Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Valley Between Two Half-Marathon Peaks

There's always this enormous anti-climactic sense of idleness after running a half or full marathon.   It's this ludicrous sense of, "Now what?" that washes over me every time I hang another medal in the medal case.  It's totally irrational.  I should be reveling in a sense of accomplishment but, instead, find myself in the void of "purposeless-ness" that comes from devoting mental and physical energy to getting ready for a race, doing the race, and then having nothing on the horizon to train for.

As a result of this, I find myself increasingly filling my schedule with more races.  My next half-marathon is just 3 weeks after this Houston one...the one that I've just completed.  Barely time to recover - more a taper-down than anything - before I'll be doing it again.  This time, it will be the Galveston Mardi Gras Marathon and Half-Marathon.

So in between these two events, I drove over to Mandeville for a couple of days' visit with son and family.  No running involved.  Just visiting time, play time with the grandkids, a visit to the New Orleans Childrens Museum.

Now it's the weekend before the Galveston event and I've put in a moderate-distance run today, and will probably get one more longish distance run in before tapering back down to a couple of short distance runs before next Sunday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Hard-Earned Finish This Time

I'd like to say that I was well-prepared for this year's Houston half-marathon, but I wasn't.  In fact, things were looking so dismal that I wasn't even sure I'd make the effort at all.  My running had dwindled to none at all the whole month of November because of a chest cold, which left me very little time to get it back on track, especially with the holidays looming between my ability to train and race day.

I did the best I could.  But right up until marathon week, I still had doubts.  
It took some self-convincing to even drive down to the Fitness Expo on Friday to pick up my race packet.  I browsed the vendors half-heartedly.  Bought some logo wear at the official marathon gear booth.  But the energy in the exhibit hall got me psyched.  It reminded me of all those years I'd been doing this event...the full marathons, the half marathons...and how good it felt to complete it.
Bill Rodgers and Joan Samuelson

And that's really all it took to make my decision to do it.

So I set a goal for myself to run the first 9 miles - where the route turns back toward downtown and the finish line - and would then give myself permission to walk as much as I needed, those last 4 miles.  This decision actually removed a huge burden.  I wouldn't put pressure on myself to do well...just finish it.

Saturday was an easy day, which gave me some time to figure out the best way to handle driving myself up to the start line.  Past years I've had someone drive me there, meet me several places along the route, and then meet me after the race to drive me home.  This year I needed to figure this out for myself, figure out a solution for carrying the car key with me, carry some cash, my drivers license and insurance card - both car insurance and health insurance.  I didn't want to leave a wallet or purse in the car as temptation for thieves.

A small, thin lanyard solved the problem of the car key.  It was safely tethered around my neck and the weight of the key carried inside my jogbra in my "cleavage."  The insurance cards and drivers license, along with my cellphone, were locked in the center console of my car.  Some folding money was tucked in the sweatband of my hat.  My PowerGel, normally taking that cleavage space, was instead pinned inside the waistband of my shorts.  This was actually a good solution and I think I'll continue to do this in future.

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The alarm was set for 5:00 AM but I woke early and was up and moving by 4:45 AM.  A bowl of Cheerios, brush my teeth, pull on my running clothes and I was ready to gather my things and head out to the garage and get going. 

Parking turned out to be painless.  Into downtown, onto St. Joseph Parkway, right onto San Jacinto St, right onto Leeland and one block down, there was the perfect parking lot at the corner of Leeland and Caroline.  The worst part was arriving there more than an hour before race start.  And it was cold...below 40 degrees.  I stood in my assigned corral and froze and shivered until the gun went off.  Then, of course, being in the 3rd corral, we all still had to wait another 10 minutes before the mass of runners at the back of the pack were able to move forward toward the start line.

So much was improved this year for the race!  The race organizers added a third corral for the runners.  They added huge pace signs, which greatly improved organization of the runners within the corrals.  They changed up the finish line, the entrance into the Convention center after the race, and the layout of the various post-race stations inside the hall, which really made the post-race experience stress-free and so much easier!

I truly surprised myself by making it to mile 9 without walking, except for brief walks on the uphill portions, which I have done the last couple of years anyway.  At the turnaround near the 9 mile marker, I made the turn and then started to walk, until the 10 mile marker.  This point of the course begins a long gentle downhill stretch toward Allen Parkway.  One of my own rules for running is to never walk on the downhills. 

Gravity is our friend when it comes to running.  So I picked up the pace and ran all the way to Allen Parkway, down the entrance ramp and along the parkway until I reached another short gradual uphill.  I was losing some steam but at this point, was surprised I'd been able to run as much as I had.  I wasn't disappointed in my performance in the least. 

I managed to break into a run again, once past that little rise in the road, and ran into downtown and the last mile.  This stretch always kicks my butt, no matter how well I'm trained, or whether I've just run 25 miles or 12 miles.  But then, as I got within 3 or 4 blocks of the turn to the finish line, the noise of the crowds got me going again toward the finish line.

Another finish, another finisher's medal.  And a decent time - better than last year's - all things considered.


post-race lunch!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Working on a Strategy

So, with the cold and rain these last few days I've had time to think about Strategy for the Waffle House Grand Tour.  I've scooped up ten of the Waffle Houses within easy striking distance of home and have maybe a dozen more that I could easily collect in one day here in the Greater Houston area.  And another day ride would collect all of them in the Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange area. 

But I've decided to leave those uncollected for a while.  The rules state that a Waffle House can be collected only one time.   I may need to have these in reserve near the end of the year when I need to collect some points in a month when I have no trips planned.  One award category is to collect at least one Waffle House per month.  I think I'll save the ones south of the city, the ones north of Beaumont, and the ones near Austin for this purpose.  Right now I have no trips planned for February, October, and December.

The rules for doing a Waffle House SS1k have not yet been announced and I realize that I'm better off leaving some of those Waffle Houses near home uncollected in case I want to use them as start or finish locations for a SS1k.  So I think I'll leave the ones along the I-10 corridor - in Katy and in Baytown - plus the one in Webster for this purpose.

Also, because of these as-yet-undisclosed SS1k rules, I won't "go for broke" along the I-10 corridor in Louisiana.  I could easily collect all of the Waffle Houses between Orange TX and Covington LA in one trip to my son's house in Mandeville.  But I won't.  I may need these to fulfill the requirements for the SS1k's I know I can collect going to and returning from the IBA party in Jacksonville.

The tendency, with the competitive spirit being displayed for this event, is to get out there!  But stepping back, looking at the big picture, I can see tremendous opportunities to collect Waffle Houses over the next 12 months, given my travel plans.  There's no need to panic or to push too hard, too fast.  Should be an interesting year. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

More Waffle Houses

Yesterday morning was cloudy, but no rain yet, so I decided to stray a little further afield and collect some more Waffle Houses in the Greater Houston area.  I have several routes plotted in Microsoft Streets & Trips, so loaded one of them into my GPS and then backed my FZ out of the garage for another day of riding and photographing.

This day's route took me north of Houston, up near Bush Intercontinental Airport and then further north to Conroe and then back down to Humble before finishing up and heading home.  A little longer loop than the one on January 5 - this time, 134 miles to snag 5 Waffle Houses.


Waffle House #6 - Will Clayton Parkway at Bush Intercontinental Airport:










Waffle House #7 - N. Beltway 8 at Hardy Toll Road:









Waffle House #8 - League Line Road in Conroe:










Waffle House #9 S. Loop 336 in Conroe:









Waffle House #10 -  FM 1960 at I-45:










There are now nine riders who are actively collecting Waffle House photos.  About 35 folks are signed up to do this Grand Tour.

This coming week, weather permitting, I plan to hit the ones that are south of Houston, down near Galveston one day, and another day collect the ones that are west of the city, out near Katy.   After this coming weekend, when I run in the Houston marathon, I can concentrate a little more on this Grand Tour.  I have an all-day route planned to collect the ones out near Beaumont TX.  I have a couple of items to deliver to my grandkids, so have a route planned to scoop up as many Waffle Houses as I can between here and Mandeville LA...and it's a bunch!!

Stay tuned for the next Waffle House Grand Tour report...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Herding Ducks

I woke up this morning feeling very guilty for having not run at all this past week.  I really must get up and get a run in today...maybe 5 miles.  I'm still unsure about next weekend's Houston Marathon event, but I'm going to play it by ear, pick up my race packet next Friday and then make the decision late Saturday or very early Sunday morning. 

But back to today's run...it's a little cool and overcast this morning, but I was feeling good and was eager to get a few miles in.   My five mile run usually consists of a loop through our neighborhood of CountryPlace, picking up all of the cul-de-sacs along the way, and doing the loop in a figure-8 pattern. 

This morning I headed east to do the east side of the loop.  As I neared the Golf Course Pro Shop, I decided to make a bathroom stop before continuing on toward the west side of the loop.  But I was feeling pretty good and really wanted to do more than 5 miles, so I headed out the gate and up the hill to McHard Road.  As I approached the intersection, the light was green but cars weren't moving.  As I reached the top of the hill, I could see why:  A line of Muscovy ducks had queued up at the intersection and were crossing the street, one at a time. 

The duck at the front of the line was waiting until the duck in front had made it safely across the street.  Interesting...

As there were five or six ducks in line, this was going to take a while.  Meanwhile the light turned red, leaving the line of cars stuck again at the intersection.  When I got to the light and could see what was going on, I crossed over to where the ducks were and "hastened" them across the street.  They complied, some of them grudingly unfurling their wings and flapping across the street. 

Not too many folks can say they served as a crossing guard for ducks!!

Thinking about this and chuckling to myself made the 3 mile loop down to Cullen and back just fly by!  I just had to run  the 2.5 miles of the west loop and then I would be home!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Waffle House Grand Tour - Off and Running

Okay, so this is a real stretch for me.  I mean, I don't exactly live in Waffle House Mecca.  But I do have some trips planned for 2012, the routes taking me tantalizingly close to some Waffle House "hot spots." 
So...I'm in.  Registered, sent my money in, and now waiting to receive the rally towel and packet with instructions.

But I found myself staying at a Clarion Inn in Covington, right across the street from a Waffle House on Holiday Drive.  Hmmm....  My son and his family drove the few miles from their house in Mandeville to meet me at the Waffle House for New Year's Day breakfast.  But I've not yet received that all-important rally towel and have no idea if there's an acceptable "work-around" to collecting a suitable and acceptable photo of bike in front of this restaurant.  In the absence of any guidance, I just pulled my bike up, lined it up nicely in front of the Waffle House, took a photo, and made sure the camera date/time were set correctly (for EXIF photo tagging).   I also got a receipt from the Waffle House just in case. 

So first Waffle House tagged - on New Year's Day, the first official day of the Grand Tour. 

The following week we had fabulous weather here in S. Texas, so I did a little plotting using the Waffle House locator page, Google Maps, and Streets & Trips, and planned a short little ride that would scoop up 4 more Waffle House photos.  An email to the rallymaster for this Grand Tour confirmed that, in the absence of a rally flag, I would need to include my face in the photos.  I grabbed my little Gorilla tripod, my camera, my GPS, and then backed my FZ6 out of the driveway right after lunch to go collect a few more WH photos.

A short little circular route of just 65 miles would let me bag 4 more Waffle Houses:
 

#2.  On Almeda-Genoa in Houston.











#3.  On College Street in South Houston.










#4.  On Fairmont Parkway in Pasadena.










#5.  On W. Airport in Stafford.










It felt good to get my favorite bike out for a short spin, and when I returned, I routed three more short day rides to collect all the rest of the Waffle Houses in the Greater Houston area.  I've decided that weekdays are best for doing this project.  Fewer folks eating breakfast at Waffle House than on the weekends.   So...whenever I wake up to a nice day in Houston, I'll head out in one direction or another.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Fine Finish to 2011

The much-anticipated "Last Ride of the Year" happened again, this one its 15th year, on December 30, 2011.  The restaurant - Stagecoach - in Stockton AL gives the event its name...The Stagecoach Ride To Eat or, simply, Stagecoach RTE. 

The last two times I attended this, it was cold and wet and not too conducive to parking lot chat.  But this year was quite different.  The weather was glorious!

My BMW and I left my home on Thursday, December 29, and headed east on I-10.  It was a little cool -requiring use of my electric jacket liner for the first few hours - but it warmed up enough that I could remove the jacket and stuff it into a sidecase when I stopped for gas and a light lunch snack near Hammond LA.

I arrived in Saraland and the Microtel Hotel late afternoon and noticed a little coffee shop right across the side street from the hotel, so got unpacked, changed and made a beeline to that little cafe, where I ordered a decaf cappucino and bought a nice yogurt parfait with fresh strawberries, and some mini cupcakes - red velvet with sour cream frosting.  Dinner.

The next morning was equally as glorious and even warmer than the day before.  I didn't even don my electric jacket liner.  Just pulled on my lightweight fleece pullover to wear under my jacket, and headed north on I-65 for the 20 miles to Stagecoach.  A quick gas stop at the exit and I was soon pulling into the parking lot, which was surprisingly full for 9:30 in the morning!  Wow!  Last time - when it was cold and wet - I arrived at about the same time to a nearly empty parking lot, save for the short line of bikes backed up along the back edge. 

Many, many MTF folks were there, and I'm pretty sure I missed saying hi to a number of them.  I chatted for a while with groups in the parking lot then went inside and realized that even more MTF folks were inside eating breakfast.  I didn't put this together at the time, but realized later that many folks were going to attempt the "Trifecta," which included Stagecoach lunch on Friday, lunch in Brooksville FL on Saturday, and lunch in Ona FL.  Getting all of this in meant scarfing food at Stagecoach and then hitting the road before noon to make it to the second location.

No trifecta for me.  I'd rather visit family in Mandeville on my way home from Stagecoach.  So I sat with Bronce and his brother Darryl and had coffee and some toast, and then hooked up with Fletcher and Lewis and stood in line for the lunch buffet.  By 12:30 PM the line had dwindled and the parking lot was beginning to empty out. 

It was a wonderful ride to Covington, where I stopped for the day at the Clarion Hotel.  I decided to stay here for two nights, since son and family had just returned from their holiday visit to family in California and I was pretty sure they had enough on their hands without having a houseguest. 

The next morning Jeremy and the two grandkids picked me up at the hotel and brought me back to their house.  We spent the day visiting, watching the A&M bowl game, and had new year's dinner at home.  That night, amidst rampant home fireworks displays, Jeremy drove me back to the hotel after making plans to meet me at the Waffle House next to the Clarion for a New Year's day breakfast.





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It's been a year of triumphs and a year of loss.  I completed another Iron Butt Association Silver Level National Parks Master Traveler ride.  I ran in three half-marathons.  One of those half-marathons brought me up to Lansing MI, where I had a nice visit with sister and family afterward.  I had a wonderfully memorable visit with my mom, what ultimately would be my last, as she passed away on October 31.    

The year is over; a new year is begun.   What will it bring?  What paths will unfold in front of my journey through each season?