A souvenir from 3M, part two

Remember after the 3M half-marathon I got a blister under my toenail?

Last night, that toenail fell off.

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I put this image here so WordPress will select it, not a picture of my foot, for the thumbnail of this post. Did it work?

For the last three months the nail has looked weird–kind of white, like it wasn’t attached to the skin any longer. It hasn’t hurt, and it didn’t turn black. It was just sort of inert.

But of course it fell off now that it’s sandal season. Most of the time I don’t really care what my toenails look like, even when I wear sandals. I mean, I don’t work during the summer and I run a lot. Whatever. But tomorrow I’m in charge of a huge dress-up event at work and I was planning to wear open-toed shoes because they’re the only shoes I have that go with my outfit.

It’s one of the smaller toes and is not super-noticeable. Do I paint the place where the nail would be, and fake it? Or do I wear something else? It’s my first lost toenail and I have no idea what people do in situations like this!

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It’s the second toe–it doesn’t look all that bad from here. But the only part that’s actual toenail is the little white spot at the bottom.

I guess I can call myself a real runner now? 😀

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Tire(d)

Every 2-3 weeks, the rear driver’s-side tire on my car loses pressure for no discernible reason. I’ll start the car, and dingding, the low tire alert flashes on the dashboard. And it’s truly low–I test it with the gauge before hauling out the air tank. The other three tires don’t do this, but when I brought it to the tire place (these were new in January) they took it all apart and couldn’t find a leak.

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That tire is symbolic of my life right now. Every so often, I just deflate and run out of energy. This week was one of those times.

I don’t know why I was more exhausted than usual,  but a couple of mornings I could barely get out of bed. I rarely get enough sleep during the week and this week was no better or worse, so while I was not well-rested, that’s sort of my normal. K reminded me that I’m always tired at this point in the school year, so it could just be that it’s all catching up with me. I don’t know, but it was a tough week.

I (sort of) ran six miles with my group on Tuesday, but more than anything it was an exercise in suffering. My whole body felt drained. I’m not sure if it was lingering soreness from the somewhat hilly Longhorn 10K or what. Wednesday all I did was walk the dog for a mile. Thursday’s workout was slightly better, but then again I only managed four miles. So I wasn’t sure how well my Saturday long run would go. Still, I knew I had to run 12ish miles because the Pittsburgh Steel Challenge (5K and half-marathon) is two weeks away.

Since I’m not in half-marathon PR shape, and since I’m running a 5K the day before, I’m planning to run-walk the Pittsburgh half so I have been tinkering with the timing on runs over ten miles. The last time I ran 12 a couple of weeks ago, I ran for three minutes and walked for one minute; this time I tried pushing the running intervals to 4:1 to see if that improved my overall pace without sacrificing endurance.

Turns out, it wasn’t too bad. It was raining and about 60 when I started, and I stuck to the 4:1 pretty well the whole way. I drank my own electrolytes (this time it was DripDrop, which I think is my favorite) and ate a couple of Skratch gels along the way.

It was also a pretty morning for scenery.

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The bluebonnets are fading and won’t be around more than a week or two longer, so it was nice ro run past a few fields of them before they’re gone.

How’d the interval thing go? My overall pace was only about six seconds per mile faster than my last 12 miler at 3:1 and my quads were pretty tired by the end. I can’t tell if the tiredness was the result of the increased interval or the exhaustion from the week, or both. But I don’t know that I gained a whole lot by running a minute longer each time. And while my stomach was okay afterward, I didn’t feel like eating a whole lot until more like dinnertime. That’s with a cool morning, too–it stayed about 60 and rainy the whole time. Not sure how that would have gone in warmer conditions.

So I’ve got one more long run, a couple of team workouts, and some easy runs ahead of me before travel and back-to-back races. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch up on some sleep too.

Night and day

I don’t know what happened today. But I’ll take it.

My hip bothered me during both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s runs–in fact, Thursday I cut the workout way short because it felt pretty bad and I wanted to be able to run 12 miles on Saturday. My coach told me not to force 12 if it hurt, that I could still hit that distance another weekend before my upcoming half-marathon. But I wanted to make it happen, considering the last time I ran this route, I also had 12 on the schedule but dropped to 10 because I felt awful.

Both last weekend and today, because of my hip I adopted a run-walk strategy–three minutes of running to one minute of walking. It feels weird to take the early walk breaks, when I’m barely past the first cross street, but lots of people who have tried this say the early ones are important. Two of my BRFs ran with me and adopted the same strategy.

It was in the high 50s and windy and we started an hour before sunrise, so I felt pretty comfortable the first couple of miles. At the first water stop, I added my package of DripDrop to my handheld water bottle–hydration test #3. We plodded along for the next couple of miles, and I didn’t have any trouble restarting after each of the walk breaks. Much better than the last time I ran this route.

At the second water stop (mind you, these are just big coolers bike-chained to corner street signs) we were warned that one of the nearby neighbors was upset because people running past his house woke him up. Apparently he also threatened to turn his dog loose on us. No word on what he might have said to his next-door neighbor whose diesel truck made far more noise than a dozen running people.

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Unfortunately the way this route looped around the neighborhood, we had to pass his house at least three times.

Midway around the first loop, the three of us kind of drifted apart, with me as the caboose. Back at the water stop, the middle person stopped for water and two of us kept going, knowing we only had to go about half a mile before the turnaround. We got further separated as the rest of the run progressed, so for the last four miles or so I was on my own.

But I did okay. Later, looking at my Garmin data, I saw that my mile splits were fairly consistent the whole way. Doing the run-walk thing isn’t going to get me a half-marathon PR, but I finished feeling good. I skipped the last two walk breaks, and my last mile was my fastest. My hip was barely noticeable, and while I wouldn’t say it was easy, I felt like I could keep going. And the rest of the day, I practically forgot that I’d run 12 miles–I didn’t feel sore or anything. The difference from Thursday to Saturday was like night and day.

Considering the mental factor against me–my previous experience with this route–and the physical one of my hip, it easily could have gone to shit. But it didn’t, and I was pleasantly surprised!

The hydration experimentation

I don’t have a good track record of successful hydration.

After the debacle at Zooma, I have decided that this summer, I will get it under control. Since Sunday is April 1, that basically means we’re done with 50-degree running days, so now’s as good a time as any to start trying a few things.

But how on earth do I figure out what might work for me? There are so many options–gels, drink mixes, bars… most of which taste like cardboard. So I did some Googling reading and discovered there’s a lot more out there beyond Gatorade and GUs. I mean, I knew that, but I didn’t realize that these products don’t all do the same thing.

This article and this one both explain the concept of slower-acting carbohydrates and why traditional sports drinks lead to GI distress in some people, me included. Here’s the TL;DR version:

Here’s the back-story: As you run the marathon, your gut gets dehydrated and blood is shunted away from it to the working muscles. This is a positive for your muscles but is a big negative for your GI tract. It can no longer tolerate as concentrated or as much carbohydrate as it could earlier in the race. You hear this when runners mention that the gel or drink that tasted so good at mile 5 made them want to vomit at mile 20.

In this strategy, you aren’t using fast-acting carbohydrates that create the quick shuttling of carbohydrates from the gut to the blood stream (and creates the spike/crash cycle). Instead, you use slow-absorbing carbohydrates that maintain a steady blood glucose level and are kinder on a dehydrated GI tract.

It kind of goes along with my earlier strategy of using real food–Fig Newtons, pretzels, etc. as running fuel–but I never really found the right combination to make carrying all of that stuff worthwhile. Since hydration and GI issues continue to plague me (sometimes simultaneously), this slow-carb concept seems right in my wheelhouse.

Some more reading and I’ve narrowed my search down to three products.

The first is Tailwind, which is both fuel and hydration. You’re supposed to sip it a little at a time during an endurance event, not chug it at an aid station like Gatorade, and supposedly it’s more gentle on the GI tract. It’s also a fuel source, so it covers all the bases and eliminates the need for gels, etc. I tried the Naked Unflavored first, which tasted a bit like diluted seawater, but the caffeinated green tea flavor was tolerable at least at first when it was cold. After a few miles it got warm (even in an insulated handheld bottle) and tasted less appealing though, so I’m not sure whether it will work for me through the summer. But one test does not a decision make, so I will give it some more trials.

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Tailwind Green Tea Buzz

I have to say that the company’s introdcution cracked me up. “The three most traumatic moments in my stomach’s career: Spring Break Palm Springs ’91, Lechuguilla at the bottom of the Copper Canyon ‘93, and Gel #6 Leadville ’04.” Gotta love someone with a sense of humor about barfing.

The second product I’m trying is Generation UCAN. It’s designed to deliver electrolytes evenly to prevent the blood sugar spike that faster-acting carbs provide, and as a result is more gentle on the stomach. This one is an electrolyte-only, which means I still have to use gels or other fuel sources, but I like the Skratch gummy gels and don’t find that to be a significant turnoff.

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UCAN lemon lime

I tried a serving of the lemon-lime UCAN Hydrate during an 85-degree workout, and found that it tasted pretty good even after it got a little warm. Huge plus, considering my flavor pickiness. They have a buy-one-get-one-free promotion going on through tomorrow and I’m tempted to stock up (I’m a sucker for a discount), but since I’ve only tried it once I’m not sure I want to to double down on it without more testing on longer runs.

My third experiment is with DripDrop. I hadn’t even heard of this or come across it in any of my research, but a training friend (who’s a pediatric ICU nurse) brought some to a workout this week and shared it with all of us.

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DripDrop

I had just mixed up my UCAN though, and didn’t try it, so I’ve put the DripDrop in my bag to test out during tomorrow’s long run. Their website doesn’t specify that it’s a slow-acting carb like the others I’ve researched, but it explains the science behind delivering rehydration via the small intestine, which is the same way Tailwind and UCAN work. And since it’s formulated for children, I’m thinking it’s gentle on the stomach as well. Like I said, I’m weird about tastes, though, so that will be a big factor when I do try it.

All three are more expensive than traditional hydration and fueling products like Gatorade. A package of 12 Tailwind packs (two servings per pack) is $30 on Amazon Prime. Like I said, UCAN Hydrate is $25 per container (30 servings) plus shipping, and for another day is buy-one-get-one-free from their website. With Amazon Prime the 30-serving container is $28.95. DripDrop’s website sells an 8-serving box (each package mixes with 8oz of water) for $9.99 or Subscribe and Save for $7.99. Amazon Prime‘s page is confusing–it says there are two sizes–a four-count box for $10.99 and an eight-count box, also for $10.99. Why anyone would pay the same price for four as eight is beyond me, but Amazon can be weird so I’m not sure what’s really happening there.

All this to say that my Stage One trials are underway on these three products. Summer lasts half the year here, so I have some time to tinker with them and see what works. And if all else fails, I still have a small supply of Zofran to pick up the pieces. 😀

Stay tuned.

Reflections after a difficult race (AKA Zooma follow-up)

When I shared my Zooma race report earlier this week, I got a bunch of comments I wasn’t expecting. Many were supportive, but others (vitually) rolled their eyes and said I was whining or need to toughen up. It’s always interesting to see how people perceive me through the words I write, which I didn’t think all that many people read to begin with. 😉 Fair enough. I try not to sugarcoat my experiences when I post race reports, but I recognize that this one certainly fell on the negative side.

Still, reading the responses got me thinking about how to rebound from a race that went awry. Yes, I trained for the race and the hills, but what should I do going forward to improve?

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Zooma was my 17th half marathon. I’ve run about half of them slower and half of them faster, in temperatures ranging from 35 degrees to 85. I’ve run a couple when I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted (due to injury) but for most of them, I’ve done the work leading into the race. I’m slow and not a distance badass, but I’m stubborn. Preparing for Zooma, I had to miss a few days of training at the end of February due to a work trip, but other than that I followed my training plan. I’d run 3M in January, so I had the ability to complete the 13.1 distance well before Zooma. But 3M didn’t go very well either, in similarly-warm weather conditions. In my defense, a few days before that race it was 15* and schools were closed because of ice. February’s high temps were a bit warmer overall, and certainly it was humid and unpleasant during some of our quality workouts, but there were enough cooler days mixed in that I really didn’t acclimate to the warmer stuff we saw on race day.

So yeah, my performance definitely correlates to race-day temperatures. My half-marathon PR came on a day barely above freezing. I think it was actually below freezing the day I ran my 10K PR. And I ran a 5K PR a couple of weeks ago when it was in the 40s. But on the other hand, I’ve now been sick twice from overheating after a too-warm race. The first one was three or four years ago, yet despite similar conditions and post-race health, my finishing time was 30 minutes faster at Zooma. Clearly the last several years of training have been effective in the long game. But I still have work to do.

So what does my training look like? Core class on Mondays, quality workouts with Rogue Cedar Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays, long run on Saturdays and a recovery run on Sundays. I sometimes run on Wednesdays–adding the second quality workout in December took some adjustment, and for a while I was recovering on Wednesdays with lighter activities like walking the dog, although sometimes I did nothing at all–but the rest I’m pretty religious about. Now that it’s staying light later, I’ll go back to running 2-3 miles in the evening after core class as well. As far as terrain, when I run from my house, it’s mostly flat; Rogue routes vary between flat and hilly, and we run on both the road and at the track. Mileage-wise, I generally run 95-105 miles per month. Not bad. But I have several relatively hilly (although not on the Zooma scale) races coming up this spring, so I need to add in a few dedicated hill workouts in addition to those I do with Rogue. Since the May event is a 5K on Saturday and a half on Sunday, I also plan to increase my Sunday mileage to prepare for that back-to-back element.

Next, can I improve time and effort? I work a full-time job (at work by 7am) and on Rogue days I get home with just enough time to change clothes and head out again. I already wake up at 5:45, and don’t have any more evening time to give. So I try to maximize my return from the workouts I do–most Rogue workouts include a 1-1.5 mile warmup, then some kind of shorter speed repeats, and the same distance back. This winter, my weekday quality workouts averaged about 6.5 miles each, and I don’t have a lot left when I’m done, except sore legs. When the plan calls for 3-4 repeats, I do four–I rarely do just the minimum or baseline, and I don’t miss Saturday long runs even when I want nothing more than to sleep late. I think I have a pretty decent work ethic, although I will cop to the rare evening when I’m just too tired and I take an unplanned rest day.

What about fuel and hydration? Well, I struggle with the latter not because I find it difficult to drink enough. It’s the effects of drinking enough. I teach 90-minute classes back-to-back and can’t just leave a room full of 7th graders while I visit the restroom, so I have to be smart about how much I drink and how often. After 20+ years I have this down to something of a science, but it’s an imperfect science nonetheless. During races I take water at every stop, but I don’t carry my own–maybe that’s something I need to start doing for warm races. I don’t usually have hydration issues on training runs, though. As far as fuel, I eat reasonably well–a protein bar for breakfast, a salad with chicken for lunch, and usually something easy like grilled cheese or tacos after I get home from my run. My sweet tooth is part of the reason I run, though. 😉 I have experimented with race fueling for a while, and I found success with Skratch gels during long runs–I guess they just weren’t enough to combat the temps of Saturday’s race. Perhaps continued tweaking is necessary in that department.

So while I feel like I do a lot of things pretty well, at least in my physical training, that’s not to say I should just throw up my hands and declare I can’t possibly do anything better because it was all the race’s or venue’s fault. By definition, self-reflection means considering my own behaviors and attitudes. For example, I’ve lived in Austin most of my life and I’ve been running here for seven years–I should be used to running in the heat, but obviously I still struggle with it. So since I can’t control the weather, somehow I need to improve my mental game–my response to tough conditions. Negativity is one of my biggest downfalls (shocking, huh?). My coach always says “We love hills!” and I growl. But the other day I was listening to Ali on the Run‘s interview of Gabe Grunewald–do you know her story? She’s a young professional runner who has been diagnosed with cancer four times. The most recent, I think she said Stage 4 on her liver, is inoperable, but instead of focusing on the zillion negatives inherent in a diagnosis like that, she has the most positive outlook. She keeps running and training through treatment because if she’s feeling well, she wants to be ready to race. She said something about no matter what happens in her future, she wants to live now with no regrets.

Sometimes it’s easier not to fight when things get tough, but if you keep pushing, great things can happen. – Gabe Grunewald

I recommend listening to the whole episode–she’s so inspiring, it humbled me that my biggest running complaint was that I felt like shit after a half-marathon last weekend.

Someone asked if I run because it’s easy or because it’s hard. And after some thought, I guess my answer is both, and neither. As a former couch potato I appreciate the physical challenge, I value the milestones I achieve in pace and distance, and I love the community of runners I’ve joined. There are days when every step is difficult, and it’s both exhausting and rewarding to finish a tough workout or race. But damn, I don’t want everything to be hard. I want to enjoy the time on my feet too. The destination and the journey.

With that, I’m going out for a run.


This post also appeared on Texas Running Post.

Scenes from a hat

Welcome to my life, where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

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Last Thursday, my honor society crew caught a 5:30 am flight (!) to Washington, D.C. for our annual trip. It was the largest group we’ve ever taken–73 eighth-graders, 12 parents, and five staff members. And as usual, every day was packed with activities from 8am to 10pm. But unfortunately, we had to defer our Asscrack of Dawn 5K to next year since J is still recovering from surgery. In fact, I didn’t get to see her at all.

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Anyway, after another whirlwind trip in which I think I ended up on students’ Snapchats at least twice, I got home about 1am Sunday night Monday morning. Fortunately I took Monday off from work because I slept until 1pm. And even then, I had no issue falling asleep eight or nine hours later.

The rest of the week was more of the same. Core class resumed Monday, and I paid for that during Tuesday night’s workout with my running group. My quads and hips were super sore, probably from some combination of our crazy travel itinerary and core class–and of course we ran a hilly route. It was also warm and humid. I ended up cutting it short–two one-mile laps instead of three–and only ended up with about 4.5 miles. Ugh.

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Wednesday I could only muster the energy to take the dog for a walk–I hoped the lighter activity would help my muscles feel better for Thursday night’s workout.

Generally with the Tuesday-Thursday thing, I do the speed workout Tuesday and then something less intense but perhaps a longer distance with the group on Thursday. But I was so underwhelmed with my performance on Tuesday that on Thursday (when it was about 20 degrees cooler) I made myself do the workout over again, but three laps this time, for 5.5 miles total. My legs were still tired and sore, but I powered through it in the cooler weather.

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Which brings me to this weekend.

My BRFs made me start at 5:30am. I’d struggled to get out of bed every day this week, and 5:30 did not appeal to me at all.

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But I showed up anyway. Because I have a half-marathon next Saturday and probably should get one last double-digit long run done before the race. I was tired, poorly recovered, and after about two miles, in pain. My quads were still sore, and now my left hip hurt a bit as well.

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I didn’t remember to pick up a map, but I was pretty sure I knew where I was going. Four of us started out together, and at the first water stop another friend caught up to us as well. I was definitely the caboose in this little train, and at one point I lost them in the dark. The coach had told us to add a little detour to the route, just a loop, and when I reached that intersection well behind the others, I couldn’t tell whether they’d taken the detour or gone straight ahead–their blinking red, green, and blue lights didn’t travel very far I guess.

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So I turned left for the detour. I mean, it’s a neighborhood I’ve run in for years, so I knew I couldn’t really get lost and I’d catch the others eventually when I came back to the main road. But then I saw blue shoe lights coming toward me, and I was confused.

Turns out they’d gone straight, then noticed I wasn’t behind them coming up the hill. So one pair backtracked and the other came around from the other direction, and those were the blue lights I saw. It was sweet of them to look for me–I knew where I was and how to get where I wanted to go, but it was dark and I appreciated that they didn’t want to lose me.

Back on course, we stopped for water, then headed down the hill for the last mile and a half before turning around. It was hilly–what’s with hilly quality workouts the same week as a hilly long run route??–and my legs were fried. I was grateful for having to wait at a stoplight or two. When I finished, I felt like I’d run 100 miles, not ten.

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I vowed to take it easy this coming week so I can have semi-fresh legs for the race on Saturday. That includes sleep–I know getting good sleep is key to running and recovery, but because of the trip and work, I fell way behind and just couldn’t catch up. I still haven’t, actually.

I keep reminding myself that I always have at least one crappy long run leading into a race–usually it’s two or three weeks out, but the last two weeks I didn’t do a long run. I ran a 5K PR, then didn’t run at all while I was in Washington. So hopefully I got it out of the way today.

I don’t have a time goal for Saturday’s race, but they (finally) published a course map the other day (no elevation map though) and I learned that the half-marathoners run the 10K loop twice (nevermind that 10K x 2 does not equal 13.1) so my only real goal is to run the second loop faster. My current jelly legs situation doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in my ability to pull that off, but if I can be semi-rested going into the race, I have a improved chance of success.

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Ryan Stiles:
Talking about traffic, it is boring all the time,
It’s hard to think about something that’ll rhyme.
Traffic, ah, who cares? It’s got no kind of class,
Ah, once again, I gotta mention Melissa’s ass.
All: Mention Melissa’s ass!

“I promise to be careful.”

That’s how Coach Bill starts Vern’s No-Frills 5K the third Saturday of every month. The first time I ran this race, I expected more to the pledge, but no, that’s it. I laugh every time.

I left my house wearing short sleeves and capris, but before the race started I got rained on twice, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped into the mid-40s. I changed into a long-sleeved shirt and dug my gloves out of my bag a few minutes before paying my dollar and making the above-mentioned pledge to safety.

I ran the first half-mile with my friend who was taking it easy, recovering from shin splints. Yeah, her “easy” pace was close to my race pace. But after we weaved and dodged around a bunch of folks, I sped up to pass someone else on the narrow sidewalk and this time she didn’t follow.

When my watch ticked off my first mile at a respectable but not anywhere near my best pace, I realized that I probably wouldn’t get a 40-degree race morning again anytime soon and I should take advantage of it. So I sped up.

After I made the first turnaround I could see another friend up ahead of me. By the time my watch informed me that I’d run my second mile :23 faster, I knew I was closing the gap on him. I picked it up again, and a half-mile or so later, just after the second turnaround, I passed him.

Adjusting to Tuesday-Thursday workouts has left me with some leg fatigue the last few weeks, but this time I felt like I was running strong the whole way. I started to think that maybe I had a chance at a PR, so I cranked up my music and pushed pretty hard down the last stretch. I hit three miles (:18 faster than mile two) and made the turnoff to the finish, the final .1 on a crushed granite path.

I crossed the finish line (literally a line drawn in the dirt) pretty pleased with my effort. But here’s the funny part: I couldn’t remember what my PR actually was. In my defense, I ran it back in 2016, at the Shiner 5K which is downhill the whole second half. So I opened up my Garmin app to search for it, but it turns out that wasn’t necessary. Garmin asked me if I wanted to accept today’s time as my new PR, so that answered that. Still, I was curious about how close it was and whether the official time would hold up as a PR. See, Vern’s is timed, but everyone starts with the gun time and they hand-time the finish. It’s a small race and I didn’t think I was more than a second or three behind the gun time, but I wasn’t sure.

Since I’d accepted this as my new Garmin PR, I had to do some searching to find that old Shiner time. Eventually I calculated that I’d PR’d by eight seconds, at least according to Garmin. I’d also run a spiffy negative split. My friends urged me to go ring the PR bell, and I figured what the hell. Overall PR or not, it was my fastest Vern’s so ringing it was legit.

After the race, 12 or 15 of us went out to breakfast. Mexican food, of course. And coffee. Later in the day Coach Bill texted me to confirm that my official time held up and I have a new 5K PR. On a day I didn’t expect it, wham.

I know eight seconds for a 3.1-mile race doesn’t sound like a lot. But since that Shiner race I’ve suffered through two injuries and a lot of lost training time. Knowing I’m eight seconds ahead of where I was pre-injury makes me happy, and it reminded me that the hard work I’ve been putting in is worth it.