Yes, Please, I’ll Take a Dozen

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Some of my favorite things in life come by the dozen.  Long-stemmed roses.  Cupcakes.  Beer.  (12 ounces per bottle, 12 bottles per case!)

In honor of today’s date being 12-12-12, I’d like to present a dozen reasons why I love running:

#1 – I am not good at it.

Some people are naturally good runners.  My name is NOT on that list.  It was a real struggle just to get through my first 5K.  But somehow I felt a glimmer of hope that I could improve, and I kept at it.  Running provides an endless array of challenges, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more.

#2 – It makes my body happy.

I have more energy and endurance now than I ever have before.  I sleep better at night.  And my pants are looser.

#3 – It makes my brain happy.

There’s nothing like a good run to press your brain’s reset button.  Whether it’s mulling over an issue and coming up with a solution, or just taking a mental break to enjoy the scenery, my head always feels clearer when I’m finished.

#4 – It gets me out of the house.

I work from home and take care of two small children.  If I can squeeze in a little time to myself, in the fresh air, while getting a great workout, I’ll take it.

So true!

So true!

#5 – It’s good for my family.

Ok, I just said that I liked running to get AWAY from my family, so how does it HELP them?  Running is my stress relief, so I spend less time being cranky at home.  (You know what they say, “If Mama ain’t happy …”)  It also sets a good example for my children and shows them that exercise can be fun.  My husband and I work toward our own race goals, and every once in a while, we actually get to run TOGETHER.

#6 – I love food.

I know, I know, running is not a green light to eat whatever you want.  Trust me, that’s a lesson I learned the hard way!  But it does torch a large amount of calories, which gives me a little more leeway in my daily calorie budget.  If I’m exercising on a regular basis, it tends to keep me from wanting to throw my hard work down the drain by eating  junk.  Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a good pre-race carb fest?

#7 – Races are fun.

You get to hang out with a bunch of people who are just as crazy as you … maybe crazier.  You get to stop traffic as you run right in the middle of the street.  And you get a cool T-shirt to wear, so that you can show off in front of non-runners remember you accomplishment.  What’s not to love?

#8 – It’s guilt-free way to socialize.

So many of the activities we do with friends seem to involve eating out, drinking, or spending money.  But going for a run with your gal-pals costs nothing and actually BURNS calories.

Thanks to @WomensRunning for tweeting this.  I'll take new running shoes over a glass slipper any day!

Thanks to @WomensRunning for tweeting this. I’ll take new running shoes over a glass slipper any day!

#9 – It’s an excuse to buy shoes.

Seriously, do you really need an explanation for this one?

#10 – It’s an excuse to buy clothes.

It only takes a few runs in a heavy, sweat-soaked, cotton t-shirt to realize that you need decent workout gear.  The good news is that running clothes are made of comfy, stretchy fabrics in a wide variety of fun colors and patterns.  Keep running and you might even drop a size or two, and have a great reason to buy new clothes for your “regular” wardrobe too.

#11 – It keeps you young.

I have seen some pretty awesome looking ladies (and gentlemen) in the oldest age groups at pretty much every race I’ve ever entered.  Many times, they’re turning in faster times than I am.  I would love to be that fit in 30 or 40 more years.  I’ll keep running, keep applying sunscreen, and hope for the best!

#12 – It’s a springboard to more adventures.

Running was my “gateway drug” leading to biking and swimming.  Three years ago, if you would’ve told me that I would be competing in triathlons, I would’ve laughed in your face.  I’ve also climbed mountain trails, trekked across a glacier, and completed a muddy obstacle course … all thanks to my newfound fitness.

So many adventures!

So many adventures!

As I was writing this, I realized how hard it was to limit myself to ONLY twelve things that I love about running.  It seems like I discover something new all the time.  So maybe we should make it a baker’s dozen instead, and say that I love running because the journey is just as much fun as the finish!

What about the other runners out there … Which of these reasons is your favorite?  Do you have a different reason of your own?

 

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Check out her new Twitter handle @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Just Add Water

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The alarm goes off.  You roll over, rub your eyes, and see your running clothes all laid out, ready for your morning run.  And then you hear it:  The steady sound of rain on the roof.  Moment of truth.  What do you do?

If you are like I was during my first year or so of running, you roll over and go back to sleep.  If you are slightly more motivated than that, you jump on the treadmill or find a different workout for the day.  But I’d like to make a case for Option C:  Go for a run anyway.

It’s true, back then I totally avoided running in the rain.  Imagine my surprise when, the day of one spring 5K rolled around and … gasp … The forecast called for RAIN?!?  What do I wear?  What would happen?  It seems funny now, but at the time I was in a little bit of a panic.  As to what would happen, the answer was simple:  I got wet.  (Oh, and I PR’d along the way.)

From that day on, I realized it was silly to avoid running on rainy days.  In a place like Cleveland, it was a completely impractical way to train.  Juggling my schedule around days that were “nice enough” to run outside totally messed up any semblance of a training plan I tried to follow.

And besides, running in the rain was actually kind of, well, FUN!  It’s a little bit like splashing in puddles when you were a kid.  Even a slow run in nasty weather gives you a sense of accomplishment, a victory in the battle of man vs. nature.  The sound of the rain hitting the leaves is like a round of applause saying, “Good for you!  You got moving when you could’ve stayed in bed!”  And you will probably get nods of mutual respect from any other runners you pass.  A little street cred, if you will.

Want to get in on the action?  Here are my top tips for rainy day runs:

* Dress for the Weather

Plastic Bag

I put the paper with my workout plan inside a plastic bag, so I can review it during my workout without it getting soaked.

Cotton + Water = Miserable.  Now is the time for tech fabrics that wick moisture, and preferably a waterproof outer layer that still breathes.  Don’t forget a hat with a brim or a visor, to keep the rain out of your eyes.  If you tend to chafe, wet clothes will make it worse.  Vaseline or BodyGlide is your friend!

* Adjust Your Goals

You may not be able to go as fast or as far as you’d planned.  Your wet clothes and soggy shoes can weigh you down.  The rain could be accompanied by a lot of wind resistance.  Don’t fret if you don’t quite hit your goal.  Make the best of it, and realize that anything you accomplish is still more than if you’d never gotten out the door in the first place.

* Misery Loves Company

Schedule your workout with a partner or group.  You are less likely to flake out on a run if you have a friend or two waiting for you.  You will definitely find out who in your posse is hard-core by asking them show up “rain or shine” … and you won’t want to be the wimp who begs off!

* Prepare For the Finish

Have a hot beverage ready at the end of your run, perhaps a Thermos in the car.  Get out of your wet clothes as soon as possible.  At the very least have a blanket or towel to wrap up in, plus a dry pair of socks and shoes, for the drive home.

Shoes

My shoes and jacket hanging out by the heat vent after a soggy morning.

* Take Care of Your Shoes

Place some loosely crumpled newspaper inside your damp shoes.  It will help absorb the moisture, and you may need to switch it out for fresh paper a couple of times.  Find a warm, dry place to leave them.  Hopefully you have a couple of pairs of running shoes, so you can take them out of rotation for a day or two until they’re back to normal.  (Not a problem for most runners, who tend to be shoe-a-holics anyway.)

So the next time you hear the pitter patter of rain drops on your window, don’t despair.  Take your usual run and just add water!

 

 

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Check out her new Twitter handle @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Redemption, With a Side of Feathers

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There are a lot of different reasons runners flock to their local Turkey Trot.  (Pun completely intended!)  For some, it’s a family tradition.  For others, it’s a chance to burn off some extra holiday calories.  This year for me, it was all about redemption.

Calling all Turkey Trotters

Looking back over the 2012 racing season, I should’ve been happy.  Using a more balanced and consistant training approach kept me injury-free.  I’d checked several goals off my list …  PR a 5K?  Check.  Win an age group award?  Check.  Complete a triathlon?  Check.  (Don’t let the lack of blog entries fool you, it was a great summer!)And yet there was still something bothering me.  One race had gotten under my skin, left a sour taste in my mouth, more than any event ever had:  The Towpath 10K.

I’d run one previous 10K, in July 2011.  It was a tough race back then, when I was just starting to run longer distances, and 6 miles was still a pretty daunting challenge.  Although I was very happy to finish in 59:21, the combination of heat and hills made it tough.  Since that time I’d completed a half marathon, lowered my 5K time by more than a minute, and lost several pounds as I added biking and swimming to my training routine.  Plus the Towpath was a flat route on a cool October day.  All of that should easily translate into a sub-59:00 finish, right?

Wrong.

I’ve never been one to have exact splits pre-calculated, but I usually go into a race with at least a general strategy in mind. Maybe I had gotten complacent after my recent string of successes, but I showed up at the Towpath starting line without a plan. And this time it cost me. I ran the first half a little too conservatively, and by the time I realized it, even a sub-9:00 final mile wasn’t enough to make up the difference. Instead of being the exclamation point at the end of my best-ever summer as a runner, I was left with a feeling of disappointment.

Added to that, I knew last fall’s Turkey Trot had been the nail in the coffin of my IT band struggles, leading to a winter of frustration and physical therapy.  So I showed up to THIS year’s race with a bone to pick.  (Get it?  Turkey … bone … Ok, ok, I’ll stop.)

My Racing Buddies

The Cleveland Turkey Trot typically draws several thousand runners.  It’s a fun and festive atmosphere, and I absolutely love the energy that comes from people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities gathering at the starting line, ready to conquer the 5-mile course.  My primary goal was to break 50 minutes.  Maybe if it was a REALLY good race, 48 minutes … but I didn’t have the guts to admit that anywhere other than in the deep recesses of my own head.  And certainly not out loud.

Determined not to repeat my Towpath mistake, I pushed myself a little more than normal during the first mile.  I let the crowd sweep me along and was pleasantly surprised that my first mile was at a 9:08 pace.  Other than a little tightness in my calves, I was feeling pretty good, so I kicked it up just a tad.  The second mile actually ended up being my fastest, at 8:56, but it really didn’t feel like I was struggling at all.

At this point we were heading downhill, toward the Lake Erie shoreline and Browns stadium.  I prepared myself for the turn back toward downtown and the climb back uphill that would follow.  I focused on shortening my stride slightly and using my arms a little more, and before I knew it, I was at the top.  That hill work this summer paid off!

The next couple of miles felt exactly like I want them to: strong, steady, and under control.  But I was still surprised each time the voice in my headphones broke in to give me an update.  Even though I had slowed down slightly, I was still averaging 9:25/mile or less.  I actually started to think that maybe something was out of whack with my GPS, because there’s no way I felt THIS good while running THAT pace.  It didn’t help that I had somehow missed seeing every mile marker along the course …

Until I finally saw the sign with the giant number 4, and looked down at my watch to see a time of just under 38 minutes.  Despite my race-induced brain fog, which typically prohibits me from doing any type of mathematical calculations in my head, I knew I had a good chance to beat even my best-case-scenario time.  I found another gear, concentrated on keeping my feet as light as possible, and focused my gaze several blocks away on the finish line …

Or what I thought was the finish line.  Turns out I was looking at the trucks that were parked about half a block PAST the finish.  It was a little congested with runners as I neared the end of the race, and I didn’t see the ACTUAL finish line until it was only around 100 feet away.  Too bad, because I probably could’ve started my finishing kick a bit sooner.  Nevertheless, I was still absolutley ecstatic to look down at my watch and realized I’d finished in under 47 minutes.  (46:52, to be exact.)

Love the shirts this year!

It sounds silly, but I actually felt a few tears well up in my eyes.  Instead of limping away from last year’s Turkey Trot, or immediately wanting a “do-over” after the Towpath 10K, I was left with the feeling of pride and accomplishment I’d been searching for.

Sure, I wasn’t even close to being the fastest runner on the course.  But that’s not really what running is about for most of us.  It’s about slaying the internal demons of doubt and pushing past your personal boundaries.  It’s about knowing you finished what you set out to do.  And it’s about waking up the next morning and wanting to do it all over again.

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Check out her new Twitter handle @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Just Another Face in the Crowd

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Time to mark down another first as a runner… Or to be more correct, as a non-runner.  For the first time ever, I went to a race as a spectator.  It was marathon weekend in here in Cleveland and because of a pesky IT band issue, I was forced to watch from the sidelines as several friends and family members completed the 10K race. 

The fact that I have had to seriously dial-down my running for the past six months has definitely put me in a funk at times.  (Or maybe you could already tell that from the severe lack of blog posts recently?)   So I assumed  it would be miserable to head to the race as a non-competitor, dressed in street clothes.  I’d be hanging out with my cousin’s daughter and serving duty as the  “race butler” … You know, the person that comes along to hold the bags of those that are actually running … Yippee, right?

Instead, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the experience.  I woke up bright and early with my husband and was actually able to help him get ready instead of being consumed with my own preparations.  The early morning train heading downtown was filled with runners and their families, the air buzzing with excitement and anticipation.  But instead of being distracted by my own nervousness and a brain busy with a pre-race checklist, I was able to relax and enjoy the view from the window as dawn broke over the city skyline.

Rather than spending time worrying about a warm-up, stretches, and the length of the port-o-pottie line, I was able to watch the start of the full and half marathons.  Let me tell you, if you’ve never seen 15,000 people lined up as they begin an epic journey, you need to get out there and do it!  Totally awe-inspiring.  After watching the start of the 10K, and snapping some photos of the gang as they got on their way, we headed over to stake out a spot near the finish line.

I look JUST like this when I run … right?!?

That was when it occurred to me, out of all of the races I’ve run in, I’ve never actually SEEN the  winners of any of those races.  I’m always somewhere back there on the course, worrying about my splits or some other such detail.  But that day I got to watch elite runners as they approached the finish, marveling at their amazing form and physique.  Seeing a Kenyan glide past you at a sub-5:00/mile pace, making it look almost effortless …  once again, awe-inspiring.

 After the winners came the not-quite-elite-but-still-really-fast runners.  You know, the ones that have everyday jobs and no hope of prize money, yet still manage to squeeze in the training necessary to place at the tops of their age groups.  And then came more and more of the “regular” runners,  those that have no hope of winning any type of award and are just racing their own race.  Whether pursuing a PR or just trying to finish in a vertical position, those are MY people, the Joe Shmo’s of running. 

Through it all I was cheering, applauding, yelling, and doing whatever I could do to help spur each runner that passed.  I think the people next to me were starting to get a little ticked off by my lunacy, because apparently they planned to cheer only for runners that they had a personal relationship with.  Maybe they were non-runners that don’t realize the impact that crowd support and sideline encouragement can be during a race.  Or perhaps they were just cranky because they had to get up before dawn to watch other people achieve something remarkable.  Nevertheless, I was not deterred, and I did not let it hold me back from repeatedly shouting, “Good job!  You can do it!  Finish strong!” to every man, woman, and child that approached the finish line.  The more tired and sweaty they looked, the louder I yelled, and the more fun I had.

In a way, it was like a chance to repay the debt I had accumulated during past races.  In exchange for the cheers, whistles, high-fives, and cow bells that had spurred me on to my own finishes, I could now do the same for other runners.  And seeing the determination on their faces only helped to fuel my own determination to get back out and do it again.

I took that spark and ran with it.  (Pun completely intended!)  Back home with a renewed enthusiasm for the physical therapy, stretching, and strengthening, I started plotting my return to the racing scene.  It may not be fast and it may not be far, but in the words of Ah-nold … “I’ll Be BACK!”

One Half = A Whole Lot of Fun!

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The alarm clock went off well before dawn.  Actually, several alarms went off, because I am a little neurotic and paranoid about oversleeping.  I woke up a bundle of energy, some nerves, but mostly excitment.  Race day was finally here … Towpath Half Marathon here we come!

Ready to go!

We (my husband and I) had to leave early because in addition to the 45 minute drive, the roads leading to the race parking lot would be closing one hour before the start.  It was kind of fun to stop at the Turnpike rest area and be able to immediately spot fellow runners.  They were the crazy ones wearing shorts when it was barely 50 degrees, and making a beeline for the restroom in hopes of avoiding the port-o-potty lines!

We sat in a long line of cars winding through the pre-dawn fog, and finally turned in to the ski area that served as the race’s starting point.  Something about empty ski lifts blowing in the mist was a little creepy!

No need to do an extensive warmup since I was planning on starting out pretty slow, but I did walk and do a few dynamic stretches to loosen up.   We lined up right in the middle of the crowd, which was both 10K and half marathon runners, and soon we were off!  The first couple of miles I kept a slow pace … so slow my husband felt the need to mention it a couple of times.  But I knew that I needed to save my legs and not go out too quickly, so I told him to trust me.  I had decided not to rely on my watch or calculate pace, but instead go by “feel” … but I’d estimate we were around an 11-minute mile pace.

It seemed like almost no time had gone by, and we were already at the 3-mile mark.  We sped up just slightly, but still made sure to take occasional quick 30-45 second walk breaks.  This race gets an A++ for aid stations, which were plentiful.  I alternated between water and the Gatorade that was provided, although I didn’t feel the need to consume a lot because the weather was still pretty cool.

In fact, I don’t think you could have chosen a better day for a half marathon!  Here in northern Ohio, October weather is a real crapshoot, and somehow we hit it just right.  A little cool, no rain, almost no wind, and a lot of sunshine.    And running along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail as the leaves were changing made it just about perfect.  I kept my head phones off and just listened to the sounds of hundreds of runners crunching along the gravel trail, and chatted with my husband off and on.

Around the halfway point, I started to feel really tight in my left hip flexor.  I have no idea why, since I don’t normally have trouble with that area at all.  So I slowed down just a tad and waited for it to work itself out.  Miles 7 and 8 were probably the toughest because of this, and I started to allow little trickles of doubt to creep in to my mind.  That’s when I decided to finally turn on my iPod and listen to music.  That small amount of mental distraction was just what I needed to keep going, and eventually the cramp just worked itself out.

As mile 10 approached, I was feeling pretty good.  My husband, however, was not.  His training had not quite gone as planned, including a severe shortage of long runs.  And now he was really hurting and wanting to walk more and more.  (So much for his comments about my slow pace!)

I tried my best to encourage him, reminding him that all of those early-morning alarms and hot summer evening runs were all preparing him for this race.  He did not seem to appreciate my Pollyanna attitude, perhaps because it was relayed a tad bit loudly since I was still wearing my headphones.  After a brief exchange, I left him with, “See you at the finish line,” and took off.

Now to many of you, that may seem heartless.  But I knew at that moment what I had to do to finish, and which was focus and RUN.  So I switched to my playlist that I’d made for my spring 5K and set off on those final three miles.  Over and over I focused on passing the runner in front of me.  Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it took a few minutes.  Each pass was like a tiny victory, boosting my confidence that I had saved enough in the tank to finish strong.

Finisher’s Medal

My final time was 2:20, or an average of 10:43/mile.  But my goal at this race wasn’t necessarily tied to a finishing time, it was more about the sense of accomplishment.  Three things I am the most proud of about that morning:

#1 – I finished the last three miles before reaching the end of my spring 5K playlist.  That means I ran miles 11 through 13 of a half marathon FASTER than I raced only 3 miles just five months ago, at around a 9:00/mile pace or less.

#2 – Not a single person passed me for the entire last three miles of the race.  Not one.  My own personal victory!

#3 – I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face, and I felt great.  A little stiffness here and there, but I was back running again just a few days later.

One of the biggest surprises, however, was how I felt as I crossed the finish line.  I had anticipated an epic struggle, and a feeling of supreme satisfaction of having achieved a monumental task.  Instead, I felt a small shadow of disappointment that it was over already.  It had almost felt … dare I say it … too easy?!?

Ok, maybe not easy.  But instead of providing closure and feeling like the end of something, it felt more like a beginning.  Perhaps that is a good thing, because too much closure may have sent me right back to the couch stuffing my face with potato chips.  “Yep, I ran a half marathon, it was great.  Please pass the dip.”

Instead, I found myself wondering about a new challenge.  Would a full marathon push me to that limit?  What about working on my speed for a 5K or 10K?  Or maybe a triathlon?

That very afternoon I sat down to look at the 2012 running calendar.  And that’s the great thing about running.  There’s always another race!

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!

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It’s less than 48 hours until I toe the starting line of my very first half marathon…the time period when self-doubt is starting to creep in.  My training hasn’t gone exactly as planned this summer, and I did not log as many miles (or do as much cross-training) as I’d hoped.  And the fact that my husband has been moping around because his training has gone pretty poorly is not helping!

So it’s time to pull out my Stewart-Smalley-inspired self affirmations, and get my game face on!  Instead of focusing on what I haven’t been able to do, I need to fill my head with what I have accomplished during the past 4 months:

    • Since officially starting my training plan, I have completed 36 runs:  11 speed workouts, 16 tempo runs, and 9 long runs.  A conservative estimate puts me at just over 200 miles total.
    • At the beginning of the summer my long run was 5 miles, and the thought of more than doubling it seemed impossible.  Two weeks ago I ran 14 miles and I was not even sore the next day!
    • I set a new PR (personal record) of 28:08 at a 5K distance, significantly faster than the 30:00 goal I had set for myself before the race.  And this was at the beginning of the summer, before doing all of those speed workouts.
    • I competed in my first 10K, and came in under my goal of one hour, with a time of 59:21, despite temperatures nearing 80 degrees … and passed several runners in the last mile.
    • I have lost 10-15 pounds and 1-2 dress sizes in the process.  I am lighter and leaner, a good thing for a distance runner.
    • I ran in the rain, in the wind, in the heat, and whatever else mother nature threw at me … and liked it!
    • I did all of the above while avoiding any major injury.  So I have to feel good about being a “smart” runner, building my mileage gradually and recovering properly.

    Now that I look back on this summer and all that I’ve accomplished, I am really looking forward to Sunday morning.  My strategy is pretty simple:  start slow, take early walk breaks, and finish strong.  I don’t have a specific time goal, just to cross the finish line with a smile on my face.  I know I can do it because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

Dear Diary

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I have a confession to make.  Not an “I have a crush on the cute guy in my French class” kind of confession, it’s not that kind of diary.

I’m talking about a food diary, diet log, nutrition tracker, whatever you want to call it … A chronicle of the tasty morsels that pass my lips on a daily basis.  And my confession is that I have been ignoring my food diary for a little while.  Ok, 6 weeks, so a LONG while.

I used to be of the mindset that keeping such careful track of my nutrition was not necessary, and that just having a generally healthful approach would be fine.  But truthfully, I felt like it was a hassle.  And part of me just didn’t really want to know the truth!  Denial … it ain’t just a river in Egypt.

But when it came time to really get serious about my health, fitness, and nutrition, I knew I needed something that would make me accountable.  It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t doing a good job being balanced or healthful with my eating, because as I started running, my pants were getting tighter instead of looser.  (That will be another blog post, a time in my life I refer to as “running chubby.”)

I really needed to analyze what I was consuming.  Calorie counting was one priority.  I had to analyze how much I was taking in vs. how much I was using during my workouts, because weight loss at its simplest is burning more calories than you consume.  And it can be pretty eye-opening to see just how many calories one fast food lunch can wipe out of your allotment for the day, or extra motivating to see how many calories a long cardio workout can burn.

Beyond that, however, I wanted to get a total impression of my nutrition.  Not just how MANY calories, but what KIND of calories.  The proportion of carbohydrates/protein/fat.  How much fiber I was getting.  Whether I was consuming too much sodium or sugar. 

Sound complicated?  I thought so.  But I just had to search for the right tool.  I tried several different apps and websites, and most of them still seemed too clunky and time-consuming … until a friend recommended MyFitnessPal.  I can use my phone or my PC to track food and exercise.  They have a huge database of foods with nutrition information already entered, so a quick search is all you need.  And the iPhone app even has a barcode scanner now, just scan the code and the nutrition info pops up … so easy!

So I used it for a few months and had great success.  It made me so much more aware of which foods were empty calories, and which foods I could eat more of without killing my allotment for day.   (Translation:  More fruits and veggies!)  And if I was hungry as the day went on, I could take a look at what I’d already eaten and then fill in the gaps with the right kind of calories.  I was also a lot less likely to grab a burger, handful of chips, or a candy bar knowing that I’d have to enter it in and stare at in black and white.

It worked, and I dropped over 15 pounds and had to buy all new pants!  And then … I got out of the habit.  A day or two at first, then a week, and suddenly a month went by with no entries.  And I was ok at first, because I was following a generally healthful pattern.  But over time it was too easy to grab a lunch on the road here, another bowl of pretzels in the evening there, and suddenly I wasn’t feeling so hot.

So starting today, I’m back on the bandwagon.  My goal is keep my diary for at least 5 days each week.  And to hold myself accountable, I’m inviting all of you to follow along.  How’s that for motivation?

Check out my profile (FlyGirl22) on MyFitnessPal:  http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/diary/FlyGirl22.

How to Annoy a Runner

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Looking for a surefire way to really get under the skin of your favorite runner?  It’s easy.  After she completes her next race, make sure the first question you ask is, “Did you win?”

Oh, I’m sure you mean well.  What you really want to know if the race was a success or not.  But what most people (particularly  non-runners) fail to realize is that 99% of the participants in a local road race enter without any hope of winning.  At least not “winning” in the sense of being the first one across the finish line, and probably not even having the fastest time in their respective age group.

So why on earth would you enter a race if you know you will … well … LOSE???

Because most runners I know don’t buy into the concrete definition of the terms win and lose.  We don’t agree with the whole second-place-is-first-loser mentality.  We don’t share the feeling that our personal sense of fulfillment can only be achieved in exchange for the failure of all others.

I love the thought expressed by John “The Penguin” Bingham in his book No Need for Speed.  He says, “There is a difference between a win and a victory … You may never have a chance to win a race, but you will have ample opportunities to be victorious.”

As I toe the starting line of a race, or more accurately, a spot somewhere far behind the starting line with the rest of the not-so-speedy, I am surrounded by runners who desire to be victorious.  Some are trying to achieve a certain finish time or average pace. Some are trying to soothe inner conflicts over age, weight, low self-esteem, or some other unseen adversary.  Some are just trying to reach the finish line in one piece.

It is very exciting to be surrounded by such a spirit of unbridled expectation and anticipation.  The atmosphere seems much more cooperative than competitive, as if we are all united in one common bond.  It is electrifying!

That’s not to say that we’re not EVER competitive.  One of the greatest victories in my first 10K was passing several runners during the last mile.  (Including one, ahem, older gentleman who had been ahead of me the entire race and tried to pick up the pace so I couldn’t scoot around him.)  But it wasn’t the fact that I beat those runners that made me proud.  It was the realization that I had paced myself properly in the early miles and was able pick up speed in the later miles.  It was my own satisfaction that my hard work and training was paying off.

I finished that 10K knowing that I’d left it all on the course, running the best race that I could on that particular route on that particular day.  So don’t let the fact that I finished in 154th place fool you.  Ask me again if I won, and I’m going to answer with a resounding YES!

When a Good Run Goes Bad

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Yesterday’s run was terrible.  Probably one of the worst I’ve ever had.  I don’t expect every run to be a glorious experience of physical perfection, but yesterday was about as far from that as possible.

It started out on the right track.  I had all of my clothes and gear laid out the night before and got to bed at a fairly decent time.  The alarm went off at 5:30 and it only took me a few seconds to decide to get out of bed.  (Yes, 5:30.  In the morning.  When it is still dark, and smart people are still sleeping.  If I want to squeeze in a long run and get back before my family is stirring, that’s what it takes.)  I laced up my shoes and hit the road.

I took the first two miles at a slow pace, trying to work through any stiffness that had accumulated during the few days of rest since my 10K race.  I felt a little clunky and off-balance, but that happens sometimes.  It’s typical to take a few miles to get warmed up…or so I thought.

But by the end of mile three (and after wrong turn that forced me to backtrack a quarter-mile) my entire left knee and hip had tightened up.  It felt like my left leg weighed 10 pounds more than my right, and was getting heavier by the minute.  Since I was running an out-and-back route, I had to make a decision.  Keep pushing to the 4.5 mile turnaround point (for my planned 9 miles total), or cut it short and start heading back early.

Thankfully my brain overruled my ego and I turned around, because things kept going downhill.   My side cramped up so badly I had to stop running, and even walking was painful.  It was the first time I’ve ever considered calling my husband to come and pick me up, or even knocking on the door of a friend that lives along my route and begging for mercy.  But I kept moving forward, slowly, until I could finally pick it up to what felt like a snail’s pace.

The last two miles was a slow and stiff plod, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  I was so mentally focused … but instead of my usual concern about pace, it was now a matter of getting home in one (uninjured) piece.  Let me tell you, the paper box at the end of my street was never such a welcome sight!  I had to restrain myself from kneeling down to wrap my arms around the morning edition of the Chronicle-Telegram in a grateful embrace.

But as I reached home, the euphoria of survival wore thin and I started feeling sorry for myself.  I had fallen short of my goal and only completed seven miles, which was not what my training plan called for.  And then it hit me.  Only seven miles?  Since when is seven miles something to be disappointed in?  And my pace for this seemingly disastrous run, including all of the walking/jogging/limping, was still faster than what my racing pace was last spring over a much shorter distance.

I’m glad I was reasonable enough to slow down and cut my run short, living to run another day, instead of trying to be a hero and ending up with a more serious injury.  (That whole “no pain, no gain” idea is a really bad idea!)  Thankfully, after a little ice and ibuprofen, I’m feeling ok.  Hopefully it was just a result of taking too many days off and then jumping back in to a long run, in combination with slacking off on my stretching and cross-training.  Lessons learned!

No matter how carefully we plan, sometimes good runs go bad.  But giving up is not an option.  So tomorrow morning, I’ll lace up my shoes and hit the road again … carefully.

Running vs. Racing … Don’t be a dummy!

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Yesterday was the first 10K race I’ve ever entered.  Sure, I’ve run that distance (6.2 miles), or even more, during training runs.  But running six miles and racing six miles are two different animals.

Usually when I set out on a run I do have some type of goal in mind:  complete a certain number of miles, maybe a certain average pace, but many times it’s not even that concrete.  When it comes down to a race,  however, it’s about one goal:  the time on the clock when you finish.

Previously I’ve only run races at a 5K distance (3.1 miles), and there is certainly strategy involved.  But it is a shorter race that many experienced runners can pound through at a pretty steady clip.  It’s hard and fast, and then it’s over.  (Ok, maybe I can’t pound through the entire distance at a hard pace, but I’m not exactly a great runner!)

Moving up to a 10K stretches the race out over a greater distance, meaning you are much more likely to have variations in elevation.  (Translation:  Hills!)   We mortals are looking at somewhere in the range of at least a 50-60 minute race time, so it’s not really possible to push a fast pace for the entire time.  And that’s where strategy comes in, or as I like to call it, not racing like a dummy.

I felt that yesterday’s race started off with me being a dummy, but thankfully I got a little smarter after that.  Here’s a rundown of the ups and downs (some literal) of my first 10K!

Before my first 10K - Medina Twin Sizzler - 7/4/11

Dummy Moves:

Not training in warmer weather  – When you sign up for a July 4 race, you can pretty much expect it to be a hot day.  While I have been doing a lot of running outside, most of it is early morning when the temperature is still around 60-65 degrees and not terribly humid.  This race was scheduled to start at 9:00 am, which means by the end it was pushing 75 degrees.  I should be thankful that it wasn’t actually warmer than that, because I would’ve been in BIG trouble.

* Not investigating race details in advance  – I didn’t bother finding out where parking would be, how many water stops there would be, or how the course was laid out.  Had I done so, I would’ve added more serious hill training to my workouts.  Knowledge is power, when it comes to racing, and I feel better at the starting line if the race morning is stress-free and I know what I’m getting into.

Smart Moves:

* Packing heat – Ok, not that kind of heat.  What I mean is some type of hydration and nutrition to use as necessary.  It may seem like overkill to some racers, but a pick-me-up packet of sport jelly beans and a swig of Gatorade was exactly what I needed about halfway through when fatigue was starting to set in.

* Pacing, part 1Not going out too fast – It is so easy at the beginning of a race to be all pumped up, find yourself running with some strong runners, and really push the pace right off the bat.  I think that one of my strengths is the ability to avoid this, and start off at a strong-but-not-too-strong pace.  My husband, who has battled this tendency in the past, stuck with me this time and was very grateful once the later miles rolled around!

* Pacing, part 2 … Kick it up a notch when you can – The fourth and fifth mile of this course were mostly flat or even downhill, so it was time to pick up the pace.  (Thank you to the guy shouting from the sidelines that let us know we were entering the “easier” miles, otherwise this dummy would’ve been clueless!)  I knew that I could push it a little harder.  And it was a lot of fun to pass several runners in that last mile.

After - The best tasting popsicle ever!

In the end, I finished at just over 59 minutes.  Considering my goal at the beginning of the year was to run a sub-30 5K, and now I’ve done the same thing at twice that distance, I’m quite happy.

And the best part of racing a new distance?  An automatic PR!