Outstanding in our field

The sun peeked over the horizon and temps were in the 50s as we drove to the park for our first 5K of 2014. It was a perfect morning for a race.

We arrived a little early and were treated to a sea of bluebonnets blanketing the field next to the trail. So like good Texans, we snapped the obligatory bluebonnet pictures.

Outstanding in the field

Outstanding in the field

Last year, the Tri Doc 5K was a tiny costume race–maybe thirty people–that B ran on his own. It was the week before the Cleveland half marathon and I didn’t want to aggravate my left calf, which had been giving me allllll kinds of trouble. I cheered him on as he placed second in his age group. This year, Rogue sponsored the race, which benefits Marathon High, a running program for at-risk teens. As a result, turnout was much higher–lots of my Rogue friends had signed up too. M had the injury this time, so instead of racing, he brought his camera and became the unofficial race photographer, staking out a great spot near the start/finish line. Thus B and I were tasked with upholding the family’s honor amid a field of about 100 runners.

I’ve been training hard all winter and had an ambitious time goal in mind; B wanted to run his first sub-30 minute race.

And we’re off! Photo via The Tri Doc.

The course was an out-and-back along Brushy Creek Trail, a location I’ve run a gazillion times. The first section had gotten a bit muddy due to a weird hailstorm that hit last night, but otherwise it’s mostly flat with a wide sidewalk, a really nice route.

I have a tendency to start off too fast, but if I had any chance of reaching my time goal, I needed to start fast-for-me and maintain it throughout the whole race. I held it for the first mile. So far, so good. During the second mile, I started seeing the super-fast runners on the way back–that’s always a bit demoralizing, but I focused on looking for B. He’s capable of a sub-30 minute 5K, but without his dad to pace him and motivate him, he faced something of a challenge. When I passed him going the other way, though, he was running hard and looked strong. I guessed he was three or four minutes ahead of me, but I couldn’t really gauge how close either of us was to our goals. We high-fived and kept going.

I made the turnaround knowing the next half-mile would be the toughest stretch because I couldn’t afford to slow down. A couple of small hills that don’t seem like much could be the difference for me, time-wise. I skipped the water stop both coming and going for the same reason.

The third mile was pretty flat. By now I knew I had success in my sights, and I just kept visualizing the finish line’s race clock, the subsequent fist pump of achievement. I kicked it up a notch. Around the curve, under the highway, back on the muddy trail. I spotted B standing off to the side. I high-fived him on the run, and then I saw the race clock.

Home stretch

He makes me look like a slacker, but I was really only about four minutes behind him!

I finished with a PR of more than three minutes, beating my ambitious goal by more than a minute. And B met his sub-30 minute goal by about 30 seconds. He even placed third in his age group!

I know his 29:xx finish is just barely adequate for a lot of runners, let alone my 34-minute one. But we think our performances were pretty outstanding.

Next week: the Capitol 10K. Can we PR that race too?

Bugs

Last night, I ran along the path at the sports complex where B has lacrosse practice. An out-and-back along the western path gets me almost a mile, and going east I can extend it further by running into the neighborhood. Two laps of that, and I’ve run 5.25 miles. My goal was to run the whole thing at half-marathon goal pace–I’ve had some trouble with consistency lately, particularly starting off too fast, so I wanted to work on that.

The path is concrete and mostly flat, with a couple of hills as it crosses a creek bed. Small children, bikes, dog-walkers, and errant soccer balls present occasional obstacles, and once I saw a snake and a turtle, but mostly it’s a peaceful, quiet route.

Gnat vortex

I didn’t encounter any wildlife at first. Just a cyclist and a couple of dog-walkers. But as I took the eastbound path across the creek bed and past the soccer field, I ran into swarms of gnats. Literally. My out-and-back route brought me through this section four times, and each time the gnat cloud seemed larger and more aggressive. The first time they were a nuisance. The second time one flew in my eye. The third time a squadron of them stuck to my shirt, which began to resemble a car windshield at the end of a road trip. My final trip through the Great Gnat Vortex left me with gnats up my nose, another in my eye, and I’m pretty sure I swallowed a couple.

Despite insect interference, I managed to run within 10-15 seconds on either side of my HMGP through all five miles. The last quarter-mile I picked it up, finishing at more of a 5K pace. Or at least the pace I’d like to run for Saturday’s 5K.

I’m hoping for a strong showing this weekend. I just hope the bugs stay home.

Spring?

Dare I say it?

Austin is showing signs of spring.

Scout team

Scout team

It’s gotten a slow start–last week during Spring Break temps were quite a bit cooler than usual. But this week, things started looking up. Monday morning I saw a scout team bluebonnet, and by the end of the week they covered the hill behind my school and many a highway median.

This morning, it was 64* with 100% humidity as I headed out for 6-8 miles. Heely Sonova again. Part of me wanted to take the shorter run–the hills kick in around mile three, so for a total of six I’d stop and turn back just before the first big hill–but with the Capitol 10K (and its monster mid-race hill) coming up, I wanted to get in a good practice hill while I had the chance. I figured if I felt good after three miles, I’d run the hill for the longer distance.

Around 2.5 miles, my companions and I stopped for water. I haven’t been carrying my own water–in cooler weather, the Rogue water stops work just fine for me. But I can tell it’s warming up and I will need to dig out my hand-held bottle pretty soon.

Oops.

Oops.

The water cooler sat on a corner that was covered in bluebonnets, but misfortune had befallen some of the little flowers. Evidently a car had jumped the curb and smashed into a fence on the corner.

Like I said, the route is reasonably flat until about mile three. We took it easy, and while I’m never fully awake or cheerful in the morning, I felt okay. Much better than the last two Saturdays, for sure. So up the hill we went. It’s not even a half-mile long, but it’s pretty steep. Last week I would have complained and grumbled and cursed the whole way up, but today I channeled my inner drill sergeant. I think I actually said something aloud about how putting in the work today will pay off on race day.

At the top of the hill, one of my companions peeled off and headed back because she had a family obligation this morning. So two of us carried on to make it an even four miles before turning back. We’d gotten the difficult part out of the way early, and the return trip was mostly downhill.

Water stop photo op

Water stop photo op

I was sleepy-tired and my brain was foggy, but physically I felt okay. Unfortunately my running buddy started feeling ill around mile five, and we walked some. Took a break at the bluebonnet water stop and ran-walked the rest of the way back to Rogue.

Isn’t that always how things go? The last two Saturdays when we’ve run together I’ve felt slow and sluggish. Today my legs were strong and I could have easily run the entire eight miles, but she felt funky. She encouraged me to go ahead without her, but that didn’t seem right. In a race? Maybe. But an easy-paced Saturday long run? Nah, I could take it slowly and keep her company.

Besides, this may be my last Saturday long run for a while. Next Saturday morning we’re running a 5K race, and the following weekend is the Capitol 10K. That race is on Sunday, but I’m not going to drag my sorry ass up early on Saturday for a long run the day before a 10K race. Sleep late, I will. And the weekend after that is the Austin 10/20–again, a Sunday race but a sleep-late Saturday. Three consecutive weekends, three increasingly longer races. Yep, it’s spring!

 

Coffee and tacos

These are a few two of my favorite things.

Especially after a long run.

In fact, toward the end of the run, it’s really all I can think about. Coffee and tacos, coffee and tacos. It becomes a mantra that I repeat out loud the last mile or two.

Most Saturdays, M and B go out for breakfast at the local Mexican restaurant while I run, and they bring back special tacos just for me. There’s nothing like coming home to find those delicious foil-wrapped rectangles on the counter. I fire up the coffee machine and scarf them down before I even take a shower, usually.

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This is the largest mug I own.

This morning, though, the guys were out of town, so after my run I swung by Taco Shack. I had been craving a regular crispy taco–not the usual breakfast variety–but unfortunately it was too early in the day. They wouldn’t serve regular tacos for another half-hour or so. And a fajita meat substitute just would not do. And waiting wasn’t an option. I’d run 10 miserable miles in 100% humidity–I was a mess, and my presence alone probably violated all kinds of health codes. So I left empty-handed.

I foraged for something decent at home, and I made my coffee. Now that I’ve ensconced myself on the couch, I really have no desire to go back out in the rain, even for tacos. The guys should be home later this afternoon–it won’t take much to convince them to take me out for Mexican food. I burned over 1000 calories this morning–if that doesn’t earn me coffee and tacos, I don’t know what will.

What’s your favorite post-run food?

F F F, what begins with F?

Last Saturday I ran ten miles with two Rogues. Pretty early on, it became obvious that if you’re going to run with us, you’ve gotta be prepared for some colorful language. Same thing with this post, really. Fair warning.

They say someone who swears a lot is covering for a deficient vocabulary. However, I have a college degree and can capably construct sentences peppered with multisyllabic SAT words. I am well-read, and even on my most difficult day teaching seventh grade, I’ve always chosen appropriate language. But I also think that a well-placed swear word (or two) can communicate an emotion with a kind of power and creativity that cleaner words do not. Dr. Seuss said it in his Seussian way, and I’ll say it in mine.

#JFRI’m not talking about gratuitous swear words. I choose words not to shock or offend, but to describe the intensity of an experience. And let’s face it–running’s strenuous effort of the body and mind offers plenty of opportunities.

So when Rogue began its #JFR movement, I jumped right on that bandwagon. Got the sticker and the shirt, quite literally. It seemed like this slogan was made for me! It’s subtle–just a hashtag and an acronym, clever in its simplicity. But the well-placed F adds power and enthusiasm that “just run” doesn’t convey on its own.  Some examples:

As I ran the 3M half marathon, K texted me funny motivational stuff that Siri read through my headphones. Of all the things Siri shared that day, I laughed hardest at her rendition of “Just fucking run!” around mile ten. If she had just said “Run!” I might have thought zombies were chasing me. But hearing “Just fucking run!” motivated me to pick up the pace.

Austin sits on the edge of the Hill Country, so many local races include some difficult ascents and descents. To prepare us, Rogue coaches incorporate the hills into our workouts. Two long run route names–Heely Sonova and Run from Hell–perhaps offer some insight to their masochism dedication to thorough training. Weekday workouts also often involve some kind of hill repeats or loops. Anyone who’s run one of these knows that they’re not just hills. They’re “fucking hills.” Halfway through Heely Sonova, it’s no longer just a long run. It’s “Fucking Heely Sonova” with exclamation points. And that distinction is significant.

IMG_7691And then there’s this tree. It sits next to the sidewalk on the main road in and out of Rogue, its low-hanging branches ready to smack even the shortest of runners and those who aren’t quick enough to duck or juke to the left. Even though I know the damn thing is there, my training runs pass it after work on weekdays or early Saturday mornings–when it’s dark, when I’m tired, and when my reaction times are slow. So I call it “that fucking tree” because honestly, that thing is aggressive. Its very presence increases the degree of difficulty of my run, and “stupid tree” or “argh, a tree!” just doesn’t convey the level of annoyance rendered by that fucking tree.

Clearly I believe in the power of language and embrace its various forms. Yeah, some people enjoy the shock value that a blue streak of invective can bring, and perhaps those folks could stand to broaden their vocabularic horizons a bit. But the use of swear words, even in long unbroken colorful streams, doesn’t automatically indicate a lack of education or intelligence. Quite contrary, I think it takes creativity and talent to use this one word as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, and an interjection. What other word has that kind of power? It’s not called an F-bomb for nothing.

In like a lion

March in Texas generally means warmer temperatures, budding trees, and bluebonnets.

Except this year, when it doesn’t.

Oh yeah, last Saturday it was foggy and humid for my six-miler, but I wouldn’t say it was cold. Sunday morning though, guess what? Another arctic cold front. When I woke up, it was in the high 60s, and I told myself I needed to go out for a short run. By the time I actually got out there about an hour later, the temperature had dropped into the 30s. Later it drizzled on our way to see a Cirque du Soleil show, and when we came out, the car’s side mirrors had completely frozen over.

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Thundersleet!

Fortunately the rain stopped and roads dried out before the day was out, and it didn’t impact our drive to work on Monday. B and I went to core class after school, and no further weird weather hit us by the time we got home for the evening. But overnight, we had Attack of Thundersleet. Thunderstorms plus below-freezing temperatures meant that ice began coating trees, house eaves, and yes, roads. Even before I’d gone to bed, Austin ISD announced a two-hour late start–our fourth since mid-December–so I turned off the alarm clocks and slept in.

Our (two-hours delayed) drive to school wasn’t too treacherous, but I definitely saw patches of ice on overpasses and that kind of thing. We took it slowly and didn’t encounter any significant problems. The high temperature made it to the 50s I think, so after work I ran my usual three-mile loop around the neighborhood.

Wednesday is my new training night. I am having a difficult time adjusting, since I’ve been training on Tuesdays pretty much since I started with Rogue back in the summer of 2012. It’s a spring half-marathon group, but the only Austin distance race in the spring is the Austin 10/20, which technically is a tad shy of a half marathon. But I ran it last year and like the 10-mile distance, so I’m good with this plan. We ran tempo intervals this week–just over a mile warmup, then three miles at 10K pace, each with a two-minute break in between, then the mile back to Rogue. I felt really strong and ran this one hard–probably faster than I should have, but I have a couple of 5Ks and a 10K coming up and I’m interested in improving my speed for those as well as preparing for the 10/20. So I went with the two-birds-one-stone strategy and was pretty happy with the numbers my Garmin spit out at the end of the night.

On Thursday B and I went out for an easy-effort 45-minute run. We intended to run through the adjacent neighborhood to the middle school, circle the track a few times, and come back. But students were having track practice, so we improvised. I still felt a little sore from the previous night’s effort, so we took it slowly, meandering around the scenic route. We only got lost once, and we finished with 3.5 miles.

My mantra

I haven’t been sleeping very well, so this morning’s alarm was not my friend. But I got up and made the 7:00 meetup. I ended up running with two other Rogues, and I’m really glad it worked out that way. It rained the entire ten miles, and I started feeling slow and sore even before the halfway point. And once again I’d forgotten my Shotbloks, so I was grateful when my buddies shared theirs. Man, I have to start planning better on Friday nights, since my brain doesn’t fire properly  early on Saturday morning! But thanks to them, I ran pretty much the whole route. We stopped for water several times and took a couple of short walk breaks, but for the most part we ran it all. We were slow, we complained a lot, and there was cursing. They heard my “suck it up, princess” mantra–probably more than was strictly necessary. But we didn’t give up or take the shortcut back.

This week is Spring Break. Once upon a time, that meant travel. The beach, the lake, whatever. Now I’m just happy to turn off my alarm clock for a week and catch up on sleep. Being off work makes it easier to keep up with my training schedule, too. But really, it’s time for March to tone it down and do that lamb thing. I’m ready for spring.

I spy with my little eye…

… a bunch of weird stuff when I’m out running.

My neighborhood is quirky–we aren’t in the city limits and don’t have restrictive HOA rules. Many people live on a half-acre or more and have built large garages or workshops next to their houses. It seems to be a Mecca for car guys–many of these garages (including ours) contain old hot rods and restoration projects. But that’s not all. On my ventures around the ‘hood, I see all kinds of interesting things. Here are a few.

A double-decker London Bus that’s been converted to a food truck:

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Fish -n- Chips!

Herbie the Love Bug:

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Herbie!

A Little Free Library:.

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Little Free Library

Peacocks:

Peacocks on the roof

Peacocks on the roof

Fresh eggs from backyard chickens:

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Free-range, more or less

Metal chicken sculptures:

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Sculptures plural–this guy is not the only one

Horses:

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They’re not usually free-range

Today you can add “texting driver” and “loose dog” to the list as well.

What kinds of sights do you see when you run?