Saturday, February 23, 2008

Smelt Run 2008

I was surprised to see that my time in this year's La Conner Smelt Run 10K was only seven seconds faster than last year's time. Surprised because I remember last year's run was cold and difficult and I was somewhat disappointed with my time at the end. This year I wasn't disappointed with my time, though I wasn't elated either; just happy that I was under 55 minutes. (My time this year was 54:23, and last year was 54:30.)

I think the reason I was disappointed last year was because I felt like I ran really hard (in the cold, wind, and damp), and yet the time was quite a bit slower than the prior 10K, Mukilteo in August 2006, when I was a bit under 53 minutes). At the time, the Smelt Run was my third 10K, and it was my slowest of the three.

But it turns out I was just lucky in the first two. Over the last year I've run a lot of 10K races, and I've learned what I can expect to do. I can expect, if I try hard, to be under 55 minutes, although I can't guarantee it. And I can expect that a time under 53 minutes, when it happens, will be uncommon and rare, and the result of a very, very good run under the most fortuitous of circumstances.

So today, a sunny and not quite balmy day (albeit with a firm wind out on the course), I ran quite hard, felt pretty good about it, and finished in 54:23. My one excuse (other than the wind), was that apparently I started out rather in the back of the crowd (so my parents tell me they noticed when I passed them down on 1st Street), so there was a good bit of time lost before I actually crossed the starting line. (Let's count on it being at least 30 seconds!) I did pass a lot of people throughout the duration of the run.

Including, I might add, a toddler and his dad who appeared to be blocking the pathway in front of me so that I had to veer around them to sprint to the finish line! Apparently that toddler had been providing a lot of entertainment to the crowd watching the finish, as he ran, then walked, toward the end of the race. My mother reported, though I didn't hear, that a woman in the crowd called to the rest of us as we passed, "Congratulations, you're passing the toddler!"

While amusing to everyone else, that confused and disturbed me for some time as I tried to figure out how a toddler and his somewhat chunky dad could possibly be ahead of me to be passed! I finally determined that while I was running the 10K, they were actually "running" or walking the 2-mile loop through town, which ended on the same route as my portion of the race. Whew! I was beginning to get a complex. (There will be a picture of my "competition" below when I get around to posting photos.)

The Smelt Run (5K & 10K, plus 2-mile walk) is part of La Conner's Smelt Derby, an annual festival centering around a smelt fishing competition in La Conner. I am happy to do the run, and let others spend their day fishing ("jigging") for tiny little fish one at a time.

When the race was over my parents and I walked back to "downtown" La Conner (about half a mile away) for the usual post-run breakfast/lunch. Our destination was, of course, the Calico Cupboard. My primary objective was a scrumptious cinnamon roll (to share, of course). For my main course I threw my usual cautions to the winds and ordered Heuvos Rancheros which comes smothered in (gasp!) melted cheese. Everything was delicious, of course.

After strolling around La Conner for half an hour or so, we headed back home. I had a massage appointment at 3:00, and certainly didn't want to miss that. And so ended Smelt Run day.


Running down First Street at the beginning of the race.

How could this toddler be so far ahead of me? I am in the background, racing to catch up (actually racing toward the finish line).

Running for the finish.

In LaConner on the way to Calico Cupboard.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


That pretty much describes the first few hours of my President's Day Monday a couple of days back. I had a very structured plan for the day, which quickly fell to pieces (although in the end the day turned out fine).

Monday February 18 was the day of registration for the Robie Creek Half Marathon in Boise on April 19. According to the website, online registration would begin at 8 a.m. Mountain Time (which by all calculations would be 7 a.m. here). So my schedule for the day began with 7-8 a.m. on the computer registering (I allowed an hour because I thought it might be a little difficult), followed by running 8-9 a.m.

A few minutes before 7 I was sitting in front of the computer waiting for the promised registration link to come up. There had been dire warnings about not refreshing the screen or doing other things to overwork the servers, but I must admit I periodically clicked over to another screen, then back, just to make sure I was getting the most current data.

Because nothing was happening. 8 a.m. came and went—so much for going running before my plan to meet a friend for breakfast at 9:45. 9 a.m.—still nothing. Now I was getting worried about the other plans as well. I was at least relieved that I had planned for possible delays by stationing myself by a TV where I could at least watch the Today show while I waited. At 9:30 I sent off an email of frustration to the contact person for the race (I'm sure he was getting any number of emails), and also talked to my friend about our plans. We decided to meet at 10:00 and I resigned myself to giving up if I didn't get in soon.

About when I was ready to throw in the towel, I decided to click the refresh button, just in case (even though I was not supposed to do that), and voila! There it was. The registration link. Now mind you, the registration process did not proceed all that smoothly from then on. There were still a number of "the website is not responding" messages, and I had to resend my information several times before I made it through all the levels. But finally, around 10:00, I was in!

Luckily the night before I had reconnected my old printer to the computer (in anticipation of this situation) and I was able to print out a confirmation of my registration as well. You're darn tootin' that I wanted proof that I was signed up for this thing!

So, what's the big attraction of this Robie Creek race? Apparently it has achieved semi-legendary status, undoubtedly due in part to the limited race field and difficulty getting in. I happened across it in an article in Runner's World about a few great half-marathons. It appealed to me for a number of reasons. First, I have good friends in Boise who always welcome my visits, so a run in Boise seemed like a good way to accomplish two objectives at once (or in other words, kill two birds with one stone). Second, the run was described as "challenging" (perhaps an understatement), so that sounded like... well, a challenge. Third, it happens six days after the Whidbey Island Half Marathon. Running two halfs in one week sounded like twisted fun, and probably the closest I'll ever get to running a whole marathon.

The thing that I didn't pay that much attention to, and didn't really seek out, was Robie Creek's reputation as a big party. That scares me a little (more than the uphill run), since I'm really not a beer-drinking, party-loving gal. I'll probably be waiting in line to get on the first bus back to the base! (To a hot shower and a good book... I'm so boring.)

They describe the run as "running over the hill." Hopefully my hill training for Whidbey and Portland will help me out with this one too. I'm not worried about my time or anything like that, and I know I have the stamina to finish, so it's all good. Whidbey is still my main focus (and the one where I really want to do well, timewise), and Robie Creek will just be for fun, endurance, and sense of accomplishment.

After I got my spot, I felt safe making my travel arrangements to Boise—a plane ticket, accommodations with my friend, and a rental car to get around Boise. Usually I don't have a car there, but since I'll be there for five days (from Wednesday packet pickup, to Sunday, the day after the race), I didn't want to rely on or burden my friends too much. I took care of all that later in the week, when I was supposed to be working.

But back to my day off, Monday, after I finally got my registration I hustled off to meet my friend at Mitzel's, half an hour or more later than planned. I really didn't even have time to eat breakfast at the restaurant, so I packed up some cereal, fruit and yoghurt to eat in the movie and asked my friend to order me two poached eggs to slurp down before heading off to the theatre. Actually that made a healthier breakfast than if I'd had time to order a "real" breakfast off the menu!

We went to see Definitely, Maybe, which I was pretty excited about since it's made by Working Title Films (the company behind Bridget Jones's Diary (my favorite), Love Actually, and other English chick flicks I've loved). This was not an English film, though one of the stars, Rachel Weisz, is English. I was not disappointed. The movie was sweet, fun, and very nicely done (in my opinion).

The movie ended around 1:30 p.m., which was good because I had still not been running. With a whole day off, there was no excuse to blow it off entirely, even if my reason for missing out in the morning had been totally legit.

So I ditched Jennifer and Sammy and headed back to Marysville to pick up my mother for a trip to Green Lake. I figured two laps around the outside would give me 6.4 miles, a fair distance for a Monday.

What with one thing and another, we didn't get down to Seattle until mid-afternoon, which made it unlikely that I could get back to Everett in time for Pilates class. I was pretty torn over this. On the one hand, you have to celebrate a legitimate reason to miss out on roll-ups and leg lifts—but on the other hand, I did feel guilty. Ultimately, I would resolve my dilemma by taking a third lap around the lake, which would make it truly impossible to get to Pilates but also add more than three miles more to my distance.

On this particular day I seemed extra aware of my reliance on my iPod. (There is something about no iPods being allowed on Robie Creek, which I'm sure I will be complaining about soon enough.) I took my first lap slowly (nothing surprising there). On the second lap I started playing games with the iPod. For the first mile, I began repeating the same song again and again until I finished that mile. Then I figured the next three songs would last about the distance of another mile. That seemed to work about right, so I backed up four songs to bring me in for the final 1.2.

So, two laps done, and I headed out for the third and final one. This time I came up with a scheme to both pass the distance and amp up my workout. I would run slowly for the length of one song, then fast for the length of the next, over and over around the lake. As I approached the end of the final lap, I sprinted into a "fast" song. I had already decided that I would run a little further on the inside track so that I could call my total mileage 10 rather than 9.6 miles, so I zipped past the car, keeping my speed up until the song changed again. I jogged for another five minutes then turned around and walked back to the car.

By then it was late enough to go have an early dinner, so we zipped over to Dukes for a tasty meal. A good day altogether!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Fine Discovery

Oh, I so love a pun.

It's not that I just discovered Discovery Park. It's not like I've never run there before. But it makes a catchy title, and it's true—Discovery Park is a fine discovery for running.

It's also fine for walking, hiking, and exploring, of course. But for me, its most appealing feature is the 2.8 mile loop trail that winds around the park, uphill and down, mostly on a packed dirt surface. Like Green Lake, a short measured path is great for running short or long distances (repeating as desired). But while Green Lake is pretty much flat and tame, Discovery Park is hilly and (comparatively) wild.

I ran there a couple of times last spring and, when the weather forecast was somewhat optimistic for yesterday (Saturday), I decided to make the trip south for a long run/hill run combo.

A change of scenery is always nice for running. The downside of going to a destination to run is that the trip there (and getting ready to go) can be as time consuming as the run itself. There is a lot to be said for walking out the door and running!

So thanks to the getting ready to go, and the going (which included driving to my mother's house to pick her up for the trip), I didn't actually get to Discovery Park or start running until after noon. (Literally. About 12:30, I think.)

Each loop is 2.8 miles, and my plan was to make four loops; the first three "easy" and the last one at the fastest pace I could manage (a 3/1 run).

Loop one: slow and easy. I'm a little stiff and creaky, and this is my warm-up. I didn't keep close track of the time, but it was about half an hour.

Loop two: less stiff, still slow, another half an hour, plus a few minutes extra for a stop partway through to use the bathroom. Two words: Cold. Toilet. Nuff said. (Except for a couple more descriptive terms: Metal seat.)

Loop three: I met my mother near the parking lot to turn in my water bottle for a new one. I also turned around to run in the opposite direction, partly to even things out and partly to shake up my routine. One side effect of this was that I was so disoriented that I had to check the signposts several times, even though this was my third time around this loop! By all theories this should have been my easiest time around—5.2 miles in, I was at the point where I should be firmly in the zone without yet hitting any kind of wall. It was pretty good, I guess. I didn't feel terrible, but I don't think I really had that "I can run forever" feeling, either. About 30 minutes around again.

Loop four: Time to put on the speed. And I did! I ran my heart out (and my legs off), pushing up the hills, hurtling down the hills, pounding along the relatively flat stretches. Time: better have been less than 30 minutes. I'm pretty sure it was.

After stopping at the car to check with my mother and going into the visitors center to use the bathroom (a real indoor bathroom with the usual kind of toilet seats), I walked for another 20 minutes or so to cool off and try to keep my leg muscles from seizing up. Then I changed my clothes in the bathroom so I wouldn't be damp and chilly and grouchy the rest of the afternoon (what there was left of it).

We picked up some brown rice sushi at Whole Foods for a late lunch, then headed over to U Village for a little shopping before going home. By the time we got to Whole Foods the achiness was already setting in, so I took a couple of Advil to try to alleviate it. I also had a callous on my big toe that had progressed to tender, bordering on painful. Later that night I soaked in an Epsom salt bath to treat both conditions. And I actually feel pretty good today (Sunday).

Total distance run Saturday: 11.2 miles. With my 8.2 mile morning run on Friday, and two somewhat shorter runs on Monday and Wednesday, that put me over 30 miles for the week. Not too bad!
A postscript: Pizza for dinner.

While sitting in the U-Village Starbucks (drinking a quad latte which enormously helped perk me up, as I was flagging), I started leafing through a book we had bought at Barnes and Noble, Eat This Not That, by David Zinczecko. The book purports to offer "Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds-or More!" to quote the sub-title. I had recently been thinking about pizza (which I haven't eaten for years, except one time on vacation in Canada last summer, a memorable exception). When I was buying frozen pizza to feed to a friend's child I was shocked at the calories (plus fat and sodium) in a very small serving. I'm pretty savvy about food calories, but this was beyond my expectations. I realized (and vowed) that if I wanted to have pizza (which normally isn't at the top of my wish list), it would have to be some kind of special diet pizza, like Weight Watchers or South Beach.
So, as I leafed through this book, I thought I'd look for pizza. I found a page for Pizza Hut. This entry suggested two pieces of a thin crust ham & pineapple pizza, at about 350 calories, or better yet, two pieces of a special "fit and trim" (or something like that) pizza for only 300 calories. (I figured at that rate I could actually have three pieces for a dinner.)
I became mildly obsessed with getting pizza for dinner, and the quest was on. Driving northward toward home I called directory information and found a Pizza Hut in Marysville. When I got there, I saw it really was a hut, of sorts, just a to-go shack without any restaurant accommodations. You can see how out of touch I am. I thought I remembered Pizza Hut as one of the regular pizza restaurants from my childhood! But I could be mistaken.
Anyhow, there was no sign of any "fit and trim" or any kind of diet pizza on the menu. But I thought I could accomplish the same result (with more veggies) by ordering the 12-inch veggie lovers pizza (thin and crispy crust), without cheese just to be on the safe side (I couldn't remember from the book whether the recommended pizza was shown with or without cheese). Then I just stopped at Albertsons and bought some 2% mozzarella, which I sprinkled lightly on the pizza before reheating it in the oven at my mom's house. I tossed up a big salad which I ate alongside my slivers of pizza (three pieces cut into half to make them last longer). Yum!

Friday, February 15, 2008

I Heart Running

This is my valentine to me.

Valentines Day Candy Heart

Valentines Day Candy Heart

So I have no one around to send me flowers, candy, or diamonds. My heart still pounds (four times a week, to be exact) and in fact is stronger and healthier and more efficient thanks to my love of running.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, here are a few reasons why I love running and running loves me.

Running makes you hot.

Running makes you breathe heavily.

Running makes you sweaty.

Running leaves you spent.

The more you do it, the better you get.

You can do it quick, hard and fast, or slow, long and easy.

You can do it alone or with a friend.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Love 'em or Leave 'em Valentines 5K (or, It's All About Me)

I have always considered 5K races to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they are easy and go by quickly—less than 30 minutes even on a bad day. On the other hand, I find them frustrating because it seems just impossible for me to get a decent time, even though conventional wisdom would have you running a faster pace in a short race than in the longer 10K's and such. In fact, the only way to do well in a 5K is to run all out from the beginning.

But that doesn't really work so well for me. In fact, I rarely hit my stride until at least two or three miles into a run. Accordingly, the second half of a 10K is frequently my best 5K.

But even so, I was shocked after the New Year's Day Resolution Run to end up with a final time of 26:17—my fastest time even in a 5K and the only the second time I've broken 27 minutes (the first time was last year's Race for the Cure when I was just a few seconds under the 27 minute mark).

Finishing so close to 26 minutes on January 1 led me to wonder if I could actually beat 26 minutes the next time around. And I knew the next time around would be February 10, the Valentine's Run.

This run would in fact be an ideal opportunity to try a new scheme—turning the 5K race into the second half of a 10K, by running the full 5K distance (or more) before the race as a warm-up. This would be particularly easy to do at Green Lake, where the race course is a loop around the 2.8 mile lake perimeter (with an extra little out-and-back to make up the extra .3 mile).

The day before the run I went down to Road Runner Sports to pick up my race packet and buy some new running shoes (I don't think I've had new ones since the Fairhaven 15K last fall). Lucky for me the race number included a 30% discount on a pair of shoes when you buy two—and lucky for me I was more than willing to buy a pair of trail running shoes in addition to my new Asics Gel Kayanos. (I have had at least three, maybe four, pairs of these shoes and I just love them. I tried on a couple of other kinds but nothing felt as good!) Since I am so familiar and comfortable with the Kayanos, I had no qualms about wearing them brand new in a race.

Over the last year I have succumbed to the pre-race pasta dinner theory. I think the first time I did it was before the Tulip Run 5-mile last spring, and I ran my best time ever in that race—so I was sold on the pasta plan. This also gives me a rare opportunity to indulge in "regular" pasta (as opposed to my usual version, which is spaghetti squash, or Fiber Gourmet pasta, or at the very least/most, whole grain or whole wheat pasta, and that very rarely). I had a $10 coupon for Lombardi's that expired on Saturday, so the plan was set—although by the time we added my parents and sister and her husband to the list, my $10 was not going to go too far!

But Lombardi's it was. I had the very tasty Penne Siciliano (I like penne because it is nice bite sized pieces that you don't have to wrestle with like spaghetti and other stringy pastas). I also had a little bite of heaven when I tasted my sister's order, butternut squash ravioli. Not only was each little pasta pillow filled with butternut squash puree, there were pieces of delicata squash throughout the dish. I am already contemplating a return trip before my next 10K in a couple of weeks so I can order the butternut squash ravioli (and I hope it is still on the menu by then!). I am even willing to overlook the naughty creamy sauce. It was just exquisite.

It so happened that Lombardi's was pretty busy that night, and we were squeezed into a four-person booth with a chair at the end (me in the chair, which actually was not so bad, because the upright chair provided nice back support). But I guess we looked a little crowded at that little table, because after we finished our dinner the nice waitress came back and said that the management wanted to buy us a couple of desserts. We hadn't planned on dessert, but what the hey—we could hardly say no thanks! (Well, I guess we could, but we didn't really want to.) I took charge of the selections and picked the apple crisp with ice cream (my #1 choice) and pannacotta. Pannacotta is an Italian eggless custard, essentially a gelatin of cream and sugar, and it is delicate and delicious. The apple crisp was far from delicate, but it was warm and cinnamony and laden with oatmeal crumble. My father, of course, was grumbling about a third choice, and I don't know if she heard him (I hope not), but after I gave the order she offered a third dessert, so I threw the menu at him and said "pick something." Under pressure, he chose spumoni (a traditional choice in an Italian restaurant!).

My share of three desserts was more than enough to leave me stuffed. (I did take away a small carton of leftover pasta, which I ate for breakfast on Sunday morning before the race.) I found it a little bit ironic that although I was the one who wanted the apple crisp—and nobody else seemed particularly excited about it—I had to reach to the far end of the table to even get my spoon into it! (In the end I dragged it back for the last few bites.)

You'd think this was a restaurant review instead of a running blog, wouldn't you?

So. Sunday morning, race day. We had to leave for Seattle early to allow plenty of time for my pre-race run. I wanted plenty of time, so that there was no risk of getting stuck on the wrong side of the lake when the run was about to start!

Even with a stop at Starbuck's we got there around 8 a.m., plenty of time to get a great parking spot and run as much as I wanted to. So after pinning on my race number (I was probably one of the first to do so) and using the bathroom (no line this early), I headed out at a slow run. No need to wear myself out, all I wanted to do was warm up and get into the zone.

I couldn't remember where exactly the out-and-back would be (and I was earlier than the people putting out race markers), so I took a couple of loops off the path in the general area that I thought I remembered from last year. (It turns out that I was right, so I actually doubled the out-and-back.) By that time I was far enough around that I was only about a mile from the race start/end point. And since I was already wearing my race number, I became the contact person for people trying to find the run! I think some people had parked over by Road Runner because that is the direction they were appearing from. A couple of the people I talked to headed back to their cars, but most of them took my advice that it was only about a mile away to the starting point, and chose to walk or jog that way.

It was still early when I got back to the start, so I ran for another half mile or so (then back), before standing in line for the bathroom and then meeting up with my mother. It was a bit of a dilemma, trying to balance my desire to stay warmed up, with the need to line up for the race start... so after one last 5-10 minute jog, I planted myself halfway between the 8 and 9 minute mile markers. (Later on, after the race started, as I was passing people in front of me, I wondered where those runners had chosen to start? At the seven minute mile sign?)

Three miles is nothing. It passes in a blink of an eye. It is the distance it takes in the beginning of a long run to get going. It's less than half an hour, for heaven's sake. And the faster you run, the shorter the time (obviously).

But yet in a race every moment is a lifetime. You are aware of every step, every inch of pavement in front of you, every mile as it passes (seemingly oh so slowly), every breath going in and out of your mouth and lungs.

I forgot to check my watch as I crossed the starting line. So I had no idea as I ran whether I was running "fast" (with a possibility of breaking my record) or "slow" (that is where you feel like you are running hard but end up with a disappointing time). I certainly knew I felt like I was pushing myself as hard as I could.

About a mile into the run I picked a blonde-haired girl in front of me as my pace person. I was running so close on her heels that when she paused a moment to look back I almost ran into her. After a while I was able to pass her and felt good about that. But then around the two-mile point (just after the out-and-back segment), there she was sprinting past me. She was going fast enough that there was no chance of catching up to her again. Apparently she just used that time when I was ahead of her to catch a second win and prepare for her big finish!

Then I was at the 3-mile point. Only a tenth of a mile to go—easy peasy! This was where I had my mother stationed to try to take a picture or two. It is too hard to get finish line photos in a big crowded race like this one. Gulping air, my heart pounding in my ribs, I pushed myself toward the finish mark. As I flew across the finish mats (a little poetic license there), I saw that the clock read 26:17. How fateful—that was my exact finishing time in the New Year's Day 5K. It was low enough that I was sure my chip time would be under 26 minutes, which was my goal. Hurrah! My plan worked. (My final time, which I looked up on the internet later in the afternoon, was 25:39.)

The other part of my plan had been to possibly take another loop around the lake after the run to make up a genuine long run for the day. But I didn't want to start out right away while there were still runners out (and look like a very slow finisher). So I browsed through the tables, grabbing a few bottles of Talking Rain water and a couple of satsumas, as well as another handful of chocolate hearts from the Road Runner table (did I mention the first handful?).

The line for free massages was non-existent, so I took them up on it. But first I succumbed to a posture check. This was a rather fascinating process where you first stand on a scale (one foot on each side) and they determine whether you carry your weight evenly, then they use a system of strings to measure whether you are aligned in your shoulders, hips, etc. Not surprisingly, I am rather crooked (any of my friends, or my hairdresser, could have told you that). I carry 20 pounds more to the left, and everything else is slanted so that I am higher on my right side than left. I think it's partly due to years of carrying shoulder bags on my right side.

The consulting chiropracter (not surprisingly) recommended I get an evaluation. He said he was surprised that I don't have more problems with back and hip pain. I said that it might be because I do a lot of hip stretches in yoga. I also suspect, though I didn't think of it then, that my Pilates strengthened core (rock hard abs, covered with a layer of fat of course) helps minimize potential back pain.

Then the massage. I am used to a female masseuse, so the male masseuse (I don't know the proper terms, masseuse, masseure, etc.) had a much deeper presser than I am accustomed to. And apparently I had some tight knots in my back! I actually had to ask him to lighten up a bit because I was too tender.

After all that, quite a bit of time had elapsed and I was no longer warm and sweaty from the run. Actually I was a bit cold and clammy, especially when the wind blew. It seemed like the moment had passed to go out for another run. And my poor mother had been standing around for at least half an hour waiting while I wandered and got massaged!

So we headed back to the car and over to Sunflour Cafe for breakfast/brunch. We got there at 11 a.m., which is probably the peak time because there was a long wait. But we managed to get a spot to sit while we waited, and I ordered a latte and had brought in the Sunday paper, so it wasn't too painful. By noon we were seated at a corner table and had our order in front of us—a cinnamon roll to share and yummy omelets. The cinnamon roll seems to be a race day tradition—possibly contributing to the post-race weight gain. Sigh.....

I finished the afternoon with a long walk on the beach. My legs were a little tired from the racing effort, so I dawdled a bit, strolling and climbing on logs. For a while I played the game where you have to walk only on the logs without touching the sand ("there are sharks in the sand"). But that was slow progress, so eventually I returned to the sand and rocks. I walked until I could go no further (without walking right into the bay), then turned back. I hadn't really planned to walk that far, but on my way out there was a strong blustery wind at my back which almost blew me onward. Of course, that meant on the way back I had to walk into the wind, which was a struggle at times! But once I rounded Mission Head the wind dissipated, and I didn't have to fight it so much.

By the time I got back to the house the final race times were up. I cheered my 25:39 time, my fastest 5K ever! The chip timing helps, of course, because you get credit for every second, and don't have to pay the price for a slow trip to the start line. I doubt that I could sustain this 8:17 pace for much more than a 5K—it's certainly not a half marathon pace. But organized races like this are my best opportunity to really push myself to run fast, in a way that I simply can't do running on my own. I don't delude myself that every 5K is going to be under 26 minutes. But I can't help but wonder—what would it take to get under 25?????

Friday, February 8, 2008

Don't stop the music

A few months ago I got an email from some running-related vendor--shoes, clothes, whatever. I don't remember the store. But I do remember the ad. I think the idea behind the ad (other than getting me to buy their product, which failed miserably) was to pump up viewers into thinking "I am a runner." But the content of the ad did the exact opposite for me.

The theme of the ad was "We are not joggers" and it listed all kinds of attributes that are presumably weaknesses and wimpiness and anti-running. Apparently, if you run on a treadmill you are a jogger, not a runner. If you run behind a baby stroller, same thing. (My only objection to baby strollers is that they take up too much space in a 10K, and I am embarrassed when they pass me!) And the main thing is, real runners don't block out the world and the sensations of running by listening to an iPod or music player.

I was a little ticked off at the beginning of the ad, but that pushed me over the edge. I have said any number of times that I don't think I could run without my iPod--it is my best companion. And I don't think it makes me less of a runner!

There is also some implication about speed, that there's some level of speed that divides the joggers from the runners (although at least they don't presume to specify that level). I know I am not the fastest runner in the bunch (although I am certainly not the slowest). In races I run a lot faster that I do in the mornings on the street. But still, I shun the word "jogging." I am a runner, even though I may be a slow runner!

I much prefer John Bingham (The Penguin)'s take on running versus jogging. (He's a columnist for Runner's World magazine.) He says that as slow as he might be, he is still a runner (not a jogger). He is a runner because he says so.

I did manage to locate that ad online after all. It is an ad for Pearl Izumi shoes... and actually, it's not quite as offensive as I remembered it. Maybe it's even a little bit amusing, in parts. But I still take offense at the iPod crack!

Because I think that anything that makes you want to run is good. Yes, running can be painful at times. It can be hard to get out the door when it's dark out, or cold, or raining (all of which happen many mornings for me). If music eases my path a little bit, hurrah. If letting my mind wander and think about vacations or dinner plans or anything that makes the blocks slip away unnoticed, that's all good. If running becomes so natural to me that I can do it easily and enjoy it, isn't that the whole idea?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Sunday

I bet you think this is going to be about running, right? Since the last thing I would be expected to care, or write about, is the Super Bowl. But no--it's about the Super Bowl. (At least to begin with.)

I admit, I had little or no interest in the Super Bowl, the participants, the outcome, or even the Super Bowl ads. I fully expected to be otherwise occupied throughout the duration of the Super Bowl. I was, however, done with my run well before 3:00 (actually I got home from QFC at almost exactly 3:00). At 4:00 I was at home waiting for a ride from my sister, with the TV tuned to my favorite weekend channel, the food network. At 4:30 or so we arrived at my parents' house and set out for a walk on the beach. At 5:30 or 6 (or 6:30; the times are getting a little vague to me now), we came back from the beach and got ready for dinner.

It was some time after that, that the Super Bowl came into my life. When dinner was ready to serve, there were still about eight minutes left in the game. Even I know that eight minutes doesn't mean eight minutes in a football game! So we turned the TV on so that my father could follow the last eight--twenty, thirty, whatever--minutes of the game. At that point the Giants were ahead (shocking). But then, with less than three minutes left on the clock, New England scored a touchdown, and pulled ahead, 14 to 10. (Despite myself, I was paying attention to this, even if I was more glued to my barbecued ribs and salad than the TV.) We were all pretty confident that this meant a win for the Patriots, who were, after all, the favorites and undefeated all season.

But then, the shocker--with only 30-some seconds to go, a wild and crazy touchdown by New York, taking the Giants ahead again by three points. (I'll leave the details of the play to someone who actually cares about the details, as opposed to the results!) Could New England pull off a miracle, or at least a field goal to tie the game, in 30 seconds?

Well, no. Apparently the miracles were all used up in this game. Or at least they went to New York, who won the Super Bowl and gave New England its first loss of the year. You can imagine the ranges of emotions in New York and New England!

(I, by the way, didn't have a favorite in the game. I guess I leaned a little towards New England, because I like that part of the country, and to me their name, "Patriots" brings up visions of Paul Revere and other colonial characters. But sportswise, I had no preference.)

I'm sure this game could be used as a metaphor in many different ways. The presidential candidates, for example, could definitely spin it. (I am, of course, referring to the presidential candidates that count, the Democrats.) Both teams are strong and talented--they wouldn't be in the race, er, Super Bowl, if they were not. In those last crucial minutes, either team could call themself the underdog at some point, as the scores flip-flopped back and forth, until time ran out and the winner was declared. So either Clinton or Obama could call themself the underdog at some point in this primary/caucus season, with one the victor at one point and another the victor the next time. And so will it be on Super Tuesday, until the time runs out and one candidate emerges ahead. Although I'm not saying that Super Tuesday will be the resolution of that contest. I'm about as up to speed on the primary races at this point as I was with the Super Bowl. I know who's in it, and that's about it for now.

Football, politics--forget about it. If I'm going to draw a metaphor, let's make it about running. In any race, you are in competition. You may not be in competition with the elite runners, the ones at the front of the pack (I am certainly not). But you are in competition with yourself and your past performances, as well as the runners around you. In any number of races I have pulled ahead of someone, only to have them later pass me, and if I am lucky, I may be able to pass them again before the race ends. The competition makes you a better runner. I know that I run a lot faster in a race than I do on my own!

That is why I try to do at least one race each month, or two if possible, so that I can force myself to run hard. Actually, it's not forcing myself, that's the funny thing. In a race I just naturally amp up my pace. But when I do that during training, it usually does feel forced and rather difficult.

Unless, of course, I am in the Zone. More and more I seem to be hitting the Zone at the end of my long runs. Perhaps it is just knowing that I am within blocks of finishing that gives me that extra fire in my legs!

Today I ran about eleven miles. It is almost impossible to measure my distance exactly, because there were so many hill repeats where I doubled back and reran the same stretches of hills. But I think that eleven miles is a fair guesstimate. My great accomplishment was that I ran up the Marine View Drive hill three times today! I am rocking the hills!

Maybe I could be both teams in the Super Bowl. Each week I would like to pull ahead of myself and think I have won--until I beat myself again the following week! That's the beautiful thing about running; there's always room for improvement.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Half Marathon Training

If I haven't mentioned it already, I am finishing up week two in my 12-week half marathon training program, preparation for the Whidbey Island Half Marathon on April 13. I probably don't need a formal training program--I know what to do to get myself ready for a race--but I like the structure of having a written plan to follow. Last year I used Hal Higdon's intermediate program; this year I've moved to the advanced plan.

The advance plan introduces longer "long runs" early in the game, and puts more emphasis on speed work, and some emphasis on hills. I've actually modified the plan to suit my needs and preferences... so in many ways it barely resembles the original plan at all.

The Hal Higdon plan has you running five and sometimes six days a week. I'm sure that's a good idea, but I have gotten accustomed to running just four days a week, and my achilles tendon and ankle appreciate that. So I have essentially combined two of the short "easy run" days into one longer easy run.

Also, Hal's plan only has you running three miles on most days (eventually increasing to four or five), except for the weekend long runs. I can't really imagine running less than a minimum of five miles at a time... so I've changed that too. Yesterday, when I didn't have to get to work early, I let myself go a couple extra miles (for an 8.5 mile run), the first few miles as a tempo run and the last few as an easy run.

I've moved the hill repeats off of a weekday (when I couldn't possibly do it), and worked them into my long run on Sunday. Well, that's what I did last Sunday. I'm still tinkering with that plan. But I am especially working on hills this time (since Whidbey is hilly, as is the Portland 15K), so I anticipate lots of runs with hills.

I do more cross training than he recommends--definitely on the non-running days, and usually an additional short workout on running days also. I don't expect this to especially help with the running (except for maintaining fitness); I just tend to do a lot of cardio to help keep my weight in check.

Since I'm not running as many days as recommended, I am trying to work in an extra "run alternative" on Saturdays. Today I walked at the beach for about five miles (sand, rocks, and a little bit of log climbing). I'm thinking more walks, hiking, and hopefully some snowshoeing and cross country skiing (when the mountain snow lets up a bit!). Maybe an extra run some weeks, if I really feel inspired. Maybe when I get my running snowshoes I can do a snow run!

My "strength training" is Pilates, and I also generally go to yoga a few times a week. Maybe (another one of those "maybes") I'll start lifting weights (again), but I already have a lot on my plate, schedulewise, workwise, and otherwise.

My training plan also includes a few races along the way... the Love 'em or Leave 'em 5K next weekend, the LaConner Smelt Run 10K later in February, and the Portland Shamrock Run 15K in March. Last year I also did the 5-mile Tulip Run a week before Whidbey, and I'll probably run it again this year.

I'm also hoping to do the Robie Creek Half Marathon in Boise the week after Whidbey. (The closest I want to get to a marathon-- two half marathons in one week.) Registration is on February 19, and if my computer (and my luck) doesn't fail me, I'll get in. (If I thought there were mobs of people reading this--which I don't--I wouldn't even mention it, because I wouldn't want the competition in signing up!)

So all in all, it looks like a busy winter-into-spring. I'd better get to bed and rest up!