Second Annual Icecrack of Dawn Run

Last February, when I brought my National Junior Honor Society students to Washington, D.C., we stayed in a hotel near J’s house. So one morning she met me in the lobby and we ran exactly 5K before the sun came up. We called it our Asscrack of Dawn run.

This year, NJHS stayed at the same hotel and we therefore arranged the Asscrack of Dawn Run II, which I desperately needed. The tour company schedules our meals at food courts and all-you-can-eat buffets: great for the 14-year olds but not ideal for older people with slower metabolisms. I will pay dearly for four days of large portions, restaurant food, and a steady supply of coffee.

So our run is almost perfect–a relaxed 5K with my friend, a brief respite from chaperone responsibilities, and a bit of exercise to offset whatever the hell it was I just ate. The drawback, of course, is the time. Breakfast is at 7 and we are on the tour bus by 7:45 every day, which means in order to run, I had to set the alarm–three days into a trip where I’m lucky to sleep for six hours each night–for 5:15 A.M. Not only that, the area is somewhat hilly and I’d only run once since the Austin half, so I wasn’t exactly in peak form. Neither was J though–since the Army Ten-Miler, she’s been rehabbing an Achilles injury and this was only her second foray back into running. But none of that mattered because I needed this run–and time with my friend–both physically and emotionally.

I met J in the lobby at 5:30 and we headed out.

A few days earlier, the DC area had been covered in about a foot of snow. This morning, though, the temperature hovered just above freezing and most of the snow had melted. We both wore our Army Ten-Miler shirts, tights, and gloves, and except when the occasional frigid gust of wind stung my cheeks, I felt comfortable.

I found myself breathing heavily at first, which made me wonder just how quickly a person can lose fitness while taking a few days off after a strenuous distance race. But I got it under control and fell into step behind J. We chatted, laughed, and dodged road construction and slushy snow remnants. We passed her house and and looked for lights to indicate whether her family had awakened yet. She pointed out the coffee shop I visit when I stay at her house. We looked in the gym windows and felt superiority pride for braving the cold. We cracked up at an inside joke. It was just what I needed.

Before long, we arrived back at my hotel. I went to stop my Garmin and realized it had never actually started, even though I remember pressing the button to start it when we began. J assured me it was exactly a 5K. I wasn’t concerned with the specific distance though–I just like having each run’s data and map recorded in My Garmin. But as it turns out, the distance would be significant.

Inside the hotel lobby, J produced two medals from her pocket. The front side said “Victory” and the back was engraved:

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They wouldn’t let her engrave “Asscrack of Dawn” so she had to improvise.

You know what this means, right? Not only did we get medals for our little 5K, we also each won our age groups!

I love this medal. I love that this early-morning run, before the city wakes up, is important to both of us. And I love the time I got to spend with her in the middle of a whirlwind trip.

I’ll need to run a lot more than 3.1 miles to atone for my culinary sins these past four days. A couple of pounds is temporary though. My Icecrack of Dawn medal is forever.

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Review and giveaway: the FlipBelt

The mail carrier delivered my FlipBelt just in time for the Austin Half Marathon this past weekend, so I decided, what better opportunity to test out new running gear?

I’m used to running with my stuff in a Spi Belt, which has a zipper that makes it easy to shove things inside the expandable pouch and grab them on the go. But it can get bouncy. The FlipBelt, on the other hand, is a snug-fitting, tubular band of fabric with periodic gaps through which I could shove long-run necessities such as gels, Chapstick, and my phone. Some people then flip the belt over (thus its name) so the gaps are against their bodies, ensuring their stuff doesn’t fall out. When I took it on my Saturday shakeout run, I didn’t do that, just so I could see how securely it held everything. And on my short run, I found that my stuff stayed put and the belt felt comfortable. It was a go for the Austin Half Marathon.

I don’t carry too much with me on race day, but I need to be able to get at my Chapstick or gels or whatever without a lot of fumbling as I’m running. If I have to slow or stop to find what I’m looking for, it’s worthless. I also carry my phone at the small of my back so that it will talk to my Bluetooth headphones, and while I don’t touch my phone much during a race, it can’t bounce around back there either. I see people whose phones and gear belts are flopping all over the place, and I don’t know how it doesn’t drive them absolutely crazy.

Also, I like to take a picture as I approach the starting line, so I need to be able to do that, and then efficiently shove my phone into the belt to start the race. My running capris have a phone-sized pocked in the back, and I’m adept at getting my phone in and out of that. But due to the humidity, I didn’t want my phone that close to my damp skin, so I thought the extra layer of fabric inside the FlipBelt would help keep it dry.

See how stuff fits through gaps in that center seam?

This day, I didn’t have a lot with me. A package of watermelon Gu Chomps, two tubes of Chapstick (fresh breath is unchapped lips are a priority of my life), my phone, and a ziplock bag for the electronics in case of rain. I pinned my race number to the bottom of the belt and shoved a washcloth/sweat towel under it for later.

How’d it work out?

flipbelt

It feels true to size, FYI.

It’s kind of awkward putting it on, since there’s no clasp or buckle– you have to step into it and slide it up your hips. I’m roughly a size 8, and the size M fit comfortably. It expanded enough to go over my hips–I was worried it would stretch out and then feel too loose, but it sprang back to fit snugly. The top part of the belt sat evenly with the drawstring of my pants and didn’t slide or move around. When I put my stuff in it, the belt remained mostly flat–no funky bulges, no flopping around.

As the race began, I took my customary photo. Sliding my phone into the belt behind my back was a little more complicated than using the zippered pocket, since I couldn’t see the little gaps, but it only took me a couple of extra seconds to find one of the holes and slide my phone through it and situate it where I wanted.

Every mile or so I fished around for Chapstick or gels. Mostly Chapstick. On the run, it’s not always easy to find one of the little slits, but since they’re placed every two or three inches, I was able to locate them by touch, feeling along the center seam until I reached an opening. At first it was awkward but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. And even though the fabric is slippery spandex and the Chapstick tubes are slick plastic, they didn’t slide around inside the belt at all. My phone stayed put at the small of my back too.

All in all, for 13.1 miles I hardly noticed the FlipBelt was there. My stuff was accessible, it fit comfortably, and it didn’t bounce around as I ran. It met all of my criteria with flying colors.

The only real drawback is its price. My Spi Belt cost about $16, for example, and the FlipBelt is almost $30. But I also found it to be significantly less bulky than most other belts out there, and since there’s more space for my stuff, it’s not all concentrated in one blob that flops around when I run. This gives it a distinct advantage over other running belts. I don’t know how well the spandex fabric will hold up over time, but out of the package it does all the things it’s supposed to do, does them well, and comes in eight spiffy colors. I chose black because it hides sweat and grunge, but I’ve seen runners wearing the brighter colors too.

Want to win a FlipBelt? Comment on this post before the end of the day Saturday, March 1st and tell me about:

  • your favorite piece of running gear,
  • your bucket list race,
  • the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you (or someone else) during a race, or
  • your favorite distance and why.

I will randomly select my favorite response to win! And if you can’t wait for the giveaway, go to flipbelt.com and use promo code ITTSR for 10% off your order!


Edited October 13, 2015 to add that I still use this Flip Belt almost every time I run. It holds my phone and my chapstick, and during hot weather I can tuck my Simple Hydration bottle in the back. It’s held up well over the last year and a half. Just thought anyone who comes across this review might like to know my long-term results!

Austin half marathon: race report

My fantastic race crew dropped me off a block from the Capitol–they were going to find some breakfast, then stake out a place to cheer along the race course. Watching all the cars and traffic, I could not have been more grateful I didn’t have to deal with parking.

Fog surrounded the Capitol–humidity had to be in the 90% range, which made me kind of nervous about the race. The course is a lot hillier than 3M, so meeting my goal would certainly be more of a challenge.

By race time, fog completely obscured the top of the Capitol.

By race time, fog completely obscured the top of the Capitol.

I headed down to the gear check area–I wasn’t checking anything, but some other Rogue runners planned to meet up there. After waiting in the porta potty line, we made our way to the starting area on the north side of the Capitol. The faster Rogues moved toward the front, and four of us stayed together further back. We planned to start together and I kind of thought I’d run with them most of the race. But much like the Turkey Trot, almost as soon as we crossed the starting line, we got separated. I apparently suck at running with others. Sigh. I decided just to keep on going. I hoped they understood.

Foggy and blurry, kind of like my brain at this hour

Foggy and blurry, kind of like my brain at this hour

The first big hill of the race comes about a half-mile into it, on San Jacinto Street. Our coaches had stressed the need to take it slowly the first six miles because of the hills, but I have a bad habit of starting off too fast, so I really had to work to make sure I kept my pace in check.

We came around the south side of the Capitol and headed west, then south on Guadalupe Street. A good-sized crowd gathered at West First and Guadalupe–this was a good spot for spectators because eventually we’d return this way at around mile nine.

We turned east on First, where I once again encountered The Crazy Guy Yelling about Jesus, then south over the Congress Avenue Bridge. There’s a slight downhill here, past the bat sculpture, before Congress goes uphill through the now-trendy SoCo area. This used to be kinda sketchy–car repair places, resale shops, and a XXX movie theater. Now it’s all revitalized and gentrified, with coffee houses, funky restaurants, trendy condos, and all kinds of hipster-magnets. There used to be an empty lot filled with food trailers, but they got evicted for more condos, or something. Keep Austin Weird indeed.

At the top of the hill, I spotted M and B. B held up the same sign he’d made for 3M. I veered over to them, got high fives, and kept going. I passed a mosaic sculpture at the entrance to one neighborhood, a mural on the grocery store wall, then St. Edward’s University. As I approached the turn at Ben White Boulevard, I saw my dad standing there. I jumped the curb and ran up to him–I hadn’t known for sure he would be there–and he ran with me for a block or so. I was feeling tired from the South Congress hills, so seeing him provided great moral support.

At the next major intersection, we turned right on South First, pretty much back the way we’d come. So all that uphill from Congress? Would now be downhill back to the river. And this whole stretch of road is lined with Mexican restaurants, a couple of coffee shops, and at least one fragrant BBQ trailer. Torchy’s Tacos tempted me, but I let gravity help me out, and I picked up the pace. M and B had met up with Dad–the three of them waited on the west side of the road, but cars were allowed on that side so I couldn’t cross to reach them. I didn’t expect to see them there–another awesome surprise!

Along this stretch, a guy wearing a banana suit ran up and down the sidewalk, cheering, well, looking like a banana. Another guy shouted motivational stuff at individual runners. I saw a Rogue friend too, somewhere pretty close to the halfway mark. The humidity was taking its toll–my ponytail was completely soaked, and I hadn’t even poured water on my head. I didn’t want to overdo it with the Gatorade (no repeat of the Cleveland aftermath, thank you) so I mostly grabbed water, but probably twice I took Gatorade just to combat the humidity. Which at this point was probably closer to 100%, since it was actually drizzling a bit.

As we crossed Barton Springs road and headed over the South First Street bridge, an older gentleman in front of me tripped and fell. A couple of runners stopped to help him up–he’d banged up an elbow but was otherwise okay and kept going. Tough.

We made the turn onto West First (where I said earlier it was a great place for spectators since the race would come back that way) and headed west. Freescale had a dance party going on here–orange-clad volunteers, “I’m Too Sexy” blaring from an enormous sound system. There was even a dancing Stormtrooper!

And then, more incline, up the overpass near Austin High. But to my surprise, as I reached the top, I saw M and B again! Later they told me that while they waited for me, B rolled down the grassy hill off to the side to entertain himself. A runner came by and said “That looks like fun!” and then took off her running belt and rolled down the hill with B. Love it!

Under the highway, just past the Mile 10 marker, a woman held a sign that said “You’ve done dumber things when you were drunk.” I laughed. But The hills (and humidity) were taking their toll on me now, and I walked a few steps. Another mile, and there was the marathon-half marathon split. I could not have been happier to turn right onto 15th Street and take the half route. Mad respect for marathoners–I just don’t have it.

This part of the course worried me the most. It’s the reverse of the Capitol 10K and the Turkey Trot, so the big nasty hill is actually downhill. But going up again, from Lamar to West Avenue, is a beast. I was grateful for the crowd support here. Signs, cheering, even a guy with a megaphone sang “Eye of the Tiger” or at least those opening notes: Dun. Dun dun dun. Dun dun dun. Dun dun dunnnnnnnn. But I’m not a beast and had to walk some of it.

Downhill again, then it leveled out as we moved east. Homestretch. Right turn on San Jacinto where we met up with the marathoners. The same San Jacinto hill from the first mile of the race. There’s a joke that between the first mile and the last mile, someone comes out and raises that hill because it’s so much harder the second time. But something happened here that had a profound impact on me, and I’ll never forget it.

At this point, the course is divided–marathoners on the left and half-marathoners on the right. I looked over and saw a marathoner struggling. He had a brace on his knee and clutched his shirt in his hand. He was leaning forward, almost sagging, but still running. I thought he might collapse. Another marathoner ran alongside him and offered encouragement, and I moved over toward the divider and did the same. The sign said “800 meters to go.” Bystanders began to notice this man and started cheering louder. I don’t know if he noticed any of it. But I did, and I told myself that if he could do this, I could suck it up and run this damn hill.

As we reached the top, a medic ran out to join him. I was afraid she’d stop him–with 400 meters to go. But as I watched, she looked over at the crowd lined up on the curb and gestured for them to cheer. And cheer they did. It was like a wave of sound following them. I saw that he was in good hands, and as I made the penultimate turn onto 11th Street, I took off. The Capitol on my right, the marathoners–who’d gone twice as far as I had in the same time, let’s remember–on my left, hundreds of people lining the barricades, and nothing but downhill in front of me. I rode the wave down the hill, then turned left onto Congress Avenue, the finish line only a block away. I think I passed a bunch of people, but I can’t be certain. All I know is that as I stopped my Garmin and walked through the finishers’ area, I heard the announcer recognize that marathoner, running in with a medic. I could tell when he crossed the finish line because the crowd cheered like football fans celebrating the winning touchdown. Tears streamed down my face.

Yes, I achieved my goal, and I’m proud of that. But I witnessed something bigger today. Not only this man’s determination and iron will, but the response from hundreds of total strangers at the finish line of a grueling, humid, hilly race profoundly moved me. This is why I do this, y’all, and this is my city.

2014 Austin Half Marathon Finisher

2014 Austin Half Marathon Finisher

This may be my last half-marathon for a while. And I’ll never forget it.

Violating golden rules of race day

I’m still a relatively newbie distance runner, but one golden rule I’ve heard from the beginning is never try something new on race day. Wear familiar shoes, don’t wear the race shirt, bring gels you’ve already tried, stick to a routine. And for the most part I follow these almost superstitiously, particularly for longer races. Same protein bar, same Watermelon Gu, same Nike Dri-Fit capris, same socks, same wireless headphones I know how to work.

I once raced wearing shoes I’d only run in once before, but in my defense they were the same Mizuno Wave Riders I’ve worn for three shoe generations. In other words, it wasn’t much of a risk, particularly considering it was just a five-miler.

Yes, I do like black.

Yes, I do like black.

But for Sunday’s Austin half marathon, I’m going to violate this cardinal rule not once but twice. I’m going to wear my new Rogue shirt–gotta represent–and I will try out the FlipBelt. I’m justifying that one by telling myself that actual race day is the best way to road test it for an accurate review, which I’ll be doing in an upcoming post. The worst it can do is annoy me, I think. And I’m not really concerned about the shirt–I have a couple of similar shirts in the same brand. It’s not like I’m wearing shoes or socks I bought at the expo, right?

Have him ever tried something new on race day? How did it work out?

Want to win a FlipBelt? Stay tuned for my product review and a chance to enter a giveaway! Can’t wait? I’ll also have a 10% coupon code!

Die Winter, die!

I know this winter is far worse for people in northern climates. But really, I live in the south for a reason, and this “winter” thing is not it.

Since December, schools in Austin have been canceled three times and we’ve had three two-hour late starts. Let me tell you how rare this is: districts build in two bad-weather makeup days (notice they’re not called “snow” days) and often they’re on traditional holidays like Presidents’ Day, Good Friday, and even Memorial Day.

But we found out last week, after the third canceled day, that state law only requires that we make up two days. Districts can apply for waivers for anything beyond that. Do you see what I mean? Not only do we expect fewer than three days of bad weather, there’s actually a legislative provision that we don’t have to make up more than two. And it’s so rare, hardly anyone knew that rule existed until Friday.

What’s even more fun is that each time we’ve been closed, the next day or two the temps rose back up into the 60s and 70s. We were canceled Friday–it was in the 20s and patches on ice scattered the metro area–then Sunday it was 75. Monday it only got to 40. Tuesday we had ice and a late start, and it never got above about 35. Today it’s warming, and by Friday it’s supposed to be 75 again. The low Saturday night, leading into the Austin marathon Sunday morning, will likely only drop into the mid-50s. So I froze at training last night, and have to figure out a warm-weather hydration plan for Sunday’s race.

Which brings me to last night.

I’ve been training with this group since early September. We ran when it was 103 and when it was 23. We ran in sun and rain and the dark of night evening. I saw dozens of sunrises and sunsets in the company of these runners. And Tuesday was our last night of training before the Austin half marathon. Well, not everyone attended–it was 32 and drizzling on my way home from work, so I guess some folks played it safe. But somehow roads weren’t icy, so I figured I’d make the attempt and bail if things got dangerous.

I’d convinced B to come with me, since the group was planning to get together at a nearby restaurant afterwards, and so the two of us bundled up. He doesn’t have much in the way of cold-weather gear, but he found some tall soccer socks and shorts, which he wore under a pair of long athletic pants, plus a t-shirt and a sweatshirt, gloves and a hat. Not surprisingly, I overdressed–two shirts and a windbreaker proved too many layers, although my fleece-lined tights and compression socks were a good call.

We ran the mile out to the meeting point in the neighborhood, then ran three half-mile laps at 10k pace. The whole time, B chattered about his Minecraft obsession world(s). Something about creative mode vs survival mode, spawning chickens, building secret entrances, letting villagers live in his castle, escaping attacks by the Enderman. At one point he promised to spawn a unicorn for me, but I’m not sure if that’s possible or he was just testing me to see if I was paying attention.

We finished our three loops and headed back. The drizzle had stopped and roads seemed to have dried out a little. Back at Rogue, I abandoned one of my shirts and the windbreaker before driving over the the restaurant. I should have brought a completely different shirt to change into, though. The restaurant was cold and I just could not warm up. The food took forever to arrive, and B was getting grumpy from the wait and the cold. Eventually we ate–it was really good, but we kind of rushed because it was past his bedtime and I was still kind of worried about driving on iffy roads. But it was fun to socialize and chat about the upcoming race, and I’m glad we went.

This morning? School started at its usual time. It felt kind of weird. Can we please be done with winter?

Icepocalypse 3.0

Last night around 8:30 PM, with no precipitation in sight or on weather radar, the Austin school district canceled classes for today. That’s right, this year we have lost THREE days because of the weather, plus had two delayed starts.

But the crazy thing about this one? School officials didn’t even wait for freezing rain to fall. Or even form in the atmosphere. Or think about forming in the atmosphere. Even though the weather forecasters gave it just a 20% chance, calling it “very light accumulation not even detected by the computer model,” that was enough for widespread cancellation. Because as soon as AISD canceled, every other district fell  like dominoes. My Facebook news feed was full of people making a “WTF?” face–it seemed too early to make that call.

This morning I woke up to… nothing. No ice, no rain. Yeah, it was 25*, but my street was clear and the television traffic reports showed no problems anywhere in the metro area. The weather guy said, “There really isn’t a lot happening out there, except some ice on windshields in Blanco County.” Which is about an hour southwest of here. So I built a fire in the fireplace and settled down with a second cup of coffee.

After a while, I got to thinking. I am supposed to run six miles tomorrow morning, but we have plans this evening that might make waking up at 6:15 tomorrow morning a bit of a challenge. Fridays are normally rest days, but what if I ran my six miles today, then slept in and took a rest day tomorrow? I let the idea swirl around in my head for a while, and then decided to brave the cold and get it done today.

When I left the house, it was 26* and dry. I had on two layers plus gloves, a scarf, and a hat. That first step out the door made my eyes water and my cheeks freeze, but nothing was falling from the sky to make it worse.

It’s funny to run through a community that’s supposedly closed down due to bad weather. Lots of cars were out and about (I mean, really, there wasn’t ANY ice!) but as I passed a couple of schools, the emptiness of the parking lots reminded me that we were supposed to be paralyzed by ice and trapped in our homes.

This school usually has an enrollment of 2500 students. Today, zero.

I encountered a few intrepid folks walking dogs, but for the most part there weren’t many people on foot out there. A police car had a truck pulled over, an ambulance sat outside an apartment complex, and at one point I heard sirens a few blocks away. But overall, it was quiet.

On the way back I noticed a light, fine mist starting to fall. It was almost undetectable–I’m certain it wasn’t enough for drivers to notice on their windshields, let alone cause trouble on the roadways. Gah. We will have yet another school makeup day tacked on to the end of the year–for nothing. Yeah, it’s cold, but even though cold is somewhat alien to us, we don’t close schools because of it.

IMG_7302

Calling it a Wintry Mix was reaching a bit, I think.

I ended up running 6.5 miles, and I’m glad I got that done today so I can sleep in tomorrow. I never really warmed up, but it didn’t feel miserably cold either. I certainly appreciated the warm fireplace and hot shower when I got home, though!

Now, if this weather could get its act together, that’d be great. I live in the south for a reason—this weather is not it.

Did you get out and run today? What were the conditions like?

“I smell cold.”

B and I went running today. I gave him the choice between running two miles with me or going to core class. Running was the shorter-duration activity, but core class is indoors. Considering that today is another cold, windy day in Austin–we had a two-hour school delay due to ice this morning, and the high never got out of the 20s–I wasn’t sure which one he’d choose. It was kind of a trick question, though, since each activity had a high degree of difficulty, albeit for different reasons.

But he chose running. So we bundled up and headed out. Yowza. When the wind hit my cheeks, I almost turned around and got in the car for core class. But B started chattering away about something-or-other he’s building on Minecraft, and I figured if he wasn’t complaining, I could suck it up and do this thing.

After the first mile, we passed a house that maybe had a fire in their fireplace. B asked if I smelled anything. I replied that no, my nose was way too frozen for me to recognize individual scents. He laughed and said, “Well I smell cold.” It sure wasn’t someone cooking outside.

For anyone counting at home, Austin schools have had two two-hour delays and two completely canceled days since mid-December. And the weather forecasters are hinting at more ice overnight tonight. I can relate to the Angry BBQ.