An ode to fall, part two

As I drove home from work on Monday, my car’s thermometer showed 68*. As the day’s high temperature. That’s ten degrees cooler than Saturday’s overnight low, for those of you keeping track at home. Temperature is the single biggest factor in my running, both pace and physical comfort–every one of my current PRs happened on cold days. And while 68* isn’t generally considered cold, it felt amazing, comparatively.

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We held about half of Monday evening’s core class outside, and after class S and I headed out for our usual three miles. Since Rogue’s move a couple of weeks ago, we’ve hiked along a semi-overgrown path between the office complex and Brushy Creek Trail to run there rather than on the (busy) road.

The drawback to this? The road out from Old Rogue was uphill the first mile, flat the second, and downhill on the return, which made it easier to run each mile faster. This way, it’s downhill, flat-ish, and uphill coming back. It is much more difficult to negative-split this route. But we’ve managed it so far, with just a quick water break at the turnaround. It turns a Monday night after-core-class easy-paced run into a hill-speed workout though.

Not only did we run each mile faster, the cooler weather made this endeavor slightly easier less painful. Well, until the third mile when S picked things up… uphill. And she had the headlamp–it was nearly dark by then–so I had no choice but to keep up. It wasn’t quite 5K pace, but it was close. And I’ve had a sinus thing for the last week, so my breathing was less than optimal.

It was in the mid-70s for Tuesday night’s speed workout, and although it warmed up a bit mid-week, we’re looking at about 60* for Sunday’s 8K. Suddenly… Fall.

 

Safety: drive it home

Here’s this week’s Texas Running Post article. The links didn’t survive the transition, so if you’ve read it on TRP and want to follow these references, here you go.

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I’ve written before about the dangers we face while running (herehere, and here) and I am going down that road again today. But I won’t offer a list of safety tips or point out ways women should protect themselves–I’m sure you can find a zillion of those with a quick Google search.

No, today I’m talking to you, drivers.

Over the past two weeks alone, in broad daylight, I’ve had five or six close calls with cars that approached an intersection too fast, blocked a crosswalk, blew through a crosswalk to turn right on red, or failed to yield even when I had a Walk signal and the legal right-of-way. While I can do everything right when I’m running, “right” doesn’t shield me in a collision with a 3000-pound car. Just ask a couple of Austin ISD students who recently were hit by cars as they exited school buses, protected by flashing red lights (and state law) but not physics.

In 2015, 32 pedestrians died in collisions with vehicles in Austin, compared to 12 in 2010 and 21 in 2011. The statistics I found pointed out that 26 of the 32 occurred because the pedestrian was impaired, crossing without a Walk signal, or doing something prohibited like trying to cross I-35. But the flip side is that six of them were struck down–and killed–through no fault of their own.

So while it’s incumbent upon runners to take safety precautions out there on the streets, it’s also necessary for drivers to engage with the driving process. We’re so insulated in our almost-completely automated cars, and so many distractions lurk on dashboards, navigation panels, and phones that it’s no coincidence pedestrian-vehicle fatalities have skyrocketed at the same time Americans’ smartphone ownership increased from 35% in 2011 to 68% in 2015.

If data doesn’t convince you that digital distraction is becoming epidemic, then how about personal observation? Whenever possible, I face traffic when I run, and I watch cars and drivers’ eyes to avoid surprises. Just the other day I saw a driver who used his wrists to steer while both hands positioned his phone horizontally at eye level. I don’t know if it was Pokemon or YouTube or what, but driving was not his immediate priority. More commonly, drivers focused on the phones they held up (in plain sight) with their right hands; others, less brazen, looked down at their laps for extended moments instead of out their windshields. And then there were drivers who, despite hands-free ordinances and the widespread availability of Bluetooth connectivity, still talk with their phones clutched to their heads. Even phones attached to dashboard-mounted brackets take a driver’s attention off the road periodically.

So drivers, I know sitting in Austin traffic is infuriating and you reeeallly want to make it through the light this time. Or you must race home to let the dog out or relieve the babysitter. Or if you don’t send that text while you’re thinking about it, you’ll forget by the time you get out of the car. Or you are certain you’re really good at texting while driving so it’s okay. Or a million other reasons why your attention is only partially on the road in front of you.

But please stop. Stop for the red light, stop behind (not in) the crosswalk. Slow down and look for pedestrians before you make a turn, and use your blinker so pedestrians know what to expect. Look out your windshield instead of in your lap or at a digital screen. Put your phone away, even while you’re waiting for the light to change.

Tommy Lasorda said that “Baseball is like driving. It’s the one who gets home safely that counts.” And we’re all trying to get home safely.

An ode to fall

Thursday was the first day of fall.

texas-fall

So my Thursday night four-mile hill workout didn’t feel much different from the last seven Thursdays. Well, there was some cloud cover rather than blazing sun, and it wasn’t quite 95* (it was 90*) but conditions weren’t what other people consider fall.

At 6:00 this morning, as I drove to Rogue in the dark, my car informed me it was 79*. The air felt thick with humidity, thanks to a layer of low clouds. Definitely not fall.

The route took us up a bunch of hills from the first quarter-mile; we finally reached flatter territory almost two miles in. Which is about the point we hit the hills I’ve been running on Thursdays. We did my route in reverse order, but that didn’t make it any easier. I ran up them all, though, so I guess my weekly efforts are having some kind of effect.

I felt a lot better at the end than I did last week, which is weird because I’ve got some sinus/respiratory stuff going on and I had to use my inhaler at one of the water stops. But unlike a week ago when we struggled through ten miles (walking a couple of miles toward the end) as I finished eight today I felt like I could go further. Not comfortably, and my brain would rebel at continuing when I thought I was done, but physically, I had another mile or two in me, I think.

Next weekend we’re running an 8K race over those same hills, although my friends promise to keep me in check so I don’t try to race it hard. The weather is supposed to cool off a bit (down to highs in the 80s!) in the next few days, so this race may be a good test run for the Army Ten-Miler two weeks from tomorrow.

And that’s how I know it’s fall.

Camel I tell you something?

I know I say this every September, after 4-5 months of slogging through too-warm long runs, but I have no idea how prepared I am for the October 9 Army Ten-Miler.

So allow me to over-analyze things.

Since July, we’ve hit seven, eight, and nine miles about three times each, all in temps around 76-80 degrees. Today was our lone ten-miler to get in the race distance before race day. We did 10.1 but miles 8-9 I felt drained and sort of queasy so we walked most of those miles, then powered through the last mile just to be finished. If time on my feet counts, though, we got it done.

Lethargy aside, we had some … challenges today. We took a pit stop at a grocery store, which unfortunately required us to walk past the in-store Starbucks and pastry section to reach the restroom. Then, around mile five, the route took us into my neighborhood, where we stopped for water at the end of my street. A minute before, M and B passed us in the car on their way to breakfast. Knowing we were only halfway finished, so close to my house, discouraged me a little. And it made me question my preparedness for this race.

When I got home, I looked back at my weekday runs from last summer, and for roughly the same distances and the same number of water breaks, my pace clocks about a minute per mile faster. My Tuesday night speed workouts are also faster, although my long runs look about the same. But how does that data compare with my fitness from April, when I PR’d the last 10-miler I ran? No idea.

Because the make-or-break factor for me is the temperature. Each race I PR’d this year, temps were no warmer than the low 60s (for a 5K) and as cold as the low 30s (RDF 10K). It was 36* for the 3M half, probably the closest distance to what I’m preparing for now. Race day temps in Washington D.C. are usually in the 40s at the start, kind of my sweet spot. But in Austin we won’t drop below the mid-60s for a couple more weeks, so every year I go into this race blind. I’ve covered the distance–slowly and miserably–but I don’t really know what I’m capable of until the gun cannon goes off that morning.

And that stresses me out a little.

Mostly because I really want those thirty seconds I missed last year. I don’t need to PR–I just need to be :30 faster this time. But I don’t know if even that is a realistic goal. And despite my attempts at overthinking, I won’t know until I cross the damn bridge and crest the hill at mile nine.

So until then, here’s a picture of an inflatable camel.

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Who moved my cheese?

This week’s Texas Running Post article.


I hate change.

I’ve lived in Austin since the year the 360 bridge was completed. I bought my house right out of college. I started teaching at this school five or six years before my current students were born. My dog lived to be almost 19. Lakeline is the “new” mall… that opened in the early 1990s. And so on.

So when Rogue announced it was closing its Cedar Park retail store, it tripped my panic button big-time. I’ve trained out there for four years now, and it was comfortable. Well, as comfortable as running dozens of miles a month can be, anyway. Familiar routes, familiar routines (post-run coffee, anyone?), familiar landmarks.

But then the Summer of 2016 happened, and a bunch of things in my life changed all at once. Someone moved my cheese.

I got a call in late July asking me to come up to school and relocate all my stuff to a different classroom. One co-worker changed grade levels and another moved out of state. And the district overhauled its Language Arts curriculum. So all at once I’ve had to cope with new space, new people, 150 new students, and a shift in the way I teach them. Simultaneously, Rogue has been in limbo, sort of working out of the (empty) retail store while renovating the new space a few miles away.

Saturday was the grand opening, and our first run from the new location. Adapting to new cheese.

I have some level of familiarity with the place–it’s adjacent to the Tri Doc‘s office, who has patched me back together more than once–so at least I knew how to get there, even in the dark. And familiar faces greeted me at the door. There was a place to store my stuff, an ice machine, water/Gatorade coolers, and a restroom. And a coffee machine!

It’s about half the size of the retail location, but it didn’t feel crowded. Coach Jen and the others have obviously worked extremely hard to make it a place we can call home.

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Art by Bill Schroeder

So off we went, into the maze that was a new route. We made a wrong turn right from the start (more cheese-moving) but eventually found the first water stop. After about 1.5 miles, we hit familiar terrain again, picking up part of a Rogue route I’d run a couple of times. We ran through some sprinklers just before we found the second water stop, but then we almost missed the last turn just before the halfway mark.

No longer able to run on autopilot, we felt tired pretty early on and stopped caring about our pace–we were getting used to our new normal. Including a steep hill with under a mile to go.

We returned to a party atmosphere–Rogue’s grand opening coincided with the Tri Doc’s tenth anniversary celebration. Music, breakfast tacos, and a raffle (I won a visor!) kept us hanging around after our post-run stretching and foam rolling. Once we found the cheese foam rollers, that is.

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Art by Bill Schroeder

 

What’s old is new again

This weekend, Rogue Cedar Park officially moved to its new training facility.

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Art by Bill Schroeder

 

It’s staying dark longer, so our 6:30ish start required extra care since the new location sits just off a busy road. And of course we took a wrong turn right from the beginning. But I more or less knew where we were going–the map showed us picking up an older Rogue route after about a mile and a half. We just couldn’t run an autopilot to get there.

At the first water stop (in front a fire station–handy) neither of us felt great. I’d run two hard workouts Wednesday and Thursday, plus I’m still having some soreness in my back. And it was 76* with a billion percent humidity. We pondered the question, “Which do I hate worse–blazing sun but no humidity or overcast and humid?” and unanimously decided blazing sun is worse. But damn, if it’s gonna be this humid, it should at least rain and cool us off a little.

This neighborhood is an interesting mix of brand-new McMansions, older traditional homes with white limestone facades and tin roofs, and both single-and double-wides. I’m guessing that with Austin’s ever-expanding sprawl, it won’t be long before the trailer-dwellers are completely pushed out. One old guy steadfastly hangs on, though. The decrepit-looking trailer’s yard is unkempt, sections covered with broken ladders, rusted bits of fence, and piles of unidentifiable junk. At one point he’d displayed a religious shrine, but it has fallen to decay. Handmade signs staked to the ground every couple of feet declared that the city stole his lawnmowers.

Two miles in, we’d already taken a walk break. And at three miles. Plus we ran through a set of sprinklers in front of the community center. (Side note: if you’re walking dogs and we pass on the same sidewalk, don’t loosen their leashes and let them get close enough to lick our sweaty legs. They may be the sweetest dogs in the world, but it’s still a wild card to have them lunge at us while we are running. Rein them in, please.) The water/Gatorade stop was a welcome sight.

Between the water stop and the next street crossing, we ran on the sidewalk mostly under the shade of trees planted along the curbs. At one point, a grackle shrieked and flew out of the tree overhead. It was a bit Hitchcockian.

At 4.25 miles, we almost missed another turn–not that it really would have mattered since our turnaround was at 4.5–but we got back on track, then sat on the curb and took another water/fuel break before starting the return trip. We stopped at the water/Gatorade again, joined by some guys at mile 17 of 22. I felt like melted crap at 6.5 miles. (Side note: HOW was this only 6.5 miles??)

We started setting micro-goals; run to the water, run to the next intersection. The sun had come out and we wanted to be done.

At a major street crossing, we pressed the button for the Walk signal and crossed in the crosswalk when the signal changed. The road is six lanes, three in each direction. Cars lined up (behind the crosswalk) in the left lane and the right lane, but the center of the three was empty. As we approached, still with a Walk signal, an SUV blew across the stop-behind-this-line line and into the crosswalk, finally stopping with its front tires completely past the crosswalk and its back tires squarely in the center of our path. The driver and passenger were both looking in their laps. I’m not sure either of them ever saw us.

The next two miles were mostly event-free, although the old guy was out, hammering another handmade sign into his yard. Dark clouds had rolled in and the breeze had picked up.

After stopping one last time for water (and for the fire truck to drive by), we headed up the “yay, a hill at the end” hill to cross one final intersection. Again, we waited for the Walk signal. Again, cars in two lanes waited behind the crosswalk. And again, a car in the third lane blew into the crosswalk, apparently intending to make a right turn on red without actually stopping. The driver barely stopped in time–if we had been a second faster, she would have hit us. Some days I’m glad I’m slow.

By the time we got back, a storm was clearly on our heels. Dark clouds hung overhead, the wind battered the inflatable camel outside the car dealer, and I felt a raindrop or two. We’d run 8.75 instead of the nine we intended, but I did not have it in me to circle the parking lot to make an even nine. I was done.

We joined the Rogue/Tri Doc party–breakfast tacos, a raffle–while foam rolling and stretching. Familiar faces and new ones, familiar route with a new twist, and a completely new home base. What’s old is new again.

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Art by Bill Schroeder

Juggling life, work, and training for a distance race

Another post from my gig writing for TexasRunningPost.com.🙂


“Were you born in Texas?”

“Where’d you go to college?”

“Do you wax your eyebrows?”

These are the kinds of questions seventh-graders ask their teachers the first couple of days of school. I let them get it all out of their systems, then we can move on. But my favorite question of the week came at the end of the day Friday that first week. A couple of football players had not, shall we say, started off on the right foot in my class, and I’d had a chat with one of the coaches. He pulled them into the hall for a few minutes, and they came back pretty contrite. At the end of the period, I heard one ask another, “Does the whole team have to run hills, or just us?”

I laughed. Snorted, actually.

Not because they’d gotten in trouble and would pay for it with physical exertion (that was just a fun side effect) but because Thursdays I’ve been running four miles of hills. Voluntarily.

omm

The last 2.5 miles of my next race–the Army Ten-Miler on October 9–climbs a gradual slope and then a sharp, steep hill before winding around to the finish line. It was the reason I missed last year’s goal by thirty seconds, so this summer I’ve been preparing for that sucker by running a similar hill every Thursday. Down/up for a mile, then reverse it and either repeat or go the other way, down/up/down/up and back.

This was easier during summer vacation. I could drive out to the middle school at the top of the hill after the sun had dropped low in the sky and run for an hour or so. It didn’t matter what time I got to bed because I didn’t have to be anywhere in the morning. But now that I’m back at work, getting home that late (when I have to wake up at 5:30) barely gives me time to inhale a sandwich before bedtime, let alone interact with my family. So I try to run earlier, but it’s August in Texas so the temperature exponentially multiplies the degree of difficulty of any workout.

And Hill Day is not my first workout of the week. On Mondays I go to Rogue’s core class then run three miles afterward, and on Tuesdays I run with my Rogue training group. I don’t get home before 8 or 8:30 those days either. On Wednesdays I do some kind of short run+core workout after I get home from work as well.

So when I say I juggle life, work, and race training, what I really mean is I run after school, fall into bed later than I should, spend my days with adolescents not my own, then go home and do it all again. The three of us go out to dinner Friday nights–but not too late because I have a 5:45 alarm to meet my friends for our long run. At some point during the weekend I do the things I didn’t have time for during the week: laundry, basic house cleaning, all of that stuff. Occasionally I have a chance to read Sports Illustrated before the next issue arrives.

In other words, it’s less juggling and more Lucy-in-the-chocolate-factory until the next vacation comes around.