...), I'm going to meet a friend and run with her this afternoon. It'll be at least 45º by then, but probably warmer.

I don't know how you morning runners do it. Maybe it's because I don't have someone waiting there to guilt me about it. I haven't really bonded with any of the other runners in the group very well, so it's not really like any of them are expecting me to show. I don't know. My coach will probably mention it on Tuesday night, but I am still doing the miles today, so I don't feel bad. In fact, the route my friend has planned for us today is tougher than the flat trail we were supposed to run this morning, so I think it's a bit of punishment for skipping out.

Some of you who set your alarms crazy early seem to thrive on it. How do you do it? Is there a drug I need to know about? The literal "Crack" of dawn? Help me out, guys. I feel like I'm missing some vital part of being a runner because I can't drag myself out of bed at crazy hours of the morning to run.

Tuesday, April 2

"Just a Short Run" That I Almost Cut... Shorter

Saturday morning greeted me with 25º and frostbitten grass. I took out my dog, warmed up my car, and drove off with my boyfriend to North Park in Pittsburgh. It was one of those mornings that you don't know how to dress for because you know it's supposed to warm up, and you're bound to warm up once you start running, but when you're waiting for the race to start you become certain that you've never been so cold in your entire life. Ever.

I wasn't feeling 100% when we got to the park. On the ride there I had gone through my mental checklist and discovered that I forgot my iPod nano. I wailed in disappointment. I was about to run my second longest race and I had to do it without music?! I have been training with music to help me keep my pace (not too fast, not too slow). NOW what was I supposed to do?! I lamented this fact for about five minutes until I realized that I was really getting on my boyfriend's nerves. So I changed the topic to how glad I was that he was there.
Look how happy I am that the race
is over! I'm sporting sweet Oiselle
gear top to bottom.

When we arrived, I waited in a ladies' room line that coiled around the inside. Fortunately my boyfriend was kind enough to grab my number and chip for me. I honestly don't remember feeling so digestively odd before a race. I don't have to say that I'll spare you the details because, frankly, there aren't any. I can't nail down what was going on.

The race is called Just a Short Run. There's a 5k, an 8.1 miler, a half, and a 30k. The race started uneventfully. The first loop was a 5k with a decent hill, which the race director bragged about before sending us off, and I made it up the hill. It was the downhill that triggered my mental and physical demise. My calves had been hurting since my running group's hill repeats on Tuesday (3/26). I had iced them and stretched them, and worn compression socks, but they weren't cooperating. They cramped up. I tried to glide down the hill so I wouldn't do any damage. 

At the close of the 5k loop, the 5k racers finished and the rest of us crazies kept running. It was at this point I considered quitting. The Chatty Cathies around me had gotten on my nerves. My self-talk had become pretty negative. My calves were yelling at me in their own language, and my guts were already screaming "NONSENSE! THIS IS NONSENSE!" Yes, guts, I know it's nonsense. You're right. But I plodded on.

I really wanted to stop. Then I saw my 5k time. Oh, hell no. I was not letting that be the tone for the day. It would've been my worst 5k time ever. No thank you.

I did a quick diagnostic check: I was warmed up (nearing 40º now?). I could breathe well (for a change). I shed my gloves, my facemask, and my windbreaker, and I pushed onward. 

I tried to get away from the chatterboxes. Most of them had been running the 5k anyway. Fixing my internal problems? Not so simple. I took some Gatorade and a gel thingy at the aid station. I'd have to wait for those to kick in. I tried to stretch out my calves, but no dice. It felt like angry piranhas sunk their teeth into the back of my legs and were holding on tighter with every step I took. 

The next loop in the course was the five mile loop around the lake. I had run this before--twice, actually--in the ten miler I ran in February. But for that race we ran in the opposite direction. I think the course was much kinder in that direction... Sigh. I walked some. I had to. Those piranhas were chowing down. I didn't feel like I was going to pass out anymore, which was an improvement, but my legs were really unhappy with my decision to keep going.

It was incredibly difficult to ignore the physical pain. I can very easily claim that it would've been easier if I'd had my iPod, but I don't know that for sure... 

What I do know is that once I started focusing on my breath--because I could breathe! Oh, joy! I could breathe and not have an asthma attack!--I found a pace I could keep and I rode it to the end of the race.

I finished the 8.1 miles in 1:40:59. I'm not super psyched about the time, but I finished. It is on par with my pace for my ten miler (2:08:29), so I feel good about that. 

I know I need to learn more about how to better fuel myself before races. I also know that I'd prefer to run my races with my iPod... but that I would probably benefit from a few runs without music. 

Monday, April 1

Spring sprouts!

I started some seeds for my spring garden crops last weekend and--lo! and behold!--midweek I had some sprouts!

Plastic greenhouse with grow light
and water spray bottle near my
heating vent. This is gardening, folks.
My setup isn't ideal, but I'm doing my best. I used the little plastic greenhouse tray I kept from last year's "Secret Garden" mishap and decided to leave the lid on only until I got my first sprouts. Last year I ended up with mold and sick seedlings to boot... No one really mentions that on the greenhouse packaging. They just say to keep the seedlings warm and moist... but that *duh* equals mold. No more mold for my seedlings! I have the tray on top of a towel on the ground near a heating vent in my house. (My house is old and doesn't warm up really well... so I wanted to keep the plants warm.) I bought a fluorescent "grow light" to give my plants some faux sun since Pittsburgh is anything but sunny right now... not that I have decently sunny windows anyway. Three-quarters of my house is surrounded with porches, which keeps the house cool all year (whether I want it to be cool or not).

I learned a LOT from my garden last year, and I'm taking a new approach to gardening thanks to the stellar class I took through Grow Pittsburgh. (Best $60 I ever spent!) I grew several flowers and vegetables from seeds last year, but I'm going to try to grow all my crops from seeds this year--vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

So far I've started the following seeds:

  • lettuce (sprouted)
  • broccoli (sprouted)
  • lavender (some sprouted)
  • Shasta daisies
  • lemon balm
I need to get my spinach seeds SOON so I have those seedlings ready to plant when the rest of these seedlings are ready at the end of April/beginning of May. The rest of my spring crops I plan to plant by direct seeding (seeds in the ground, not started indoors for transplanting). But, naturally, I will need to wait for the weather to cooperate for most of those to even have a chance at survival.

This year's garden is off to a great start!
Look at those happy little sprouts. :)