Spring has sprung

Central Texas, for all its weird weather, has had the mildest winter in recent memory. After Thanksgiving I brought my front porch plants inside, but I don’t think temps really dropped below freezing for very long–my plants could have stayed out all winter.

So it was no surprise that trees and flowers are starting to bloom, and the sounds of birds chirping accompanied our run this morning.

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The plan was to meet at the trail at eight for five miles–I’m still recovering from the travel sleep deficit, so starting later helped me out there. I mean, Wednesday through Friday nights, I fell asleep before 9pm! The older I get, the harder it is to bounce back, I guess. Anyway, we planned to run five, before resuming a regular training schedule on Tuesday.

Temps were in the 40s, although when we dropped down next to the creek a half-mile in, it felt much colder, at least until the trail rose back up again around 1.5 miles. But it was perfect running weather. We took a detour for water near the halfway point, and we stopped just before the last hill so I could use my inhaler. But none of us felt like pushing hard, so we just chatted and trotted along. My legs were a little tired, but much better than Wednesday’s run, when it became clear that I needed to trade out my shoes for new ones, and Thursday’s when the new shoes were laced too tightly and just weren’t quite right.

The creek was up a little–apparently  it rained last weekend while I was gone–and squirrels kept leaping out at us. Add in the chirping birds and it sounded like one of those relaxing nature sounds apps. At least until someone ran by listening to music sans headphones, or when we passed the group doing crossfit or something while the instructor (and accompanying music) blared through a speaker the size of a suitcase.

After we got back to our cars, my friends hit the road. I drank a little water and decided to go out to the half-mile marker again to round out another mile. So I ended  up with just over six, and I feel pretty good about resuming my training this week.

But for now, I’m going to sit down with my book and call it recovery.

Sleep is overrated

Just before six on Saturday morning, after about five hours of sleep, I met my NJHS co-sponsor, two faculty members, eleven parents, and 59 eighth-graders at the Austin airport for our flight to Washington, D.C.

And that was the easy part.

Day One included:

  • Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
  • WWII Memorial and Washington Monument (with extra vigilance to ensure they’re not positioning themselves just so on either side of the obelisk for their pictures)
  • Potomac River dinner cruise


The dinner cruise is typically the second or third night of the trip, but this year we happened to do it first. We finally reached our hotel at about 10:30 pm, about eighteen hours after I left my house. Even with the 2.5-hour flight, the drive from Baltimore, and an afternoon on and off the bus, I ended up with 14,116 steps, according to my Vivofit.

Day Two:

  • Iwo Jima Memorial (AKA the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial)
  • Wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery
  • Ford’s Theater and the Peterson House (where Lincoln died)
  • Newseum (whose stairs make it look like an Escher painting)
  • MLK and FDR Memorials
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • Air Force Memorial


The hike up to the Tomb of the Unknowns contributed to–but was not solely responsible for–my 21,873 steps for the day. And I didn’t even run. Yeah, 21,000 steps and 4:22 of sleep tells you everything you need to know about my day.

Day Three:

  • U.S. Capitol tour
  • Supreme Court (where a line of spectators stretched across the plaza, waiting to attend the first session since Justice Scalia’s death)
  • White House
  • Holocaust Museum
  • Vietnam, Lincoln, and Korean War Memorials
  • Einstein statue


And…. The 2016 Asscrack of Dawn 5K! I met J in the lobby of my hotel at 5:45. It was still dark, and while I’d managed to get more sleep than the last two nights, it was nowhere near enough. But getting up early was worth it to watch the sun rise over Washington, just me and my friend, our chatter and footsteps the only sounds as we ran through the quiet streets. A short window, one of the brief moments I am awake but no one needs anything from me. No cacophony of adolescent voices, no herding cats counting heads at every stop. No checking to make sure they’re wearing coats and aren’t staring at their phones the entire time. No ducking out of a guided tour to find a restroom because some of the girls are still learning to manage, shall we say, adult responsibilities (I have a son–our conversations have not included the importance of black pants, pockets, and planning). No panic at hearing the words, “Are you with that group from Texas?” even when the next sentence is a compliment.

So let’s be honest–I needed a lot more than 5K to offset these factors, but I had to be showered and ready to go by 7:00. Still, I got time with my friend and about 8000 steps before breakfast. My total for the day was 25,308.

Day Four:

  • Mt. Vernon (George Washington’s estate)
  • National Cathedral
  • National Zoo’s panda exhibit

We had enough parents along that the co-sponsors didn’t have to lead groups at Mt. Vernon, so she and I went through the mansion and then got something to drink at the food court. And it rained much of the day, so we did a lot less walking than the day before. Even at the zoo, we just saw the pandas and came back to the bus. Some of the kids ran around a bit more–we were virtually the only people there–and visited a few of the indoor habitats, but after a total of <24 hours of sleep over the last four nights, I was tired, so I sat on the bus and drank another coffee.

This is my sixth year to accompany a large group of honor society students to Washington, and it’s a responsibility I take very seriously. Parents have entrusted us to keep their kids safe half a continent away, and over four days we deal with everything from upset stomachs to food allergies, Snapchat and Instagram, disagreements and budding romances, traffic, bad weather, and itinerary changes–all of it fueled by a diet of restaurant food and insufficient caffeine. My 5K run with J costs me a little sleep, but it buys me some sanity in the middle of chaos.

Same time next year, okay?

Mean old Mr. Gravity

They say pride goeth before a fall. But only slightly less well-known is this: after a fall, pride is a bit dented.

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I’d run up to the middle school to attempt Tuesday night’s track workout–I had missed training due to a late work thing–and instead of cutting through the parking lot, I decided to take the sidewalk the long way around to the track. Ten steps after I made that decision, I stumbled, presumably over some uneven sidewalk, and crashed to the ground.

I landed hard on both hands, then sort of barrel-rolled over my right elbow and ended up on my butt, my water bottle in my back waistband digging into my left hip. A quick inventory determined that both palms, my elbow, and my right shin were scraped up, but nothing else appeared to be injured. I’d even avoided tearing up my pants or damaging my Garmin or Vivofit.

I stood up and dusted myself off, then heard a driver coming out of the parking lot asking if I was okay. I must not have looked convincing because he asked if I was sure. I thanked him and reassured him I was fine. I pulled myself together (I mean, who knows how many people saw that–it’s a busyish street) and when I was ready, I realized that after I fell, without even thinking, I’d paused my Garmin.

I turned my headphones back on, and as I started running again I passed two middle school boys coming the other direction who asked if I was okay. Oops, guess they witnessed my battle against gravity too. My brain was slow to react to his question (and I was already embarrassed) so I only mumbled a “yes” before I was past them. I work with middle school kids–I felt bad that I probably appeared ungrateful. But the moment had passed.

I reached the track and discovered the girls’ track team was practicing hurdles. As a teacher, I would have been annoyed if some random stranger got in our way of using our own facilities, so I ran my straights and curves on the other half of the track. I completed two sets of four laps each, with a short rest between sets. My last two laps, the track was clear so I looped the full distance around, then headed home.

I managed to defeat gravity and remain upright the whole way home, finishing five miles (3.75 post-fall) but as I slowed to cross into my neighborhood, I noticed the scrape on my elbow had started to ache. My palms looked okay–no visible marks–but they felt sore too. Still later, a bruise the size of a nickel developed on the inside of my right wrist–I guess when I landed, the impact jammed the buckle of my Vivofit into my skin. I can’t wait to see what else develops overnight. 😉

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More cowbell

Yesterday I ducked into Michael’s and found a (very loud) cowbell for race spectating purposes. And this morning, B and I staked out a spot at mile 12 of the Austin half marathon–right at the bottom of the beastly Enfield hill. I put him in charge of the cowbell.

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He has another book in his backpack, too.

After a while, we walked up to mile 11 to wait for S. I high-fived a couple of friends and some random people, and B cowbelled enthusiastically. We stood at the underpass where Enfield drops below Mopac, and runners had to climb a slight hill up ahead. One guy asked if we’d run the hill for him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had a worse hill at mile 12…

I got a text that S had crossed the 10-mile split, so we stood right next to the mile marker so she could find us. Fortunately, I’d worn my highlighter-yellow Army Ten-Miler shirt, and she saw me from a block away. Which is good–she’d told me she was wearing a red shirt, but it turned out the race shirt was red and every third person wore it.

The mile 11-12 stretch down Enfield started mostly flat, then turned downhill. I told S that if we were running back to Rogue (like we’ve done a zillion times) we’d be at the high school stadium. We passed some people giving out champagne, and another with beer. She chose water. Then, after riding the downhill wave, it was time to climb The Beast. This hill sucks, and it sucks even more at mile 12 of a half marathon. B and I plowed ahead; every few steps I turned around and ran backwards to check S’s progress. Injured and tired, she ran that whole damn hill!

Down the other side, and I told her to imagine that now we’re at the middle school. We turned right at the corner of 15th and San Antonio, where one of the remaining Moonlight Towers stands. So I rattled off some distracting trivia.

Then half a mile to go–pretend we’re at the four-way stop now.

Oh yarg, a stealth hill up to Lavaca, with the Capitol in sight. Then we turned right, the final two turns up ahead. I told her now it’s like we’re running behind HEB, passing the stinky dumpsters–just run down the alley to the Starbucks at the end of the parking lot, that’s it and you’re done.

At the final turn onto Congress, I told her to finish strong, and B and I ducked out into the crowd. On the crowded sidewalk we weaved in and out of meandering spectators, many who were looking down at their phones. Some of them were smoking, even. WTF?

After retrieving and congratulating S, for the next hour or so we cheered finishers along Congress. One marathon runner hoisted his kid on his shoulders; Marathon High teens trickled in on both the half- and full marathon chutes. B mostly sat on the curb reading his book, but S and I scored a couple of cowbells from the Geico Gecko, so it doubled our obnoxious noisemaking potential.

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After our other friends finished, we met them between the exit and gear check. After sufficient recovery time, they were off to collect their final Distance Challenge magnet pieces. B and I headed out too, a mile or so back the other way. We stopped at Starbucks (naturally) and walked back to the car. At which point he realized that he no longer maintained possession of our original cowbell. Thanks to the freebies, we still ended the day with a net gain of one cowbell, but seriously, we barely had the thing for 12 hours. Sheesh.

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Seeing everyone’s post-race celebrations and medals, I felt some minor “bummer I didn’t run it” envy, but I truly loved helping S finish this one. So congratulations to all the runners who tackled the Austin half or the full today, and especially to those who powered through all of the races in the Distance Challenge. Whether your race(s) ended the way you planned or not, you are all badassess in my book. #JFR.

Alllll by myselllllllf

For a number of reasons, I’m running mostly on my own the next two weeks.

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This morning I slept in, then headed out to the trail around 8:30. Late enough that I didn’t need the alarm and could sorta feel human, but early enough that it was still cool out.

I had run a strong solo six-mile hilly workout on Tuesday, but our 4.5-miler on Thursday was a bit of a fail–it’s warm here again, and we felt sluggish and blah the whole time. I hoped that after my Friday rest day, I could attempt a slightly higher number this morning. I knew I’d be on my own, so I dug out my headphones and podcasts to catch up.

For the most part, it was uneventful out there. The weather was sunny and cool, and I didn’t push my pace much at all. It was really just about time on my feet.

It was the kind of morning that brought out lots of runners and walkers moving at various speeds, most of the time without bothering anyone else. But a couple of things annoyed me.

One, clueless people. The trail is about eight feet wide (or four people abreast), and it’s a multi-use trail, so walkers, runners, cyclists, kids on bikes, parents pushing strollers, and people walking dogs are all sharing this space in two directions. I tend to stick to the right edge of the sidewalk so that others can pass with plenty of room. But when someone talking on the phone and looking who-knows-where is walking toward me on my side of the trail and is completely oblivious, she deserves it when I yell at her to walk on the right damn side of the trail.

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You’re doing it wrong.

Two, dogs on retractable leashes. Most dog-walkers are good about reining in their leashes when other walkers or runners pass. But it scares me when these little dogs trot out on slack leashes into the middle of the trail toward me and I see a cyclist coming up behind them very quickly. Many cyclists are unreliable about announcing their presence so the owners don’t know a bike is approaching while the dog wanders right into its path. It seems like an accident waiting to happen, and I doubt it would end well for these small dogs. I feel far more comfortable passing a big dog on a regular leash than a little dog on one of these trip wires.

When I got home, I lodged these First World Problem complaints to M, but I didn’t realize I had activated Siri. The British guy who lives in my phone chastised me.

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The actual quote was “Get your head out of your ass and PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT you’re doing.”

Siri never quotes me accurately.

Tomorrow I’m going out to the Austin Half Marathon to meet S on the course and run the last two miles with her–she and several other friends are finishing the Distance Challenge, and after all the times she dragged me through training runs and races, there’s no way I’m letting her finish this one all by herself.

Review: SLS3 Dual-Pocket Running Belt

I haven’t really done a lot of product reviews–I publish this blog because I enjoy writing about the ups and downs of my running experiences, especially the camaraderie I’ve come to love about running. But after I finished my review of SLS3’s compression sleeves, they contacted me again to ask if I’d like to try their dual-pocket run belt for free in exchange for a review. I got an all-black one, but they also come with blue, purple, and light yellow pockets.

I didn’t receive it in time to try it out at the 3M half marathon last Sunday, but I’ve worn it on most of my runs since then, comparing it to the Spi Belt and Flip Belt, and already I’ve found a couple of positives that stand out to me.

One, I really like the two-pocket thing. When I run with my Flip Belt, I don’t flip it over because that makes it difficult to get my chapstick or whatever on the run. As a result, I’ve lost two prescription inhalers and several chapstick tubes when I failed to notice that they’ve slid out. The chapstick isn’t a huge deal, but I’ve started zipping my inhaler into the back pocket of my pants to avoid losing another one. With the SLS3 belt, I can put chapstick and inhaler in one pocket, and phone in another.

Both zippers close from the outside in, rather than opening the same direction on both sides, so I can easily open either one without fumbling around since they both start in roughly the same spot on the belt. Also, since the news reported that a runner was sexually assaulted in the neighborhood where we train, I’ve also tried to figure out how to add a canister of pepper spray to my provisions. I wasn’t sure how to get it into the slots of the Flip Belt without potentially sliding the safety cap to “on” and gassing myself by accident, but it looks like it will fit easily and safely with my chapstick.

Side note about the pocket size: the product description says an iPhone 6+ will fit–my iPhone 6 (with an average-sized case) leaves room left over width-wise, but anything longer might be a challenge. The material is somewhat stretchy, though, so I guess it’s possible that the 6+ would make it. But I can’t verify that. Certainly a larger device would be a tight fit, and all your other stuff would have to go in the other side.

Another cool feature? It’s got a water-resistant lining inside both pockets and around the zipper. I almost always put my phone in a ziplock bag when I run, either to protect it because I know I’m going to get rained on, or it’s hot and I don’t want to drown it in sweat. Both options are possible year-round in Central Texas. I haven’t tried it in the rain, but temps have been in the 60s when I’ve run with it this week–warm enough to create the sweat problem–and when I’ve retrieved my phone, it’s dry.

One of the reasons I’ve mostly run with the Flip Belt over the Spi Belt is width. The Flip Belt is wide and flat, and it doesn’t bounce around like the Spi Belt sometimes does. It also holds my Simple Hydration water bottle more effectively than the Spi Belt. The SLS3 belt combines the two: zippers to keep from losing my stuff and width so it doesn’t bounce. It’s adjustable, and at least at this point the slider thing seems to stay where I put it rather than loosening throughout my run. The SLS3 belt fits snugly–so far I haven’t had any issues with it moving or bouncing, and it’s comfortable enough that I don’t really notice it’s there. As far as holding my water bottle, this time of year I don’t often carry water, so I’ve only run with it this way once. I had to rotate the belt a little so that the buckles weren’t directly at the small of my back, where the water bottle goes, but once I got it arranged it felt fine. It didn’t bounce around at all.

I can’t yet gauge its longevity, especially of the water-resistant lining or whether the adjustability will weaken or stretch out (thus compromising how well it will hold my water bottle down the road). And because it’s still mostly cool out, I don’t know how well it will protect my phone from sweat when the weather gets hot. But so far, after about two weeks of testing, I really like it.

If you’d like to try the SLS3 Dual Pocket Run Belt, you can sign up to win a raffle here. To buy one for $12.90 (57% discount + free shipping!) go to SLS3’s Amazon store.


Updated May 2016:

I have been using this belt for all of my runs since I got it, only carrying an inhaler and chapstick in one pocket and my iphone 6 in the other (no water bottle), and while I still love it, I’ve noticed the elastic on both sides is fraying a bit where it meets the pouch. I checked out amazon’s reviews and didn’t see any other mention of this, so I emailed the contact person I’d been working with to see if others had been having similar issues. He replied right away that it’s the first he’d heard of it, and he’s been kind enough to send me another one. I’m hoping this one had some kind of flaw rather than a quality issue. So I want to emphasize that even though I got one for free to review it and I didn’t ask for a replacement, they were really quick to offer to replace it anyway. Great customer service, and I’ll keep you posted on the replacement. Thanks, SLS3!

Slacker

Okay, enough slacking.

Last week was really stressful at work, and I think that negativity infected everything around me. My runs were sluggish, I slept badly, I made many poor eating choices, and I felt cranky and snappish. (Sorry, people around me.)

Friday night, I fell asleep before 10pm, then got up at 6:15 to run. When I got out of the car, I realized the wind had picked up, and my long sleeved shirt would likely be insufficient. Thankfully, M had scored a Pearl Izumi windbreaker at some discount site and just the other day I’d stuffed it into my backpack. I ended up wearing it for most of our six-mile run, other than a mile-ish stretch into the morning sun. I complained a lot over the course of those six miles–cold and windy is not my thing–but we got it done. (Sorry, people around me.)

My sports doc was doing a gait analysis clinic when we returned–considering my recurring hip issues, I signed right up. And I learned that I turn my toes in just a tiny bit, which totally explains the adductor thing. Now I have an additional foam rolling assignment to keep it all in check.

Saturday night, I again crashed before 10pm, but this time I didn’t have to wake up with my alarm. I slept for more than ten hours. Man, I could get used to that.

After it warmed up a bit outside, I decided after two post-race weeks of laziness, it is time to move forward again. I drove over to the Brushy Creek Trail and set out for five miles.

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I had to add another band to my ponytail. I don’t think I’ve ever had five before. 

Even though Garmin Connect is down and I haven’t been able to sync my run OR my 11,ooo+ steps, those five miles really happened! It was less cold, less windy, and less slow than yesterday’s six miles. It was a beautiful morning–sunny and crisp–and I felt pretty good. Unfortunately my headphones died about halfway in–weird, because I charged them last night–so I was stuck listening to my raspy breathing and thumping footsteps the rest of the way back. (Sorry, people around me.)

I don’t know that the upcoming week will be any less stressful than last week–in fact, most of February has the potential to kick my ass four or five different ways. But I’m going to work on managing things better and focusing on the positive.

For today, that’s a good run, then a hot shower, coffee, a book, and football.