The obligatory end-of-year reflection post

Two thousand twelve started off really, really badly. January included two orthopedist visits, one MRI, and zero miles running due to a hip flexor problem. But the MRI showed no structural injury and by February I was cleared to hit the road again, albeit carefully.

My first race of 2012 was the Save Muny 5K on the Lions Municipal golf course. I loved the idea of this race–a charity event to save an old Austin landmark from development into condos or strip centers–but I’d hardly run since November and I felt a bit anxious about actually getting out there on a cold and damp February morning and running across muddy hills and wet grass. No pavement, no gravel trail. I had maybe a week to prepare after my doctor pronounced me injury-free, and the last thing I wanted to do was crash on the golf course. So I took it easy and settled for beating that guy with the bandaged knee and maybe two dozen other people.

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I love his pants.

In March, we ran the Capitol 10K with some good friends from out of state. I love this race–the first mile goes up Congress Avenue to the Capitol, one of the best urban views anywhere. The middle two miles, west on 15th Street, have two monster hills, but once you get past those, it’s mostly downhill to the finish. People wear hilarious costumes, residents line the streets and cheer endlessly, and no matter your pace, running with 25,000 other folks is an amazing experience. This year, thanks to my two-month hiatus, I was slow and rusty and walked probably 1/3 of the race, but I didn’t hurt and I felt confident about returning to running.

Capitol 10K

We like to remind people that the Texas Capitol is taller than the U.S. Capitol.
Nyah nyah nyah.

Cinco de Mayo brought us the Chuy’s Hot to Trot 5K, which was hellishly un-fun. I still had no endurance, and the last mile of the race we ran right into the blazing sun, which added a degree of difficulty for which I was unprepared. But I finished and didn’t die.

Chuy's Hot to Trot 5K

Notice Elvis off to the left.
And FYI, the clouds burned off approximately 1.25 minutes into the race.

Finish and don’t die: that became my mantra as I began half-marathon training in July, which made the Chuy’s race feel like a walk in the park.

Speaking of parks, even though I didn’t run any races between May and August, I got to run in some interesting places: NYC’s Central Park, the deck of the Carnival Magic, and Austin’s hike and bike trail. I loved running through Central Park–even in late June the morning temperature was cool, and I saw people of all paces and speeds. Some manner of complaining emanated from the small person on the trip, since we probably walked seven or eight miles a day doing touristy stuff too. But I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to run through Central Park, tired or not. The Magic, well, the track was tiny and I encountered dozens of obstacles such as elderly walkers, putt-putt golfers, and a stiff headwind. But that’s a total first-world problem, so I can’t really complain.

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Seven laps = one mile, not including the extra distance covered when dodging errant golf balls and meandering passengers.

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NYC’s Central Park
Imagine all the people…

 

When I started half-marathon training, I could plod out a slow three miles. Ten, not to mention thirteen, seemed completely out of the question and I frequently wondered what the hell I had been thinking, signing up for this madness. But I followed my training plan and listened to my coaches, and slowly I saw improvement in both endurance and speed.

In August, we ran a 5K on the beach in Galveston. I loved that race so much, I’ve already made plans to go back in 2013! Then in September, I scored a 5K PR that I have yet to duplicate, although I’ve come close. October brought a frigid 10-miler and a volunteer stint at the Formula Run, which led to the coup de grace, the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on November 11. I was telling someone the other day that running a half-marathon was the hardest thing I’ve ever done–including childbirth. I mean, really, childbirth took less time and I got good drugs. 😉

After the half, I took it easy and ran some family fun runs–the five-mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, the Jingle Bell 5K, and the Trail of Lights 5K. Looking back, it seems like I ran a lot more than ten races! But as they say, the real work is in the training, and boy did I do a lot of THAT. And I’ve come a long way. I may be slow, but this time last year I was running zero miles. On January 13, I will run my second half-marathon, and with that, start collecting a new year of race numbers.

2012 in race numbers

2012 in race numbers, minus Save Muny which didn’t give out numbers for the untimed race

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Some days you’re the bug, some days you’re the windshield

Today I was definitely the bug. And not a little bug that leaves a tiny mark on the windshield. No, I splattered all over the damn thing, one of those giant bugs that explodes into green gooey splotches or vaporizes into sparkly powder that windshield wipers can’t erase.

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I contemplated not writing about this run–I was so miserable, I didn’t want to revisit it. And it’s hard to admit publicly that I’m not always strong and positive and determined. But my blog subtitle promises the good, the bad, and the ugly, so what the hell. Here’s the story of a pretty ugly ten miles.

It was 32 degrees when I started just before sunrise. Hey, at least it wasn’t raining. My first two miles were okay, just slow. I kept thinking my muscles would loosen up and and I’d find a comfortable rhythm. But by mile three, when I still felt frozen and stiff and awkward, I gave up on that dream and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Four miles, then five, down a bleak stretch of road. I had to walk some, and each time I struggled to start running again.

I thought about a ski trip in college. I was up on the mountain by myself–my friends were better skiers than I, and they’d gone ahead of me. It started snowing really hard, and I couldn’t see the trail well. I had to slow down and focus on getting out of there in what was quickly becoming a blizzard. I was lost, I was cold, I was alone in the middle of more snow than I’d seen in a decade. I wanted to sit down and cry. I’ll never forget that just as I felt my most hopeless, another skier (the first I’d seen in a while) came out of nowhere and offered some encouragement. I forced myself to keep going, and eventually I made it back to the lodge. But there were those dark moments when I knew the end was so far away, and I was overwhelmed by the prospect of what lay in front of me.

That’s kind of how I felt this morning, minus the blizzard. Every step jarred through my body. My leg muscles hurt. My cheeks hurt. Exhaustion and fatigue swept over me and I pushed back tears of frustration. Like that day on the slopes, I had no choice but to keep moving. And again, a guardian angel of sorts, in the form of a training partner, came along at just the right moment to offer encouragement. I made it back eventually. But surviving a run is not the same as succeeding at one, and I have to admit I’m concerned about the 3M in two weeks. How can I run 13.1 when I barely maintained a poky jog for just under 10 miles today? My legs just didn’t have it.

I’ve been training consistently since July and I’ve finished one half-marathon–I really wanted to beat that time at the 3M, but I don’t know what I can fix in the next two weeks. I know I can’t do it on sheer willpower alone. Or, apparently, with lucky rocketship underpants. Sigh.

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Tough

The good news is that school’s out for winter break, so I can run during the day instead of trying to fit something in after work, in the dark. The bad news is Austin’s weather is pretty unpleasant at the moment, so running during the day is only a marginal improvement.

At least I have warm running clothes now, because when I walked outside this afternoon, cold drizzle hit me in the face. Oh yay. But my next race is just over two weeks(!) away so no wimping out. Even though I hate the cold. And all my Facebook friends kept posting about staying in their jammies all day. And I hate the cold.

But I am nothing if not stubborn.

I ran the same route I’d gone on Christmas, but because a lot of people are back at work, I had to deal with a lot more traffic. I also chose to skip the podcasts this time. I had my music, but I turned it down really low and decided to work on managing the voices in my head instead of distracting them. Honestly, this is way easier said than done–my brain really doesn’t like this running gig and spends a lot of time trying to convince me that I can’t do it.

Lovely day

Lovely day

The first mile or so, I felt pretty good. But then the drizzle picked up and I began to regret choosing THIS run to squelch the voices who sounded like six-year olds on a road trip. “When are we going to get there? Are we there yet? How much longer?” Gah. It was cold and rainy and I wanted to quit. And the voices wanted me to quit. But then I remembered overhearing someone at training a week or so ago. Almost everyone had finished their eight laps but a few of us had one or two to go. I don’t know if she was talking about me or not, but as I passed, she said to the coach, “She just doesn’t have any give up in her.” And I decided that today, I wouldn’t have any give up in me either.

No one thing worked to silence those voices. I mentally chastised drivers for speeding through stop signs or stopping where there’s no stop sign (minivans were the worst offenders, if anyone’s wondering). I reminded myself I’m supposed to run twice this distance on Saturday and almost three times the distance in just over two weeks, and I’d never turn in a respectable time if I jacked around today. I focused on my stride, landing gently instead of slapping my feet down on each step. I thought about building a fire in the fireplace after I got home.

Peacocks on the roof

Peacocks on the roof

And I looked for weird stuff. The sharp teeth still visible in the skull of an opossum carcass that’s been decomposing on the sidewalk for weeks now. The peacocks on the roof of someone’s house.

For about half a mile, I played Tortoise-and-Hare with a UPS truck. The driver stopped at a house as I passed, made his delivery, and drove a few houses down the street, stopping long enough for me to pass him again. I finally lost him after catching him three or four times, when he turned onto a side street. I had visions of his delivering something to my house later, after I’d returned home, thereby completing the Tortoise Wins! scenario.

Instead, today’s run qualifies as a win not because the Tortoise beat the Hare, or because I won a game only I was playing. Nor was it an impressive distance or pace. No, it’s a win because I beat back the voices who wanted me to quit. I stuck it out in the cold and the drizzle. It was tough. But today, I was tougher.

Santa reads my blog!

Last week I wrote about my lack of cold-weather running gear. Lo and behold, on Christmas morning Santa brought me a set of really snazzy–and warm–Brooks tights and jacket. Santa also threw in a Reebok beanie-type hat, complete with a ponytail escape hatch. I have long hair and am picky about headwear, so I’m excited to test this out.

Warm stuff!

Like I said, winter in Austin consists of a series of cold fronts–it never stays below 65 for all that long, and this week was no exception. It was 32 for my nine-miler on Saturday morning, 75 on Sunday, and 70 on Christmas Eve. A front moved in Christmas afternoon, though, so I got to try out my new stuff.

When I set out, it was about 58 degrees. I wondered whether the jacket might be too much, but the wind had picked up and I wore a short-sleeved shirt under it, so I figured I’d be okay either way. I planned on six miles, but a quarter-mile into it I realized I’d forgotten my inhaler AGAIN, and it was so windy I thought maybe three might be a challenge. Still, I was comfortable in my new duds, so I made the turn to go the long way.

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“I get knocked down, but I get up again…”

Heading out, I had the breeze at my back and at times it was so strong, it pushed me along–literally. And not just me. All the little inflatable Santa yard decorations looked like Weebles, falling over in the wind, then bouncing back up.

At 2.5 miles my hip felt a little sore, so I turned around. Right into that wind. Ugh.

To my credit, I ran the whole way back, although it times I probably looked like a cartoon, comically running in place rather than moving forward. I felt kind of like that inflatable Santa, getting knocked down by the wind and struggling to flop back up again. The sun (and the temperature) dropped, and at one point either my phone or my fingers were too cold, since the touch screen wouldn’t respond to my switching of podcasts.

By the time I got home, it was 37 with a wind chill of 29. My face was so cold, I probably resembled Rudolph with his nose so bright. But I can say without a doubt, the Brooks Utopia jacket and thermal tights performed superbly. My head and ears were warm, too, without tangling my hair. Santa, you rock!

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This could not be more appropriate.

I also got a couple of other running-related gifts today. Santa’s little helper brought me a 13.1 bead for my bracelet. And I treated myself to a One More Mile shirt for my next race–perfect because there IS a next race. I only ordered it last week, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it in my mailbox yesterday!

It’s been a terrific Christmas, and I am grateful to have an amazing family who supports me throughout my training. Merry Christmas to all (who celebrate), and to all a good night!

Things I have to do now that I know the Mayans were wrong

All eyes were on the people of Australia, New Zealand, and points east, since December 21 would arrive there roughly 18 hours before U.S. clocks struck midnight. But considering people were camping outside Mayan temples in Mexico, I thought perhaps those prescient Mayans used Central Time as their prediction point and we would only truly know we were in the clear when Friday arrived at local Mayan time.

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Friday looks a bit warm

In the meantime, lots of jokes flew around. Someone posted a weather forecast graphic that cracked me up. El Arroyo’s legendary signs offered free food to Mayans after 12/21. My favorite Facebook status? People are making apocalypse jokes like there’s no tomorrow. I griped that I cleaned off my desk and washed my car for nothing. Still, I fell squarely on the side of If Mayans were good at predictions, there would still be Mayans.

Non-apocalyptic sunrise(photo taken by my friend D.)

Non-apocalyptic sunrise
(photo taken by my friend D.)

So I was not surprised when the sun came up this morning, and the earth kept turning. In fact, a spectacular sunrise mocked those people who busted out their Y2K stashes of survivalist gear, canned food rations, and Twinkies.

Now that it’s mid-afternoon Central Time, I think it’s safe to say that we’re in the clear. I wanted to hide under my bed for a while, but that’s only because every idiot in Austin was on the road today and the jackass factor was high.

Still, there are things I can no longer avoid now that I know for sure we have escaped apocalyptic disaster. I’m making a list (and checking it twice):

  1. Finish Start my Christmas cards
  2. Get up early tomorrow morning (forecasted low: 38*F)  and run eight miles–the most I’ve done since November 11
  3. Acquire (and figure out how to safely store keep away from the cats) my son’s Santa gift
  4. Figure out what the hell Santa I did with the wrapping paper
  5. Run another half-marathon 23 days from now.

Ah, well, there’s always the Zombie Apocalypse to worry about.

Ten toes a-freezing

I live in the South for a reason. Cold temperatures are not it.

They say Austin has two seasons: hot and hotter. But really, December through February is completely unpredictable. Some days at work, the heat is blasting in the morning, and the AC kicks on after lunch. So far this fall, we’ve had mostly mild weather. There was a cold snap at the end of October (it was in the 40s the day I ran that 10-miler) and another last week. But typically it’s cold for a day or two, then warms back up into the 60s and 70s–a cycle that repeats all winter. Yesterday it was 81; last night a cold front blew in, dropping the temperature more than 40 degrees and whipping up a chilly wind.

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Hand-warming sleeves rock

I don’t own a lot of cold-weather running gear, but I have a couple of things I really appreciate when it’s cold and windy. One, my headband that covers my ears. And two, the shirt with the thumb openings that keep my hands warm. But I only have one pair of pants longer than capris (and they’re too big, so they tend to fall down a lot) so between my wardrobe and my cold-weather-induced asthma, I guess it’s a good thing I live in a reasonably warm climate. But in all likelihood–assuming the Mayans were wrong about the end of the world–at least some of my training runs over the next few weeks will be in weather I consider too-damn-cold. That’s what I get for signing up for a January half-marathon.

I’m a cold-weather wimp. I only ran three miles today–about the time my legs loosened up, my lungs froze and I started wheezing a little. How do you cold-climate runners do it?

Trail of Lights: Part Two

Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand. Creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize y’all’s neighborhood… Oh wait. Nevermind. That was for folks doing the Run For Your Lives zombie race today.

Our 5K was scheduled to start at 6:30pm, but because of parking and traffic issues (getting to and from races has been the bane of my existence lately), we snagged a sweet parking space at Zilker Park about 90 minutes early. I laughed because while we chose a space based on exit strategy–what I call escape pod parking–others were determined to park closer to the start line, a concept I find quite ironic considering why we were there.

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In daylight you can see how the moonlight tower forms the center of the tree

We picked up our glow stick necklaces from a volunteer and stood under the tree watching the lights twinkle above us. More runners arrived and it became crowded under the tree, but amazingly I ran into a couple of people I knew. After the kids’ race (which had more adults than kids) wrapped up, it was our turn.

The Trail of Lights itself is only about a mile long, so to make this a 5K, we ran the first mile down Barton Springs Road and through the southern part of the park itself, then through the lights, then another mile around the back side of the nature center and botanical gardens, before finishing back on Barton Springs Road in front of the tree.

Several thousand people congregated at the start, so it took us a while to get going. Inexplicably, dozens of walkers had lined up at the front, and many were meandering three and four abreast, right down the middle of the street. As the road narrowed through the park, walkers obstructed those of us trying to run. I dodged left and right, banged into someone’s elbow, and nearly twisted an ankle trying to get around a knot of oblivious people. It was madness.

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Tree as backdrop

Runners were draped in glow sticks and other blinking holiday lights, and occasionally a generator-powered light truck lit the path, but parts of the course were really dark. One woman behind me quipped, “This is the trail of no lights.”

When we reached the bottlenecked entrance to the Trail of Lights itself, I got a great picture because we just weren’t moving at all. But eventually we passed through the tunnel of lights. We ran by penguins, polar bears, The Grinch and his little rein-dog, Pooh Bear, an ice kingdom, Disney characters, and more. My favorite was a huge, long-necked dinosaur whose neck was draped over a tree branch.

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We’re not moving at all at this point.

As we continued on, the crowd thinned a little, but random people still stopped short and darted in front of me to take pictures of the displays.

At the halfway point, I passed groups of people totally not dressed for running–dress shoes, boots, sandals. I wondered how the hell they were THIS far ahead of me–since I’m just now passing them–dressed like that? I know I’m slow, but can’t I beat that girl wearing Uggs? I finally decided that a bunch of people didn’t actually run the race. When the Trail opened up for the runners, they skipped the course and went straight in just to see the lights, since it doesn’t open to the public until the next night. This was annoying–not because I thought they were cheating, but because they demonstrated zero etiquette by meandering around and walking four or five abreast, blocking even marginally faster people and generally being in the way of those trying to run the race.

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Sorry it’s fuzzy–I was running. Unlike a bunch of people who signed up for this race.

Finally, we passed under the tunnel of blue stars and turned toward the nature center and the last mile. The road narrowed and the uneven asphalt gave way to gravel. Up a hill, back down, then a left turn onto the road and it was the home stretch. Uphill of course. It was less crowded here, but still, non-runners (some of whom were dressed for a nightclub, not a 5K) walked down the middle of the street.

The last tenth-mile went downhill, and we sprinted for the finish line in front of the Zilker tree.

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The Zilker tree

 

I didn’t clock a spectacular 5K time, but we ran this one to have fun, not to set personal records. Besides, we encountered nearly as many obstacles as the zombie race and still pulled out a respectable time.

After crossing the finish line we grabbed some water and walked back to the Zilker Christmas tree. Cookies, hot chocolate, and a spin under the tree awaited us.