Monday, February 28, 2011

Hyannis summary: Cold and squishy

A couple months back I had suggested to Ronnie that we get a hotel room in Hyannis for the half marathon.  I thought this would be a great way to be able to enjoy the pre-race expo and pasta party, and not have to worry about the long drive to the Cape on the morning of the race.  Ronnie vetoed the idea though, because he likes his own bed and his “morning routines”. 
                Yesterday morning I woke up very early to pack up the car and head out, and was greeted by several inches of snow on the ground.  So, at 6 in the morning when I should have been finalizing the travel bag, I was out shoveling snow and cleaning off the car.  I considered it my pre-race warm up.  It snowed lightly all the way to Ronnie’s house and the roads were slick.  Remind me why I’m doing this.  The normally long drive to the Cape was even longer because of some poor road conditions, and my plan to get there early got tossed out the window.  The Hyannis marathon is a great race, but the crowds are very thick and if you don’t get there early you’ll be facing a long walk to the start.  I started panicking a little when we got stuck in traffic miles away from the race.  Finally, we were directed into a parking lot about a half mile from the start.  Because of this, we were faced with a dilemma.  We still had to make some final wardrobe changes, pick up our bibs and our t-shirt, and use the toilets.  We had planned on being able to go back to the car before the start of the race, but now we were going to be very short on time.  We also had to find Chris, who was somewhere in the thick crowds and running the 10k for the first time.  Ultimately we decided we had almost an hour, and that should be enough time to get up to the conference center, get our stuff, go back to the car, and then back to the starting line.  Bonus: a nice mile and a half warm up!
                It was raining/snowing in Hyannis and the roads were very wet.  I’m thankful I wore my waterproof boots to run these pre-race errands, otherwise I would have been soaked before the race even started.  Inside the conference center the crowds were extremely thick and Ronnie and I lost each other a couple times trying to make our way through the lines.  Hint: Next year, enter the building through the side door near the finish line.  It’s a straight shot into the building with no crowds to wade through!  We grabbed our bibs, waited in the t-shirt line, then hurried out the side door towards the toilets.  Once we met up with Chris, we had to hurry back to the car to drop stuff off and change into race gear.  As we were leaving the car, we noticed the crowds were gone.  No more runners were in sight.  We walked quickly and then Chris finally checked his phone and realized it was 9:56.  Not this again.  Yes, for the second week in a row, I had to sprint to the starting line of the race.  We were too late to get into line, so we waited on the side of the road until the gun went off, and then jumped into line.  It ended up working out just fine, but it’s just a whole lot of stress for someone as structured and pre-meditated as me.  About 100 yards into the race I realized in my haste I hadn’t lathered up in Vaseline like I had planned.  I knew I’d pay the price later.
                The race was not just a mere 13.1 mile run.  It was an obstacle course of avoiding puddles, pot holes, slush, and people.  Oh and to make it more interesting, I did this without my glasses.  They were constantly getting wet and fogging up, so after just a mile I had to slip them into my pocket.  Ronnie and I ran together for a while.  Occasionally we’d analyze other runners and compare them to different horse breeds.  We identified a Welsh pony, a few Anglo-Arabs, and a Missouri Fox Trotter.  Eventually it took too much energy to think of other breeds and we ran in silence.  I managed to keep my feet out of any puddles for the first half mile of the race, until I ran smack-dab through the middle of a deep one.  I cringed, knowing the next 12.6 miles would be very squishy.  I felt bad for one woman who fell right into a water-filled pothole in the middle of the road.  Still, despite all of these obstacles it was relatively good weather for a half marathon.  The temperature was in the 30’s, and the snow and rain kept us cool and entertained.  The scenery on the Cape was beautiful with snow covered cranberry bogs, a white ocean, and quaint Cape Cod cottages that looked like they were sprinkled in sugar.
                I lost track of Ronnie after about 5 miles, and ran the rest of the race solo.  I had decided not to use an iPod for this run, and I didn’t regret that decision for a minute.  I had thought maybe I’d need some musical motivation in the final few miles, but the thick crowds, music, and volunteers offered all the motivation I needed.  Physically I felt good, and I ran a pretty consistent 8:30-9:00 pace.    Apparently all that snowshoe cross training paid off!  Coincidentally, right at the 10 mile mark I got passed by a guy wearing a t-shirt that said something like, “A half marathon is just a 5k race with a 10 mile warm up”.  That was the final piece of inspiration I needed to finish strong.  I had started off slow and I think it really helped me have enough energy left towards the end.  I finished in 1:56:38, a full 4 minutes faster than my previous PR.  The course itself helped too.  It was mostly flat with only a few gradual hills, and mostly flat or downhill in the last few miles.  Last year I had only done the 10k, so it was great to finally get to see the entire course. 
                At the end of the race Chris was waiting for me.  He had a successful 10k debut and is already on the hunt for another one.  My plan had been to stick around the finish line, try to find Ronnie, and watch some of the full marathon runners come in.  Unfortunately, the scenic snowfall that was so pretty during the whole race was turning into a steady rainfall and I was soaked and freezing.  I just couldn’t stand out there for one more minute, and decided to head back to the car to change.  As we made our way through the crowds I observed some people that were clearly struggling, some with nasty blisters and bleeding feet.  I was again grateful for all of the prep-work and dress rehearsals I conducted leading up to this race.  One scenario I hadn’t tested was running 12.6 miles with soaking wet, squishy feet.  But, I’d like to think my magical Asics shoes and super fancy running socks helped with that too.  Chris and I headed back to our cars and a police officer stopped traffic to let us cross the street despite the fact that Chris was wearing a Yankee’s windbreaker.  The cop said Chris was lucky the relay runners didn’t beat him with their baton.  I couldn’t agree more!  I was only at the car for a few minutes when Ronnie showed up, just as cold and wet as I was.  We swapped stories and then headed to his friend’s hotel room where we had nice hot showers before heading home.
                It was a great day and after all the hype leading up to it, I’m sad that Hyannis is over.  My only regret is that we didn’t get to enjoy the other aspects of the race:  The pre-race pasta party, the expo, the post-race party, the post-post-race party.  We did treat ourselves to a nice post-race victory dinner, and Ronnie was nice enough to drive back from the Cape so I could ice my foot.  It was a great race, a successful run, and proof that even in the worst winter weather conditions it’s still possible to train well enough to complete a half marathon.  As for next year… Hyannis is only 364 days away.  I’m booking my hotel now. J

Friday, February 25, 2011

Countdown to Hyannis

When you order a beer called an “Arrogant Bastard” on a Wednesday night, it should be obvious that there’s going to be some backlash.  It should make you wonder what this beer did to earn such a distinct name.  I unfortunately wasn’t astute enough to make this connection Wednesday night, which made yesterday a physical challenge on many levels. 
                The last couple days have been great for running.  Temperatures in the upper 30’s and widespread sunshine have melted down some of the snow banks, and we took advantage of this and ran on the streets at lunch.  Our last seven runs have taken place in the parking lot around the building, and I just couldn’t bear the thought of running around in circles again.  (I know it’s been seven consecutive runs, thanks to a quick glance of my running log).  We did the best we could with it, using scandalous stories and controversial topics to make the time pass quickly.  We’ve run out of topics to cover and all of us have been getting antsy to hit the road again.  I had checked out some of the side roads on the way in the office and they looked safe enough, so at lunch on Wednesday we headed out.  This was an all-girls run.  Todd was sidelined with a slight knee injury after his half marathon on Sunday.  Kerri, Jaimee and I had a very nice 4.5 mile run and even met up with some guys that are also running Hyannis this weekend.  Their first question was asking if we were marathon training.  For some reason I thought this was fantastic, that two marathon runners thought we looked like marathon runners.  When people drive by, do they look at us and say, “Now there’s a group of real runners.  Did you see that girl’s magic running shoes?  And her seen-from-space windbreaker?  Only a real runner would wear such advanced running attire!”  The two guys also clued us in about a 5 mile trail down the road that makes a nice summer run.  We’ll be checking that out in a few months, for sure!  Overall it was a great run, and we spent most of the time listening to Jaimee’s stories about Sunday’s half marathon and some of the “mistakes” she made along the way.  I’m so glad I did my two dress rehearsals!  The best part about the run was being out on the road again.  For people that never run on the roads, they really don’t know what they are missing.  I’m guessing it’s the equivalent of seeing in shades of gray your whole life, not knowing that there’s a whole world of color all around you. 
                Yesterday was my last run before Hyannis and I planned another 4.5 miles.  It was critical that I got this run in for two reasons:  1.Today it is going to be pouring rain and flooding, changing over to snow, and 2.My super-fancy new sports bra finally came in the mail, and I simply MUST try this out!  This has been the one piece of equipment that has failed the dress rehearsals, and I’ve been watching FedEx like a hawk for this precious cargo to make its way across the country (FedEx ground from Oregon! What was I thinking??)  Of course, I hadn’t anticipated the after effects of the Arrogant Bastards that had entertained me so well the night before.  My stomach was in turmoil and my head pounded heavier with every step I took.  Note to self: No more Arrogant Bastards.  Ok, maybe just one.
                Todd was back running with us yesterday, and when I proudly announced I was using this run to test out the new sports bra, Kerri stuffed her iPod back in her bag.  She knew the running conversation would be more entertaining than any music.   Yes, we spent most of the run discussing undergarments and Vaseline, and I was compelled to give regular status updates on the performance of the new sports bra.  The conversation was good and it distracted me from my pounding head. 
With my final 4.5 miles in the books and the final piece of equipment passing the test, it’s now a waiting game for Hyannis.  I won’t be running at all today or tomorrow.  Just like last week’s 10 miler, I’m giving myself two full days of rest before the race.  Also during this time, I have to be extra cautious of food and beverages.  That means no Arrogant Bastards.  No food I’ve never eaten before.  No food that may not agree with me.  (Last night I had to politely decline a bowl of Jambalaya.  Others see it as a nice hot bowl of food.  I see it has a bowl of stomach acid, with a skull and crossbones on top).  Tomorrow the rules will get stricter: No beer, no vegetables, no popcorn.  So, that pretty much puts me on lockdown for the next two days, all in preparation for Hyannis. 
So here I sit, a monsoon outside with driving rain and flooding.  The Cape and Islands are getting 60-70 MPH winds later this afternoon.  Tomorrow will have gusty wind.  Sunday, the forecast is 2-4 inches of snow (“in spots”) until noon.  Really, after this winter, what did you think the forecast would be?  You know what I say… BRING IT!  I would love to tell people how I ran a marathon in the snow, in a winter where snow was measured only in feet instead of inches.  And I’ll order up another Arrogant Bastard, and we will laugh. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

“Old Fashioned Ten Miler” – Race Report

The theme of this entire winter has been about lousy running conditions, unusually high snowfall totals, and unbearably cold temperatures.  So, it should come as no surprise that the 50 degree temperatures from two days ago were replaced today by bitter cold and unrelenting wind.  As I packed this morning for the Foxboro Old Fashioned Ten Miler, the temperature was 14 degrees and trees were still blowing sideways.  What had seemed like a good idea, a nice easy ten miler a week before the half marathon, was turning into a much bigger challenge than I had bargained for.  I started having doubts about my level of preparation for this race as well as next weekend’s half marathon.  I had taken two days off of running, and every run during the past week has been only 3.25 miles.  My longest was a slow 12 miles from last Sunday.  The weather wasn’t helping, of course, and if I hadn’t pre-entered for this race, I’m certain I would have checked the temperature on my phone, laughed, and rolled over with the covers over my head.  However, I had invested money in this race (not to mention it’s on my very official Blog race calendar!) so I couldn’t possibly skip it. 
                I knew I was in trouble when I went to warm my car up and my legs were so cold I had to go put a second pair of pants on over my running pants.  The wind tossed my hair in every direction, and my toes were instantly numb.  I packed a couple extra layers in my bag so I could make some last minute wardrobe changes if needed.  On the way to the race, my mother wondered if maybe the bitter cold would deter people from showing up.  No, I figured.  Anyone who paid would be here.  Runners are a weird bunch.  They’ll suffer through this and then boast about how they ran 10 miles in the bitter cold.  Heck, I know I will.  When I arrived at the race location, sure enough, the place was mobbed with runners sprinting in every direction.  Some had bare legs; most had hats, gloves, and even a few face masks.  I managed somehow to navigate through the registration tables despite the extremely tight crowds, then headed back to the car to change.  I stayed in the car as long as I could for warmth, but eventually headed out to make a pit stop at the porta-toilet and then skip off to the starting line.  At about 10 minutes before the race started I jumped in the toilet line and started to get nervous I wouldn’t get out in time.  Fortunately the line went quickly and with 5 minutes to spare I headed towards the starting line.  I walked, and walked, and walked, following other runners.  Most of the runners started running.  Where the heck is this starting line??  I overheard a guy at the toilet line saying the starting line was a half mile up the road, but geesh, I thought he was exaggerating.  Finally I realized I wasn’t going to make the starting line if I walked the whole way, so I handed my coat to my mother and took off at a run to the starting line.  It’s a good thing I did, because the guy in the toilet line wasn’t exaggerating.  It was a full half mile to the start of the race.  Once I made it to the starting line I realized I had a problem.  The runners were facing me, and were thick from one side of the road to the other.  The only way to get around the giant pack of runners at the front was to climb onto the snow bank along the side of the road, and precariously make my way towards the back.  With just enough time to retie my shoes, the gun went off. 
                Whenever the gun goes off, people immediately try to jockey for position and there’s always a contest to see how many people you can pass in the first quarter mile.  Against my primal instinct, I chose to wait it out.  I knew from the beginning that I would be running a very slow race today.  I was not looking to set any records, I just wanted a nice easy 10 mile race to give me one last long run before Hyannis.  Although I wanted so badly to start darting around people and getting up to speed quickly, I knew it would waste too much energy and was unnecessary.  Instead, I forced myself to exercise patience and have faith that the crowd would eventually thin out and I’d have plenty of breathing room.
                After two miles my toes thawed out and went from numb to burning.  Aside from that, the weather actually didn’t bother me, except at miles 6 and 9 where the wind really picked up and was very difficult to run through.  The sun was strong and made the temperature a little more bearable.  A few miles into the race I was very happy.  Like, VERY happy.  I was just bopping along the road thinking to myself, this is exactly where I want to be right now.  There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.  The roads were beautiful and scenic, and I took full advantage of the rare opportunity to run straight down the middle of them.  A couple observations made:
·         In the first mile of the race there was a lot of talking among friends, which is fine because I wasn’t wearing an iPod so it was a good chance to eavesdrop.  However, when one girl received a phone call on her cell and then answered it and had a full conversation, that was annoying.  I secretly hoped she’d fall into an open manhole. 
·         All of the volunteers that stood out there for hours repeating mile splits and saying “stay left!” deserve the biggest round of applause, and I thanked them whenever I could.
·         At some intersections were long lines of cars waiting to get through.  Some drivers were clearly aggravated, but others turned down their windows (in 20 degrees!) and blasted music for us.   That was a pretty awesome thing to do.
·         Passed a number of runners wearing Boston Marathon jackets.  One from 2010.  Zing!
The rolling hills were enjoyable.  There was one sizable, gradual hill between miles 6 and 8 that seemed to slow everyone down.  At the 8 mile marker, a volunteer exclaimed that there were no more hills for the rest of the race.  Sure enough, the road instantly evened out and it was smooth sailing to the finish.  I picked up the pace and finished strong.  Through the entire race I felt great.  I was very cold in a couple spots, and I got a bad side stitch at mile 6, but as far as muscles, joints, previous injuries, everything felt great.  Like, oddly great.  Maybe I was just so completely numb that I couldn’t feel anything, or maybe it was the two full days of rest I took before today.  Whatever it was, this was exactly the confidence boost I needed for Hyannis, and I am so incredibly glad I ran this race.  I am also so incredibly grateful to the liquor store down the street that sells Japanese wine, since a glass of hot sake was the perfect antidote to my blue-ish lips.  Cheers! J

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The dress rehearsal

Yesterday was the dress rehearsal for Hyannis.  My plan was to do a 12 mile run and put everything – my breakfast, energy gel, gear, you name it – to the test and see how it all holds up over the long haul.  With Hyannis two weeks away, I need to make sure I have all those little details ironed out.  For example: love my new socks, love my new pants, but don’t love the gap between where the pants end and the socks begin.  I don’t want any surprises or wardrobe malfunctions heading into the half marathon.  The original plan had been to run 12 miles: 6 with Kerri, then 6 with Chris.  At the last minute Chris couldn’t make it, and I had a decision to make: take the easy route and just do the first 6, go home in good shape, then eat a bag of chips in regret of my missing 6 miles; or, forge ahead alone for the remaining miles.  When I met up with Kerri she said she’d run with me as far as she could until she had to leave, so I wouldn’t have to do quite so much alone.  The plan worked.
                With the roads being in such tough shape and huge snow banks taking up the shoulder and blocking vision, it’s been a real challenge finding a safe place to run outside.  We found a road that seemed safe enough.  It had all the right characteristics: long, flat (yay!), wide enough to not fear getting sideswiped, and straight enough that drivers would be able to see us from a safe distance.  For even greater safety, I wore my road-crew fluorescent yellow colored windbreaker that I’m pretty sure can be seen from space. 
                We agreed to run the length of the road, which we believed to be about 3 miles.  It ended up being just under 3.5, which meant one less mile I’d have to run alone.  The run was good and I felt totally fine after 7 miles, although I have to admit I was tempted to just jump in the car and leave after that point.  Just before the end of the 7 miles we passed our friend Ali’s house, at which point Ali stuck her head out the window and offered up a beer if we wanted stop in.  Tempting as it was, I knew a beer would lead to several, and then not only would I end up blowing off my last 5 miles, I’d end up being late for a party.  I said I’d stop by after my run though, just to be social. 
                It was nice running outside.  The temperature was a mild mid-30’s, which was a real treat compared to the last week’s bitter cold.  I imagined that Hyannis would have a similar temperature so I was glad to be able to test out the gear.  Although it was nice running outside, it was also incredibly dreary.  Everything was a depressing shade of gray.  The snow was gray from all the sand.  The roads were gray from all the salt.  All of the cars were gray from the salt and sand (and nearly all of them were actually painted a dreary shade of white, silver, gray, or black).  All of the rooftops were dismally covered in snow.  Indeed, we New Englanders are a cold bunch.  It was like watching a television show in black and white, and my seen-from-space windbreaker was the one thing that didn’t belong.
                After 7 miles Kerri left and I took a quick break to grab my phone and iPod and down an energy gel.  I’ve never actually consumed an energy gel before or during a run, so this test was twofold: performance, and gastrointestinal.  All refreshed and geared up, I ran the last 5 miles alone.  I wondered how many people saw me again and wondered what I was doing.  I didn’t exactly blend in with the environment.  On my final approach to the car, I stopped at Ali’s house to say hi.  After 12 miles of running I was salty and getting stiff.  Ali welcomed me in and offered me everything from wine to Jack Daniels.  Instead, I just sipped my water and stretched.  Her family observed this odd, primal, animal-like behavior with a combination of curiosity and skepticism.  After just a few minutes I said I had to trot off, to get ready for my party.  Ali’s son commented that the astronauts will be watching me from space on my final quarter mile back to the car. 
                Overall the run was a success, and after completing this I feel confident that I can make the half marathon.  I still probably won’t be able to beat my PR (2:00:37), but at least I will make it to the finish line in one piece.  Here are a few specific results of the “testing”:

·         Do not have popcorn, cheese, and beer for dinner the night before a long race
·         Cottage cheese and almonds were a good breakfast choice
·         Next time pack a snack for the road.  I was starving by the 10th mile
·         Forgot my coffee, darnit! Wanted to see if my stomach could tolerate pre-race caffeine
·         Love my Saucony running pants.  If the temperature is anywhere from 20-50 I’ll be wearing them
·         Love my super fancy running socks
·         Love my super comfortable magic shoes by Asics
·         Will probably wear the as-seen-from-space windbreaker.  It has a nifty pouch in the back and is light enough to prevent overheating.
·         On the fence about a hat or head band.  Maybe wear one that I can donate to someone’s lawn after a few miles
·         The Clif bar mocha flavored energy gel was tasty, thicker than I expected, and hard to open.  I don’t know if it really gave me energy but it didn’t cause me to duck into the bushes so I think it’s a keeper.  I just have to figure out how to open and consume it more efficiently
·         Sports bra was a disaster.  This one has never given me problems before, but 8 is the longest I had ever run in it.  Might have to consider Vaseline.  Major bleed, major stinging, major ouch.
·         On the fence about the fuel belt.  It’s handy to store stuff, but I do have the pouch in the windbreaker.  Nice to have a source of water with me, but the aid stations are generously sprinkled throughout the course.  Leaning towards no. 
·         Save the iPod for the final miles of the race when the run starts getting hard.  (Note to self: update playlist with fresh, motivating music!)
I get one last chance to test out any changes in next weekend’s 10 mile race in Foxboro (which I am treating as a training run.  I’ll probably bring shame and embarrassment to my running club).  After that, it’s show time!
PS – For any of you that think this planning, testing, and prepping is just a wee bit over the top for a mediocre runner such as myself… After reading my last post regarding spreadsheets, did you really expect anything less? J

Friday, February 11, 2011

Running the numbers

It’s been a whirlwind of a week at work and this is the first chance I’ve had to jot down a few thoughts.  I’ll do my best not to make up for lost words the way I try to make up for lost miles.  My runs this week have been surprisingly good and consistent.  Last Sunday my gym was still closed and I was determined to get in a good run.  I sweet talked Ronnie into taking me to his gym, and after a 40 minute drive over some icy roads, I concluded that I better damn well make this trip worth it.  It was the morning of Superbowl Sunday and I don’t know if the gym was extra busy because of afternoon activities, if Rhode Islanders are more physically active than their neighbors to the north, or if Planet Fitness is simply a superior gym that attracts more clients than my own.  Whatever the reason, the gym was packed and the energy level was super-charged.  I ran a hot and steamy 8 miles (steamy is an understatement – it was like Georgia in July in there), and capped it off at home with a 2 hour snowshoe hike.  It was a successful day and I was proud of the miles I accumulated over that weekend.
                For the remainder of the week I continued accumulating miles, and if it were any other week in any other February in any other winter, I’d say it was an average-to-good week.  I’ve run 6 out of the last 9 days, and have 25 miles logged for the week.  I know this, because I keep a running log.  It’s nothing special, just a little something I put together that lists out date, miles, average pace, location, and weather conditions.  And, it totals my miles-per-month for a nice quick snapshot of my month-over-month improvements.  That’s on one tab of my Excel spreadsheet.  On another, I have my race calendar for 2011, color coded by race length.  There’s another tab that lists out my current PR’s at every distance.  And finally, all of my 2010 race results.  It’s really nothing special, just a little something to keep me organized.  I like to look back over the months and see my progress.  I think this is such a helpful tool, in fact, that I recently shared it with Todd.  Now, I think it’s a little like sharing a diary so I wasn’t sure it was appropriate for public viewing, but I wasn’t super worried about him sharing my sloppy 9:49 pace on December 19th with the world.  I thought maybe he would be impressed with my running log and perhaps want to create his own.  Instead, his exact words were, “there’s something very wrong with you”.  I think he’s jealous.  I’ve received similar feedback from my boss, who thinks some of my elaborate project plans are a wee bit too…“structured”.  As if that’s a bad thing!  As a project manager, my whole life revolves around compiling itty-bitty bits of information and using it to track, trend, and improve.  I blame some of my tendency to compile data (read: OCD) on my mother, who tracks everything from the weather to snowfall totals to miles walked to minutes in the saddle to barometric pressure.  (Okay - I made that last one up, I think).  Recently Todd and I were talking about how we’ve recruited a few more lunchtime runners at work and with various schedules and differing days in the office, we commented on how it was tough to keep track of who was available to run on any given day.  Bingo!  I know!  I generously offered to create a matrix to track everyone’s availability.  Then, depending on the number of runners we start to acquire, we might want to start storing average pace information and coordinating groups based on pace and shower availability.  As you can imagine, more sideways looks from Todd.  I think I’m going to create it anyways…I’m sure once he sees the final product he’ll be convinced at its usefulness. 
                Todd and I ran together four days this week, and covered every topic from racing attire to kids to dating to boob jobs.  We made fun of the smokers for making fun of us, and imagined the drivers must be thinking, look at those two clowns running in this unforgiving cold.  The time on the pavement flew each day, with the colorful discussions distracting us from the uncomfortable cold.  I never quite figured out why the wind blew in our faces in every direction all the way around the loop.  Probably just because we are running so fast.  
                Tomorrow’s a big day for my running log.  It will be two weeks from my half marathon, and time to get my longest run in.  Last week I did 8 on the treadmill.  Tomorrow I’m shooting for 12 on the road.  My plan is to do 6 with Kerri, then another 6 with Chris right after.  And, if all goes according to plan, Chris and I will be stopping at Ali’s house (conveniently located just seconds away from our start/end point) for a celebratory beer. (And yes, I track those too…in a separate log).  If I manage all 12 tomorrow that will bring my log up to 37 so far for the month, which is respectable.  With any luck I’ll get more consistent runs in next week, followed by 10 next Sunday.  Then I’ll taper and rest up for Hyannis.  Preparing for this half marathon has been like cramming for an exam and my running log is the equivalent of my detailed notes.  Next year I’m planning on looking back at this year’s running log as a study guide.  Whether it will be a useful guide of “how to successfully prepare for a marathon” or a solemn reminder of “what not to do”, only time will tell.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Yesterday I was in surprisingly good spirits, considering the environment.  Maybe it was because the sun was shining and it was a mild 32 degrees, or maybe it was because it was Friday, or maybe it was because I knew that as soon as my work day was over I was heading to the gym for a mega-dose of physical punishment.  I’m talking a trifecta here: 1. Safari class (think Zumba, with an African flavor), 2. Yoga class, 3. Logging every mile I can muster on the treadmill.  The reality is it’s crunch time.  Hyannis is 22 days away and I have lots of catching up to do.  I was genuinely looking forward to hitting the gym after work, and suddenly the three feet of snow outside didn’t seem quite so unbearable.
I worked at home yesterday and since I couldn’t run, I decided go snowshoeing in the trails behind the house.  The trails were especially tricky to navigate due to the deep snow and recent ice storm that left a thick coating of glaze to crush through.  A quarter of a mile in and my glutes were on fire.  Great!  Awesome cross training!  What a great idea this was!  While snowshoeing I got to thinking about my other main activities, running and mountain biking.  A lot of people have asked me why I don’t move up a notch and do triathlons.  Two reasons: 1. I hate swimming.  The only body of water I’ll go into is a Jacuzzi.  2. I do not ride on roads.  Cars scare me, wild animals do not.  It’s unfortunate that triathlons require these specific sports.  If we could change it up a bit, I would love to try one.  For example, if instead of road biking it was changed to mountain biking.  And if instead of swimming it was kayaking.  That I would gladly sign up for.  Then I got to thinking, you know, I might be onto something here.  Who says triathlons can only be swim-bike-run?  Why not kayak-mountain bike-run?  Or, speed skate-snowshoe-run?  I haven’t worked out all the details and I’m sure someone has already beaten me to this, but I think this is an adventure worth pursuing.  After all, different physical pursuits and challenges are always popping up.  Tough Mudder and Ragnar relays are examples of extreme alternatives to just-your-average-race.  I know a guy that just this weekend flew from Kansas City to North Carolina to compete in the Krispy Kreme Challenge: a 2 mile run to a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, an “obstacle” to consume 12 honey glazed doughnuts, and a 2 mile run back.  Then I wondered philosophically, would that be considered a dualthlon (running-eating-running), or a triathlon (running-eating-absence of vomiting)? 
Shortly after returning from my exhausting lunch time adventure, I received a message from my sister telling me the gym was closed until further notice due to a failing roof, under threat of collapse from the weight of the snow.  After exclaiming a smorgasbord of profanities, I realized she must be joking.  She probably just read my blog, saw how desperate I’ve been for miles, and like a typical big sister was just looking to get me riled up.  I tried to play it cool when responding, but eventually I realized this was no joke.  The gym was closed.  Those rotten treadmills I’ve learned to love and love to hate were locked up and getting dripped on by a leaking roof.  As if Mother Nature hadn’t messed with me enough already, she dealt me one last blow.  I was furious, and felt completely out of control.  Having tried everything to get in a decent run, everything I tried failed.  I hated snow even more right at that moment, and decided to take my frustrations out on my own roof.  I climbed onto the roof and shoveled until it was too dark to see.  It was my own little private revenge on Mother Nature.
                Today I vowed not to be a victim to the snow.  I would do whatever was necessary to get a run in and log some miles.  I sent a message to Ron, asking if I could join him at his gym.  He agreed, but it wouldn’t be for a while.  In the meantime I took the dog for a walk out the street and used it as an opportunity to check out the road conditions.  If absolutely necessary, could I run up and down the road repeatedly to accumulate miles?  After a short walk it was clear that the road was still not in good enough condition to run.  It still had a fair amount of snow on the road and was quite slippery.  While I continued to wait for Ronnie to call me back, I killed some time going snowshoeing again.  Shortly after I strapped on the snowshoes it started raining.  Oh, Mother Nature.  Bite me.  I made my way down the trails, quickly warming up from the strenuous exercise, and considered the absurdity of my current situation.  Here I am, on a 30 degree winter day, snowshoeing in the freezing rain while hoping and praying for my phone to ring so I can hurry down to Rhode Island for a free trip on a treadmill.
                As I continued my adventure, feeling sorry for myself, I remembered a conversation I had last night.  I had met up with some friends at a local bar and spent some time chatting with the bartender, an old friend from high school I hadn’t seen in… oh… 17 years.  While I complained about the snow and how it was screwing me up so much this winter he said, “I love New England, and all the different seasons.  Think about it.  Every story we have revolves around weather.  You remember events based on the season: if there was snow on the ground, if the leaves were changing, if it was the first frost.  Wouldn’t stories be so boring without that frame of reference?”  It didn’t mean much to me at the time (I think I was still shaking snow out of my pants), but out there in the woods today it started to make a lot of sense.  I thought about some of my more memorable moments and quickly realized the weather connection.  Like the time we had a tornado fly through our campground during a group camping trip with the horses.  We refer to that as the “tornado” trip, and I even have the Me-and-my-horse-survived-the-tornado-of-2008 commemorative T-shirt as a reminder.  Then there was the mid-August camping trip where the temperature overnight got below freezing.  No one in camp was prepared for such extreme cold except for one friend who came out of her trailer sporting a fuzzy winter hat with ear flaps.  Everyone was impressed with her foresight to pack winter garments on a mid-August camping trip and now it’s become the standard for all of us.  (Note: the following year we had a heat wave, 100 degree temperatures, in which we had to cut the rides short or eliminate them altogether and stay in the shade).  Other camping trips have involved extreme floods and evacuations, and those stories inevitably get retold time and time again.  I can’t think of a story at the moment that is frequently retold involving average temperatures and forgettable wind chills. 
                While I can’t control every aspect of my training plan, and I certainly can’t control the weather, I can control my reaction to it.  I’m going to continue doing everything I can to prepare for Hyannis but I know I won’t be in top shape.  The race might hurt a little, but one way or another I will finish it.  A short time from now we’ll be looking back on this winter laughing, and I’ll be saying, “That was the year I trained for the Hyannis half marathon on nothing but snowshoes!”, and we will laugh harder.  I certainly won’t get a PR at Hyannis, but this winter has been a collective PR for me.  It’s been the winter I’ve logged more miles on snowshoes than Asics, and overcome some ridiculous obstacles in pursuit of fitness.  In the triathlon of Snowshoe-Snow Shovel-Nose Blow, I win. J

Thursday, February 3, 2011

(bleep)’ing snow!!

Sounding like a broken record, I once again had to run on the treadmill at the gym tonight.  After yet another snow storm, followed by a crystallizing ice storm, the roads are barely driveable let alone run-able.  I’m really trying to stay positive about this, but I’ll admit: the snow-pocalypse is wearing on my very last nerves.  And now to add insult to injury, I have to add Yaktrax to my list of necessary equipment required to walk out the front door.  Not to mention that yet another storm is due to arrive Saturday night, which will more than likely cause a banquet I’m attending to be postponed.  Just as well, as I’m sure the conversation will revolve around the weather, the snow, the cold, etc.  I’d rather suffer through awkward silences at this point than resort to the old weather standby.  My life and my schedule are now completely revolving around snow, and I’m resenting it deeply.
My friend Chris had talked me into signing up for a 10k this weekend in South Boston.  Not thrilled about driving to Boston for a 6 mile race, I was finally swayed by two compelling attractions:  1. Each runner receives hot Whole Foods soup, and two free Harpoon beers.  (It’s well documented, I will do nearly anything, up to and including driving long distances and running my ass off, to obtain free alcohol.  Even if it requires paying a $30 entry fee).  2. It would be a chance for me to finally get to run outside, on a measured course, in a very scenic area, with cops holding off traffic and allowing me to run in the road without fear of being bowled over by Masshole drivers.  Once I weighed the options I knew signing up was the right choice. 
I’ve been eyeing the weather carefully and although another storm is scheduled for Saturday, Sunday is shaping up to be a beautiful 40 degrees and sunny.  As the week has progressed, I’ve started really looking forward to this race and recruited a couple more runners from work.  It was shaping up to be a great winter race.  After another lousy day of work (which comes after a lousy day of work, which came after another lousy day of work, etc., etc.,) I was trying to psych myself up into going to the gym and running a few miles.  On my way to the gym I received an email.  The email was from this weekend’s race organizer, announcing that the race for this weekend has been postponed until the following weekend.  Furthermore, the police will not allow the roads to be closed for the run, so we are not allowed to run in the roads.  And since sidewalks have been replaced with 10 foot snow banks, this means the official “race” has been cancelled, and only the post-race party will take place.  I guess that’s all well and good if you live in Boston and just want to go party for an afternoon.  For me, I signed up for the miles.  This was a crushing blow, and I took it as a personal insult by Mother Nature, screwing me once again with the weather. 
I lost whatever enthusiasm I had left for the gym and came close to bagging it altogether.  But, knowing that I had even less miles to look forward to this weekend, the treadmill wasn’t a nice-to-have; it was a requirement.  However, if I was going to survive the gym, it meant adhering to a strict set of rules:
·         Absolutely no watching the news while running.  The news has turned into all-snow-all-the-time, and I can’t bear to hear one more cliché snow story; one more breaking news story involving pot holes, roof collapses, power outages, stranded animals, drainage problems, or any other snow-related calamity.
·         No thinking about snow.  The word snow cannot enter my brain.  At.  All. 
·         No peeking at other TV’s on other treadmills.
·         This run must be mentally uplifting.  Therefore, I created my mentally uplifting plan:
o   Mile 1: Observation.  I will use the first mile as a warm up, and an opportunity to observe (read: make fun of) other gym patrons
o   Mile 2: Visualize the most positive warm-weather activity I can think of
o   Mile 3: Observation, part two
o   Mile 4: Hard core run, followed by cool down
The gym was filled to capacity today.  When I selected a treadmill I was forced to squeeze in between two walkers.  Out of respect to them, I tightly knotted up my ponytail to prevent splattering my neighbors with sweat.  I trotted along on the treadmill and once settled into a groove, I started my mile 1 observations.  I noticed that the treadmills were occupied by a large variety of people, and that there would be a lot more open treadmills if the following rules were enacted and enforced:
·         No excessive stretching on the treadmill.  Stretch on a mat for Pete’s sake, and save the treadmill for those who wish to engage in a forward motion movement
·         No idle chatter on the treadmill.  And by that I mean, standing perfectly still kibitzing with neighbors on adjacent treadmill.
·         Forward motion must be at least 2 MPH (*exception: Elderly blind men).  If you are going to walk less than 2 MPH with your arms straight at your sides, then just go walk in circles in the locker room.  Or in the snowy parking lot.  Or from your couch to your refrigerator. 
Unfortunately, I have little faith that I could ever get the gym to adopt such strict policies (heck, I can’t even get them to enforce wiping down the treadmills), so we’ll all be forced to fight for treadmills until the New Year’s honeymoon wears off and I’m back to being alone in the row.  I’m betting it won’t take long. 
Mile two, for my positive warm weather activity, I chose to start planning my vegetable garden.  Last summer was my first time in complete control of the garden, and it was a big success.  I thought about what went well and what I could change.  By mile three, I had worked out the following plan:
·         Must remember to fertilize.  Dad always insisted on chicken manure.  I will replace that with something bagged, tidier, with less offensive odor.
·         Lettuce, winter squash, and beans were a big success.  Will plant lots this year.
·         Planted too much basil and radishes last year.  No one actually eats radishes, and one can only have so much pesto.
·         The cucumbers got overshadowed by giant squash leaves.  Must plant more spaciously.
·         Dad never wanted to plant peas, because he thought they never grew well.  (In reality, they grew just fine.  They just never made it to the house because I ate them all straight out of the garden.  And I blamed it on rabbits).  As the inherited keeper of the garden, I’m making the executive decision to plant snow peas this year.  OMG did I just think “snow”?  Scratch that.  Sugar snap peas.  Not snow peas.  Never snow peas.

Mile three prompted more fun observations.  I spotted a trainer working with two people on treadmills.  I know he was a trainer because he was wearing an official gym shirt, which said “TRAINER” on the back.  I also noticed he was sporting a rather large cast all the way up his right arm.  No doubt from a horrific kettlebell accident, I concluded.  Here is an observation I’ve never made before.  Apparently it was couples night at the gym.  Nearly everyone I saw heading to the treadmills came in pairs.  What’s worse, they all insisted on working out side-by-side.  They scoured up and down the rows of treadmills in search of adjacent equipment.  I started to feel out of place as the single one, which is pretty much how I feel all the time, and these cutsie little couples started to irritate me.  I was further irritated when one of these couples wasn’t able to get adjoining treadmills and they ended up sandwiching around me, and proceeded talking over me.  Screw you two, and screw my plan.  I’m starting my hard core running now before I “accidentally” spit on you.  I cranked up my run and did the last two miles at an 8:00 pace, while sweating and breathing heavily and being generally disruptive and obnoxious.  On several occasions I noticed him looking over at me.  I’m pretty sure he was in awe of my sustained high treadmill speed.  Or, maybe he was just checking out my Asics.  (Guys, I said ASICS.  He was checking out my ASICS). 
I ended my run with a quarter mile cool down while checking out the weightlifters.  It’s always fun to watch these guys, who spend an awful lot of time flexing in front of the mirrors while managing to only very rarely lift an actual dumbbell.  Overall it was a decent workout, and with no end in sight of that four letter word, I need to learn to love that dreaded belt and conjure up more new and exciting mind games.  Or, move to a snow-free environment.  Right now, it’s a toss-up.  Stay tuned!