High Desert Hopes

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Image description: A tray of ten beer samples on a wood table next to tortilla chips.

Bend Half Marathon weekend is upon me! I look forward to a road trip with my running buddy and some new scenery. Destination races are always exciting and provoke some anxiety. Sleeping in a different bed, eating different foods, being away from the comfort and supplies of home… Nevertheless, I always make great memories racing somewhere else, and celebrating post-race with food and drink as a tourist is quite appealing!

When I am packing for a race, I almost always over pack. In the case of a road trip, I think this approach can’t hurt. I like to bring at least a spare set of running clothes, including socks and bra, for race day. I also make sure to bring a few different options for weather, including a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, warmer layer, and did I say spare socks? Because I am nearly legally blind without my glasses or contacts, I make sure to bring extra contacts. Finally, when I am going to run a specific race for the first time, I pack along my own fuel. This necessitates bringing a hydration pack, belt, or some other type of carrier to store items for the run. If you are doing this in the future, make sure you’ve practiced running with that pack/belt/carrier. I think the discomfort of adjusting an ill-fitting fuel belt is far more infuriating than dealing with a food blister. Honestly.

Every race brings with it a different intention. This time around, I am going for the experience and to enjoy running in new surroundings. Between factoring in altitude and my more relaxed training schedule (running several times a week, but a bit less aggressive with sequenced long runs), I am taking a no-pressure approach to the Bend event. I approached Wenatchee similarly this time last year, and I felt like I got a good pay-off. I was able to enjoy my two hours of running without worrying about setting a personal best. I am hoping for a similar experience this time around.

As with any long distance run, staying up and moving both before and after is a gift for the muscles. I plan to get plenty of walking in on Saturday, and plenty of walking in on Sunday after the race. Much of the stiffness and soreness felt after a half marathon may be proactively mitigated by keeping plenty of blood and oxygen cycling through the body. I find that destination races invite this recovery quite naturally, as there is typically much to see and do after the racing events of the morning conclude.

More than anything, I look forward to sharing this time with my running buddy and best friend. There is no richer bonding experience than sweating, agonizing, and achieving together. Off to the high desert!

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evolving rituals

I enjoyed an interesting conversation with my running buddy this morning, as we tackled our pre-dawn daily miles before heading into the office. We were talking about all of the rituals and rules that we used to observe, steadfastly, closer to the beginning of our respective running practices. Many of those tendencies, we realized, disappeared over the years as we have grown into a much more frequent running practice. For example, we are both much more comfortable heading into a half marathon without fueling in the middle, whereas I can remember a time that I felt obligated to swallow some type of energy goop every hour on the hour. Our bodies are the machines we know most intimately, like a car that one owns for several years… we begin to gain confidence in discerning the creaks, the rattles, the warning lights, and all of the quirks that accompany our daily commute.

This conversation got me thinking about the flip-side, the rituals related to running that I have adopted over the last year. Here are a few things I do now that I was not doing when I started my distance running journey:

Coffee. When I was a kid at summer camp, we used to sing a round about coffee (“C-O-F-F-E-E, coffee is not for me! It’s a drink some people wake up with, that it makes one nervous is no myth…”). Sorry camper of the past, but coffee is a drink I not only wake up with, it’s a drink I unabashedly consume before my morning runs. Caffeine is a common choice among runners, and consumed a variety of ways (for example, you can purchase fuel gels with caffeine added to them), but I prefer a cup of the good warm stuff. I also find that a cup of coffee before an early morning run (especially in fall and winter) keeps my core warm in cold weather.

Recovery walks. We’ve all felt the temptation to take up permanent residence on the couch after a long run, especially one that leaves muscles stiff and achy. I have learned, however, that heading for a sedentary recovery means enduring more days of soreness (the exception here is resting because of an injury… if you are injured, please rest, ice, elevate). I am a big fan of walking as a supportive exercise for running. I try to walk intentionally nearly every day, but on days when I do a particularly strenuous run, it is especially important to keep the blood circulating oxygen to tissue. A brisk walk for 1-3 miles really helps me to stave off stiffness after a run, and it is preferable to taking even one dose of NSAIDs, which can aggravate stomach issues.

Simple and nourishing food. Running uses up calories and hydration. One of two things typically happens after a run… I am either without any appetite, or I am ravenous. I tend to lose my appetite after a really hard and fast run, no matter the distance. I believe this is, in part, because of the fight or flight response. Ever get that precursor-to-diarrhea stomach cramp feeling after a run? It is all part of the same nervous system response. I have learned that it is really important to make a good effort to both eat a nourishing snack and replenish water after any run, even if I don’t feel like eating. A few things that tend to go down easy for me include hard-boiled eggs, banana with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt. I will often leave myself at least 16 ounces of water, either in the car or by the front door, to drink down immediately following my run. Of course there are exceptions to this, and they usually occur on a race day when there’s a trough full of Costco muffins or a doughnut stop with friends on the way home… but I try to stick to my nourishing foods as part of my regular routine.

Layers. I really like to feel warm when I run. I used to wear minimal gear and clothing, but now I will wear a running backpack to store gloves or a top layer on cold days. The extra gear is worth it to me. Personally, if I don’t have to spend the first ten or fifteen minutes of my run cursing how terrible the cold air feels against me, I get into the groove a lot faster. Two years ago, I rarely wore hats, vests, or gloves. Now I keep them ready to go and consider them to be essential fall and winter (and sometimes spring) running accessories.

New rituals, old rituals, some based in common sense, some in superstition. We all have them! The important thing is that you are equipping yourself to be successful and enjoy a long and flourishing running practice. I am looking forward to running for enough years that I end up contradicting my own advice several times over.

Happy trails!

projects ahead

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Image description: A frozen water fall cascades over mossy boulders on the side of a trail.

We are in a new year, and messages about intentions, guiding words, resolutions, goals, and lifestyle changes are abundant. 2017 is upon us. I have no product to sell you, no scheme, and no plan. There are plenty of bloggers out there evangelizing their truths. Pick something that excites you. Pick something that is new, or old, or just right. Do something you love. Do something that lights a fire.

There are two projects I hope to work on this year, both of which are new and exciting. My first project is to become a more seasoned trail runner. My favorite aspect of running, especially over the last year, is found in the time connecting with nature. I love experiencing new trails and geography, navigating my body through different types of terrain. I am investing in better trail shoes, and hoping to add a longer (and more remote) trail run to my weekly rotation.

The second project is really intimidating for me, but something I’d love to try. I am thinking about recording a running-related podcast. I have no idea if this will get off the ground as a final product I’d want to share, but I do appreciate opportunities to reflect on my running practice, and to muse on the creative ways it benefits my life. Obviously, the internet is over-saturated with running content, so, like this blog, the podcast would have a sleepy existence. Nevertheless, I am excited to learn new technical skills and tell a few stories at the same time.

We are about midway through the month, and I am pleased that the skies are staying relatively dry and sunny. I am still daydreaming about a trail run I did last weekend, one which took me up to some snowy foothills. Even though winter is not my favorite, I am doing my best to practice the appreciation of beauty, and to pay my respects to the muted and quieted season upon us.

longer runs

We are midway through May. I did not sign up for any races this month, and I decided to focus on maintaining a good running practice in advance of June, when I will begin my official marathon training schedule. One of the goals I set for this time of the year (late spring) was to become comfortable running distances slightly longer than the half marathon. When training for consecutive half marathons, it is natural that the 13.1 mile distance becomes the absolute limit for length… at least the way I train for a half. When approaching life after the half marathon, I had two goals in mind:

  1. Run 14, 15, or 16 miles with comfort
  2. Maintain a steady pace throughout the distance

Yesterday, I went on a solo run for 16 miles. I did my usual out-and-back trail run, which involves mixed surfaces (some cement, some pea gravel, and some dirt), rolling hills, and a few steeper hills and switchbacks during the middle portion. I was really pleased to finish up in 2:38, an average mile time of 9:53, with a negative split. I think the best part of the run, however, was that I still had energy after I was done. I could have run a few more miles, at the same pace, which is a great feeling when looking down the path at marathon training.

I am glad yesterday’s run went well, because I will be a single parent for the next few weeks while my partner is at his Ph.D. residency. This means that I will be completing shorter, more frequent runs (probably during my lunch hour), with a little less flexibility to go for long runs. I am fortunate, however, to have my family pitching in and helping me out (it takes a village, and I am very grateful for my village). I hope to complete at least one more long run this month.

Last but not least, I have to recommend a new fuel that I was encouraged to try by my local running store. Skratch Labs fruit drops are awesome, and you should check them out. They are tart, chewy, and easy on the stomach. I also like that they do not contain caffeine (although caffeine helps me initially, I have observed that it can actually lead to a crash and intestinal cramping later in the run).

Welcome, Spring!

Runners, rejoice! We are about to gain an hour of daylight in the evenings! Just two more nights of darkness to go…

Western Washington is in bloom. The winter has been unusually mild and dry. I know this is not the best indication of the health of our climate, but I will be honest and tell you that the sunny weekends are making my long runs pretty easy to enjoy.

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The view from Sunday’s trail run

Last weekend, I enjoyed two back-to-back trail runs. Then, on Wednesday evening, I finally got to try out my new Hoka One One Cliftons. After managing my injury-prone right IT band (which, thankfully has not acted up in about two years) and ongoing tenderness in my sciatic nerve (a strange holdover from pregnancy), I thought it might be an added benefit to explore some maximalist shoes. So far, my impression is that the shoes are much lighter than my regular Brooks or Mizunos. The extra cushioning absorbs quite a bit of shock. After the first run, I had soreness in muscles I don’t usually trigger while running (perhaps a positive sign!). Meanwhile, my joints were pretty dang rested. I look forward to running in the Cliftons more as I finish up these next weeks of training.

I look forward to another long run with good weather tomorrow morning. It is getting to the point in my training where I start needing a little entertainment to get me through the runs. Perhaps I’ll finally start listening to Serial…

New Shoes

After a year of running my New Balance shoes ragged with many training runs and races, including a marathon, I finally bought a new pair of shoes. I realized I needed one when I started rotating in a pair of Mizunos (Wave Precision 13) for about half of my runs. Sadly, both shoes were losing their bounce and support. After running ten miles yesterday, I really felt my pair of New Balance shoes quit on me. They are retired, never to run again, but perhaps to make the odd appearance in the garden while weeding! I have tried many brands of shoes, but I remain faithful to Mizuno. Their shoes are just perfect for my long narrow foot and provide a ton of stability and cushion for longer runs on trails. I am getting a pair of the Wave Ascend 8 model, and I am really excited! Running shoes are typically expensive, but I scored a killer deal.

I also finally broke down a bought “sport” detergent for my running clothes. They smell positively disgusting. I will have to report back on whether or not this special detergent does the trick. I know my body odor is not the most attractive topic for a blog post, but hey… it’s part of our realities as runners.

Training continues to go very well. No aches and pains so far (knock on wood). I will not have the time to log as many miles this week with a conference-bound partner and then a visit with family out of town this weekend. I will do my best to fit in several shorter runs.

Scratchy Throat Thursday

Oy vey, I am coming down with another cold. Or, perhaps the cold I willed myself to health from last week. Sickness after a marathon is a well-documented phenomenon. Long distance running suppresses the immune system. Yet another reason I am welcoming a season of shorter distances.

Regardless of this cold business, I am looking forward to a short trail run this weekend. Saturday is supposed to be clear, crisp and sunny, so I think I will go run one of my favorite lakes.

Since the temperatures are dropping, I am gradually breaking out my winter gear. Everything is helplessly stinky, but there is a wonderful realization that I am a dedicated enough runner that I am actually revisiting seasons in my running and re-wearing clothes. Some of my favorite pieces are my neon green turtleneck and my black fleece long underwear pants, pictured here:

In other news, I am starting to get really excited about the Seattle Half Marathon in just 2 months!! This race is pretty close to my heart and it will be the third year I am participating (the first time I did it I was pregnant and registered as a walker). Just as I am enjoying the novelty of rediscovering my running clothes from a year ago, I am pleased that I am now in the habit of repeating and revisiting races each year. It is gratifying to compare the experiences and gain awareness of my own growth as a runner.

Tapering is nerve-wracking!

Hello! I am still alive. To tell you the truth, I’ve had to take a little space from running during this tapering time. I put my Runner’s World away, took a little vacation from the blog reading, even held off on the last two chapters of my marathon training guide. Reading about running while not running very much was making me crazy! I am on my final days of tapering, slowly developing a cold (thanks to the start of the school year), hoping it passes quickly, and hydrating like a camel in an oasis. I vacillate between excitement and HOLY SHIT, what am I doing????

My clothes are all laundered and folded in my drawer, waiting for marathon morning.

The GU is purchased. A new Body Glide is ready to be opened.

Rain is predicted for race day. This is a little sad, but I guess I survived a 20 mile run during a downpour, so hopefully this won’t be much worse.

Toenails cut.

Now if this sore throat would just go away, I would feel a little better. The impending threat of a cold is really bugging me. I ran See Jane Run sick last July and decided I am not up for ever doing that again…

Argh, tapering is so difficult and stressful! I ran a 15K the Saturday before last and it did not go well. But then I ran 5 miles the next day and it went a bit better. Two days ago, I went for a trail run and it was really lovely. I was feeling good. I just really hope race day is a good running day.

All right… enough of this worrying. Sunday will be, as my race day running buddy is describing it, the crowning athletic experience of our lives. Or as I prefer to envision it: a 6 mile warmup followed by a 20 mile long run.

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In other news, with temperatures in the 50’s, it’s officially sweater weather in Washington.

18 is a lucky number

I finished week 14 with an 18 mile run, mostly trails, with a friend that is keeping me company for the upcoming marathon. I sit here writing this in disbelief. First, if you would have told me last year that I would run 13 miles without stopping, I would have laughed in your face. If you would have told me I would one day run 18 miles for no medal, I would have walked away. Second, 18 miles was nothing like 16 miles. It wasn’t painful and it wasn’t boring–it was really fun. I enjoyed it immensely! I am sure it was because I had another person with me, but I had that wonderful runner’s high again and again for the first time in awhile. I took the time to stretch and apply both heat and ice therapy to sore spots yesterday, and today I feel really strong. I do not have sharp aches and pains anywhere. The only complaint is some chafing I experienced at the neckline of my sports bra, where I neglectfully forgot to apply body glide (I almost always miss a spot!).

I feel nervous about the marathon, but also prepared. I know that I will need to eat GU about every 5-6 miles. I know hydrating is very important. I know to stop and walk it out or stretch before I get really tired or sore. I can anticipate that I will encounter some walls… but my favorite saying of late is that walls are only as big as you make them.

This upcoming long run will be my last. And I have decided to make it a 20-mile run, even though my book recommends two 18-mile runs. Mentally, I need the experience of hitting 20 before going into this race. During the last long run, I will wear the clothes, down to the bra and socks I plan to wear for the marathon. The fuel belt packed with the exact fuel I will consume. I will load my iPod with the music I will listen to on the marathon, if I decide to listen to some music for some of the miles.

After the last long run, tapering begins. The goal for September is to sleep well, hydrate conscientiously, and eat good complex and rich carbohydrates. This is a time for turning inward, believing in myself, and nourishing my body as the instrument that will accomplish this goal.

I hope everybody is getting in a good run or two this long weekend!

I am still alive!

I am back from my two weeks of travels, family and friends. Last night, I completed my first run of Week 13. This Sunday I will run 16 miles, then the next Saturday I will run 18. Finally, two and a half weeks from now, I will run either 18 or 20 as my final long run of marathon training before tapering. Lots of work ahead, but the good news is I have company for the long runs! My running buddy has to run 9 miles this weekend, so she will join me for more than half of my run. Another friend who will be running in the marathon but lives out of town is coming up next week to run the 18-mile distance with me. Just knowing I will have company on these runs restores my confidence. I am a natural introvert… but 3 hours is a long time to be running alone!

Let’s see… another update… last week I went to a local running shop and got fitted for new shoes. I’ve been a solid fan of Mizunos for the last year, but with the increasing mileage, I started to feel the need for a bit more support. I am enjoying a pair of New Balance shoes, and also experimenting with Superfeet. My running buddy also picked up some new shoes, and we broke them in last Thursday on a relaxing trail run (mine are the white ones on the bottom):

Besides preparing for upcoming long runs, I am finishing up a load of projects at work and anticipating the buzz of activity that normally occurs each September when the school year returns. Speaking of fall, it’s been breezier in the evenings and very pleasant for runs after work. Looking forward to the cool temperatures again!