Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bikes on trees and other fun stuff you see while running

Yesterday I posted, finally, about the half marathon I ran in February. I totally forgot to mention the tree sprouting a bunch of bikes that we passed along the route. For the first time during a race, I stopped and took a picture. Mostly because I figured my dad (collector of many bikes) and the rest of my family would find it pretty funny. But also because one of the nice things about running, especially in places that you don't run all the time, is you get to see different things, new things.

Neighborhood runs are always the best to see new and interesting things. The lakefront path in Chicago, while nice to run on, does get a little boring after a while. But then again, my running group once had a conversation about the several pieces of art scattered along the park and how long they had been there (they had been there several months and we'd passed them multiple times).

What you mostly see on the lakefront path are people. And if you're paying attention, some of them might just be interesting. I've seen things like: 
  • People riding those elliptical things - which are strange and weird, but probably not any weirder than doing the elliptical at the gym, which I've been known to do, and at least the scenery changes.
  • And speaking of people propelling themselves in weird ways, I did once see someone on those bouncy stilt things, which just seems like bizarre attention seeking behavior, but it also looks kinda like awesome fun.
  • Guys (it's always men), running in shorts and a singlet when it's freezing outside. I don't understand these people. No matter how acclimated to the cold I've become, I'm never that acclimated.
Of course, you only get to see new and interesting things if you're paying attention. I once went on a run in my 'hood and passed a building that had obviously had a pretty serious fire the night before. They were working on boarding up windows and you could still smell the fire. When I got home, I asked Mr. H., who had run the exact same route as me earlier that day, if he saw it. Nope, didn't notice anything. Sometimes he completely zones out when he runs, so focused is he. Nothing wrong with that, I just like to take in the scenery.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cowtown Half Marathon

Me and sis with our coolio race medals,
and me with my neato socks.
Note: I began writing this review the day after the race (February 24). However, this never-ending winter has sucked every ounce of motivation out of me and, even though it is raining today, at least it's kinda warm and it's the first day I feel like maybe Spring will actually arrive before July.

After weeks and months of running in the cold, snowy, windy, yucky weather, I decided to head south and try my luck in warmer climes. With only four weeks between the two events, I hashed out a training plan that gave me a bit of a step back week for recovery, followed by an 11 mile long run the next week, then another step back week before the final taper before race day. I made it through the first two weeks, but honestly, after too many weeks of cold weather running, and burning out on the treadmill, I did the 11 mile run and then decided I had enough. So I got down to Texas not having run for two weeks; probably not the best training regimen (but often par for the course for me).

The weather in Fort Worth was beautiful, so much so that Baby H. got a bit of a sunburn one day as bad mommy forgot to apply the sunscreen. There had been some joking around that the weather might actually be cold, but I knew cold meant Texan cold, not Chiberia cold, so I was looking forward to getting out and running in nothing more than a pair of shorts and a (as in singular) shirt that had no sleeves.

The Cowtown Half is part of a weekend full of races. They have a two different 5ks and a 10k on Saturday. And then the half, a full marathon and an ultra on Sunday. My dad and his wife ran the "adult" 5k and my aunt and cousin ran the "kids" 5k. I think the primary difference between those (other than the different start times) was the kids 5k participants got finisher medals and all proceeds went to a local children's hospital. So, Saturday morning was spent hanging out, cheering runners, and heading back into the expo to buy more running gear I probably did not need.

I ran this race a few years ago, my first half, in 2011. It's a nice tour of Fort Worth, goes through the historical Stock Yards, into downtown and starts and finishes at the convention center. All three Sunday races start at the same time, and the marathon and ultra follow the same course until they turn off at about mile 11 (pretty sure I could never do a marathon when there's a half marathon option just staring me in the face - especially when you are so close to the finish line like that).

Morning of the race was a little chilly, but nowhere near anything I would call cold. It was liberating to run in so little clothing (though I did add a pair of fun compression socks to the outfit bought at said expo). The race started quickly and I got into a groove pretty nicely. It was a wave start, and people seemed to seed themselves pretty well - I wasn't passing a bunch of people, nor was I getting passed a lot.

There were a lot more people on this course than the previous year. It was never too crowded, but I was never really alone, which was nice. I remember before having times where there just weren't a lot of people. This year was the first year they offered a major purse for this race, so there were some fast runners and pretty much every course record was broken. Also, the Dallas Marathon back in December had been cancelled, so this race probably picked up a bunch of people because of that.

The main reason I do this race is because I have family in Texas and it's a great excuse to go down to visit. My dad and his family are mostly bicyclists (in fact, my dad, uncle and brother are riding from Houston to New Orleans to raise money for the Red Cross and are accepting donations if you're so inclined), so it's fun to introduce them to the running side of the world.

This being my third half, and second in such a short time, I was excited to see what I could do when I really train for something. I ran the F3 Half in 2:21:24. My goal was basically to beat that and get as close to 2:15 as I could. I figured the elements weren't going to be a problem (toward the end it started to be a little warm). I did have to battle my way up some hills (which we clearly don't have to do in Chicago). There's a big hill around mile 10, and around mile 7 I realized I was behind my pace. So for those three miles I picked it up and managed to get ahead a bit so I had some wiggle room on the hill. After the hill, and bidding farewell to the marathoners/ultras, I kept pushing my pace every half mile or so. I knew I was going to be under 2:21, maybe just barely, but under. This is really the first time that I had a plan for my time and stuck to it and actually pushed myself to achieve it.

Crossing the finish line, I looked at my watch and could of swore it said 2:19 something. There's a pic of me crossing with a huge smile across my face, realizing I PR'd. I got handed the spur shaped medal (currently the coolest one in the house) and headed through the food area (which by the way is one of the great things about this race - TONS of food). I wound my way back to my family and my dad tells me that I finished in 2:16:42 (finishing 175/550 in my age group). So not only did I PR, but I really PR'd! I didn't hit that 2:15 I was hoping for, but given the hills, I will totally take it.

So what's next for me? Well, now that it's almost the end of March and finally feels like maybe the weather will warm up a little, I am headed back outdoors and am ready to maintain my base. Today I signed up for the Chicago Marathon as a charity runner for the CARA Road Scholars program. I think I'm more nervous signing up this year than I was when I signed up two years ago. Probably because I know how much work goes into it. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to warmer weather (aren't we all), keeping my base up, and maybe even doing a couple of races (Ravenswood 5k, maybe another half).  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

F3 Half

So my last two weeks of running haven't been great. I kinda lost some momentum and I really got tired of running in the cold and snow. I didn't do my last long run and only ran once during the week. In my head I kinda gave up and vowed just to go out and run whatever, even if it was the slowest half marathon on Earth.

Not helping the situation, the polar vortex is bearing down on Chicago again and ironically, the 10 a.m. start time was hurting not helping as today's high of 25 was reached around 3 a.m. and then the temp started falling. It was projected to be about 15 degrees at race time - not too bad as I've run in colder temps. However, that pesky wind has been blowing a lot lately, and the wind chill was a cool -5. Not ideal. And frankly, for someone not accustomed and prepared for this weather, probably dangerous. I mean, it was probably dangerous for all of us there really today. But hey, we've trained all winter for this, why stop now.

So the coldest Saturday we've had (with wind chill), but luckily with the sun shining down on us, I started out just to get through the run. The path, while not perfect, was pretty good given that we've continued to get an inch or two of snow each of the last several days. And then of course, even when the path was cleared, the wind blew more snow on it. Then there were parts of the path that weren't "path" and we ran through mud. We basically had every type of condition on the path we possibly could. Luckily, very few ice spots, it's the small things really. 

After a quick trip North from Montrose, we turned South and lo and behold the wind stopped. With the sun on my face, I actually had moments of thinking that it wasn't too bad at all. Of course, the wind hadn't really stopped it just wasn't blowing in my face. Once we turned around, it was back and brutal. Now my thoughts went back and forth between "wow, I am badass for doing this" to "what the f was I thinking". At one point I actually felt like I might cry.

And through all of this, I kept having to restart my music because, I assume due to the cold, it would decide to stop playing every few miles. The last mile we turned back South and I had my fastest mile due to a combination of just wanting to get it over with and thankful the wind wasn't blowing in my face anymore.

So, how did I do? I finished in 2:21:24, 10:48 pace. Considering the conditions, I am totally happy with this. And it's a PR for my half. I knew barring something catastrophic, it would most likely be. I finished my first half in 2:42:13. I'm wary of saying I expect to PR again in Fort Worth in four weeks at the Cowtown Half...I'm just hoping there is no snow and wind and it's warmer than 15 degrees.

I've now run two F3 events, and I think they're great. Though the path conditions could have been better, they really couldn't have been, and they had such great communication on Facebook and email about what to expect. Support on the race was great too. I like the small feel of their races, but I suspect they may go through some growing pains as their races become more popular. The shirt and medal are awesome and the after party at Cubby Bear was a lot of fun. Usually I just go home after races, but it was fun to see people, meet up with my group leader from my training group (thanks Sarah) and really, it's only after running 13.1 miles that I enjoy beer.

Even though it was brutal out there. I'll probably do this again next year because it's such a great way to maintain training over the winter.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Alone but not alone

Sometimes you just need to run alone. So instead of joining the group for my 11-mile run Saturday morning, I decided to go out alone. I had wanted to sleep in a bit, but mostly I just didn't want to feel like I needed to keep pace with the group. After two weeks of crappy long runs, I didn't want to be beholden to anyone.

Baby H. had different plans about me sleeping in...at least I had some coffee and a bit of a lazy morning before heading out, a nice change of pace. Even with the coffee, I seemed to be in a bit of a mood. Probably because I have come to depend on these Saturday morning runs. So after updating my playlist on my iPod, I set out determined to not let the distance or the pace dictate my run. I was just going to run.

Running on sidewalks covered in snow and ice and puddles the size of kiddie pools isn't really running. It's more like trail running or an urban version of the Tough Mudder. If only there were logs to carry and live wires to run through. As we've had a bit of a warm up, the path was pretty clear except for several puddles. Some you just run through because whatever, some you'd need a life vest to navigate safely. I heard from others that several people went down due to the patches of ice in places. I opted to "skate" my way over them and slowed way down for anything that looked to dangerous. Nothing like an injury to really piss you off two weeks before a race.

Even with the parkour feel of the path at times, I happily made my way to the mid-way point (North Ave. bridge) and then, foolishly, took the gravel path back thinking maybe it would be less lake like. I was mistaken as I found out when I ran through ankle deep slush and water masquerading as a snow bank. Wearing smart wool socks saved my soaked feet from freezing off. If you don't have a pair, you really should.

In the end I did slightly less than the 11 miles, but only because I took a different street back home thinking the sidewalks might be a little less icy. And even though I went out there "alone," you're never really alone running in Chicago. I had a couple of exchanges with other runners about conditions (something along the lines of "well there's no good way to get through here" and "doesn't matter anymore anyway, my feet are soaked"). And my pace held up pretty well given the conditions - I allowed myself to just slow down and not worry about it.

I've enjoyed training with the running group. It's helped me push myself. But it was also nice to go out and not worry about pace, but to just run.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Winter running sucks!

OK, so by the title of this post you can probably ascertain that my run today didn't go quite as planned. That would be a good assumption. It's been several hours and I've thought a lot about why my run didn't go the way I wanted it to (I ran slow and I didn't complete the 10 miles). I think it was a combination of:
  1. Lots of the path being covered in snow.
  2. When we weren't fighting the snow on the ground, the wind was blowing straight at us. And, this being Chicago, it didn't matter which direction we were running, the wind was still coming straight at us.
  3. As I said in an earlier post on my running this winter, I am not in the shape that I was last year after the marathon. 
  4. I haven't been doing anywhere near the strength and cross-training that I need to do. I think in the past I have been able to get away with this because I wasn't really trying to run a specific pace.
So now that I'm three weeks away from the Winter Half, and not feeling at all confident about this run, what am I going to do? First, I think next week I'm going to just go ahead and run with the 10:30s. I want to complete the miles and feel good about going into the race. Also, I knew that I wasn't doing enough strength and cross-training. Which was why I picked this month to be my focus on exercise month. So this last week I have been, slowly so I don't get too sore, adding some additional exercises. Of course, this add times to my workouts, which is probably why I skip it. But if I want to get faster or continue to run these distances at this speed, then I'm going to have to do more than just run. 

So there it is. I feel like a complete failure about my run today, which is kinda sad seeing how I did actually go for a 7 mile run in 25 degree weather with gusting winds. Honestly, some days I'm not sure who I have turned into. Edited to add: I don't mean that last sentence to sound like I suck. What I mean to say is I am astonished that I care this much about my pace and time and have become such a "runner." But overall, I am happy that I got out there at all today - something most (sane) people wouldn't do.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Taking Stock

I probably should have written this post before I wrote yesterday's resolution post. But whatever, I can put that on my list for this year - do things in the correct order. Anyway, here are some of my amazing accomplishments from 2013.

Races run
This year, according to my Nike watch, I ran 99 times and covered roughly 366 miles. Not too bad. However, in 2012 I tallied approximately 450 miles. Of course, I trained and ran a marathon, and this year I didn't run any race longer than a 10k. With two half marathons in the first two months of 2014, I should be on course to break my 2012 mileage.
  1. May 2 - Ravenswood Run
  2. May 4 - C4 Miles
  3. May 20 - Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10k
  4. May 23 - JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge
  5. June 14 - Run for Boston 5k
  6. September 28 - Rosehill Crypt 5k
  7. November 28 - F3 Turkey Chase 8k
Things knit
I don't get anywhere near the amount of knitting done I would like to. I often forget when I am sitting on the couch, doing nothing but watching TV that I am working on something and should pick it up. But my Tuesday night Stitch and Bitch has kept me on the knitting wagon, so I did manage several projects this year.

  1. A couple of toddler hats (one as a test and one for Baby H's bff).
  2. Several little rockets (I think about a dozen total) for Baby H's birthday party.
  3. Two sets of mittens (one for mom and one for my sister).
  4. Baby H's 2013 Christmas Scarf - so far he's received one knitted item every year for Christmas except year one. But this year he got two things (the scarf and the mittens) so we're all even.
  5. Extra toasty toddler mittens.

Stuff written
This is probably one of the things that I really want to do more of, but just can't seem to find a way to really work it into my daily schedule. I attempted the National Novel Writing Month challenge, and for the first two weeks of November, I did a lot more writing than I usually do. And so far this year, I'm off to a good start on my blog.

  1. I wrote a (measly) 18 blog posts this year.
  2. I wrote a post for another blog: http://runforboston5k.com/what-running-means-to-me-melanie-for-mellys-musings/
  3. I wrote 17,402 words for NaNoWriMo. Only 32,598 shy of the goal.
Books read
Last year I started a book club, that lasted three books (the first three on the list). It was fun, but in the end it was too hard to manage it. I'd like to either join another book club or find a way to read new books that I might not otherwise pick up. Two of the books on the list (Less than Zero and American Psycho) I had read already, but I was going through all of the Ellis books in order, until I got sidetracked by that book about the OJ Simpson trial that I picked up at a friend's house and decided to read for some reason.
  1. "A Hologram for the King" by Dave Eggers
  2. "The Dinner" by Herman Koch
  3. "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell
  4. "Let's Pretend this Never Happened" by Jenny Lawson
  5. "Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened" by Allie Brosh
  6. "Less than Zero" by Brett Easton Ellis
  7. "The Rules of Attraction" by Brett Easton Ellis
  8. "American Psycho" by Brett Easton Ellis
  9. "The Run of His Life, The People v. O.J. Simpson" by Jeffrey Toobin
I thought about adding a list of movies and TV. But that doesn't seem like I really "accomplished" anything by sitting on my ass watching the entire Breaking Bad series (except for the last eight episodes that Netflix hasn't yet made available). But I did watch a few interesting documentaries including Blackfish and Bad Blood: A Cautionary Tale.

So all-in-all, a pretty good year. Making these lists has actually made me feel like I did accomplish some things. It's nice to take stock every once in a while and remind yourself of exactly what you did get done. Of course, the most important things I accomplished this year, spending time with my husband and son, family and friends, can't really be quantified in a list.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

If you've been playing along, you know I (a) like to make lists (b) like to do things that I think will improve me or result in some sort of growth on my part. I do this throughout the year, not just at the beginning. So really, New Year's Resolutions are just redundant to me. But I do them anyway because of both (a) and (b). My lists often look something like this: 
  1. Exercise more - more yoga, more running, more strength training
  2. Eat healthier - NO MORE SUGAR
  3. Write more - 30 minutes a day!
  4. Watch less TV (somehow convince Mr. H. to get rid of the cable)
  5. Spend less money - only $25 a month on Starbucks. No clothes I don't *need* (e.g. absence of socks without holes in them)
  6. Floss teeth EVERY NIGHT - and by EVERY NIGHT I actually mean EVERY NIGHT
I could go on. Even when I put metrics and time deadlines on my goals, they often don't get done. Sometimes this is because I try to do too many things at one time. Sometimes it's because the goals are unrealistic (I am never going to convince Mr. H. to get rid of the cable). At lot of times it's because I'm lazy or unmotivated or whatever it is that causes humans to procrastinate instead of just doing the shit that they should just do. 

Anyway, this year I had a new idea. Each month I'm going to focus on one of the things I want to do more of/be better at. This month it is exercise. Now truth be told, I already probably get enough exercise. And I'm not trying to over do it. So I do have some specific goals in place, like working on my core. But really I just want to step up my game a little. Run a little faster, be better about not skipping the gym. So I'm taking January to focus on that. Next month I'll focus on something different. That doesn't mean I'm not going to exercise the rest of the year. Just that it won't be my focus. 

As with so many other resolution lists, this all may be for naught. We'll take stock at the end of the year.

Do you make resolutions? How do you resolve to actually achieve your resolutions?