Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Looking Ahead

I love it when I have trips and races on my calendar.  The anticipation is wonderful!   My last "destination race" was the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon on May 1.  It meets nearly all of my criteria for the perfect race event weekend, including great support and swag, a truly excellent expo with large selection of merchandise and freebies, a looped route, and very scenic course.  But it's seriously hilly.  Other than that, a truly enjoyable race weekend.  I've done it twice, and have just signed up for next year's event.

My next event?  Capital City River Run Half-Marathon in Lansing, MI.  It's three weeks away and I'm really psyched to be running in a city that's new to me.   I started my mileage build-up in mid-July, after recovering from the Cincinnati Flying Pig, and am a week away from my longest training run before the event.  But I'm treating this race like just another training run.  It's got nothing to do with my training, but everything to do with the nature of the race course.  The route will have us climbing up and down stairs and over bridges as we run the Lansing River Trail along the Grand River, passing through parks and natural areas, across boardwalks, even right through the downtown area.  So it's less an opportunity for a good finish time, and more an opportunity to just have fun and enjoy what the city has to offer.

It's hard to know what the weather will be like, but surely it will be a little cooler than what we've been experiencing here in South Texas.  I look forward to that change and to the change in scenery, the excitement of a new-to-me event and...another road trip!

When this half-marathon is done, I will next turn my attention to the Women's Half Marathon in St. Petersburg, another new-to-me event and another change of scenery - a beautiful flat course - which always helps the miles go by quickly.  After mid-September, I'll drop my mileage down for a week or two to give my body a chance to recover, then I'll alternate between 8 and 11 miles for my weekly long runs and shoot for a weekly mileage total of around 22 and 25 miles for the last six weeks leading up to the Women's Half.

And then??  I'll be on the road, heading toward St. Petersburg and another really great event and fun weekend!  I'm really looking forward to WHM!  All good stuff!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Trial and Error

Getting the right running shoes was, for me, an exercise in painful trial and error.  Add to that the trial and error of finding the right socks - the right thickness, the right material, the right fit - and it can be an expensive and protracted process.

Back when I was a brand new runner, I went to a reputable running store here in Houston and let their staff help me select the right shoe.  I was clueless and totally overwhelmed by the bewildering number of brands, models, and styles.
He fitted me with a pair of shoes, a well-known brand.  The shoes were one of their best-selling models and were intended for over-pronators.  As it turned out, they were for the severe over-pronator and were what was considered, in those days, a "motion control" shoe.  Now, I never thought of myself as an overpronator.  My street shoes don't develop that characteristic "list" toward the inside that will happen when the wearer overpronates.  But, as I say, I was totally clueless and dependent on the store employee, a supposedly factory-trained fitter, to put me in the right shoe. 

I struggled with this brand and model shoe for three or four years.  And by struggle, I mean they beat my feet and toes up mercilessly in their effort to keep my feet on the "straight and narrow."  As soon as my mileage got up there, and the long runs into double digit miles, I started to experience blisters and calluses.  Nasty ones.  Blisters on the outside edges of my big toes and calluses and blisters on the sides of my feet just below the big toe joint.  I was also getting occasional blisters on the balls of my feet and on the undersides of my toes.  And then there were the black toe nails. 

I just assumed, since I'd heard others talking about their blisters and black toenails, that this was the price I paid for becoming a long distance runner; I thought that this was normal and to be expected.

Then, something wonderful happened.  Another of the well-known local running stores was having a special "shoe night" at their store, so I went with a friend to check it out.  They were well staffed in preparation for this event, and had two treadmills set up so that customers and fitters could assess a shoe's fit and function in real-life conditions.  Although I really didn't go there with the intention of changing to a new shoe, the set-up convinced me that it would be worth it to try.

The first thing the fitter did was put me on the treadmill in my current running shoes.  His immediate observation was that I was in the wrong shoe for my size, my foot, and for my gait.   "Why did you choose that shoe?" he wanted to know.  When I told him, he said that often other stores will put a new runner into this particular model shoe, for no other reason than that it's a safe bet for the beginner.  But it was all wrong for me; it was way too much shoe.  It was designed for a larger runner, for flat feet, for runners who have a strong heel strike when landing.  I'm none of these.

No wonder it was fighting my feet!  The fitter pointed out that I have a mid-foot strike, a high but very flexible arch, and a strong toe-off.  That motion-control shoe was preventing all of this very natural foot action from happening.   And being the 'lightweight' that I am, the shoe was much too stiff for me.  What I needed was a "neutral" shoe, one that would accomodate and flex with my foot as my high arch compressed through landing and toe-off.

He put me into a "neutral" shoe model (also referred to as a "cushioned" shoe) made by a different manufacturer.  It felt great in the store and on the treadmill.  It was noticeably lighter and much more flexible.  And out on the road??  It made a huge difference!  I stayed with this model shoe for the next few years.

Ultimately, this manufacturer came out with a line of shoes they categorized as "guidance" shoes.   There are other names for this category shoe, such as "structured cushioning" or "stability." While I was mostly happy with the "neutral" shoes, I didn't care for all of the cushioning.  I felt like my foot "rocked" too much inside the shoe.  So I moved over to one of the "guidance" models, one of the lightest shoes in their entire line.  When this model shoe was replaced with a new model a couple of years ago, I went with that replacement and love it even more.

Now my feet are very happy!   Why did I put up with those blisters and black toe nails for so long??

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bad Start....Good Ending

Yesterday morning at 6:45 a.m. I found myself standing in an Exxon gas station more than three miles from home, wet and half-naked, explaining myself to a police officer. 


But let me start at the beginning....

Earlier that day, I woke up with a stiff neck and little sleep.  I'd tossed and turned all night long, waking to strange sounds, real or imagined, and then drifting off into uneasy and light sleep.   I considered blowing off this week's long run - an 11 miler - but my conscience stepped in and took over.  It reminded me that there would be little opportunity to make these miles up later in the week, since son and family are coming the next day, enroute from California to their new home in Louisiana.  Besides, I wanted to do this long run...I needed to do it.  I just wasn't sure I could do it.

Rather than dwell on the decision, I got up, pulled on running shorts and jog bra, ate half a banana and drank some water in preparation for getting it done and over with.   As I walked out the door, I promised myself that if it wasn't going well and I didn't feel up to doing the entire 11 miles, I could quit when I stopped at the house for a break, mid-point in the run. 

It was hot and without a breath of a breeze when I started out.  The first half of the route was in my neighborhood.  For the first two miles I really wondered how I was going to get this done.  Several times I talked myself into giving up, and several times I convinced myself to stick with it.  Of course, the perfect time to quit was when I stopped briefly at the house.  But once there, I decided to keep going.  I ate the other half of the banana, refilled my hydration bottle with Gatorade, and headed back out the door to do the next 6.5 miles. 

Once out of the neighborhood and onto open road, there was a slight but noticeable breeze, which helped some.  My route was very straighforward and took me past the beautiful new high school, which proved to be a major mental diversion for me, as the traffic was clogged with buses, parents doing drop-offs, and students driving and walking to school.   This helped some, too. 

Then I must have zoned out.  With nothing but straight, smooth, wide sidewalk in front of me, zoning out was easy to do.  When that sidewalk ended at a major intersection, I pulled up short, realizing I'd slightly overshot my mark:  The Exxon on the corner.

I stepped inside the gas station C-Store for a moment to enjoy the coolness.  This is where that police officer comes in.  He was standing there chatting with the clerk when I walked up to the register to pay for a CLIF bar, conscious of my skimpy running attire and soaked in sweat. 

"From the look of you, you've been out walking," the officer said to me.  "I've been out running," I replied.  "How far are you going?" he asked.  So there I stood, wet and half naked, explaining to a police officer where I'd started from, how far I'd run so far, and how many miles I'll have done by the time I get home.  I didn't mind responding since he is, after all, one of our town's finest.  He and the store clerk were both impressed and offered some nice words of encouragement.

I walked outside, unwrapped the bar to take a bite, and then it struck me, "How did I even get here??"  Two hours ago I wasn't sure I'd run this far.  Now the worst of the run was over and it's only 3.3 miles to home.  Wow!

How could a run that almost didn't happen at all, turn out okay?  Even better than just okay? 
That's the power of running!

$ R $

Monday, August 22, 2011

Crazy Caffeine Indulgence

Vacation is over.  The suitcases are unpacked and dirty clothes washed, folded, and put away.  I must admit that I slept more soundly in my own bed, cat pressed hard against me.   As glad as I am to be home (and my cat concurs),  it really was a great vacation!    A friend and I shared bottles of wine and beautiful sunsets.  I ate some very good seafood.  I played some golf.  I ran.  I indulged in Starbuck's.

What's that, you say?  Starbucks

There is a Starbuck's at the south end of the resort, just a nice, convenient 1.7 miles from my villa on the north end of Captiva.  This is not a good thing.  Well, it is if you're a Starbuck's fan.  When I was still working, a colleague and I would escape to Starbuck's once a week or so for a mid-morning caffeine hit.  Now that I'm retired, it's a rare treat.  So here was this Starbuck's, right on my running route all this past week.  Do I indulge?  Do I spend the money on a Latte, when I have a perfectly good coffee maker back at the villa?  I mean, $3 or $4 of fixed-income money is a lot to spend for a cup of coffee.  But then, I am on vacation, right?   What to do, what to do?

I did a 4 mile run on Saturday, and ran right past the Starbuck's.  Will power, girl!!  I confess...that was very hard to do.  So on Sunday morning I succumbed to temptation and tucked a $5 bill in with my door key, ran about 3 miles, then doubled back to the Starbuck's and treated myself before finishing my run. 

I had another $5 bill with me when I did my 10 mile run early Tuesday morning, but thought better of the indulgence, thinking what I really needed was a hearty post-long-run breakfast on my screened-in patio, instead.

But, otherwise, the precedent had been set.  When a good friend joined me at the resort on Tuesday afternoon, this became our morning routine for the rest of the week.  I'd leave the villa at 6:15 or 6:30 in the morning for a run.  He'd drive down and meet me at the Starbuck's for coffee and pastries 45 minutes later.'s the thing.  I discovered that it's entirely possible to run, holding a Starbucks in one hand, if I put my thumb over the hole in the lid.  Good to know, right?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

First Hard Miles

A friend of mine posted a question on Facebook the other day, calling out to a couple of us who are runners, hoping we'd have an answer for him.  He's just started running, did his very first run this past week.   He posted how far he went - a combination of jogging and walking - and how fast he did it, what his heartrate was, expressed as a percentage of max, and then wanted to know if all of this sounded reasonable.  Was he going too slow?  Should he be able to go faster than that?  Was the heartrate about right?  

The other running friend and I both responded to his Facebook post within minutes of each other, with nearly the same answers.  We told him to stop concentrating on speed, heart rate, time; to just concentrate on how he feels.  I mentioned the "talk" test as the best gauge of effort.  Could he hold up his end of a conversation in short sentences, without gasping?  We both suggested to him that, as a brand new runner, he should work on gaining distance, not speed.  Speed will come naturally with experience.  Work up to running 3 miles without walking, even if this means slowing down his pace.

My friend's question reminded me of a fellow who, several years ago, joined our running club.  It's a club whose primary purpose is to train runners for the next year's marathon.  He was a middle-aged fellow, a big guy carrying more than a few extra pounds, and he'd signed up as a brand new runner.  Our season started in late June, starting that first Saturday with a three mile run, and then progressing to longer distances every week as we got deeper into the marathon training season. 

As we took off running on that first morning, I remember thinking, as I saw this big fellow lumber ahead of much of the pack, that he was starting out too fast.  Sure enough, we all caught up with him within a quarter of a mile when he stopped to walk, face red as a beet, sweat already soaking the back of his t-shirt.  Then just a few moments later, I heard what sounded like a steam engine huffing and puffing behind me.  He caught up and then overtook us, continuing on ahead.  This went on several times during the run; if he would just slow down his pace, he might not have to walk so much, if at all. Eventually we left him far behind, to the care and ministrations of our coaches who would fall back near the end of each run to pull up the rear.

After these Saturday morning runs, the club always had Gatorade, water, and some breakfast snacks waiting for us.  Usually a guest speaker or one of the coaches would talk about some aspect of training or running gear.  Duriing these after-run activities, this fellow had discouragement written all over his face.  He showed up just a few more Saturdays, then eventually dropped out.

Unfortunately this fellow put some rather high and unrealistic expectations on himself.  He looked up ahead toward the front of the pack,where the elite in our group were literally flying.  But in doing so, he looked past a valuable source of new runner motivation:  The middle-pack and back-of-the-pack runners, mostly us women, who run along happily chit-chatting and talking "trash" with each other, encouraging one another along the way. 

If you're new to running, or if you've been running a bit here and there but are now getting into a serious race training program, don't get caught up with the numbers.  Instead, let yourself get caught up with the "feel."  Use the feeling of "effort," not a clock, to tell you how you're doing.  Use the feeling of accomplishment to gauge your success.  If it feels good to you, then that's all that matters.  Stick to realistic training objectives, build a good mileage base, then run that race and cross the finish line.  And feel good about yourself, no matter what that clock says.

Oh....and Bob, my Facebook friend and brand new runner?  Rock on, my friend!  See you at a starting line somewhere soon!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Moon Showers

It was pitch dark when I struck out early Tuesday morning for my 10 mile Captiva Island run.  My headlamp illuminated a skinny path in front of me on the otherwise black and narrow road.  Running through the darkness, I heard an owl, a rapid woo-woo-woo call, somewhere in the trees off to my right, not too far away.

I could see lightning playing in the clouds off in the distance, illuminating the overcast sky.  Then, as the road took a bend to the right and headed toward the beachfront, a break in the clouds off to the west revealed a beautiful full moon.  It was still high in the sky, its silvery light outlining the clouds with a satin glow and creating a mystical skyscape over the Gulf waters.

To add to the magic of this moment, it began to rain ever so lightly, little more than a mist.  As I ran along the beach front, the sand glowed in the moonlight and the rolling surf sent its whispered murmurs into the night.  At that moment I was transfixed.  Moonlight, misty showers...moon showers!  Above the sound of the surf, thousands of tree frogs and insects chirped and chipped all around me.   The miles just flew by!

I was at the 5-mile turnaround point in what seemed like no time at all!  I paused for a few moments to look out over the water, watching the tides push toward the little bridge that separates Captiva from Sanibel Islands.  Mr. Moon was leaving his glitter-dusted fingerprints atop the ocean ripples, and a long slender streak of silver shot west toward the horizon.

Reverie over, I turned back north to return those 5 miles toward home base.  The sun was just coming up over the horizon as I entered the little town of Captiva.   A break in the vegetation on the east side of the road gave me a glimpse of a brilliant red ball sandwiched perfectly between the waters of the bay and a low-hanging cloud bank.  Gray veils of rain were visible to either side of the sun, harbingers of today's weather.  That rain would be coming our way and if I hurry, I'll make it home before it hits the island. 

It's mornings like this that make me glad that I am a runner...

š R

GU and Other Sticky Stuff

Do these look familiar?  Yeah, they do to me, too.  I buy this stuff by the case.  What's your favorite flavor?  Mine is vanilla.  I like the chocolate flavor (of course!) and can sometimes tolerate strawberry-banana.   Shot Bloks?  Gotta say, they're mighty tasty; they remind me of Dots, those yummy, chewy candies that are a staple at movie theaters.   But I'm not sure I could get them chewed and swallowed while running.
Pretzel sticks - the little ones - work for me on really long runs.  I put a handful into a snack-sized self-seal bag and tuck them into the waistband of my running shorts.  The crunchy saltiness just somehow satisfies a craving. On one of my really long runs, I found myself sharing my pretzel sticks with another gal whom I'd fallen in with along the route.  She was quickly won over by the "just rightness" of the salt, the small size, the way they dissolved in her mouth with very little chewing effort.

But for that over-the-top "WONDERFUL," let me share with you what a friend did for me a few years ago.  He and I were talking about my upcoming marathon and the subject came around to what I ate to sustain me over those 26 miles.  I told him about GU and about my pretzel sticks, and he asked me the most unexpected question: "Yes, but when you're at mile 18 or 20, what do you really crave?"  I thought about that for a few moments, and then it struck me.  Fresh.. White.. Bread.   The gummier and softer, the better.   Just saying that out loud to my friend made my mouth water. 

This person is one of my biggest supporters.  He's not a runner himself, but always asks about my running, my races, my training.  He wanted to come out to the race route to cheer me on that year, so I gave him directions and suggestions for several places along the route.   I wasn't sure where to expect him, and he wasn't sure where exactly he'd be, but he told me to be looking for him as I passed those locations. 

On race day there he stood, at the top of Westpark bridge at mile 15, wildly waving his arms over his head and shouting my name.  He was afraid I wouldn't see him and run right by.  No chance of that happening!   Greeting each other at the top, he ran down the backside of the bridge along with me, chanting, "Go, Barb!  Go, Barb!"
The next time I saw him that day, he was at the top of the Memorial Parkway hill at mile 21.  This time he was holding something in his hands, something that looked like...could it be?  It was a loaf of bread, freshly baked, still warm!  He tore it in half just as I approached and held it out to me.  I reached over, dug my fingers into that soft, wonderful center and scooped out a big chunk of heavenly soft, gorgeously fluffy freshly baked white bread.  It was absolutely, stunningly perfect! 

I ran the next two miles clutching that giant chunk of fresh white bread, tearing off bite-sized pieces and popping them into my mouth.  They literally melted on my tongue.  Oh, my!

Now, this is my idea of the perfect race food!

÷    Y    ø

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Taking This Show on the Road

I'm heading to south Florida, taking two days to drive to the Gulf Coast side to spend a week on the beach.  By the time you read this,  I'll be on Captiva Island. 

I've been coming here since the early '80's, but what's decidedly different these last ten years are the contents of my suitcase.  Nearly a third of the space in my 21" roller bag is filled with running clothes for this trip:  Tops, shorts, hats, socks, shoes, hydration belt, bottles, and let's not forget the Glide and the Gu!  Jamming all of this into the suitcase for this trip made me laugh out loud!   

As I was packing, I smiled in remembrance of trips taken to Captiva many years ago.  It seems like only yesterday that I was folding little boy's shorts, swim suits, little t-tops, socks into the suitcase, and was trying to figure out how to bring pool toys, beach toys, and quiet-time rainy day toys onto the airplane.  That was almost 30 years ago, when my son was little.  Now he's a grown man with little ones of his own.  Some day soon I hope to come here with my grandkids.  They have a great kids' daycamp here which we took full advantage of when my son was little.

I look forward to coming here, and to the change of scenery that it brings to my training.  It's like being a kid again and going away to camp, only now it's my very own running camp!

The road that runs the length of the island between the little bridge on the south end, spanning a tiny pass between Sanibel and Captiva, and my place at the far northern end of the island is about 5 miles long and is the perfect runner's stretch of road.  If I run it end to end, pause to enjoy the views on the little bridge, then turn around and run back to my place, I'll have done the perfect 10 mile run.  I'll get 2 or 3 shorter runs in, too, while I'm here, but the highlight of the week will be doing this long run on such a deligthful road.

Why am I so energized by this running vacation?   I guess it's because it's different.   We're the same way when it comes to other matters of life, are we not?.  A change in routine - the simple, mundane parts of day-to-day living - puts everything into a whole new light.   Re-paint a room and witness the transformation.  Buy a new car and suddenly that commute to work is a little more tolerable.  Try a new flavor dressing and rediscover salads.  Glimpse your loved one in a candid moment and fall in love all over again.        

Friday, August 12, 2011

Running Logs

My log books from 2001 to 2009
One of the best pieces of advice I received as a brand new runner back in 2001 was to keep a running log.  USAFit, through one of the local running stores, gave away some really great log books that year and encouraged us to record our times, distances, and notes about our runs.  I dutifully recorded each workout, entering in the number of minutes I ran, the distance I covered, what route I ran, and a few words about weather, how I felt, what I wore, who I ran with.  

I found keeping that log inspiring.  Each page represented a week and at the end of the week I could total up my minutes and my distance, and watch both of those numbers grow as my first year of running advanced toward that first marathon.Over the years I've kept many log books - one a year - until January 2009, when I switched to an on-line log maintained by Runners World.  Even now, I look back at the previous year's log to compare this year's training progress to last year's, to look up a route, or what I wore in similar weather, or what the weather was like the same time last year.

The very first entry in my brand new log book the year I was a brand new runner is dated July 10, 2001 and in it I wrote, "31 minutes; 3.5 miles."  I entered "Memorial Park" in the column titled "course" and under notes, I wrote, "Hot; ate before, which gave me cramps at the 1.5 mile mark.   Felt very strong otherwise."  Looking back at that, I can laugh at the rookie tax I paid that day.  I'm also more impressed now than I might have been that day...I was 52 years old at the time and had gone from couch potato who'd never run a mile in her adult life to running a very respectable pace in less than 4 months.

Here's another one from that first log book, dated August 4, 2001:  "64 minutes; 6 miles.  Ran neighborhood; nice!  temps and humidity perfect.  put water in mailbox.  Amber moon."  I love that I took the time back then, even as a new runner, to record the little details.  Amber moon!

Thumbing through the book was a real trip down memory lane!  A few months later, on October 23, 2001, "31 minutes; 3.1 miles; 5K race, Baltimore.  Hills!  Walked approx. 1/2 mile."  I'd forgotten about that race! It was held in conjunction with a national meeting for healthcare research professionals.  We don't have hills in south Texas!

Then, December 1, 2001:  "215 minutes; 18.6 miles; Sugarland 30K race.  3 pee breaks but no lines; great support by Clear Lake Fit [my running club]; Rainy, cold, some wind from north.  Good run, difficult last 1.5 miles.  Hands got cold; wore bra, singlet, long sleeve coolmax crew, shorts.  Was exact right amount of clothing!"  

I remember this race so well!!  It was indeed a miserable cold rain, and that northerly wind!  I will never forget the personal triumph of that day, running 30K in difficult conditions.  Many runners didn't show up; many others balked at the start line and returned to their cars.   I remember changing into dry clothes afterward in the back seat of my car while my running partner stood "guard" outside.  We  huddled together in the car for a few minutes afterward, trying to warm up and congratulating each other for jobs well done.  Stopping for Mexican food afterward, we had stiffened up so much we were barely able to get out of the car, barely able to hobble into the restaurant.  The 30K race is the last in a series of four progressively longer races, all part of the Houston Warm-up Series leading up to the Houston Marathon in January.  Six weeks later, I would run that marathon, my first, ever.

I have no idea how many miles I've covered in the ten-plus years that I've now been running.  I know it's a bunch.  I also know that I'm in the "twilight" of my running years.  As much as I'd like to keep running forever, I know that the day will come when I'll lose the ability, or the desire, or both.  I've not thumbed through these old logs in a while, but doing so now, skimming through these sometimes sweat-rumpled pages, I realize just how much running has become a part of my life.    I get a kick out of reading my little comments and asides, recorded so many years ago; my self-congratulations, my "Uggh's" when a run didn't go well, and my "Hooray's" when I conquered a new distance or had an especially good run.

During the Houston marathon this past January, I came up behind a friend and fellow runner, Jo Ann.  In her early 70's now, she still cuts a slim figure out there, but her pace is unmistakably that of someone who's running through the pain of arthritis.  As I pulled along side, I slowed to her pace and we ran side by side for a while, getting caught up.  She confessed that she has slowed down a lot these last couple of years, but also expressed her optimism; she was going to do this, to finish this marathon.  I had no doubts that she would and made a point to check her results once they were posted on-line.  I know that one day, that will be me.

When I can no longer run, I will have the memories...and these log books. They're a permanent record of an important part of my life.  If you're not keeping a log or running diary, consider starting one now.  Your memories may fade, but ink is permanent.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blind Munchies

I can tell when my weekly mileage starts to increase, because I become a bottomless pit! It seems no matter what I eat, nothing fills me up. I'm hungry...all of the time.

If I keep busy doing stuff, I don't notice, but if I'm sitting at the computer working, or if I'm watching TV, I'm overcome by the dreaded "blind munchies!" Food makes its way into my mouth without my even thinking about it. My favorites: Graham crackers, granola bars, pretzels, cheese, a luscious Texas peach. And then there's that dreaded "C" food... chocolate. I keep secret stashes of it around the house like a hopelessly unreformed alcoholic.

I'm guessing part of this is because I'm retired and without all the distractions of a busy job. Either that, or I just didn't notice my intake while sitting in an office. Well, come to think of it, there was always a box of Graham Crackers hidden in my desk, and those little yogurts tucked in the lunch room fridge.

It's a big class - we're divided into the 8 AM group and 9 AM group

But maybe the other part is that I've added some cross-training to my weekly miles. I never did that in the past; my busy job, running up and down flights of stairs all day, every day, eschewing the elevator, gave me plenty of that. So now, on my recovery days - the days I don't run - I've been doing water aerobics in the mornings three days a week. The water aerobics instructor is a drill sargeant and cuts no slack for anyone. It's rigorous and fast-paced and, as anyone knows who's ever done it, it can be as hard as you make it. Larger underwater movements, stand in deeper water, work with more and larger float boards...well, you get the idea.

Lining up for leg exercises

Actually, now that my long runs are up over 9 miles, my legs are balking at the idea of doing a long miler and then water aerobics the following day. I tried it last week, and boy oh boy! The next run, a 4 miler, my legs had gone on strike! It was like I had cement shoes on. Maybe I'll skip aerobics after that long run.

How most of us get to water aerobics class! (My Trek on the far right)

So...note to self: Make that water aerobics TWO days a week!



Monday, August 8, 2011

What the Heck Am I Doing?

This morning I got up at 5:00 AM and ran 9.1 miles. That seems like a crazy thing to do at this time of year, especially knowing that when it comes to training for a half or full marathon, I take a low-key attitude. I do only what a traditional training schedule calls for - no more, occasionally a little less. If I'm not in a training cycle, then it's maintenance miles for me! A 6-miler once a week; a couple of 4-miler easy days, maybe squeeze another easy day in. I'll drop down to this schedule immediately after a race and follow it until another running event pops up on the calendar and then it's time to start adding that long-slow-distance day to the weekly schedule. I'm no spring chicken and, at my age, my body takes longer to recover. I've been injury-free and I want to stay that way.

Going back to those 9 miles I ran this would be a little soon for me to be doing that distance if my next race was the WHM (ever the lazy trainer that I am). But last winter, right after I finished running in the Houston event, I got a "wild hair" and signed up for a half-marathon in Michigan in mid-September. Must have been the endorphins. I don't know what I was thinking at the time, knowing that I wanted to do the Women's Half Marathon in November. Except that I ran the Maui Marathon/Half Marathon last September and found that slipping a fall race into the schedule worked out just fine.  Since I run a half-marathon in early May, the training isn't so hard for another one 4 months later, in September. And then the WHM would be just two months after that. . A relatively short span of time, just enough to recover, not so much time that my body would forget how to run that distance.

So there you have it. I have a half-marathon coming up in mid-September, and then the Women's Half Marathon exactly two months later in November. I'm running in this ridiculous heat and humidity at o'dark thirty in the morning when I really wouldn't have to if I hadn't let those endorphins do all the talking! My long run this week was 9 miles, next week? Who knows. Maybe 10, maybe 8. All I know is that my long run on September 18 needs to be 13.1 miles

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Endurance Parallels

I started riding a motorcycle about the same time I ran my first marathon. These seem like wildly diverse activities, but when examined more closely, they are strikingly similar. You see, I'm what's called a "long distance motorcycle rider." Those words could also be applied to those of us who run marathons and half-marathons...we're long distance runners.

The vast majority of folks who ride motorcycles would agree that a 300-mile day is plenty long enough. For them, this is a good day of riding, just enough to clear out the mental "cobwebs," keep their riding skills sharp, and get their "knees in the breeze." And there are many runners who run 3 or 4 miles two or three times a week, just enough to maintain a perfectly acceptable level of aerobic conditioning, lose or maintain weight, and to reap other health benefits and to feel good.

By comparison, a long distance motorcycle rider will cover 300 miles before lunch. That would be me. I'll easily cover 700-800 miles a day, day after day, on a multi-day motorcycle trip. The generally accepted definition of a "long distance rider" is one who has met the entry requirements to join the Iron Butt Association (IBA) and only a very small percentage - probably less than 0.1% of all motorcycle riders - ever do. It's interesting to note that this is no different for marathon runners; we represent a very tiny percentage of the running community in our pursuit of distance.

So how does a motorcycle rider gain entry into the Iron Butt Association? "Iron Butt" is an apropos name for this organization, as it truly does take a cast-iron derrier to stay on a motorcycle for the hours and hours it takes to complete an "Iron Butt" ride. A coveted IBA membership number is awarded to each rider who successfully completes the qualifying ride - what's called a SaddleSore 1000 (See? Another apropos moniker), which is riding 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours - and meeting very specific rules for documenting this accomplishment. New and more challenging long distance endurance rides then await the new IBA member. We spread our running "wings" in much the same way, but without the need to qualify for membership in any organization. The only "qualification" is in the form of self-evaluation of our goals and dreams. We enter our first 5K race, survive it, and then start looking for the next challenge: A 10K perhaps? Maybe stretch ourselves a little more and take on our first half-marathon?

My most challenging ride so far has been a Bun Burner Gold, considered an "extreme" ride by the IBA, since it required that I ride 1,500 miles in less than 24 hours. Hence the name of this ride - "Bun Burner." My buns went beyond burning to being numb by the time I finished this ride. The"Gold" designation always means it's considered an extreme ride, so take all precautions for health and safety. I'd compare that ride to running a full marathon, since successfully finishing both of these activities entails a positive can-do attitude, training to build up to those distances, and the ability to pace oneself, not start out too fast, keep the breaks short and to a minimum, and maintain steady forward progress. 

I face the same physical and mental challenges when I'm doing a long distance ride that I do as a long distance runner. I condition and train for long distance riding by building up my miles "in the saddle" until I have the physical and mental stamina to comfortably sit on my motorcycle and stay alert for long days and long miles. Sound familiar? Build the miles slowly on those long runs, do recovery runs and maybe do some cross-training on the other days. The mental and physical stamina for long distance running comes in handy when piling on the miles on two wheels.

The parallels between these two activities extends into diet and hydration demands, as well. Stay hydrated, replacing water and electrolytes lost to perspiration, and eat the right foods. Just like in running, diet is key to preventing gastrointestinal distress while riding those long miles, an ailment that seems to strike runners and endurance motorcyclists equally. I eat light before a long endurance ride, just the same way that I eat light before a long endurance run. The only real difference is that, when I'm in the saddle, I eat light snacks rich in protein and complex carbohydrates. During a long run, I concentrate on ingesting simple carbohydrates such as those found in gels.

The reaction of the mainstream motorcycling community to my long distance riding is, "Why would you do that?" But then, we get that same reaction from our non-running friends, family, and co-workers when we say we've run a marathon, don't we? We do these activities, not to impress others, but to test and challenge ourselves, to test our mental strength, will power, and physical stamina. We set that goal out there, and then dare ourselves to meet it. And when we do, the feeling is indescribable!

Long distance endurance motorcyclist? Yep, that's me.

Long distance runner? Yep, that's me, too.


Friday, August 5, 2011

'Fleas' for the Mind

Summer mornings come entirely too early for me...but for a reason you might not be expecting! I really like this time of year, how daylight stays with us for so long in the evenings, how it's actually light out for a couple of hours after dinner, long enough to take a stroll or bike ride, or work in the garden for a bit as the day cools down. But I'm torn between enjoying or dreading the early sunrise. You see, in summertime, here where I live, sun peeking over the horizon is synonymous with early morning temperatures over 80 degrees.

So when I woke up the other day at 6:45 AM, it was beyond was full-blown daylight out there! I'd overslept! I groaned, rolled out of bed, and changed into running clothes. Then I moved toward the door, bracing myself for a miserably hot run.

I don't know about you, but if I don't have something interesting or constructive to think about while I run, especially when conditions are less than ideal for running, I'll channel all of my mental energies into dwelling on negative things, like that new ache or pain, the boring route, my snail's pace, the sweat dripping off my elbows, the wad of sock rubbing on my big toe. And then I'm miserable. Not good. If I can conjure up something interesting, something to really sink my mental "teeth" into...good. If it's something colossally beefy to keep my mind occupied for a really long while...even better.

A friend of mine is writing a book, a true story about an incredibly adventurous trip he took earlier this year. He's doing the writing and I'm doing the editing. It's a fascinating story and he's doing a great job writing it, which makes my job as editor an easy one. But there have been a few passages that we just can't seem to conquer. We've "word-crafted" these short sections several times, but they just never sound quite right. So this morning I wrestled with a couple of them in my head while I ran, rolling them around on my "mental tongue," looking at them from different angles, trying out different approaches and different word choices, and then reciting these changes in my mind to hear how they sounded. Well, I gotta tell you, those four miles just flew by! I never once thought about the heat, or the humidity, or how much I wanted to get this run over with.

Before I knew it, I had turned onto my street and was heading toward my house. With the morning run complete, difficult book passages possibly resolved, I sat down at the computer, sweat still dripping, to record those words before I forgot them.

I find a certain humorous analogy in the following quote: "They say a reasonable amount of fleas is good for a dog - keeps him from brooding over being a dog..." ~Edward Noyes Westcott, successful NY banker and writer.

My prayer to the run gods: May I never be at a loss for 'fleas.'

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Third Time's the Charm

My first two attempts to catch the Three Amigos - the three little raccoon littermates living in my back yard - were foiled by their ability to get into the traps, eat the the food, and then exit the traps without triggering the trap door.  So, not discouraged, I came up with a solution.  Apparently these three little guys are not heavy enough to spring the trap door.  They are juveniles and littermates, and aren't very big.   I needed to find a way to get them to sit on the trigger plate in a way that all of their weight is centralized in one spot. 

I came up with the idea of putting pieces of cut-up peach into stocking feet, sacrificing an old pair of pantyhose for this job.  I was able to easily push the stocking sacks down through the grate of the cage roofs and tie them in place, directly over the trigger plates.  They hung down about 6", enough that the raccoons could sit on their haunches and work and "worry" the fruit juices and pieces of fruit out of the stocking mesh material.  I also sprinkled a liberal amount of dry cat food on the ground inside of the traps.

Traps baited, I went back inside and went about my business.  At around 9:30 PM, my curiosity got the better of me, so I grabbed a flashlight and went outside to the back yard to check the traps.  Bingo!  Two of the three little guys were securely locked inside one of the traps.  The third little guy was on the outside of the other trap, trying to get at the fruit sack through the grating.  He walked into the trap, towards the rear, discovered the cat food, and busily grabbed and munched away, but then turned and exited the cage again, intent on getting at that fruit sack from the outside.  But as I stood there, he gave up and headed back into the trap and toward the rear where that sack hung.  And the door was sprung!  He was now safely caught!

But oh, my!  The adorable little trills coming from those cages out there!  It was heart-breaking!  I slept very poorly last night, worrying about those raccoons out there.  I didn't want to do them harm or to injure them, or to cause them undue suffering or distress.  At 4:45 AM this morning I woke up again, and could not get back to sleep.  So I got up, got into my running clothes and then went outside to check on the three amigos.  The two that were trapped together in one of the cages were lying in a pile, their arms around each other, peering out at me. 

The third little guy, in his own trap, was clearly distressed and desperate.  He was trilling and clicking away, busily digging a trench along the outside edges of the trap.   This was killing me!

I headed out in the dark to get a short run in and, when I returned, started my coffee pot and made breakfast, killing time until I thought the management office would be open so that I could call to arrange having the little guys picked up and transported away.  There was no answer, so I left a message.  An hour later, at 8:00 AM I hopped on my bicycle and rode over to the office, thinking they should be open by now.  But the lights were turned off and no one was there.  I really had no idea when our property manager arrives each day. 

So I went back to the house and, because the sun was starting to get higher in the  sky, I tried to rig up a way of giving the little raccoons some water.  They had now been in those traps for almost 12 hours.  I tried sliding plastic picnic plates under one corner of the cages and filling them to brimming with water.  They would be able to drink the water, since the screening of the floor of the cages is a very open caging.  A little while later, when I checked on them, the duo in one cage had filled the plate with grass, in their attempt to build a nest inside their cage.  The other raccoon, by its digging around the perimeter of the cage, had quickly filled the plate under his cage with dirt.  Well, that's not going to work. 

What to do...what to do.  Then I had another idea.  Ice cubes!  I went back inside and filled a couple of containers with ice from my ice maker.  The crescent-shaped cubes just barely fit through the screening of the cages, but I managed to get a couple of dozen cubes into each of the cages and then filled the containers with water and placed them up against the cages.  I dragged the cages closer to the base of two trees, both to ensure they stayed in the shade as the sun got higher, and to get them off the lawn and onto the mulch under the trees.  These guys were really making a mess of the grass under their cages and along the perimeter.  Then I sprinkled some more cat food into both of the cages, which the little guys promptly started to eat.

I spent a good amount of time with these cute little guys this morning, as I fussed over them, fed them, tried to give them water, and made sure they were in the shade and not getting too hot or too stressed.  In that time, I could clearly discern three very different personalities among the three of them.  The raccoon in the cage by himself was clearly the aggressive one, and I imagine that he's the one who "faux boxed" with me a couple of months ago.  You can read that blog entry here:  Three Amigos .  He is definitely the "fighter" of the three, never giving up, determined to dig himself out of that cage, and also the most vocal of the three.  Of the two raccoons who were in the other trap together, one was very shy, usually hiding under or behind the other one, often curled up, hiding his face behind his paws, and sleeping (or feigning sleep).   It was definitely beneficial that these two got trapped together.  They kept each other calm, and held each other or huddled together for much of the time. 

Then there's the third little guy, the one sharing the cage with the shy one.  Clearly the most clever of the three, and the most outgoing.  He was never afraid of me, always let me approach the cage and get very close with the camera or to put food and water in the cage.  He would look at me with those really sweet eyes as if to say, "Hi!"   When I placed the bowl of water up against the outside of the cage, this clever little guy immediately reached out and dipped both paws into the water, splaying his toes out into two adorable little fans, and swishing his paws in the water.  He'd pull his paws back into the cage and then lick them.  He tried to reach his tongue out to the bowl to lap the water.  Physically this was clearly possible as his little tongue was long enough, but he just never got it lined up correctly relative to the bowl.  Then he turned his attention to the ice cubes.  He reached out for one, rolling it toward him and then licking it.  Smart little raccoon!!

As cute as these Three Amigos are, I know that they don't belong in our neighborhood, and would be better off relocated out to a more country-like setting.  I did finally talk to the property manager to let her know that I had successfully trapped three raccoons.  About two hours later - around noontime - one of the maintenance workers arrived in the security pickup truck to take them away.  The property manager had called Animal Control and they would be coming shortly to take possession. 

I was actually saddened to see these cute guys be taken away.  I hope they are treated well and find a new home where they'll be safe and happy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Raccoons are Smart!

Or, very wily, at least.  So...once again I baited the traps last night with tuna fish and banana, only this time I shoved the food way into the back corner of the cage.  I thought this would force the critters to go deep into the cage, turn sideways a bit to get at the food, and then trigger the spring door to close.  But, no it didn't.  The food was gone and the traps empty this morning. 

On to plan "B."  I'm going to put some fruit into a cloth or mesh bag and hang it from the roof of the cage, back in the corner.  My reasoning is that this will force the raccoon to sit on its haunches while trying to solve the "puzzle."   Hopefully, this action will trigger the release to close the door.

Wish me luck.  Will the third time be the charm??

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hidden Secrets - Shhh, Don't Tell!!

Whenever I start a new race training cycle, I'm energetic and eager to get out there and run! But, boy, when those long run days come up on the schedule, and the distances start their relentless march toward higher and higher mileage, I find that my training needs a shot in the arm. For me, one sure-fire way to do this is to buy a new running outfit or a new pair of running shoes.

I have a confession to make, though. No...make that two confessions, actually. The first is my addiction to cute running clothes. I rationalize my purchases by convincing myself that my running tops and bras have gotten irreversibly sweat-stained and yellowed and my running socks have grown dingy and a little threadbare at the heels. I even imagine that my running shorts have picked up a funk and grubbiness about them. I take to athletic gear stores and websites like a duck to water. I have one dresser drawer devoted just to running clothes. If there's still room in the drawer...time to shop. If the drawer is full...put the credit card away. If the drawer is stuffed so full it won't close...time to weed out those items that are past their prime.

But the fact is, it doesn't matter how adorable I think my running outfit looks when I step out the door, running is a sweaty and smelly and sometimes muddy activity. I've come to accept this fact, knowing that how good I look at the end of a run will be inversely proportional to how many miles I've covered, and the further into my half-marathon training program I get, the greater this truism becomes. It reaches a point when only my cat will get close to me.

This morning, after running 8 miles, I was feeling decidedly un-ladylike with my dripping hair and sweat-soaked armpits. I've come up with my own secret way of feeling feminine on the inside, even when I'm looking gross on the outside.

So here's my second confession: I love red toenails!

There's just something about having brightly painted toes secretly tucked inside of those utilitarian running shoes! When I'm at my grossest and sweatiest, peeling off my wet socks and seeing those gay toes reminds me that I'm a woman. Sort of like wearing an especially feminine and lacy bra under a heavy, flannel shirt.

It's my little secret. Shhh! Don't tell!

Little Rascals

Remember these three amigos?  I posted about them here at my blog a couple of months ago.

Well, they're all grown up and making pests of themselves in my yard.  They've chosen a slight depression under a tree in my backyard and are using it as their campsite at night.  Their sleep and play and digging has matted down and killed an oval-shaped spot of grass in that spot.

Then, night before last, they managed to get up on the roof of my house - I think they shimmied up the drain spout, from the sounds they were making - and thumped around and played hide-and-seek up there for hours.  The cat was beyond distraught, and I was wishing I had a shotgun.  I went outside with a flashlight and walked around the house, eventually finding them playing on one of the roof ridges at the front of the house.  They froze mid-play when I trained the flashlight on them. 

So I stopped by our property management office the next day to request a couple of traps, which were delivered later in the afternoon.  That night I baited them with tuna fish and chunks of banana and then went to bed.  When I awoke this morning, it was still dark.   I wanted to get a long run in before it got too light out, but before I started, my curiosity got the better of me, so I grabbed the flashlight and went out the back door to peek at the critters.

Returning from my long run, I walked around to the back to check the traps again in daylight.  I wanted to see if there was any evidence of them taking the bait.  My treacherous plans had been foiled!!  The bait was gone, the traps were "unsprung!"

Readers of my blog may recall my previous attempts to trap the pair of raccoons that were terrorizing my back yard last year.  They were no doubt the parents of the trio that are now terrorizing my back yard this year.  I was not successful trapping either of those racoons but did manage to trap a large opossum.    But the trap at the time was a slightly different design.  In that case, the trap was sprung near the entrance, when the weight of the animal tripped the latch on the door and it closes behind the animal.

These traps are different.  The trip mechanism is at the rear of the trap.  The animal must travel all the way into the trap and go all the way to the back.  An animal that is facile at backing up can very easily get into the trap, retrieve the food, and then back out, without tripping it.   These clever raccoons, with their dextrous front paws, were able to get in, grab the food, and get out.   Well, at least they have figured out that the traps equal treats.  So I've re-baited them, only this time I've put the food up against the back wall so that the raccoons must go all the way in.  If they do, they'll step on the plate and that should trigger the trap.  We hope.