It takes a village

As I prepare to tackle yet another distance race, I’m reminded that I didn’t get here alone.

My Rogue friends have followed my training schedule to support me–even when that means waking up at 5 A.M. to run 12 miles on a hot June morning instead of taking it easier with six or eight miles. And they could easily drop the midweek workout intensity down a notch for the summer but have continued pushing me.

When I have doubts about reaching my stretch goal, my running friends (and several members of my family) tell me I can do it. They listen to me bitch ignore my complaining about the heat/distance/rock in my shoe/chafing issue/whatever, indulge my obsession about pre-race weather forecasts and playlists, and drive me to races. They let me stay in their houses, sometimes displacing their children for me. They don’t let me slack in training, they pace me to PRs, they jump back into a race they’ve already completed to help me finish strong, and they cheer at the finish line. They message me encouragement.

They believe in me.

And during next week’s race when I start to struggle, when my tired brain says, “fuck it, that goal doesn’t really matter,” when everything hurts and I’m dying, all I have to do is look at my shirt and remember that my Village is with me, even from 4500 miles away.

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I hope I don’t let you down! 

Track Thursday

My Thursday (formerly Tuesday) evening training group meets every other week at the track. It’s a different workout each time, but it always involves dodging a large group of kids from a private track club. The younger kids run separately from the teens, but there are probably 25 kids in each group so the track gets crowded. Plus the little kids don’t always look where they’re going, they wander around, and some of them step onto the track in front of other runners. Their coaches remind them to leave lane one open, but half the time they’re just not cognizant of where their bodies are in space and either completely block the lane or drift into it without noticing.

Last night, after we ran a warmup mile around the park, we came back to work through our dynamic drills, but the older kids were running clockwise in the outer lanes and the younger kids were running counter-clockwise in the inside lanes so there was literally no space. We ended up doing them on the sidewalk behind the bleachers, but when we were halfway through the backwards-running drill, a (presumably) younger sibling of one of the runners plopped down in the middle of the sidewalk and we nearly ran her over.

We were supposed to run a two-mile time trial on the track (say that fast three times…) but decided to run the same mile loop we did for the warmup twice instead. That had the added benefit of some shade, but sheesh that route feels uphill the whole way around. Anyway, it was 90* and I knew I would be a lot slower than what I’m capable of in better weather. Since this was my last quality workout before my race I decided just to hold my half-marathon goal pace instead. It felt like a reasonable alternative to killing myself, competitively.

And I managed better than that. My first lap was ten seconds faster than my warmup lap, and my second was two seconds faster again. My cooldown (haha–a complete misnomer) was thirty seconds slower, but my average pace over four miles was two seconds slower than HMGP. Yeah, transitive property, I know: this was four miles and only laps 2-3 were consecutive, without a water break, and that can’t compare to a 13.1-mile race. Blah blah. It was also almost forty degrees warmer than the still-way-too-early overnight forecast leading into race day.

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Top: last night at the track; bottom: Kildare forecast from Weather Channel

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to YouTube and the rabbit hole that is allowing autoplay to cycle through endless “tips for Americans driving in Ireland” videos. Because that’s the only thing stressing me out more than wanting to PR this race.

Racing vs enjoying the scenery of an international half-marathon

Back in March when I registered for the Kildare Thoroughbred Run, I realized my training and Ireland’s much cooler weather could come together at the right time for a PR race. Well, okay, I was kind of shoved into it when I discovered only 250 people ran the half marathon last year, and all but one were faster than my PR. Either way, I decided it would be my goal race.

But part of me regrets putting all my PR eggs in this basket.

I’ve spent a grand total of three days in Ireland (all in Dublin, seventeen years ago) so after some fairly extensive itinerary-planning, reservation-booking, and spreadsheet-making, I am looking forward to seeing all the things. Yeah, I’m a planner. And yeah, I created a spreadsheet. But that’s for efficiency–it’s not a tourist trap checklist. I mean, in 2010 we took a two-day side trip to Southampton, England because that’s where Titanic began its only voyage. Who else does that?? See, I take pride in blending in when I travel and distancing myself from The Ugly American stereotype–and I know I’ve succeeded when someone asks me for directions. There’s a time and a place for organized bus tours (we take them for our NJHS trip to Washington as a way to cram eleventy-seven thousand things into four days) but nine times out of ten I’ll choose to struggle with a manual transmission on the wrong wide of the car on the wrong side of the road so that we can do our own thing.

What drew me to Kildare is our opportunity to experience real Ireland. Especially considering that after the race, the town is holding its annual Derby Festival and Taste of Kildare in the town square. I even decided we’d stay an extra night in Kildare Town so that we wouldn’t have to rush through the festival in order to check out of the hotel.

From the race’s event page:

All runs will start and finish in Kildare Town where there will be family fun and entertainment provided in The Square before, during and after the event, be assured you will not find a more family friendly event than this one on Father’s Day or any other day.

A prize giving ceremony is planned for the town square after the event and all race competitors will also receive a voucher for hot food which is redeemable at the “Taste of Kildare” food stands which set up in Market Square close to the finish line.

This year’s event yet again coincides with the start of the Derby festival in Kildare Town, so there will be plenty happening all day in the town.

This is exactly the kind of experience I want when I travel. Why NOT stay the extra day and really enjoy small-town Ireland? Skip the Blarney Stone and do stuff like this.

But I also have a pretty challenging time goal for this race. I kind of wish I didn’t care about my results (or the prospect of being last–which is slightly less of a concern now that 700 people are registered for the half) so that I could just cruise along the course and enjoy the sights, taking pictures and soaking it all in.

The course is particularly flat and is unquestionably a PB Course, The Marathon will comprise of two loops of the half course, almost 2k of the half, 5k and 10k pass through the tranquil and unspoiled grounds of the Irish National Stud where you will have the unrivalled opportunity to run on the land where thoroughbreds and world class horses have been bred for decades, over 100 years in fact.

I started taking horseback riding lessons in fourth or fifth grade, and we owned a few horses when I was a teenager–Dad and I spent many a Saturday riding around southwest Austin. I haven’t ridden much in recent years, but the big beasts have a special place in my heart. And the race runs through Ireland’s national breeding facility! But … how can I stop for pictures when the clock is ticking?

I came up with something of a solution, though, when I remembered that we have a GoPro camera still in its box, likely the result of some clearance sale a few months ago. Dad and B are running (walking?) the 5K, which also routes through the Irish National Stud grounds, so B is going to take it with him for his race.

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It came with four billion attachments–most of which look like medieval torture tools–to secure the thing to your person in a variety of interesting ways. He picked out a few–let’s see how long the telescoping selfie stick survives before I snap that sucker in half–and is going to play around with it over the next few days. I’ve got a couple of SD cards (a 64GB and a 32) but I have no idea if that will be adequate for two weeks. We’ll have a wifi hotspot most of the trip, though, so I need to experiment with uploading the videos to YouTube or somewhere every day in order to free up memory, just to be on the safe side.

The drawback is I don’t have any control over what he records–or its quality–but in the past he’s made some pretty amusing documentary-style videos on our travels. So I am optimistic. Besides, the (way-too-early) forecast shows a decent chance of rain–the GoPro is made for stuff like that. Rain, and teenage boys.

Knowing he’ll be documenting the events will allow me to focus on my race. But I also don’t want to be so hyperfocused on my time that I am oblivious to the scenery, either. Maybe, depending on crowd support, I’ll put my headphones away and distract myself with the view instead. Which in the end is the whole point–whether I get pictures or not, the experience is what really matters.

That, and the hot food voucher.

 

Traveling to an international race: health and sleep

Okay, I have a plan for food and hydration. What about sleep and general health?

Next Wednesday we leave for the airport around 9am, arrive at Dulles with 53 minutes to make our connection to Dublin, and then our eight-hour overnight flight arrives at 5:20 Thursday morning.

I don’t sleep well on airplanes. I’ve flown overseas five times (four to Europe and once to Hawaii) and I don’t think I did more than catnap on any of them. I remember on one flight to Switzerland, I stared at the map on the seatback screen for what seemed like hours willing the little plane icon to move faster. To gauge how much longer until arrival, I kept thinking, “This flight is about the same time as a typical workday–what would I be doing now? How about now?” Other times I’ve binge-watched movies to combat the boredom. But I don’t really sleep.

Which is unfortunate because when we arrive in the morning, we have a full day ahead of us. I don’t want to sacrifice daylight (see: Vacation Death March) for sleep–and napping would make jetlag worse in the long run–but I know from past history both B and I will be falling over-tired by about dinnertime.

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2010, London

I’ll try melatonin (or maybe even Benadryl…) early in the flight, but I really don’t have a lot of hope that I will be well-rested when we get there. The good news is that I generally adapt to a new time zone more quickly at the beginning of a trip than coming home. The overnight flight and the general excitement of getting the adventure underway helps a lot, so I’m hopeful this trend holds true for me again. I think B will sleep on the plane, but I’ll probably just have to power through that first day and try to make it to a respectable bedtime in an attempt to reset my clock. Even if it doesn’t totally work, though, I’ll have two more nights before the race.

The other thing that will help me is a 10:30 A.M. half-marathon start. Even if I’m not fully adjusted by Sunday, 10:30 is 5:30 A.M. Austin time, which is when we start our long runs most Saturdays June through August anyway. I thought the late start was kind of weird (we don’t do that in Austin, even in winter) but when I think of it this way, I’m grateful.

So while I might feel more rested if the race were our second Sunday in Ireland rather than our first, it’s a moot point. Besides, considering my Vacation Death March-style, I’m not sure I’d really be better off if the race were later in the trip. 😉

But what about staying healthy? That’s a lot more difficult when you’re trapped inside a metal tube for eight hours, breathing recirculated air.

Case in point: a few weeks ago as I inched my way through security in Cleveland, I watched a family ahead of me in line. There were at least twelve of them ranging in age from about six to adults. Their accents weren’t American, which I could tell from their loud, raucous conversations. One of the women–she could have been 15 or 25, I didn’t get close enough to guess better than that–looked kind of green and unsteady as she trailed the group. Then as she reached the x-ray conveyer belt, she leaned over and vomited into a garbage can. I was suddenly grateful I’d gone to the other line.

Later, when I arrived at my gate, there they were again. Because of course they would be on my flight home. But then a flight to Orlando at the neighboring gate began boarding, and they all queued up over there. Which means they were probably going to Disney World, leaving me to wonder whether she was about to transmit some kind of plague to vacationing people throughout the greater Orlando area.

I get it–your options are limited when you’ve shelled out a lot of time and money on a huge trip, especially when a large family is involved and you’re far from home. Maybe she just had a nervous stomach, or was pregnant and suffering from morning sickness, or otherwise wasn’t contagious. I hope that was the case and that no one else in the family or on the flight became ill. But I have no desire to share recirculated air with someone whose carry-on included a communicable illness, especially on a transatlantic flight.

For our part, we’re going to be guzzling Vitamin C and washing hands like it’s our job between now and the 14th so we don’t face a similar quandary. But what else can we do to stay healthy? Inadequate sleep, meals, and hydration can reduce a person’s ability to fight off illness–and of course all three are factors in this kind of travel.

While there’s no surefire strategy to ward off nefarious germs, I hope I’m at least helping to shore up my immune system so that it can withstand an assault on its walls. To that end, between now and departure I’m going to focus on what I can control: the trifecta of sleep/eat/hydrate with a few miles of running thrown in for good measure. I (gleefully) turned off my 5:45 A.M. alarm last Friday and have enjoyed waking up on my own schedule. Even if I sleep the same number of hours as I did last week, somehow it feels better when I am not jolted awake by my iPhone. And over the summer I’m not beholden to a school bell schedule for restroom breaks–I can drink lime water to my heart’s content. I’ve also been eating salads and healthy snacks as much as possible.

Anyone have other suggestions to maximize our chances of arriving not only reasonably well-rested but also biologically and immunologically unscathed?

How about other things I might have overlooked? Other than stalking the weather, I mean.

Traveling to an international race: food and hydration

Now that I’ve started organizing my packing into lists and piles, I thought maybe I should make some concrete plans to eat well and stay hydrated between the time I leave Austin and race morning–which is about four days, give or take the six-hour time difference.

I’ve lived in Austin most of my life, and over the years I’ve developed an appreciation for Mexican food. Tacos, enchiladas, quesdadillas, margaritas–what’s not to love? But my family’s origins are distinctly Anglo European, so my formative years (and palate) were influenced by fairly plain fare. Not to say that’s a bad thing–I was a picky eater anyway, so had I been introduced to grilled onions and spicy queso at a younger age, I doubt I even would have tried it. And let’s be honest–the English get a bad rap for their supposedly-bland cuisine, which is totally unfair to the goodness that is my grandmother’s Yorkshire pudding and pot roast, for example.

yorkshire pudding

Photo source: Food Network

I realize that Yorkshire pudding isn’t Irish, but I think in general Irish cuisine has a lot more in common with English fare than it does with, say, Mexican food.

This Rick Steves article  gives examples of some typical Irish pub food:

  • Irish stew (mutton with mashed potatoes, onions, carrots, and herbs)
  • soups and chowders
  • coddle (bacon, pork sausages, potatoes, and onions stewed in layers)
  • fish-and-chips
  • collar and cabbage (boiled bacon coated in bread crumbs and brown sugar, then baked and served with cabbage)
  • boxty (potato pancake filled with fish, meat, or vegetables), and
  • champ (potato mashed with milk and onions)
  • Irish soda bread

I could do without a couple of those things (boiled bacon, cabbage, and mutton to be sure) but I can work with bread and potatoes, you know? So that’s good news when I’m trying to eat properly in advance of a half-marathon. At least I won’t be faced with exotic options cooked with spices I’ve never heard of.

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Photo source: devittspub.ie

Hydration is another story, though. Several times when traveling to races, I’ve neglected to drink an adequate amount of water and I’ve paid for it during or after the race. I don’t really like drinking plain water, especially if it’s room-temperature–at home and work I am not far from my Yeti cup filled with ice-cold sparkling lime water. When I’ve traveled outside of Texas for races, I’ve stayed with friends who were kind enough to stock their fridges with similar sparkling lime water. But internationally? I mean, a quick Google search tells me that Dublin groceries sell sparkling lime water (yay!) but will my picky taste buds tolerate it in order to drink enough in advance?

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Google also tells me there’s a Tesco near our hotel

I guess I should bring an refillable water bottle, get ice from the hotel, and give it a try.

Fortunately I’ll have three full days on the ground before the race, so I’ll have time to repair any hydration deficit I might incur on the flights or as a result of the lime water search that first day. I just have to make a concerted effort Friday and Saturday to get ahead on my water consumption. I’ll bet there’s an app for that!


Next up: staying healthy and getting enough sleep when jet lag is a factor

 

Packing for a race-cation

Okay, so my upcoming trip doesn’t exactly fit the definition of race-cation since I found the race after I chose the destination and started making some plans, rather than the other way around. But still, I’m running a half-marathon four days into a two-week overseas trip, so many of the same principles apply.

Especially packing.

My goal is to travel with only a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. Dad and B are both planning to check their suitcases, but having dragged a too-big bag around Europe once before, I’m trying the minimalist approach this time. Not only that, I don’t want to risk lost luggage when a race is involved; we’re also renting a rather small car (“intermediate” means something completely different to someone from the Land of Big Trucks) and I want to be efficient with its space. However, I am a chronic overpacker so this will be a challenge.

First, I have to bring enough clothes for six or seven days. We’ll be gone two weeks, but for four days in the middle of the trip, we’re staying in a house that has a washer-dryer. Ireland doesn’t have a lot of self-service laundromats, it turns out, and while I could wash things in the sink (free) or send stuff out to the full-service laundry (not free), I preferred to find a rental with a washer-dryer to streamline the whole process. It took several tries and a spreadsheet to organize this, but I finally nailed down the last of the reservations over the weekend.

My entire travel wardrobe consists of non-wrinkly, minimal space-hogging black or dark grey tunics over black leggings, black socks, and a pair of Keen hiking shoes. I’m also bringing a cardigan wrap and my trusty North Face windbreaker. Also black. Do you sense a theme? Black is a staple in my closet because it hides everything. And as a general rule, my itinerary can best be described as “vacation death march.” I mean, why invest time and money and not see everything there is to see? So anyone traveling with me will be on the go alllll the time–you should see my spreadsheet–and I want to be comfortable and not (obviously) grungy.

The carry-on-only proposition presents a small problem: travel-sized anything won’t be enough to last two weeks. Especially conditioner–my hair is like two feet long, so those little bottles are literally single-use for me. I’ve decided either to buy regular-sized conditioner, lotion, and toothpaste when we get there, or stash some in B’s checked luggage. Pretty much everything else–Aquaphor, sunscreen, cosmetics–can fit in a TSA-approved clear bag.

And then there’s the race stuff. Whoever said running doesn’t require a lot of equipment must not wear a sturdy sports bra, use gadgets dependent upon chargers, or have a thing about readily-available chapstick like I do. So I’ve started making a list to go along with the spreadsheet.

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This stuff is gonna fill 1/4 of my suitcase, I think. Fortunately, like my tunic/leggings wardrobe, running stuff is squishable–it’s not like I’m trying to pack seven pairs of jeans. But running shoes take up a ton of space no matter how you stack them.

Right now I am only at the pile-making stage. I haven’t tried to fit everything in the suitcase at the same time yet. Especially since I’m still using my running stuff this week. 😉

 

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I’m not the only one whose packing style is “early Ziplock,” right?

Kind of as a test run, I used this suitcase (and brought similar clothes) when I went to Cleveland a few weeks ago. I packed three days of (black squishable) clothes and all my race stuff, plus I brought back my 40th anniversary fleece blanket, two or three additional shirts, and a random collection of things from the race expo. I wouldn’t say I had plenty of room on the way back, but I didn’t have to sit on my suitcase to close it or anything. So I am cautiously optimistic I can make this work.

Anyone have advice on things I haven’t thought of yet?


Next up: staying hydrated and eating properly ahead of an international race

June

Yesterday, I completed my 21st year teaching middle school. My “baby” finished 8th grade and is officially a high school freshman.

And my goal race is two weeks from Sunday. 

I’ve been following their Facebook page, and it’s exciting to see updates–they’re expecting the half to sell out, at 700 runners. And they’ve eliminated the early start for the full marathon, instead starting everyone at 8:30 which means marathoners (who run two loops of the half course) will still be out on the course when the half starts at 10:30. Fingers crossed that both of these alleviate my fear of being so slow, I’m the last one out there.

A 10:30 start is unheard of in Texas, but I guess it’s normal in places with cooler weather? I mean, Ireland’s June high temperatures are more than ten degrees cooler than Austin’s overnight lows. Which is why I’m hitting my workouts pretty hard–the more acclimated I am to running in the heat, the better the cooler weather will feel.

To that end, last night I ran quarter-mile repeats at 10K pace in almost 90-degree sun. For motivation, my training group kept repeating “Ireland….” when I started a new loop. 🙂 And I thought it was a good sign that my overall pace (the workout combined with the warmup/cooldown miles) averaged exactly my half-marathon goal pace. I’m still not sure it’s something I can sustain over 13.1 miles–it’s a stretch goal, but a goal nonetheless.

And the medals!

Kildare medals

All my favorite medals have spinning centerpieces!

Race organizers published their course maps recently as well, which mean exactly nothing to me since my knowledge of County Kildare begins and ends with what I’ve found on Wikipedia, but I’m interested in the elevation. They advertise a flat, fast course–what do y’all think?

Kildare

In case you can’t read that: it looks like the elevation rises 100ish feet over 2.5 miles.

I’m planning to run ten miles tomorrow and 12 the following Saturday plus my usual weekday stuff–core class and a couple of 3-5 mile runs. It will just be a little easier without a full-time job getting in the way.

So now that school’s out, I can obsess hyper-focus on this trip and the race. 😉