A Grand Day Out

This morning, after I dragged my lazy butt out of bed (hey, it’s my one day to sleep in), I realized the temperature was cool and it was drizzling. So even though I ran five miles yesterday, I took advantage of the slightly cooler temps for a three-mile run around the neighborhood. Well, it was cool and drizzly when I started…. but by the time I finished, it was sunny and warm. Naturally.

After my run, we decided drive out to the Hill Country, maybe visit one of the state parks. No real destination in mind–we were hoping to see the last of the bluebonnets, but we really didn’t find any.


Non-bluebonnet wildflowers

So we headed toward Inks Lake State Park–the Highland Lakes (particularly Travis and Buchanan) are really low due to the ongoing drought, but Inks is a constant-level lake so it should still look pretty scenic. But then we spotted a sign for Longhorn Cavern a few more miles down the road. We’d been to Carlsbad a few years ago (only a few days after a wildfire burned a huge swath through the park) and loved it, so we kept driving.

The only way in to Longhorn Cavern is via tour guide, so while we waited for the next tour, we checked out the old park administration building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.


This information would become important later in the tour.

As we walked down the stairs toward the entrance, the temperature dropped at least ten degrees. Walking inside the cavern itself, it became even cooler–68* year-round. Clearly this is a wise summertime activity!

The land was privately-owned until the late 1930s. During Prohibition, a section of the cavern actually functioned as a Speakeasy–with a bar, a dance floor, and a stage. In the next room, they held church services. Go figure.

I think this is a replica of the performance stage when it was part of the speakeasy in the 1920s.

I think this is a replica of the performance stage when it was part of the speakeasy in the 1920s.

But the landowner, sometime after Prohibition ended, ran into some financial trouble and sold the land to the state. As part of the CCC, hundreds of workers (for $1/day plus room and board) then excavated the cavern from the small section used for the Speakeasy to a six-mile underground state park. Using wheelbarrows and shovels, it took them several years to remove the dirt and sediment deposited by the river that initially created the cavern. It must have been backbreaking, exhausting work. But the results are pretty impressive.

The "rock-weiler" guard dog, Zombie Lincoln (can you see his profile?), illuminated quartz, and active stalactites.

The “rock-weiler” guard dog, Zombie Lincoln (can you see his profile?), illuminated quartz, and active stalactites.

The “rock-weiler” stands in what’s known as the Throne Room. It’s natural formation, although it’s no longer situated in its original location. The story goes, some years ago a woman wanted a picture astride the dog, and not surprisingly, it broke. It was repaired and slightly relocated. I can’t find anything to verify this, or the supposed $70,000 fine the woman had to pay, but that’s the lore.

I didn’t get a picture of the Cave Bear, but rubbing its shiny nose supposedly gives you good luck. Another section looks like natural limestone, but it’s actually limestone concrete and chicken wire, constructed by the CCC to seal up the original speakeasy entrance.

Finally, we learned that the cavern was designated as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. These barrels (now used as trash cans) were filled with provisions and placed around the cavern. As it’s only about 50 miles from Johnson City, there were plans for LBJ to shelter here, should that become necessary, along with up to 1500 of his fellow Americans.

Department of Civil Defense

Courtesy of the Department of Civil Defense

We emerged back into 80-degree temps, which was kind of a shock. We had walked approximately a mile and a half and dropped 120 feet below the surface. But it was gradual and never seemed arduous. I had to pay attention to my footsteps in the dim light, as I was wearing flip-flops and the ground was kind of uneven. And a few sections were very very low–even I had to duck in a couple of spots. But it’s an interesting place and was a great grand way to spend the day.


Sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away

Last night, the weather forecast called for the humidity to drop in the morning, just in time for my run. Except when I got up, a thunderstorm loomed nearby and the humidity most definitely still hovered around the eleventy-nine percent mark. No rainout, no storm cancellation, no excuses.

So I headed out to meet my friend. We haven’t run together in a couple of weeks, since our training program ended, but we agreed to continue meeting on Saturdays for 4-6 miles of accountability. Today we planned five.


We were slow to get out the door, slow to start our watches, slow to move from a walk to a run. The first mile was just getting ankles and knees and hips to remember what the hell they were supposed to be doing. We stopped for water, then continued on. The cloudcover helped, but it still felt like we were running through a swamp.

kermit swamp

But without the serenading frog.

The next water stop was just past the three-mile point. By this time, we were drenched in sweat–even my elbows were sweaty. I drank some water and dumped some on my head.

By this point the sun had come out and we resorted to bargaining with ourselves–run to the fire hydrant, run to the traffic light, run to the water cooler. Pretty much the last two miles were one giant mind game.

We ended up with 5.1 miles of sweaty sluggishness. Time to rehydrate!

It was the frog’s idea.


I’m not currently training for anything, but I’m still trying to go out a couple of times during the week for 3ish miles at a time, plus maintain a 4-6 mile Saturday long run for the rest of the school year and through the summer. But it’s much easier to slack off when I’m not training with a group–it’s hot, it’s humid, I don’t feel well, I’m tired, I don’t want to.

blerch nike

The Blerch via The Oatmeal http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running

I skipped core class Monday due to a horrid sinus headache (no, I still haven’t completely shaken this cold/congestion/whatever, although the cough is gone) and tried to run Tuesday. But I haven’t acclimated to the warmer weather yet and I still didn’t feel great, so those were a pretty miserable 2.5 miles. Yesterday I accidentally fell asleep at 7pm and woke up two hours later–oops. So today was the day to get back to normal.

It’s 1.2 miles to the park with the water fountain, so I planned an easy there-and-back. I like this route because it’s broken up into a couple of segments and it doesn’t seem very difficult when I look at it that way. But the humidity was eleventy-nine percent when I headed out–yippee.

I felt okay on the way out. The water in the fountain at the park was on the warm side, but the little break helped. Instead of turning around, I ran out the back of the park and looped around the long way back to the water fountain. Then up the little hill and back to the traffic light. I got temporarily stuck behind a dog-walker because the narrow road doesn’t have sidewalks, and a bunch of traffic was coming our way. Other than that, it was reasonably uneventful–just humid. The air was thick, but at least the sun stayed mostly behind the clouds.

I ended up with a grand total of three miles, although effort-wise, it felt like a lot more. It’s clearly not the mileage I was running when I was training for something, but that’s okay. I stayed ahead of the Blerch.

Long Road Back

What a week.

After Sunday’s breathing-challenged Capitol 10K, my training program was complete. For the first time (injury notwithstanding) since August I did not have a training run on Tuesday or Thursday, or a long run on Saturday. Which is probably good, because all week I couldn’t shake the cough and congestion. Tuesday night I met my training group for celebratory drinks, and that was as close as I got to running.

This was the last week of the grading period at work, so I fielded a lot of last-minute “what can I do to bring up my grade??” panicked requests as I scrambled to get everything finalized before the computer gradebook closed Friday night. Simultaneously I had to meet a tight deadline for new NJHS invitations–calculating evaluation scores, printing letters, stuffing envelopes, and getting them distributed to about 150 kids by the end of the week. And also simultaneously I was working with my students on a pretty big No Place for Hate video project that took up whatever time I had left. Hugely worthwhile and professionally satisfying, but time-consuming and emotionally draining as well.

On top of all that, this year I’m working on my National Board Certification Renewal that’s due in May. It’s not quite as intense as my original certification process, but it’s complicated and requires about 50 pages of written analysis of my teaching, a dozen pieces of documentation, and 15 minutes of video recordings. I’ve been working on its various components all school year and it’s coming down to the wire. So naturally Friday night, after I spent about two hours rewriting a chunk of it to include the NPFH video project, Word freaked out. The backspace key just …. backspaced. And backspaced. I couldn’t stop it–I could only watch as it took out seven of the 20 pages of work before it mercifully froze. I still had the original (I always rename and save a new version of the file before making big revisions in case I want to revert back to the earlier version) but the last two hours of work was gone because Autosave had, of course, autosaved the jacked up version. Fortunately I had no plans to get up early for a long run, since I stayed up late trying to resurrect my work.

But I’m still congested so I didn’t sleep well, plus B had an early lacrosse game. Even without the long run, I was up at seven. Yawn. But his team is having an amazing season and they’re fun to watch.

Later in the day, after lunch with my dad, we went to Camp Mabry’s Muster Day. We’ve done this every year since B was small–they have military and police/EMS helicopters, tanks, a WWII re-enactment including vintage Commemorative Air Force planes, Buffalo Soldiers, Jeeps, a replica Vietnam Memorial wall, and a museum. Lots of walking, so it’s not like I was lazy, but it still wasn’t running.

Skies were grey and threatened rain most of the day, but it didn’t really do more than drizzle. So around 6:30 I decided to run over to the park and around the reservoir and shoot for about four miles. I like this route because the park has a water fountain, and waiting for the Walk signal at the big intersection usually gives me a short breather. I was kind of surprised that the first .75 from my house to the light felt good, especially considering my continued congestion or whatever the hell this is. I wondered if I could keep that up or if stopping would doom me to run-walk the rest of the way. But by the time I got to the park, I was still running strong. Or at least Less Slow Than Last Week.

I took the long way out of the park and up the far street, then hit the reservoir trail from the other direction. The rain picked up and I only saw a few folks out on the trail. And a guy fishing in the reservoir.

meltI don’t know about y’all, but I like running in the rain most of the time. I mean, if it’s gonna be eleventy-seven percent humidity, it might as well rain on me and cool me off a bit! Drivers looked a little weirdly at me, but whatever. I was two miles from home and it’s not like could get there any other way.

In the end, I ran 4.25 miles. I was breathing heavily, but from exertion not asthma. I stopped for the light once each way, at the park’s water fountain once each way, and once to catch my breath at the top of a hill. Otherwise I didn’t succumb to the walk breaks and I felt good. I learned about earwax and weird medical treatments from the guys at Stuff You Should Know, and I burned off at least some of my lunch. It was a huge improvement over last weekend’s wheezing trainwreck!

Now that my races are over for a while, I’ve had a chance to think about what I want to do next. Last year I went from training group to training group and race to race without much of a break, and I ended up with a trio of injuries. This spring and summer I’m going to focus on core class and strength training with 4-6 mile Saturday long runs, then go back to training in September. As long-term plans go, taking the long road back seems like a wise one.

But now that the crazy-busy week is behind me, I’m ready to kick back with my book for a while.

Capitol 10K: onward through the fog

Just call it the Gasp-itol 10K.

It was 70 degrees and humid when we got out of the car to walk over to the start of the Capitol 10K. Not exactly ideal conditions. I had slept reasonably well, but my occasional spasms of barking coughs told me it was going to be a tough race.

Race organizers did something new this year. Again. They used to have strict fenced corrals based on bib color/predicted finishing time. The last couple of years it’s been more of a self-seeding situation, but I guess people really suck at that because this year they had about six corrals, and they sent them off in waves of two corrals every 15 minutes. Instead of one massive, impressive group running up Congress Avenue, it was several smaller contingents. Originally our corral was scheduled to leave 30 minutes after the elites–quite disappointing. But in the end they sent us at about 8:15, so it wasn’t too bad.

Foggy start

Foggy start

And it didn’t even change anything for the better. Before I even made it all the way across the bridge, I encountered people walking right down the middle of the road. One walker was wearing jeans. Why oh why did she start in front of runners? I mean really, I’m slow and at the moment I’m coughing like a TB patient. If I’m passing you the first half-mile, you started too close to the front.

The first mile up Congress went reasonably well other than that. But the fog was so thick, I couldn’t see the Capitol dome even from the street in front of it.

12th and Congress, right in front of the Capitol complex.

12th and Congress, right in front of the Capitol complex.

We made the turn onto 12th Street and I had to walk up the hill until the turn onto San Jacinto. A mile in, and I couldn’t catch my breath. Heading down the San Jacinto hill, I worried that the wet street would be slippery, but I managed to avoid mishap. We turned left onto 15th Street and began the long trek up and down the most difficult of the hills, made more difficult by my inability to breathe well.

I simply could.not.run up those hills. The humidity made me feel like I was trying to breathe through a sock. Or one of those coffee-stirrers. So I walked up the hills and ran down them, trying not to slip on the wet pavement. Near the top of the last part of the hilly section, I saw a guy holding a sign that said “Nap 10K” with an arrow pointing to the house behind him. You have no idea how tempted I was to stop and take that nap.

The last three miles, I ran when I could and walked when I had to. My breathing was ragged and uneven, and each burst of exertion brought more wheezing and coughing. To add insult to injury, around mile four a live band was playing “You’re No Good” when we ran by. A somewhat dispiriting song selection. And when I could run I had to weave around people who were walking as many as 12 side by side.

I saw some Rogues just past the mile five marker–I enjoyed my personal cheerleaders! And I ran most of that last mile. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy, but I was ready to be done. We reached the finish line and my friends were waiting–they’d finished a few minutes earlier and had snagged water for us. So grateful I didn’t have to make my way through the maze that was the finish area.

For some reason my quads were really sore, like I’d run much further than 6.2 miles. I guess because I wasn’t breathing well, I wasn’t getting oxygen to my extremities efficiently enough to compensate for running? I don’t know–I may have made that up. 😉

This race is normally one I enjoy–last year’s race is still my 10K PR. But the staggered start combined with my breathing issues and the disorganization at the end disappointed me all the way around.

And now, that Nap 10K.

I can’t catch a break

So I finally got off the recurring injury train and returned to a semi-normal running schedule to finish out the races I’d signed up to run before I got hurt. One more to go this weekend–the Capitol 10K.

Naturally that means a few days ago I developed some kind of respiratory thing.

Spring in Austin is allergy season, although I’m normally not affected by pollen and stuff in the air. But this year it has been more pollen-y than usual–even my car (in the garage) is covered with a green sheen. My asthmatic lungs haven’t been too excited about that, but I was doing okay with the inhaler. Until the smoke from Mexico blew north. By Friday night I was coughing like a two-pack-a-day smoker.

I ran for about 20 minutes this morning just to see how well I’d be able to breathe for the race tomorrow, and I managed to make the short loop without respiratory distress. I should be able to muddle through the10K. It’s a great race and I’d be disappointed if I couldn’t make it.

Huge thanks to my friend S who picked up our race stuff at the expo yesterday! And good stuff was to be had, that’s for sure.

IMG_0544This year the lime-green race shirt is a technical tee, which is new and exciting. The grey shirt is an extra freebie–one of the car dealerships prints them and gives them away, but you gotta be fast because they’re gone quickly. S was there early and snagged one for each of us! Plus the HEB grocery bag had chap stick, a packet of wildflower seeds, and an ice pack thing. Which I need after the Great Chemical Burn of 2014. So yay!

This is my last race for a while, so I’m looking forward to making it a good one.

The church of the long run

I usually do my long run on Saturday mornings, but yesterday we ran a 5K race instead, so I decided I’d put in a few miles this morning. My family is not particularly religious, so my only church-related concern was the increased traffic along my intended route since the front of the (non-sidewalked) neighborhood connects to one of those huge Texas mega-churches.

It was drizzling and cool as I headed out–another reason I wanted to go this morning rather than waiting until later in the day. I wasn’t moving particularly quickly, but considering I was running on semi-tired legs after yesterday’s race, I felt pretty good.

After 1.25 miles, I crossed a busy road and continued another 1.25 miles to the high school. My Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me podcast caused me to laugh out loud and shout quiz answers periodically (probably startling passerby), and then I turned around and went back the way I’d come, just on the other side of the road. Along this stretch there’s a sidewalk, a parking lane closest to the curb,then a bike lane, and a driving lane. The sidewalk is concrete and somewhat uneven, so when I go this way I tend to run on the asphalt, either in the parking lane if no one’s there (it’s not a residential road, so I’m not sure why, except in front of the park, they’ve sectioned off so much of it) or in the bike lane. But it gave me a wide space to run without worrying a whole lot about traffic, so that’s nice.


Bluebonnets = Texas rite of spring

I crossed back into my neighborhood where traffic had increased significantly. Fortunately this part of the street has a bike lane (but no sidewalks) so I had room, and a driver on the church’s cut-through street waved me across so I didn’t have to stop.

Closer to home, the road narrowed and the bike lane disappeared. It’s wide enough for two cars to pass each other, but not wide enough for a car to swing wide around a pedestrian while staying on its own side. Most drivers will give me space if no cars are oncoming, but this time of day on a Sunday, lots of folks were coming and going so it got a little dicey, especially on the bridge over the little creek.

Once I turned onto my street, I breathed a little easier. We live on the back side of a loop–the only cars belong to people who live back there (and look out for me, kids on bikes, and neighbors walking dogs) or people who are lost. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me finished just as I turned the corner toward my driveway: five miles even.

I enjoy running with friends who tell stories to distract me and push me to keep running when I want to take a break. Races motivate me to push hard–after all, those times live on the internet forever. But running alone gives me a chance to spend some time inside my own head (which is occasionally crowded with Peter Sagal and the WWDTM panelists, and sometimes Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know as well) and rely on myself to complete the distance. Today’s run wasn’t fast, and as long runs go it wasn’t particularly long. but it felt pretty good.

My kind of rite of spring, I guess.