RW Run Streak, or The Hot Weather Acclimation Situation

As promised, I have been participating in the Runner’s World running streak this week. At first I worried that running every day, even just a mile, would be hard on my recovering hip flexor and calf, but both are mostly pain-free so far. I hope running every day speeds up the hot weather acclimation process (that sounds like a Big Bang Theory episode) as well. Austin has had a pretty mild spring, but this week the heat and humidity hit me full force.

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I have a one-mile and a three-mile neighborhood route, so it’s easy to knock out a short run without much planning. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I ran just a mile each day. But running a mile in soup has to be worth some bonus points, yes? Thursday was hellish at work, so to deal with the frustrations, I went the longer route–which somehow only ended up being 2.8. But again, Soup Bonus Points for me!

Tonight we went to dinner after work–a local place gives free appetizers to teachers during happy hour, so we are Friday night regulars–and I got a later, slower start on my mile. Tomorrow morning I’m running with Rogue and am hoping to get in five before I head to my volunteer stint at the Iron Girl triathlon expo.

So far, so good.

RW Run Streak: Day One

The other day. while I was sitting around doing nothing at the lake, I read a Runner’s World article challenging runners to run at least a mile a day from Memorial Day to Independence Day. And it intrigued me. runners-world-rwrunstreak-pardon-my-streaking

Last summer I started down the road of half-marathon training, and I had a plan. Not so much this summer. I signed up for Rogue’s summer long run program as motivation–yeah, it started May 4 but I was still preparing for the Cleveland half, so I haven’t technically shown up yet. But that’s going to change this weekend, I hope, because I’ve decided to accept this challenge and see where it takes me.

There are a million and one reasons why I shouldn’t. I’m still working through some injuries and running every day for six weeks could aggravate them. It’s hot here. I’m traveling a bit in June–I’ll have to bring running gear, wash clothes in hotel sinks, plus run in unfamiliar places and hope I don’t end up in some sketchy neighborhood. I guess that’s why it’s called a challenge, though–it won’t be easy. But it will give me a goal, a plan, something that will make it harder to skip out. And it’s just a mile, no big deal. Right?

After a weekend of laziness, I went out to shake off the rust this afternoon. It was slow. It was hot. It was only 2.5 miles. But for the first time in weeks, nothing hurt. I’m going to take that as a positive sign, and I’ll try again tomorrow.

Pay it forward

Summertime in Texas means fewer road races. Other than a few heat-themed night runs and a couple of beach races down at the coast, not much goes on between Memorial Day and Labor Day. I’m okay with that, especially this summer when I need a chance to take it easy and let myself recover a bit. But I also decided I wanted to volunteer at a race, sort of as a way to give back. I’ve been so grateful to all the volunteers at the races I’ve run, from folks working the expo to those at the water stops to the ones handling out medals or Popsicles or towels.

I searched for upcoming events and found a few possibilities, but their websites provided absolutely no information about volunteering. I expanded my search a bit and found a Rogue trail race more than an hour away (no bueno when you’re talking a 5:45am volunteer shift) and a couple of triathlons. I was hesitant about the triathlons–I’ve never done one and don’t know the first thing about what kind off support they need. But I clicked on a link for Iron Girl Austin and saw a well-organized website with a link for volunteers. They listed a dozen different shifts for the expo and more than that for the race itself. I decided working the expo would allow me to being working toward my goal of paying it forward in such a way that my tri-ignorance wouldn’t screw up anyone’s race day experience.

So I’ll be volunteering at packet pickup next Saturday, June 1 in an attempt to return the favor provided by so many volunteers I’ve encountered over the past year. And I’ll be looking for other opportunities too, as a way to pay it forward.

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Thankful Thursday

Yesterday’s post was kind of a downer, so today I thought I’d balance that out with some kudos, shout-outs, and gratitude from the Cleveland half marathon.

  1. I had a fantastic weekend, the last five miles of the race aside. For months, I looked forward to seeing K and J, and I was not disappointed. I flew in early and left late, which I know jacked with K’s schedule, but she and her family were nothing but gracious! Honestly, part of the reason I am feeling sort of blue is that I no longer have this event to look forward to, no race with these two amazing friends on the horizon.
  2. The volunteers and spectators at the race were awesome. Every water station had dozens of cheering volunteers with a plentiful supply of water and PowerAde–some races run out by the time slow runners like me come through, but not here. They were great. And crowd support along the entire route made such a difference. Several spectators read the Rogue Running logo on my shirt and shouted “Go Rogue!” which made me smile every time, especially considering how far I was from home. K’s husband and kids stationed themselves just before Mile 11 and seeing them helped push me on. And wow, the last quarter-mile down East Ninth and Erieside, crowds were four and five deep most of the way in. I hurt, but there was no way I was walking in front of all those cheering people–their enthusiasm carried me to the finish. From funny signs to noisemakers to music, Clevelanders rocked!
  3. The entire race was super well-organized. From the ease of packet pickup at the expo to having the stadium open at the start to Popsicles at the finish line, everything went smoothly. I never thought, ooh, they should do THAT differently. Huge kudos to the race organizers!
  4. I saw two people get loaded into ambulances and another sitting on the curb, injured. I’m thankful that despite my slow pace and hip flexor pain, I was capable of running across the finish line. There’s definitely a silver lining in that. And I didn’t really hurt much afterwards, either. I mean, I was sick and my hip flexor wasn’t happy, but I didn’t have that day-after soreness that makes me hate stairs. Maybe a little, but I toted my backpack and a carry-on suitcase through three airports the next day without a problem.
  5. The race medal is spiffy! It’s a hefty chunk of hardware–and the guitar in the middle spins!
  6. I am thankful for all the support I’ve received throughout my training and on race weekend. The camaraderie from everyone at Rogue, the texts K and I exchanged throughout the weeks leading up to the race (“go run!”), the post-race texts and emails from people who had been tracking me, the Facebook cheers–all of it meant so much to me. Thank you. 🙂

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Now what?

I’ve spent most of 2013 training for last weekend’s half marathon. Since January 1st, according to my Garmin data, I’ve run 289.83 miles in 70 hours and I’ve burned 36,952 calories, most of it while battling a couple of recurring injuries and a bout of running funk. This year’s journey has taken me through two 5K races, two 10Ks, one 10-miler, and two half-marathons from which I logged 4 PRs, one at each distance.

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And then there was Sunday. I didn’t have a spectacular race thanks to the aforementioned injuries. I didn’t slay the beast, didn’t sail triumphantly across the finish line with my friends. But I stuck it out and finished, which, while an accomplishment, wasn’t the one I was going for.

So now what?

I’ve come a long way since last July. When I started, I could run maybe three miles, and only with a walk break or two. From there, I built endurance, then I improved my speed. I don’t want to quit, to walk away from the progress I’ve made. But I’m exhausted. School gets out in 10 days, so things are crazy at work. And I hurt–not the usual day-after soreness, but deeper aches built throughout months of effort.

I guess I’m having an episode of post-race melancholy here. I looked forward to the Cleveland half for months, and now I am sort of aimless. Some people finish a race and are so inspired they immediately sign up for another one. Not me, not now anyway. I’m frustrated by my hip flexor and my slowness, and truth be told, I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t make my time goal. But instead of that disappointment pushing me to try again, it just makes me want to curl up on the couch.

Probably not a good strategy. So now what?

My race report was also my 100th blog post. That round number reminded me that in a lot of ways I have done what I set out to do, and then some. Last July, I planned to run one half-marathon as kind of a bucket list thing. Yet Cleveland was my third. I’ve made new friends, I’ve traveled for a couple of races and got to do things I otherwise wouldn’t have done.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my ability to be resilient out there pounding the pavement, the track, and the trail. It’s funny–several people have asked how my race went, and when I described my struggles during the last five miles, they wanted to know, “But did you finish?” And I am horrified that someone thinks I would just QUIT. Not only did I finish, I ran across that finish line. Barring a medical emergency, I would have walked, I would have limped, whatever it took.

So now what?

For starters, I think I’m going to take it easy this week, see if my hip flexor and calf can recover a bit. Then I’m going to go out for a couple of non-time-specific, non-distance-specific runs. Just see how I feel and where it takes me. Beyond that? I don’t know.

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Now what?

Cleveland half-marathon weekend: race day!

At 6:00am we left the hotel for the half-mile walk to the starting line. The corrals lined up on the back side of Browns Stadium (which won’t be named this for long–it has acquired a corporate sponsor and they’re already taking down the sign on one side of the stadium, preparing to call it something else). The stadium was open so we opted for these restrooms instead of porta-potties. Always a good call, I’d say. Then we checked out the field and we got a guy to take our picture. Several former Texas players had played for the Browns over the years, so it was kind of cool to be inside the stadium I’d seen many times on television.

Inside the stadium

Inside the stadium

J is quite a bit faster than K and me, so as we headed to the corrals, we hugged her, wished her luck (her Achilles worried me), and separated. K and I planned to run together with the understanding that she could run ahead if my injuries slowed me down. I was hopeful, but that hilly first mile concerned me.

Waiting, waiting...

Waiting, waiting…

Obligatory foot picture

Obligatory foot picture

The race got underway at 7:00 sharp; K and I crossed the starting line about eight minutes later. She had trouble with her Runkeeper app right from the start, and I grumbled about the hills and my hip. But the crowd was lined up and cheering–it was a great atmosphere! We fired up our playlists (which we’d agonized over the last week) and set off.

Check out the shirt in front of me!

Check out the shirt in front of me!

As we ascended the highway ramp, we cracked up at the spectator holding a mannequin leg in one hand, and in the other a sign that said “This race is LEG–wait for it–endary!” in a hilarious homage to “How I Met Your Mother.”

The next two miles or so were not that exciting, scenery-wise, other than the girl we dubbed Rainbow Brite. Highways and overpasses, mostly. Occasionally a runner appeared from or veered off toward the trees next to the road–I’ve always said there’s no shame in distance running, although I’d have to be pretty desperate to take a roadside pit stop, I think. Especially at mile two. Somewhere around here I told K that if my hip didn’t loosen up soon, the rest of this race was gonna suck. My calf felt fine, although the increasing hip pain could have been obscuring it. The streets were cracked and uneven, and I was afraid I would twist an ankle on top of everything else.

The water stops were staffed by cheering, enthusiastic volunteers with both water and blue PowerAde. At first I stuck with water, but after about two miles the air felt warm and humid so I started grabbing a PowerAde and a water each time.

This part of the route ran parallel to Lake Erie, and the breeze was nice. Soon we reached Edgewater Park and the neighborhood beyond. Residents of huge, gorgeous houses stood on their huge, gorgeous lawns, cheering and holding signs. Little kids still in pajamas played with dogs. K belted out songs from her iPod. She may have danced too. It was festive.

Edgewater was as far west as we’d go, so soon the course turned south, then east. The neighborhoods got a bit, um, less affluent–one house was burned out, although it appeared the fire had occurred some time ago–but families stood outside cheering, ringing bells, and clapping. I appreciated every one of them. At the top of a short hill, a man stood holding a small dog. I was tempted to ask if he would carry me instead. Not a good sign when we hadn’t even reached the 10k split yet.

We hoofed it through the no-kidnap zone and crossed the 10k mark. I got the text (yes, I was tracking myself because the texts include a projected finishing time) and saw that we were behind our A-Goal pace. We could still do it, but it would require a slightly faster pace. I started to revise my goal, accepting that I was hurting and would probably only get slower from here. K was feeling good though, and when we reached the mile eight marker, I encouraged her to run ahead. I didn’t want to slow her down any more than I already had. This was her first half, and if she could do it faster, I wanted her to achieve that. I turned up my music, took two more Advil, and soldiered on.

The second half of the race is sort of a blur for me. Some folks handed out beer (“hydration AND carbs!”) and others blasted music. One woman held out a water bottle and a Gu packet, saying “Take it if you need it” to runners. Some people at a church had set up a stage and were singing off-key karaoke. A group of women flipped their hair to One Direction’s “What MakesYou Beautiful.” Drivers looked pissed off that intersections were closed. Streets still sucked–lots of cracks and potholes, and even a stretch of uneven cobblestones. I walked more than I wanted to.

Between miles 10-11, the course crossed the enormous Lorain-Carnegie bridge. About halfway across, I spotted K’s husband and the kids. They cheered and waved, and it was so motivating. I sped up down the other side of the bridge to the eleven-mile marker. Two-point-one to go.

At the end of the bridge I made the left turn at the baseball stadium and passed the Hard Rock Cafe, and soon I started seeing people wearing medals. I also saw a guy getting loaded into an ambulance, and I appreciated that I just had some leg pain. Then more sirens and another ambulance. Sirens during races have never meant good things, but now, for a minute, I thought of the Boston Marathon finish line. But the yellow-vested volunteers continued standing along the road’s center stripe, high-fiving runners as we passed. “Less than half a mile now!” they shouted. I was grateful for them.

I made the left turn onto East Ninth, where the half split from the full. Spectators were everywhere. I could hear music. Marathoners were coming in from the other direction–they ran on the right, half-marathoners on the left. I was impressed–these runners were finishing a full marathon in the time it took me to run a half. I crossed an intersection lined with SWAT team members in full gear, and I remembered why they were there. At the bottom of the hill I made the final left turn in front of the Rock Hall. Spectators were three and four deep, cheering and shouting and making noise. One guy banged a drum, and others held signs. The crowd support was fantastic!

My Garmin beeped for mile 13 but I still couldn’t see the finish line. My hip flexor screamed–I’m sure I looked awkward and pitiful. Bon Jovi shouted “It’s my life, and it’s now or never!” through my headphones. And then, there it was: the blue banner, the timing mat, the volunteers with the medals. Just after I crossed the finish line, about five texts came in–the tracking one, and congratulatory ones from people who had obviously been tracking me.

I gratefully accepted a medal, water, and pretzels, in that order. I made my way out of the finishers’ area and got a text from J–she and K were trying to find me. I headed to the firefighters’ memorial right next to the finishers’ area and told her to meet me there. I hoped that wasn’t like saying “Meet me at Big Tex” at the Texas State Fair, an impossible task. And then she and K appeared out of the crowd, and we had a three-way hug moment. We were a motley crew of injuries and emotions, and now finishers’ medals too.

The guitar spins around!

The guitar spins around!

I saw some people with popsicles and made it my mission to locate the source. Naturally, they were inside the finishers’ area, but we stood at the fence and waved at one of the volunteers, who cheerfully brought over a couple of popsicles for us. I have no idea what brand it was or anything else, but at that moment it was the best popsicle on earth.

We gingerly and slowly made the half-mile walk back to our hotel, showered, packed up, and got in line to check out. As we stood there, a huge wave of nausea overtook me, and I leaned against the wall. K said I looked pale. I tossed her my credit card and asked her to put half of our room bill on it (J had another room for her and the boys), and I went in search of a restroom.

After a few minutes I felt a tiny bit better, so we walked over to Tower City in search of food. I wasn’t even a little hungry, but J was threatening to gnaw off her own arm, so off we went. I just ordered water and iced tea; I must have looked really bad because the waiter brought me a pile of saltine crackers too. As lunch went on, I just got worse and worse. I’m pretty sure at one point I put my head down on the table.

I’ll spare you the details, but a few trips to the restroom later, and I felt markedly better. Still had no appetite, but I wasn’t contemplating curling up in a ball on the floor, either. I don’t know if it was the Advil from mile eight, the PowerAdes at every water stop, or just my body’s way of saying ENOUGH. But there was rebellion. And it was not fun.

Unfortunately, J had a six-hour drive ahead of her, so she had to hit the road. We walked her back to the hotel parking garage and said our goodbyes. We piled in K’s car–I wasn’t flying out until the next day, so they were stuck with pathetic post-race me for a while longer. When we got back to their house, I curled up on their super-comfy couch for a while. I drank some water, and after an hour or so I ate half a breakfast bar. I started to feel more like myself, which was good for a number of reasons.

Aside from the obvious, I was hoping to meet my cousin for dinner–I haven’t seen her since we were kids. She ran the half-marathon too, but she’s much faster and we didn’t cross paths at all. We’d been texting and trying to arrange a get-together, but the universe hadn’t quite aligned right Friday or Saturday. Post-race Sunday was sort of our last opportunity. So when I started to perk up, I texted her and we worked out some dinner plans.

We went to B-Spot. I had packed light, so all I had was jeans and a t-shirt–I hoped that was good enough for the Iron Chef. Apparently not, as we had to wait about an hour for a table, then got stuck in the back with a server who never once refilled drinks. The food was good though, and the Vanilla Bean milkshake restored pretty much all of the 2000+ calories I’d burned (and otherwise lost). It was great to catch up with my cousin, and I hope she will come visit Austin soon. Our family is not close, geographically or otherwise, so I am glad I got the chance to see her this trip.

We were all tired, and the food coma didn’t make things any easier. We headed back to K’s house, where I slept like a rock. Around lunchtime Monday, we headed to the airport. Despite the things that went wrong for me, race-wise, I’d had a great weekend. Now it’s time to go back to the real world, until next time.

Cleveland half-marathon weekend: Saturday

Saturday morning began with a trip to the adjacent Tower City Center for coffee. Priorities, people. Tower City was originally built in the 1920s as a train terminal, and while it’s still used for that, these days it also houses a huge multi-story mall.

Tower Terminal

Tower Terminal

The interior, at least in places, resembles New York’s Grand Central Terminal, one of my favorite buildings.

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Very grand interior

After acquiring a caffeinated beverage for me and muffins for the kids, we wandered around the square a bit. Fountains of water, a statue of Cleveland’s founder, an old church, and the statue to soldiers and sailors–which apparently appeared in The Avengers, along with several other downtown buildings.

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I guess this is as good an excuse as any to watch The Avengers again.

K and her family arrived and the kids all hit the hotel pool. At this point, K realized she had forgotten her foam roller–a critical need for my hip flexor and calf problems. I started to worry a bit–these injuries could make or break my race. We could have gone to a sporting goods store–K’s husband works for one–but the parking situation was already dicey, and there was a home Indians game this morning so lots would fill up quickly. Instead, we went back to Tower City on the off-chance Foot Locker or Champs Sports would have one. When that failed (the guy in Foot Locker didn’t even know what it was) we improvised. At the toy store we found one of those huge water cannons–it was round and covered in the same foam material as the roller. The diameter was a bit small, but it would work. MacGyver win!

Water cannon, er foam roller

Water cannon, er foam roller

After lunch, we headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one of my must-see places on this trip. It took a while to get there since construction had closed several walkways and race prep had closed others (the finish line runs right in front of the museum to the football stadium). At least we knew what to avoid in the morning, since the race starts on the other side of the stadium!

The museum is a giant pyramid, designed by I.M. Pei, that sits right at the edge of Lake Erie. There was some sort of youth music festival going on in the plaza in front of the museum–tents, drumlines, and perhaps unrelated, some bikers who looked like ZZ Top.

Apparently it's not usually this crowded out front.

Apparently it’s not usually this crowded out front.

We got some discount vouchers with our race registration–I used mine right from my phone–so we got our wristbands and headed to the first exhibit. The museum is organized weirdly–you start at the first floor, then go up to two and three. Because it’s a pyramid with an open atrium at the center, the upper floors are smaller and the exhibits sort of snake around the perimeter. And because of this music festival thing, which also had a stage inside the museum, lots of people milled around the main floor watching the performers. Also in this area were a couple of displays of famous guitars, plus Alex Van Halen’s drum set and the ZZ Top car from Eliminator.

The first floor exhibits covered the origins of rock and roll, Elvis, the Beatles, and The Rolling Stones to U2 and Michael Jackson. One of the kids was fascinated by Elvis so we watched the exhibit video on him for a while, then took pics in front of one of his sparkly jumpsuits.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

The Michael Jackson exhibit had the Billie Jean jacket, a white glove, and the Grammy he got for Thriller, among other things.

Thriller

Thriller

And there was a great exhibit of Robert Alford’s photography, a veritable who’s who of the 1980s. Another cool display touched on censorship throughout the rock and roll era, from protests over Elvis in the ’50s to Frank Zappa and Tipper Gore in the ’80s.

From there we went up to the third floor. We skipped most of the films here–footage of inductees’ performances–but I loved the wall of inductees’ signatures. They glow brightly on a black background, like they were written in silver ink pen and illuminated with a black light. I’m thinking not every artist signed it specifically at his or her induction, since I know some were inducted posthumously. But as far as I can tell, every artist is represented. I was oddly fascinated by Stevie Wonder’s signature.

Cool.

Cool.

And then there was Pink Floyd's The Wall.

And then there was Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

From there we went down to the second floor for the Video Killed the Radio Star exhibit, which was basically a trip through my teenage years via iconic MTV videos. You know, back when MTV played music. I felt like this era was a bit under-represented in the museum. Yeah, Madonna’s is one of the photos at the entrance, and I saw Springsteen, U2, and ZZ Top, but the big exhibits focused on early rock and roll. Maybe that’s how it should be, I don’t know, but as a teen from the ’80s, I was hoping for more stuff I could relate to. Overall though, I really enjoyed the museum.

However, spending the day before a race wandering like a tourist goes against pretty much all conventional wisdom, including the advice from my sports doctor. J has been having some Achilles issues and her foot was Not Happy by the end of the afternoon either.

We got back to the hotel and discovered a giant fan blowing on a section of carpet in our room–evidently there had been a water leak. Fun times. Working around that, we got ready for dinner. We walked to a place near the hotel–K’s friend works there, and they have a vegetarian/vegan menu for J. I had an amazing ravioli and vegetable dish. Mmmm, carbs! After dinner, J went to the bathroom and took forever, and then I realized that what she’d really done was pay the check before any of us could protest. I know she tends to do this and I was still slow to catch on. D’oh! I blame sleep deprivation. But I know her well enough that arguing does no good, and I appreciated the gesture, so I just plotted a way to get it next time. 😉

From there we went back to the hotel. An early morning awaited us–race organizers suggested 6am arrival. So we neurotically methodically laid out everything for the morning–clothes, shoes, gels, sunglasses, Chapstick, all that stuff–and charged phones and Garmins. I rolled my calf and hip with the water-cannon-turned-foam-roller and tried to calm my brain. I’d been able to live in The Land of Denial all day, but now I had to face the reality of the race.

I have this habit of waking up before my alarm when I have something important–flights, races, whatever. And so I knew even as I set my alarm for 5:30 that my eyes would pop open before that. Little did I know K and I would both be awake at 4:30.