Podcasts on the run

I run by myself a lot. Yeah, I train with a group and we start at the same time, but we’re a wide range of paces so while we are out there together, I’m often not running alongside other people much of the time. And I’m okay with that. Sometimes I really like the solitude and silence, especially those early mornings before the sun comes up. But other times I want a distraction. Since I generally reserve music for races, I long ago started listening to podcasts during my solo runs.

The iTunes podcast store offers such a bewildering array of choices, it’s difficult to find just the right thing. Good podcasting goes beyond someone with a mic and a topic–to hold my interest, the host(s) must be engaging and capable of discussing a given topic with insight and depth without rambling on too long or simply following a script. Plus I’m easily distracted by accents and speech inflections and I will absolutely turn off a podcast when the speaker’s voice takes me out of the story.

I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error over the last six years–my playlist has not remained static as I find new podcasts and discard others. But at the moment, in no particular order, these are my (non-running) favorites.

  1. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me is a weekly news quiz hosted by Peter Sagal with a rotating panel of smart, funny people. Each episode is about 50 minutes long and makes me literally LOL. I sometimes even shout out answers to the limericks or Lightning Fill in the Blank. I love this show so much that when they came to Austin for a live performance back in May, I snatched up tickets (they sold out Bass Concert Hall in about an hour) to see them in person. Because it’s current events-based, I don’t let this one get backlogged, but since it’s only one episode a week, it’s not difficult for me to stay on top of it. Plus I’d listen to Peter Sagal read the dictionary, so I look forward to these every week.
  2. Revisionist History is relatively new to my rotation, and while Malcolm Gladwell’s voice is just on the edge of weird, the topics are so interesting the sound doesn’t take me out of the story. He deconstructs what we think we know about well-publicized events, kind of like Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” but on steroids. Seasons 1-2 sucked me in with several great topics–the Toyota acceleration problem, McDonald’s french fries, and several related to Civil Rights history–and  Season 3 continues to set the bar high. I particularly enjoyed the one on an important semicolon and another on Brian Williams’ memory. Episodes are around 40 minutes long.
  3. I started listening to Stuff You Should Know when I was training for my first half-marathon. Josh and Chuck have published roughly two episodes per week for a decade, so this archive alone is enough to keep a person occupied for dozens of cross-country road trips. I started more or less at the beginning and was caught up for a while, but because I rotate through several podcasts, I started to fall behind in late 2016. Even though they make even a mundane-sounding topic interesting, I currently pick and choose based on the topic these days. Some recent favorites cover the Max Headroom incident, P.T. Barnum, and the Unabomber. Most are between 45 minutes and an hour, although some go a little longer. It took me a while to get used to Josh’s voice, and both inadvertently use verbal filler like “bascially” a little too often, but as with Revisionist History, the topics are interesting enough (and Josh and Chuck engaging enough) that it doesn’t bother me much.
  4. The West Wing Weekly revisits, you guessed it, the TV show “The West Wing.” The hosts, Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway, are professionals–Josh was on “West Wing” for the second half of its run, and Hrishi is a musician and podcaster. Both are funny, articulate, and insightful. Each episode of the podcast covers one episode, in chronological order, of the TV show. They also bring in guests from the show–Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff to name a few–and have recorded live episodes as well. Each episode is 50ish minutes, with the live shows going a little longer.
  5. I’ve done my share of binge-watching ESPN’s long-running series 30 for 30, and now they have a 30 for 30 podcast too. They only publish about five 30ish-minute episodes per season, plus several short 30 for 30+ shorter bonus episodes, so it’s easy to stay caught up, but they’re so interesting I am left wanting more. Season Three is all about Bikram Choudhury, the man behind Bikram Yoga; previous episodes explore Dan and Dave of the 1992 Olympics, the year Wrigley Field got lights, the Madden video game, Tonya Harding, Lebron and the hoodie photo, Dennis Rodman, and Bobby Knight. One time they highlighted a story from E:60 called “22 Harvest Street,” a harrowing tale of two college football players who were kidnapped and tortured. It was riveting, and horrifying. A sports nerd like me can easily get lost in these stories–perfect for long runs.

And these are some of my favorite running-themed podcasts, also in no particular order.

  1. I read Ali on the Run’s blog for a while before I tried her podcast, and I’m glad I did. She’s funny, genuine, and professional. And brutally honest about being a runner with a chronic illness. Episodes are usually about an hour.
  2. As with Ali, I read Another Mother Runner before subscribing to the podcast. I can’t relate to some of it–my kid is a teenager and a lot of the Mother Runners have little kids, and I struggle a little with the hosts’ accents and inflections. But several episodes have been interesting and informative, so I continue to pick and choose occasional episodes by topic or title. Most are about an hour long.
  3. I train with Rogue in Austin, and their Running Rogue podcasts are frequently informative and entertaining. Chris and Steve are not professional broadcasters–their voices may grate on some people, but I’m used to them–but they are genuine. Steve has no filter so he makes me laugh, and while I can’t always relate to them (Steve coaches the fast folks including Chris, who is a 2:45 marathoner) I get the training pieces since as a Rogue, I’m literally following their training plans. Episodes are about an hour, but I usually skip through the first 30ish minutes where they recap some professional running news–race results, predictions, that kind of thing–and get to whatever the topic is. My favorite episode is probably Episode 16 on women and running–they are clearly enlightened men not afraid to discuss periods and anatomy, but they’re so awkward at it, it was kind of cute.

And that’s about it right now. I am subscribed to several more podcasts, but either they haven’t published new episodes recently (like ESPN’s college football podcast) or the jury is still out on whether I’m going to keep listening.

What are some of your favorites? Any recommendations? Post them in the comments!

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Training my brain: part one

I’m not known for my positive attitude.

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I know, right??

But I’m trying to work on that now that I’ve committed to running a full marathon.

Before training officially starts in July, a couple of us met with one of our coaches to get on the same page with expectations, concerns, everything. And according to her, understanding why we want to do this will set the foundation for everything else.

What’s my why?

Why do I run? It’s difficult for me to explain. Since quitting the diving team when I was 11 (we moved away) I really haven’t been much of an athlete. I default to lazy as a general rule, and a wonky knee conveniently kept me from the mile-and-a-half in high school P.E.. In college I tried workout classes at the UT Rec Center and stuck with them for a while, but after I graduated I didn’t have Rec Center access and wasn’t motivated to find something else. At some point I tried the gym thing but hated it. After B was born I had no time for anything else, and I didn’t want to make time for workouts.

But not long after one of those round-number birthdays, I wanted to improve my fitness and decided to try running. And for some reason I have stuck with it more than anything I’ve ever done before. Since joining Rogue in 2012 I have been religious about my workouts–I almost never miss one. Core class Monday, workouts Tuesday and Thursday, long run Saturday. I barely have any time in the evenings after I get home, and I hate getting up early on Saturdays, but not once do I seriously consider turning off the alarm and going back to sleep or skipping the workout. I mean, I consider it, but it’s not really an option. Which is really weird, and totally unlike me. 😀

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Running hasn’t made me thin or even moved the number on the scale much (so unfair!) and by many people’s standards I’m still slow. Every mile is a challenge for me, but I can string together 13.1 of them now and then. In that respect, I’m in the best shape of my adult life. Probably my teenage life too. I don’t love running when I’m doing it–it does not come easily–but I love finishing a workout or a race. Running has given me some fantastic experiences with friends, and it has brought me new friends too. I didn’t think I needed new friends, but I love these people.

Why do I want to run a full marathon? Well I covered a lot of this on my pro-con list, or at least why I chose this particular one this year. Having so many Rogues supporting me will absolutely make all the difference. And I think that’s a big part of my whymichelle2.gifAt BCS when my BRFs came down that last stretch to the finish line… I was in tears knowing how much work they’d put into it and what an accomplishment they’d achieved–and I was just a bystander. Don’t get me wrong–I didn’t wish to be in their shoes and I didn’t feel envy, like I’d missed out. I was just so proud and happy for them. But later, when I considered this marathon, I thought back to that moment. That feeling of accomplishment, completing something very few people do. And that’s a big part of my why.

So back to the meeting with our coach. We all know I default to Dark Side thinking, but one of my goals as I train for this race is to improve my attitude. Instead of worrying about whether I can do it and what could go wrong, I need to visualize that finish line scene and know that I can get there.michelle3

To that end, she suggested I create some mantras and make using them a habit. I mean, beyond my Persevere and She Persisted silver rings I always wear when I run.

So far I’ve got “I can do hard things” and something my dad used to say to me all the time when I was a kid trying to weasel out of something. I suspect I’ll have many opportunities throughout the summer to use them both. I was lucky and had cool weather for several recent races, but it won’t last. Showing up for workouts in 100+ temps qualifies as a difficult thing, right?

Now that my spring races are over, I’m taking the rest of May to let my legs and psyche recover. On top of running three half marathons, two 10Ks, and two 5Ks since January, I’ve also had an exhausting semester at work. School gets out right after Memorial Day, and after a couple of days catching up on my sleep, I will ease back into longer and more challenging workouts–both body and mind.

I can do hard things.

Pittsburgh Steel Challenge day three: the half-marathon

The night before the race, the weather forecast turned rainy and cooler. But I had zero complaints–the cooler the better for me, as race performance goes. It wasn’t raining when we got up, but odds were good we’d see at drizzle at some point.

I wore short sleeves and brought a garbage bag along in case it started to rain while we waited. Other than that I kind of didn’t care about rain, but I don’t want to be cold and wet before I even started.

My stomach didn’t feel great, and as we waited, I felt less and less good. Potty lines were still extremely long as our corral moved forward, so I hoped it was just pre-race anxiety.

We finally approached the starting line sometime after 7:30.

The first three miles followed Liberty Avenue, then looped back to Penn Avenue and through the Strip district.

My stomach was not improving, but every potty stop had lines six or eight people deep. It wasn’t that critical, just not good.

As we crossed the first bridge–the 16th Street Bridge–I slowed to add some Drip Drop electrolyte mix to my handheld water bottle. There hadn’t been many water stops early on, so for once I was glad to have brought my own. This is where I lost K, but I didn’t mind. I had a pretty conservative race plan (traveling, lack of sleep, plus the two-race weekend made me dial expectations back) and she’s been running SO well lately–I didn’t expect her to slow down with me.

On the north side of the Allegheny River, the route wound around streets I semi-recognized from the 5K, and at nearly the four-mile mark, I spotted some potties with only one person in line. It cost me a couple of minutes (I’m not Shalane) but I felt better.

As I waited in line, I could hear a spectator cheering over and over for “Henry.” I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day.

And then I saw Dad and J as I came up a small hill. Yay! Coincidentally, the song she contributed to my playlist (Skid Row’s “I Remember You”) was playing at that exact moment.

I meandered around the Pirates’ stadium some more, and I saw them a second time right around mile five.

From there we passed the Steelers’ stadium, then some kind of casino, before crossing the West End Bridge. Crowd support in this area was kind of thin, and I realized it was the first time all morning there WASN’T a bunch of spectators.

On the other side of the bridge, spectators were back. We looped through a little neighborhood with a lot of enthusiasm. Then we turned onto West Carson Street, which I knew would be a long haul of more than three miles.

Still, although I was tired and taking some walk breaks, the mile markers seemed to be coming quickly. Water stops were plentiful, especially after the first five or so miles, and I just kept refilling my bottle and adding in the Drip Drop. I’m not sure what exactly slowed me down–breathing was okay, I didn’t really hurt, temps were still in the 50s, but I still struggled.

Along Carson Street we passed a minor league soccer stadium, the Duquesne Incline, the Monongahela Incline, and then continued into the South Side. Spectators were everywhere, each neighborhood having its own party, and they kept me distracted.

At some point it turned into East Carson Street. Then the half split from the full a little before the Birmingham Bridge–the signs were REALLY good, plus volunteers with megaphones directed people as well. I think the marathoners had to get some extra mileage before crossing, and at the end of the bridge they turned right up into Oakland when we went left toward the finish, so we had the left side of the bridge and they were on the right side, across the concrete barrier. No missing the split on THIS race!

The bridge is pretty long–I ran/walked it–and towards the end I was feeling kind of queasy. But once we turned left and crested the hill, the rest of the race was literally all downhill. I knew I could hang on.

Past the Penguins’ hockey arena, still downhill. Some well-dressed guys offered cups of water or whiskey, but I declined both. Three more turns, still downhill. Spectators were ten deep along the last quarter-mile or so, and it was raining a bit so I had to be careful on the wet streets, but I was moving pretty fast thanks to my downhill momentum. At the finish line I heard the announcer call my name, and the funny thing is that the very next name he called was my son’s first and middle names. I may actually be smiling in a finish line picture because wow, what a coincidence.

I collected my medal, water, snacks, and one of those Mylar heat sheet blankets, which doubled as a rain deflector as I walked. And walked. And walked through the finishers’ area to the same park as yesterday. By some miracle (spectators bunched up in front of the exit and made things very difficult–as a true Pittsburgher would say, yinz need to move the fuck away from the exit, ya jagoffs) I spotted K sitting on the median with Dad and J. She had killed it and needed a bit more recovery time; after a few minutes we maneuvered out of there to find our Steel Challenge medals.

The half-marathon bib had a Steel Challenge sticker for those doing both races, and it was super easy to collect the challenge medal. Austin really should take a page from this race’s playbook (and Cleveland’s which I did last year) to offer a challenge series-kind of incentive like this!

After retrieving our third medals for the weekend, we found a cart selling sodas and wow did a Sprite hit the spot, even better than water. So then we got in line to take our picture.

I really needed a stepstool–my medals nearly strangled me. But other than that I felt pretty good. My hydration plan had worked well, and the contents of my stomach remained there. I’m told I was a little pale, but “just pale” is a vast improvement from my last half-marathon. And while my pace was only marginally better than Zooma, I felt completely different, both during and after the race. I’ll take that.

We walked back to the hotel thankful for 1) our sherpas, and 2) the Mylar heat sheets. By now I was cold (in my very wet clothes) and this blanket was magical. Plus we had a 3:2 sherpa to runner ratio, and they were amazing. Carrying our stuff, fetching drinks, you name it. Thank you!

Shocker: after showers, we went to lunch at the meatball place again. I had mashed potatoes with chicken meatballs and basil pesto sauce. So much yum.

Then my friends had to leave. 😢

But since Dad has family there, we kept one of the hotel rooms and stayed an extra day. I was excited to get a really good night of sleep, then meet one of his cousins for lunch before flying home.

All in all, this was a great event. Both races were well-organized (save the ever-present problem of long potty lines), the medals rock, and the crowd support was fantastic all along the course.

The 5K and the half-marathon shirts are technical fabric, and the half-marathon version is long-sleeved. The design wasn’t really different across the distances, but they were labeled for each distance so it’s not like the marathoners got the same shirt as the 5Kers. K, the Clevelander, didn’t like that they’re so yellow, but since I run at night and after dark much of the year, I really like the bright color. I wore the long-sleeved one after the race and it was so comfy.

My medals are really cool–solid and shiny–and they made a satisfying clank.

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Not that the race had any control over the weather, but it wasn’t too hot after all, and organizers were prepared with the aforementioned (and appreciated) Mylar blankets since it didn’t take long for us to get cold after we stopped running. Post-race water, food, and volunteers were plentiful. The finish line area funneled runners right into Point State Park, which had photo ops, benches, and vendors plus the Steel Challenge medals. It was easy to reunite with my people, although the crowd bunched at the finishers’ exit added some degree of difficulty.

The race hotel had no problem giving us late checkout, too. Thank you Courtyard Marriott Downtown and Pittsburgh Marathon! Traveling across the country to races isn’t always easy, but I would do this race again. Especially with these people. ❤️

Pittsburgh Steel Challenge day two: the 5K

It was sunny and in the 50s as we made our way to the start line of the 5K. We had about a mile walk, including crossing one of the bridges as the sun came up.

The race started outside PNC Park, home of the Pirates. Lots of space for runners to wait, but oddly there were no porta-potties to be found. It was kind of surprising considering how well-organized everything had been up to that point. Anyway, it was a 5K and we were okay without them.

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I was comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt and was surprised at how many (presumably local, judging from the amount of black and gold they wore) runners were dressed for much colder temperatures.

J was running her first race since her second Achilles repair, but even then I knew she’d leave me in the dust. And not long after we started, K was gone too. But that’s okay–I had a conservative race plan and didn’t push hard.

The race wound the North Side stadiums–a guy in a fox suit passed me–then eventually crossed the Roberto Clemente bridge into downtown. As I made the last turn, I saw a woman wearing a Cap 10K shirt up ahead and decided I was going to pass her. So basically I sprinted the last .10 to the finish line. It had nothing to do with her as a human–her shirt just gave me something memorable to latch onto as a carrot or a rabbit, I guess.

I collected my medal and met up with the others–they’d both had great races–and we followed the finishers’ area to Point State Park where there were booths and other expo-like goodies. We eventually found Dad, and we all walked back to the hotel.

After lunch, we walked around a bit, and decided to ride one of the inclines that travel up Mount Washington. We were on foot, though, so we had to figure out which bridge had a pedestrian path for us to cross the river, and in the process we encountered a Canada Goose family.

The babies were so tiny! And I could just hear the mama: “Don’t you DARE get too close to the edge–I am NOT going in after you.”

We eventually crossed via the Smithfield Street bridge, and after some trial and error around Station Square, made it to the Monongahela Incline. It cost $3.50 for a round-trip ticket; two trams ran up and down, and each one held about 30 passengers. People clearly use this to commute to the city from up there, but it was a Saturday afternoon and riders were all sightseeing. Still, we didn’t have to wait long.

At the top is an observation area, plus a collection of shops. We stopped for ice cream, as one does, and then headed back down.

On the walk back to the hotel, we encountered the finish line for Sunday’s race. And I was overjoyed to see that I would be running downhill for at least the last quarter-mile!

After we got back, I fell asleep, which almost never happens. One of K’s friends–she’d gone to college here–arrived and they took a little sightseeing tour.

When they returned, we met another friend for drinks, then went to dinner (Thai) before attempting another early bedtime. That was a fail, and I slept poorly all night.

Next up: the half marathon

Pittsburgh Steel Challenge day one: travel and expo

Friday was a travel day on basically no sleep. BRF John and I went to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me Thursday night, which was a fantastic live show. I got home about eleven, and my alarm went off at 2:30 for my 5:15am flight. Dad and I arrived in Pittsburgh just as K rolled in from Cleveland. She picked us up and we headed to the expo, which was conveniently maybe a block from our hotel.

Parking, on the other hand, was less convenient. Garage after garage, lot after lot was closed. Finally we found an open garage, albeit several blocks from the hotel. But we’re here for a race, so what’s a few blocks?

The expo was huge, and we couldn’t immediately tell where to start with the bibs, but we eventually found it after making a circuit of the place.

The half-marathon lines were short so we breezed through that part. But it seemed everyone in Pittsburgh was in line for 5K bibs so that took a while. It was weird–for the half, we got a plastic tumbler wrapped carefully in bubble wrap, and for the 5K we got a pint glass at the bottom of the string backpack.

We wandered around for a while–I bought a shirt–but we’d eaten like six peanuts and crackers since 4am so it was time for real food. As we walked down the street in search of a restaurant, a random passerby asked if we’re looking for a recommendation. He directed us to a meatball place across the street. Let me just say if you’re ever hungry in downtown Pittsburgh, check out Sienna Mercato. So good!

From there we checked in to the hotel, which was literally across the street, and got our stuff from the parking garage. We took a brief walk down to the Strip district, but mostly we just chilled in the room until J arrived from D.C. around dinner time. I will NOT recommend the place we ate Friday night–the mac and cheese had no cheese, we weren’t asked how we wanted our burgers cooked (mine was more rare than I prefer) and a server dropped a couple of drinks and drenched K’s shoes. Nope.

I’d had a grand total of eight hours of sleep the last two days, so after working out a plan for the 5K in the morning, I crashed.

Next up: the 5K Run

Ultra Half

The other night, a bunch of runners from my training group got together for happy hour. As runners do, we got to talking about our various upcoming races, including my Steel Challenge next weekend. And as runners do, they didn’t think it was bizarre that I plan to run a 5K on Saturday and a half on Sunday, for a total of 16.2 miles. Then one of my friends observed that since my combined distance is longer than a half-marathon, it should be called an ultra half-marathon.

 

That made me laugh perhaps more than it should.

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Yep. A 5K medal, a half-marathon medal, and the Steel Challenge medal. 

 

Ready for the Steel Challenge

This morning was my last long run before the Steel Challenge in Pittsburgh next weekend, and I went out for 10 miles. I began with the run-walk thing (4:1) but a little before halfway I started running through the walk breaks–I think I only took three or four the last five miles. It didn’t hurt that the route was mostly downhill on the way back! After I finished, I definitely felt like I could run three more miles–not easily, but not painfully either.

I won’t be racing the 5K on Saturday, but even so it could impact the way I feel for Sunday’s half. Last year in Cleveland, running an 8K the day before a half wasn’t a problem, so I’m not too worried. I think my race plan will be to start off slowly, then pick it up a little each mile the second half, except for the hill at mile 11.5.

One of my BRFs found a great website–findmymarathon.com–that creates pace bands specific to your race and its elevation. Enter the race name, goal time, strategy (even-paced, conservative, etc.), and pacing strategy (even splits, negative splits, etc.) and it spits out a pace band. If I didn’t already know about that hill, I’d be able to tell from the pace band because its prescribed pace for mile 12 drops :20 from mile 11, then jumps a minute per mile to the finish.

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I have a reeeeeeeally conservative time goal, and as long as I don’t blow it the first half, I should be okay the rest of the way. Especially considering Pittsburgh’s temperatures will be well below what I’m already used to. Barring a surprise heat wave, that is.

Having said that, it looks like we stay on the same road from mile 7.5 to almost eleven. I am not a fan of long stretches like this (see: Army Ten-Miler bridge) I guess because it feels so endless. The first part of the race seems to have quite a few turns and bridges and things to look at, but three miles basically in a straight line? Not fun. I looked at it on Google Street View–the first section is kind of industrial with occasional views of the Monongahela River. The second part looks a little … sketchy, but the last stretch seems nicer, more residential. Finally, we cross back over the river on the Birmingham Bridge and hit the hill before the finish.

Even though we don’t leave until Friday morning, I’m already starting to make piles and lists. We have a 5:15am (!) flight and I don’t want to forget things in my sleep-deprived state when I leave, basically still in the middle of the night. I’m traveling with my dad, who’s from Pittsburgh, and my two East Coast BRFs are meeting us there. So, you know, a party with a little running thrown in. 😀