Rain in my hair, don’t care

As I walked into the kitchen at 6:15 this morning, I heard the cat yowling for his breakfast rain pounding on the roof and came thisclose to going back to bed. Especially since last Saturday’s six-mile run and Tuesday night’s four miles were … unpleasant. Aside from the pain, I’ve been favoring my left leg, so I’m running more on my forefoot than usual and everything is just a little off.

But Thursday, I got a new pair of shoes–the next version of the ones I’ve been wearing–and maybe kinda sorta felt a little improvement on a two-mile test run. So, perhaps I was overly optimistic to think anything would be different today, but I went anyway.

It was 46* (and still raining, but lighter now) as we headed out. In my head, I was hoping for six miles, but continuing on this overly-optimistic theme, I really wanted to make it seven. I mean, the Austin half is coming up fast–pretty soon I’ve got to decide if I can put in enough training to finish that race. But I promised myself I’d go further only if my knee was feeling good. I figured I’d know by the second mile–that’s when the last couple of runs have fallen apart.

Clearly my endurance has taken a huge hit since running a ten-miler, then two 5K PR races back-to-back-to-back in November. So I plodded along a minute per mile slower than usual for a Saturday run. But aside from that, I felt closer to normal than I have in a while. My strides were more even, my foot striking less gimpy. One mile, then two. Still good.

At the mile three water stop (which would also be my turnaround for six miles) I could see the roof of my house. Part of me was tempted to duck through the gap in the fence and go make a coffee or something. But even though I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop (so to speak) and the gimpiness to return, I actually enjoyed being out there–in the rain and cold and wind–because I could.

So I kept going another half-mile, for seven.

One of my friends turned back at three, and the other two got ahead, planning to turn around at four. I stopped and stretched my hamstring at 3.5, watched the steam rise off the pond (it had been nearly 80* most of the week), then headed back. Slowly, but still mostly normal, with just a little hamstring achiness every so often. In those middle miles, I walked a bit now and then (beacuse endurance) but generally maintained a steady, albeit glacial, pace.

img_55671

The wind picked up on the return trip. My headphones died the last half-mile. I couldn’t keep up with my friends. My new shoes felt too tight and I kept having to loosen the laces to get them just right. But you know what? I DID NOT CARE.

I had hoped for a half-assed six-miler and I got a solid seven miles. Rain nor cold nor gloom of night could keep me from my appointed rounds. And afterward, foam-rolling felt a little easier. Hell, walking felt a little easier. In fact, the rest of the day I felt no residual soreness at all–for the first time since Thanksgiving I ran pretty well, then moved around completely pain-free afterward.

That’s not to say after our post-run coffee celebration I didn’t sit on the couch watching Netflix, warming my toes by the fireplace. But I did it comfortably.

 

 

Seventeen going on eighteen

I don’t remember the last time it got this cold in Central Texas.

img_54981

Maybe it was 2011, when rolling blackouts hit Austin because the electricity demand was so high. They said they’d be 30-minute blackouts, but my school went without power for at least two hours. Parents waited in an hour-long line (the overflow from the office spilled into an outdoor courtyard) to take their kids home… where they also had no power. It was a crazy day. But even then, I’m not sure it got down into the teens. The only other time I remember such cold temperatures was 1989 when it dropped to FOUR DEGREES. At the time I worked in a mall with an ice skating rink, and (rumor had it–which sounds ridiculous in retrospect) the stores did not have heat because of the ice, and it was really damn cold in there.

So 17* is … unusual. But I promised the others if I really could run, I would not complain about the weather. If I could run relatively normally, I would be thrilled to run in 17*.

The first mile went pretty well. I mean, it was cold. I wore a fleece-lined base layer, then a quarter-zip pullover and a windbreaker on top of that. I had fleece-lined tights, plus gloves, ear warmers, and a scarf around my face to help me breathe warmer air. My torso was comfortable, but my face hurt and my quads went numb pretty early on. But still, I was running pain-free and did not complain. In fact I was super-happy, daring to think maybe my leg was getting better.

We knocked some ice off the cooler at the first water stop, and when I unzipped my jacket to get my chapstick, the condensation from breathing into my scarf (or possibly my sweat) … froze. It looked like I’d been running in the snow.

img_55011

As I restarted, though, so did the twinge in my knee. I ran-walked pretty much the next five miles. It felt a little better the last mile, so I was able to pick up my pace and salvage something from the attempt. But I feel like my stride is still … off.

For six miles I concentrated on my form, I tried to figure out why and where it didn’t feel right, I tried to stop thinking about it and let muscle memory take over. But nothing worked, and I really don’t know what to do about it.

I’ve done everything I’m supposed to–foam rolling, strength exercises, stretches, resting, not resting, cross-training, ART (and whatever other medieval torture my sports doc puts me through), massage therapy, ice, heat, anti-inflammatory meds. The only other option is patience, and, well, that’s not one of my virtues.

Especially with only six weeks until the Austin Half-Marathon.

 

Ch- ch- ch- changes

The general consensus (around the internet, anyway) is that happiness is 2016 in the rear view mirror.

2016

While my running year was pretty successful overall, I’m certainly ready to have this knee injury behind me. So from a still-recovering perspective, I guess it’s a positive thing that 2017 will start off very differently from previous years. Most notably, with zero races in January.

The Rogue Distance Festival–usually the first week in January–is no more. The last couple of years, I liked that the Rogue 10K served as a good practice run for the 3M Half Marathon two weeks later. Last year it seet the tone for the rest of 2016 when I turned in the first of six PR-setting race times. And my other usual January race? I registered for the 2017 3M half the weekend of the 2016 3M race, but then over the summer realized that it conflicts with a work trip to Washington, D.C. with my honor society students. Fortunately I was able to switch my registration to the Austin half, but that’s not until February 19. On the plus side, it gives me more recovery and re-training time before the race, but it means for the first time in four years, I won’t race at all the first month of the new year.

But I’m really looking forward to the Austin half because K is coming from Ohio! I have only run this one once (plus the last two miles with S last year) but the course is not PR-friendly–and I’m no shape to attempt one anyway. I don’t care about my time, just having fun. So it’s motivating me to get this knee thing sorted out so I can keep up with her. And even if (gah) I can’t run it, I’ll be a part of her race as support crew and spectator.

S and I are planning to run the Austin 10/20 again this year. It’s in early April, so who knows what the weather will do. But it’s my only 10-mile race of the year, since the I have a conflict for the fall Army Ten-Miler, and it will also serve as a good training run for….

The Cleveland Challenge Series.

The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon introduces the Challenge Series which offers new options for runners and walkers who wish to challenge themselves! The challenge series is divided into three levels of varying difficulty and requires a 2-day commitment from participants:

8K and full marathon (Total Distance 31.2 miles)
8K and half marathon (Total Distance 18.1 miles)
5K and 10K (Total Distance 9.3 miles)

The Challenge Series spans over two days (Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21). Participants who take on the challenge will be required to finish one event per day.

First event on: Saturday, May 20 – Events include the 5K or 8K starting at 8am at a new location TBD.

Second event on: Sunday, May 21 – Events include the full marathon, half marathon or 10K starting at 7:00 a.m. at Quicken Loans Arena and finishing at a NEW LOCATION to be determined!

Finishers in the Challenge Series will receive individual medals for each event, plus a challenge medal specific to their race. Challenge medals will be distributed on Sunday, May 21 in an area separate from the finish line near Mall C.

Finishers will also receive 2 T-shirts (one for each event) and additional swag. These items are to be picked up at the Health and Fitness Expo/Packet Pick-up on Friday, May 19.

I figure if I’m traveling halfway across the country, I should get the most bang for my buck, right?

The Three Musketeers will reunite, and there will be shenanigans. Just brainstorming what to put on our race bibs instead of our names led to hilarity. For the record, I’m going to be Fire Pony.

img_54731

You’d think I’d be hesitant to race in May, even in Ohio, based on my previous experiences. But this year I really want to take advantage of opportunities like this–if I can run a half-marathon, why not run it with amazing friends? And if I’m going to run a half-marathon, why not throw in an 8K the day before and triple my medal haul? Instead of focusing on the negative (“I’ve got how many miles still to go?”) I want to try to find the best in each mile.

And there will (hopefully) be a lot of miles. I’ve committed to Run the Year 2017 as part of a four-person team to log 2017 miles. Since one of my teammates is from Canada where it’s snowy and icy half the year, it’s up to the three Texans to compensate!

First things first. Knee recovery and gradual (yet with some sense of urgency) re-entry to training. So basically emulating the Fire Pony:

As a newborn, [Ponyta] can barely stand. However, through galloping, its legs are made tougher and faster.

Here’s to the year of the Fire Pony.

Run the Year 2017

This post also appeared on Texas Running Post here.


“I need something else to work towards or I won’t run. And this would certainly be motivating. But there is no way I can do it except on a team.”

And with that text from my friend Jacquie, I fell down the rabbit hole of Run the Year 2017.

See, Jacquie lives in Edmonton, Alberta. She runs mostly 5Ks, partly because four to six months with snow and ice on the ground makes training for longer distances much more difficult than training in Central Texas. I mean, yesterday she said, “This week the temp is dropping to -20 to -30 with wind.” I think that’s Celsius, but no matter how you measure it, it’s cold by Austin’s standards. And this time of year her part of Canada only gets seven or eight hours of daylight, too. So I can see why she doesn’t want to run outside in the winter.

img_54671

Anyway, Jacquie achieved her 5K time goal in 2016 and wanted a new challenge without jumping up to longer races. We have a mutual friend who gave her the Run the Year idea, but she needed, as they say, a little help from her friends.

I wasn’t easily convinced. When she first suggested this thing, the math was daunting. Thanks to my knee, I’d only managed to run about six miles that week. For a two-person team, running 2017 miles is about 21 miles per week, or 84 miles per month. I typically run around 100 miles a month—more in the early part of the year when we kind of have winter (also when Austin holds its major distance races) and fewer in the heat of the summer. It’s doable for me when I’m not injured, but still way out of reach for my Canadian friend. And for me at my current state as well. So she suggested adding a third person, which drops the total to 56 miles per month. No, I didn’t even run that far in December—I logged 35 miles—but a gradual increase in mileage as my knee recovers should get me there and beyond over the course of a whole year.

I still wasn’t ready to commit, but I floated the idea to my BRF Sara and we kicked it around for a week or so. In the meantime, an MRI of my knee showed no tendon or ligament damage, so I wasn’t facing something major that would knock me out before I got started. No, it’s not 100%, but the needle is starting to move. I managed three miles on Thursday and five on New Year’s Eve. I’m not pretending I can jump back into half-marathon training where I left off in November—I’m taking it easy a mile or two at a time, concentrating on good running form and listening to my body, ready to back off at the first sign of trouble.

So at Saturday’s post-run coffee date, Sara and I discussed the pros and cons. With three of us, we’d each have to run 13 miles per week—something she and I often knock out on in one run during half-marathon training season. Even on a slow week in the summer, we run more than 13 miles. Oh and there’s a medal. Cons include a year-long commitment and the state of my knee.

As we sat there sipping coffee and weighing everything, our friend John, who’d run with us that morning, joined us. After we filled him in, he piped up, “Well, do you need another team member?” And then we were four.

Now our mileage is about ten miles per week, which takes a whole lot of pressure off me and my recovery. Same with Jacquie and the Canadian winter running situation. So we took the plunge and registered.

img_54661

Next we needed a team name—first we suggested Rogue-related ones since three of us train with Rogue Running. Then we tried to connect bluebonnets and maple leaves. Our initials don’t make good acronyms—without vowels, anything we came up with sounded like a breakaway Russian republic, not a running team name. And finally, when Jacquie was trying to teach us about Alberta she described it as Canada’s Texas, and it stuck.

To celebrate, and to get this thing started on the right foot, I went out for a 2.5-mile recovery run. Only 2014.5 to go!

For more information or to join the challenge, visit https://runtheedge.com/runtheyear2017

 

Black Eyed Pea Run

Yeah, I know. Black-Eyed peas are for New Year’s Day, not New Year’s Eve. And in the past, Rogue’s new year run was held on the first day of the new year. But for whatever reason, this year they tied it in to their usual Saturday long run. So a couple of us headed downtown to join in.

My knee is no better, no worse, and I had a reasonably successful three-mile run on Thursday, so I hoped to build on that today. My friends planned ten miles, but my goals were much more modest.

The route began at Rogue’s downtown location, following 5th Street west. After a half-mile or so, 5th Street turns in to Lake Austin Boulevard, and it’s a pretty boring straightaway for another mile and a half. I’d slowed way down to focus on taking even steps and not favoring my left leg, so I ran pretty much by myself.

At the point where Lake Austin turns in to Enfield, I encountered the first water stop. It was still really dark out and I almost missed it, but someone ahead of me had been wearing a blinky light and I spotted them almost at the last minute. I forget that DT Rogue often has manned water stops–she not only had water and Gatorade, but goodies like gummy bears and Skittles too. Her friendly Golden Retriever greeted each runner, which pretty much made my day. That and the holiday lights on the building across the street!

img_54481

Wow it’s early

I didn’t go as far as Scenic Drive, where the view are more, well, scenic–I turned around at 2.5 miles, just before things were gonna get really hilly. And of course I stopped and visited with the dog on the way back, too. Because dog.

I was pretty much the only person heading back this early–lots of Rogues are training for the Houston Marathon in mid-January, so they were running double-digits today. On the other end of the spectrum, I had to stop a few times and walk or stretch, but I successfully finished five miles.

Some other sights:

img_54451

I’m really disappointed I missed this.

 

img_54511

Doesn’t this look like a Star Wars tie fighter? And what exactly does that say about Austin traffic if this is painted along 5th Street?

 

img_54501

Running Man

As far as my knee, when I focused on my running form, I felt reasonably good. Not pain-free, but certainly something manageable. At times, though, I was (I think) subconsciously anxious about “it’s going to hurt when I land” that I tensed up on that side, which actually made things worse. I had to concentrate on loosening up and taking even steps the whole way. At any rate, paying attention to each movement kept my mind busy!

The upside of running only five miles on a day most people were running ten or fifteen or twenty was that the place was nearly empty when I returned. I foam-rolled, scoured the clearance bins, and even found some coffee.

After the others returned and did their own foam-rolling and bin-scouring, we went out for lunch, then sat at the coffee shop contemplating plans for the new year. Right now, I’m still hoping to run the Austin Half in February, assuming my knee keeps improving. And we’ve got a few other adventures in the works too–stay tuned!

2016: In like a lion, out like a lamb

This year started on a high note: two January PRs.

The first one, by almost four minutes, came in early January at the Rogue Distance Festival 10K. I’d had a severe asthma attack the night before and temps were below freezing at race time, but I ran well and finished strong with the help of several Rogues. Two weeks later at the 3M Half Marathon (also in freezing temps) I smashed my PR by almost ten minutes, and I finished nearly an hour ahead of the previous year’s disastrous race. J surprised me by flying in from D.C. to pace me the last two miles, and it worked!

img_54051

By April, though, race weather gets unpredictable. I signed up for the Austin 10/20, figuring it’d be a good 10-mile training race if nothing else. But race morning was cool, and I had a chance to PR. Although I had PR’d by about seven minutes the previous October, I’d missed my 10-miler goal by thirty seconds, and this race gave me a chance to get there. Thanks to my friend S who paced me the whole way, I not only got back that :30 but PR’d by almost four minutes.

img_3072

A week later, I had some sort of knee situation at the Capitol 10K and had to walk most of it. Blah. But it’s a fun race for people-watching, so there was that.

IMG_3114[1]

But hey, redemption was right around the corner! We’d signed up for a local 5K just for the hell of it, and when we woke up to cool temps, I decided to race it. I PR’d by about 30 seconds–six minutes per mile faster than my (mostly walking) Cap 10K pace, and my first race in which my overall pace dropped into the 10s.

Because 2016 was full of ups and downs, of course I struggled at my next race, this time a half-marathon on Memorial Day weekend in Medina, Ohio. The weather was warm and humid, and despite the amazing company and the well-organized race, I did not run well. It was a fun weekend though, and I have no regrets.

img_54071

Despite my semi-setback in Medina, I wanted to celebrate my string of PRs and strong races the first half of the year, especially after coming back from injury the year before. So for my birthday, I got a tattoo in the shape of a triskelion, a symbol meaning forward progress, perseverance, and achievement. Six months later, I still love it.

IMG_3570

The summer was milder than usual, but still hot. I plodded along, knowing I had a fall goal. We traveled a bit-in July I ran in Tulsa, St. Louis, Chicago, Bloomington IL, and Little Rock.

img_54081

We were home for a week, then headed to South Padre Island for a few days at the beach. Running in South Texas was a lot more difficult than running in the Midwest! But I knew October and the Army Ten-Miler would arrive before I knew it, and I needed to keep working if I wanted that thirty seconds back.

img_5443

Our final summer adventure was the Galveston Sand Crab 5K, our (somewhat) annual tradition on the beach. This year, we dodged rain pretty much all weekend, which actually cooled things off and made the race a little easier.

IMG_4339[1]

As the summer wound down, so did Rogue’s retail store in Cedar Park. We had to come to terms with a huge change, and it wasn’t easy. We had several running “field trips” in August, while waiting for the new location to be ready. And once the change happened, in early September, we had to adjust to new routes, new everything. For someone who doesn’t like change, I was facing a lot of it at once and struggled with it a bit. Eventually things settled down, though, at least a little.

Another new thing for me? Starting to write for Texas Running Post. I’ve got my own little corner where I contribute race reports and other thoughts on running in Austin and Texas. I’ve tried to write articles separate from my blog posts, although a couple of times they’ve overlapped. It’s been fun, and I hope to continue writing in the coming year.

Throughout September, I ran hills every Thursday to prepare for the final hill of the Army Ten-Miler. It was a tough task in the heat, but again I thought if I could push through it now, the October equivalent in Washington D.C. would feel easier.

The first test came with the ’80s 8K the first week in October. It was only a week before ATM so I knew I wouldn’t race it hard. But last year it was the first cool-weather race of the year, and therefore a good test of my real fitness. This year it was harder than it should have been, and it shook my confidence a little even though I finished within a minute of last year’s time.

And then it was Redemption Time in D.C.. Since missing my 2015 goal by thirty seconds, I’d obsessed over it all year. I’d worked hard since then–but was it enough? Yes, yes it was. I beat it by a minute and a half. Even though it wasn’t a PR, it was close-and because I ran 10.1 miles compared to the 10/20’s even 10.0, my ATM pace was actually faster for ten miles. And I found out later in the fall that the 2017 race conflicts with a home Texas football game, so I’m doubly-glad I slayed this dragon in 2016.

img_5778

Speaking of slaying , November became a double-edged sword. I ran decently at the Run for the Water (faster than the previous year, anyway, even though it felt harder) and ran a would-be PR at the Run with the Heroes 5K the following week. The course was short, though, so I didn’t want to count it as an official 5K PR even though it was more than a minute faster than the 5K I ran back in May. But six days later, I turned in a legit 5K PR at the Shiner Beer Run in Shiner, Texas. This means that for my last three 5Ks now, my overall pace has been in the 10s. I can’t sustain that for longer distances, but when I think back to my first 5K five years ago, which I finished in about 45 minutes, I’m pleased with my progress.

img_54091

But as 2016 has shown, for every upside there’s an equal an opposite downside. And that pendulum swung back for the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. I struggled with my breathing and it was a tough race, but we finished in just over an hour. Not terrible, considering the crowds and my breathing issues, but not my best.

img_50971

Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. The following Saturday, I felt a weird twinge in my left upper calf/behind my knee/maybe IT band, so we cut our run a little short. I spent a lot of time foam rolling and taking it easy-after the Great IT Band Incident of 2014, I wanted no part of an injury repeat and took a conservative approach.

Which didn’t work.

I had on-again, off-again pain the following week. It was okay for the Trail of Lights Fun Run, but got progressively worse after that.

img_51581

Since December 3, I might have run ten miles total. I’ve gone to two sports massage therapists, my sports doctor, and even had an MRI. The good news is there’s no ligament or muscle damage, so it’s not a life-altering injury. But tell that to my knee, which stubbornly insists on hurting when I run. I can walk, I can do Fitness Blender workouts, I can do everything with no pain. Except run.

So while 2016 started off with PRs and triumph, it’s winding down with uncertainty. I’m supposed to run the Austin Half Marathon on February 19 (the 3M half conflicts with my NJHS trip to Washington, D.C. so I transferred my registration to Austin) but the longer this goes on, the more concerned I get. I ran the 2015 3M half undertrained and barely recovered from injury, and it was miserable–I probably should not have done it, and it has me questioning whether 13.1 miles seven weeks from now is a realistic goal.

I’m trying to maintain my fitness with core and cardio workouts plus long-distance cycling, and I’m trying to hold onto some optimism. If nothing else, this year has shown me I can bounce back from adversity–it’s not quick and it’s not easy, but it’s possible.

Like many others, I am looking forward to seeing 2016 in my rear-view mirror. It certainly had its share of positives, but the year’s gloomy ending has me longing for a fresh start in January.

img_54011

Happy New Year, y’all!

An update in pictures

One of my favorite ESPN 30-for-30 episodes is called June 17, 1994. It’s not my favorite because that was my birthday, but because of the way the filmmaker tells the story solely through news reports of the major sporting events occurring that day. Most notably, the O.J. Simpson slow-speed Bronco chase.

Well, my life is much less dramatic and certainly doesn’t warrant news coverage. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will let images explain my current running situation.

Sunday:

img_53901

Long bike ride because cookies

Monday:

img_53911

Nope.

 

Tuesday:

img_53881

AKA “nap”

Which leaves me with:

leia