Saturday, March 29, 2008

Canceled due to snow?!

Yes, today is March 29, 2008, nine days into spring, only three days from the first of April. So who would've thunk it, yesterday around noon, when the heavy splattery rain began to look suspiciously like snow? Then the mixed snow and rain turned into heavy big snowflakes which fell throughout the afternoon?

It was awfully pretty to look at, here in Everett, and really it didn't have much effect on the roads or anything. It stuck enough to show on lawns and such. I did hear that they got a little more up north.

(I was lucky enough to get in an 8½ mile run earlier in the morning. I was home, fed, dressed, and on my way to a late start at work before any rain or snow began to fall.)

So this morning, my only hope was that we would not get a repeat dose of rain or snow, because I was running a 10K and either would make it a lot less fun. And actually, it didn't look too bad out—a little light rain, nothing dramatic really.

The race didn't start until 11 a.m. but I wanted to run a slow 5K beforehand as a warmup, and to extend the distance. Plus it's about a half hour drive from Everett to Arlington. So I left home a little after 9:00, stopping at Starbucks before heading north.

I arrived at Haller Park at exactly 9:45, the time registration was supposed to begin. Nothing was set up yet, but there were a few cars. I did notice, as I was driving in, that the trail seemed to have a bit of slush on it.... I parked the car and finished my latte, working on a magazine crossword while I waited for something to be set up.

Around 10 a.m. a woman came over to my car. I opened the door and she told me that the race had been cancelled! Apparently the trail was a little icy, or at least they were afraid it might be. "Liability, you know," in case someone didn't sign the waiver. (That would be the waiver where you agree that running causes "certain risks of injury and death" and agree not to sue anyone if you should happen to get hurt or die.) She said they had been calling to let people know, but since I had put my home phone rather than my cell phone on the registration form, I didn't get the message until after I got home! (When I did get home I found the message—probably left minutes after I left home—as well as an explanatory email from the Arlington Runner's Club. They've already put it up on their website as well.)

As I left Arlington, I didn't know what to do. Here I was, dressed to run and nowhere to go! With the grey skies, I didn't feel all that inspired to find a new running site. At least I needed to get out of the snowy north.

I called my mother, who is usually all too ready to suggest I take a day off, and she surprised me by suggesting we go to Greenlake—"there's no snow there!" True enough, and the 3.2 mile outer track offered a lot of potential for putting together a genuine "long run."

By the time I stopped by my parents' house, went home for a change of clothes (for later), met my mom, and drove with her to Greenlake, it was about noon. About the same time we probably would have got there if we'd planned it from first thing in the morning.

Best of all, by heading south we had left behind the dark skies and into the (almost) sun! The Seattle weather was still patchy clouds, but with sunbreaks. And as the afternoon wore on, it actually became rather sunny. At one point I even contemplated ditching my jacket, although by the time I swung by the car to take it off, the sun moved behind a cloud, I felt cool in my sweaty shirt, and I decided to keep the jacket. And my gloves, of course.

My plan was to take four loops, to total 12.8 miles. I could also try to make it a 3/1 run, which means to run the first three loops at an easy (slow) pace, and then the last one faster, ideally at race pace, though who can do that without actual race conditions? Then maybe adding another .3 mile at the end to match the half marathon distance.

Although the weather was dry, there had certainly been rain recently, because the dirt and gravel path was scattered with muddy spots and puddles. Anticipating that, I had worn my "trail" Asics, to fend off the mud and save my nicer running shoes from getting too dirty. At first the trail shoes, which I'd only worn once before (for a long run at Discovery Park), felt heavy and a bit strange, but after a while I got used to them.

As usual, the first round was work (warmup), the second was comfortable, the third I felt pretty good. As I finished that third rotation (9.6 miles so far), I thought, "I've finished the 15K, now on to the half marathon!"

As I headed out into my fourth and final trip, I made myself pick up the pace to something I might optimistically call "race pace," or close enough anyway. This time I didn't stop at the restroom—I wanted to emulate race conditions as much as possible, and I have yet to stop for a potty break during a race. Knock on wood.

My muscles were feeling the run by now, from my glutes (surprisingly) down through my quads and calves. Then there was my ankle. Not the achilles tendonitis ankle, but the other one, which I occasionally kick with the opposite shoe, opening up the scab which had just begun to heal from prior incidents, and incidentally causing a jolt of excrutiating pain. I did it about three times today. My ankle bone is still smeared with blood and dirt. I'm counting on my bath later to clean it up. (Might sting a little in the epsom salts... no pain, no gain, I guess.)

I forgot to check the time exactly when I started this fourth lap, but I think it was 2:00 and I crossed my starting point at 2:28. Acceptable.

Instead of stopping, I veered down to the lake to finish my half marathon distance. For some reason I lost my pace when I hit the lakeside path. I don't know if I was tired, hitting the wall, or just feeling psychologically finished, since I had completed my designated route. Oh well, I just jogged along, deciding to go on as far as the restrooms (and make a stop), then walk back to the car. I figure that was about ¾ mile more, so I'm going to call the whole run 13½ miles.

I met my mother along the path, and we strolled on back to the car (at her pace, which was fast enough at this point).

By then it was about 3:00, and we headed onto Duke's for a restorative late lunch/early dinner. I had a two for one coupon, so we had to order the exact same item to get our money's worth. (It's always come to grief when we've done it any other way.) So we each got the steak salad, which is completely wonderful. Mixed greens with sliced flank steak, orange and grapefruit pieces, blue cheese crumbles, candied walnuts (yum), frizzled onions (yum yum), and balsamic vinaigrette (on the side for me). I also ordered a cup of the Mexican clam chowder, which is even better than the regular clam chowder. And a couple pieces of their warm sourdough bread, to replenish carbs after the long run, you know.

We topped it off with a McDonald's cone on the way home!

We had planned to go see a movie later that evening (and even invited my father to come along), but ended up cancelling since it was snowing rather heavily and there was some fear that it could get icy. (I wrote that in passive voice to avoid blaming and finger pointing as to who exactly was responsible for ruining my plans. I'm completely over it now.)

I might go see the movie tomorrow afternoon, and maybe bring my parents along. The movie I want to see is Run, Fat Boy, Run, and I want to see it before it gets too many reviews saying it's clichéd and predictable. I love a cliché! And what's wrong with predictable? Too many surprises, that's what's wrong with the world!

Anyhow, I'm now off to a bath with epsom salts and my special new Naturopathica Arnica Muscle and Joint Bath and Body Oil. It smells nicely of rosemary and basil (kind of like a well seasoned chicken). But it's just as well I'm headed to the bath—my muscles seem to be locking up (as I stagger to my feet and down the hall).

Tomorrow I'm sleeping in. And not running at all!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Separated at birth?

To continue with my mild obsession with Dean Karnazes, I learned with some surprise (shock) that we are almost the exact same size! While browsing his website, I came across his vital statistics and learned that they are almost identical to mine, except that he is a couple inches taller than me and has a bigger shoe size (thank goodness for me). (I'm not going to include a link here because if you want to know how much we weigh, you can find it yourself.) Consider this. Weight—same. Waist size—same (as long as I suck in my stomach and pull the measuring tape tight, I mean firm.) Chest—his is a couple inches bigger. Quads and calves—same (although his are bulked up with pure muscle, and I guess mine are just bulked up—like I once read about Oprah, muscle covered by a layer of fat). He doesn't include his hip measurement, though. I guess ultramarathon runners aren't worried about the size of their butt.

Can you see the resemblance?

(By the way, Shamrock Run photographers take note, this is the way to photograph a race. At the Fairhaven 15K, right, there was a sign posted warning "photo ahead" so I was camera ready and prepared!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Food Porn for Runners

Oh, I hesitate to use such a provocative title on a G-rated (maybe PG) running blog! But how else can I describe the titillation of reading about someone eating large quantities of pizza and cheesecake, while running? It's like eating ice cream in the bathtub, or (to raise this to PG-13), George from Seinfeld eating a corned beef sandwich during sex. It's combining two rewarding experiences to achieve a greater high. Of course, when the pizza and cheesecake eating runner is hunky super-endurance athlete Dean Karnazes, the titillation factor reaches a whole different level. But I digress.

What I am referring to is Dean Karnazes' amazing and inspirational memoir, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, the story of how he started running, stopped running, and then became an extreme athlete, running 50 and 100-mile stretches, and more. I first heard of Dean Karnazes last year at the Whidbey Island Marathon (he participated last year and will again this year). I started reading the book yesterday while waiting for a court hearing, read some more last night, and finished it sitting in my car outside Starbucks today on an extended coffee break. I think it would be fair to say I could not put it down.

The idea of running more than a marathon does not appeal to me. In fact, the idea of running more than a half marathon does not appeal to me! But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading the stories of those who do. And boy, are there stories here. In addition to the history of how he became a runner, Dean describes in detail his experiences in several harrowing ultra-long races and runs (not all of his runs are organized races). All this running occurs in addition to him being a husband and father, a successful executive, and a recreational outdoor athlete.

And the food porn part of it? In order to sustain himself during super-long runs, Dean has to consume vast amounts of calories, and you can't get those numbers from healthy foods. So he has no choice but to scarf down pizza, cheesecake, doughnuts, cinnamon buns, and various other kinds of empty calories. In order not to lose time in his running, he has trained himself to eat on the run. The book begins with a story of him balancing a large pizza and a cheesecake from a pizza delivery service that agrees to bring him food on a street corner, while he is solo-running a 199-mile California relay. (Remember, I solo-ran a relay too...10 miles!)

The epilogue in the newest edition of the book tells about Dean's nutrition and training—all very healthy and admirable. But it also lists all the foods he ate on the 199-mile run—some 28,000 delicious and crazy calories. For those of us who have sworn off sweets and white carbs (like Dean's other diet), it is truly a lust-inducing list of sinful treats. (What kind of internet search am I inspiring now—porn, lust, and sin, all in one blog-entry!) Actually it reads like a successful dieter's "before" and "after" menus from the Joy Fit Club!

Despite the pizza and cinnamon rolls, however, I have no plans of taking on ultra-marathon running soon. Or ever. But I certainly did savor reading about it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

No Shamrock Run photos for me!

I am so disappointed--yesterday I went to look for my pictures from the Shamrock Run, and when I put in my race number, I got the response that there were no pictures for that number. I really don't understand it. Shouldn't they have a finish line photo for every runner? I had my number pinned appropriately on my front, never took off my jacket, and don't think I did any weird things with my body to obscure the number. I also spent quite a lot of time last night looking through the "lost and found" photos--the ones where the number was not visible--and saw no sign of my orange hat in any of the 2000+ pictures I looked at. Last year there were about 5 pictures of me! I don't think the photographers were very good this time around.

Considering that my mother was unsuccessful at taking any pictures during the race--either in front of the hotel or at the finish line--and then getting no race photos--I am beginning to wonder whether I ran the race at all!

Monday, March 17, 2008

May the road rise up to meet you....

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

the rains fall soft upon your fields;

and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

I intended to rewrite this traditional Irish blessing to apply it to the Shamrock Run yesterday, but it is so lovely that I couldn't bear to change the words. And actually, it can easily be about running just the way it is!

I certainly prayed, when running the Portland Shamrock Run 15K yesterday, that the road would rise up to meet me, that the wind would be at my back and at least a little bit of sun would shine upon my face; that the rain, if it must fall, would fall softly, and that God would hold me in the palm of his hand until I crossed the finish line (hopefully in a speedy fashion).

And I would say that is what happened, pretty much. The rain, which had been falling on and off all weekend, held off nicely and in fact the sun came out later (though not until my running was done). The road literally rose up to meet us all, as the first five to six miles are quite hilly (a large portion simply uphill, turning into up and down hills, before changing to all downhill—hurrah—for the last third of the race). But thanks to the hill work I've been doing, and in particular the Anacortes run last weekend, I wasn't bothered by the hills very much at all, and in fact took them at a much better pace than last year. I can honestly say that there was not one hill in the Portland run that compared any way in steepness to the Sunset Loop in Anacortes! My time, in the end, was about two minutes faster than last year—a net time (thanks to chip timing) of 1:22:32, for an average pace of 8:52 per mile.

I made the weekend into a fun mini-break with my traveling companion "Mother" (also known as unofficial race photographer, which she was not very successful at this time, missing me as I ran by her in front of the hotel, and not even seeing me finish—apparently she was watching the finish line for the 8K runners rather than the 15K—thank goodness for the official race photographer, which will hopefully have some decent photos I can purchase).

We stayed at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland (got a much better rate than the Vintage Plaza was offering), a lovely classic hotel with a very English theme to it. (Conference rooms called Oxford, Cambridge, Windsor, etc.; a Mayfair Ballroom; and a hotel restaurant called the London Grill. I love it.) The lobby and public areas are quite grand and beautiful. Our room was a bit small, with two queen beds in it, but very nicely decorated and comfortable. It is what you would like your London hotel to be, if you could afford it!

Friday was a bit of a wasted day, as far as travel goes. I did get in a 6.7 mile run in the morning, then packed, paid bills, and went to two banks—which contributed to a much later departure time than planned. We left Marysville (car packed to the gills) around 2:30 or so. Unfortunately the traffic was awful, even for a Friday afternoon, and it took hours to get to Tacoma. We hit Centralia around 6:00 or later, and stopped for dinner at the Country Cousin Restaurant.

A word about cinnamon rolls. It is no secret that I like to celebrate the finish of a race with a cinnamon roll (usually shared, luckily). I do try to avoid them on other occasions, however! But some of the best cinnamon rolls in the world are to be found at the Country Cousin—and there we were. Okay, it was a little bit premeditated. So I attempted to have a light dinner—a cup of Taco Soup (quite yummy) and a smallish salad with chicken—so as to allow for sharing a cinnamon roll as dessert. And it was delish! Warm, yeasty, a little doughy, and dripping with white icing (and butter, I'm afraid). No regrets! (And after all, I was miles, and days, away from getting on a scale.)

We finally got to Portland around 9:15, left our car with the very expensive valet parking, and checked in. After watching some TV (my mother asked for Frasier, and by a stroke of luck I found a channel playing it), we called it a night.

Saturday morning I set out on foot to pick up my race packet at Lincoln High School. It was an easy walk from the hotel, less than a mile, and since I had signed up as a "Patron Saint" I was able to get my packet without even standing in line. For an extra contribution to the race charity I got to be a Patron Saint and also got a $35 coupon for McCormick and Schmick's, which we used for dinner that night.

I needed to buy running socks at Nordstrom (socks had mysteriously disappeared in the last load of laundry), which led to some browsing and, ultimately, just a teeny bit of shopping. No sales tax, you know. By the time I finished at Nordstrom and walked down to McCormick & Schmick's to check the location (less than half a mile from the hotel, a direct route), it was midday and mother had moved down to the lobby to sit while the room was made up. I bought us lattes at Starbuck's and joined her in the lobby. She had staked out a nice spot near the fireplace.

We decided that instead of trying to go out to lunch we would eat our leftovers from yesterday (a few pieces of California Roll and some sliced turkey) and go back to the lobby for tea and cookies at 2:00. The cookies, it turned out, were store bought (not that it kept us from eating several), but the tea was nicely set up with cups and saucers (as well as to-go cups), honey, lemon, and a selection of Tazo teas. (I'm afraid we were personally responsible for cleaning out their supply of Awake!) We spent more than an hour sitting elegantly in the lobby drinking cup after cup of tea.

We might not have stayed so long but we were entertained by the preparations for a wedding that was to be held at the hotel that evening. In fact, we were practically in the wedding pictures as the bride and groom posed by the fireplace and around the lobby. (Later that evening we also saw the bride from a second wedding reception at the hotel—but neither of them offered us a piece of cake!)

We still had plenty of time before dinner, so we walked over to the Pearl District, only a few blocks away, and did a little window shopping and a little actual shopping. In Whole Foods I got a bottle of Kiss My Face bath and shower gel, specially meant for soaking athletes' sore muscles. Then we wandered into Powell's Books. Quite overwhelmed by all the books, we might have left without buying anything, if we hadn't stumbled into the cooking section. In addition to cookbooks and all that, there was a large section of shelves called "Culinary Literature." This fascinated me. In short order, I had picked up several novels, a couple of memoirs, and two recipe collections (one recipes inspired by books, other "Book Club" recipes), all with culinary themes, of course. We left carrying a large bag of books!

We weren't able to get a dinner reservation until 8:15, so a little before 8 we started out on our short walk to the restaurant. McCormick & Schmick's is only a block or so from the race site, so I took mother over to show her where to go, and to arrange a meeting place after the race.

McCormick & Schmick's specializes in seafood, but I wanted pasta for my pre-race supper. They did have a few dishes with pasta, so I ended up picking one with shellfish (mussels, clams, shrimp and calamari) in a tomato broth on linguine. It was pretty good, but probably wouldn't be my first pick again. As I was eating the seafood, I had a panicky thought—what if I got a bad shrimp and was sick before the race? Why hadn't I stuck with something plain like chicken? (I have never had food poisoning, and obviously, there was no problem with this either!) With the $35 voucher, though, it made for a good bargain meal, and as such, was quite satisfactory. (I must say, I was disappointed by the sourdough bread though—much inferior to Anthony's and Duke's, probably simpy because it wasn't warmed up! That didn't prevent me from eating plenty, though, and using it to sop up the sauce in my dish.)

Carb-loading finished, we walked back to hotel where I tried out my new bath gel for a nice soak before heading to bed.

Sunday—Race Day—and the alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. After a while I rolled out of bed and pulled on my running clothes. My outfit was specially selected for St. Patrick's Day (with consideration of cool weather). I wore long black running pants (knee pants having been determined to be too chilly), a white technical tee shirt under an orange pullover and a dark green jacket, all topped off with a bright orange Road Runner cap. (Since the Shamrock Run signs were orange and green, I decided there was nothing wrong with wearing both colors. That is the colors of the flag of Ireland, after all!) For a lot of people all those layers may have seemed too heavy, but I am used to dressing rather warmly for running. I started out with gloves too, but took them off quite soon into the run.

I headed down to the nearby Starbuck's for a pre-race latte, which I drank in the hotel room with a mini-breakfast cookie and a small banana. I put a couple packets of honey in my pocket in case I needed fuel during the race, but I never used them.

I left for my warm-up around 7:30 or so, maybe 7:45. I jogged down to the race site and back to the hotel, about .8 miles. In the hotel lobby I called mother to update her on the race information, then headed back out toward Naito Parkway. I got there just as the 5K race was starting (at 8:05 a.m.). This time when I looped back toward the hotel I couldn't cross Broadway—it was filled with 5,000 5K runners! So I snuck into the lobby of the Hotel Vintage Plaza to use their restroom. I'm afraid I wasn't very subtle in my orange cap! But I did stay there last year!

Back toward the start line again. But whether it was nerves or true biology, I felt like I need to go to the bathroom again. This time I ducked into a nearby Starbucks. I wasn't the only one with that idea, so I got into line behind several other runners (probably all running the 8K, which started a bit later).

But the time I got in and out (I was fast!), it was past 8:30 and the race was to start at 8:40. Now I was a bit worried. I hustled the few blocks back to the park. It wasn't far, but the problem was that the race course was fenced on both sides (waist high), the 15K start was at the other end, and meantime the 5K runners were coming in!

I followed a couple of other runners trying to make their way to the 15K start. I felt a bit panicky shoving my way through the crowd, saying "excuse me" in a wavery voice. At last I was in the vicinity of the 15K start, but there was still a fence between me and the other runners! So I climbed over the fence. Someone gave me a hand to steady me, and I blended myself into the crowd. I noticed that I was not the only one jumping the fence!

So, after that little adrenaline producing incident, I was ready to run—and then we were off! About five minutes into the run we were due to pass the Benson Hotel as we ran south on Broadway. I had directed mother to watch for me. As I approached her she was gazing at the runners, but did not seem to be prepared with the camera. I shouted "are you going to take a picture?" Then, as she fumbled with the camera, "too late!" as I approached and passed her. My parting shot was "here are my gloves" as tossed them toward her. Later she said that she heard someone else laugh when I said "too late." Apparently she was fixated by the mob of runners.
We ran through downtown, past Nordstrom's and various Starbucks, then started to veer uphill. After Broadway turned into 6th Avenue, we headed onto Terwilliger, where the road really started to climb. There's a hairpin turn where you can see the runners ahead of you climbing a high bluff—which must have been intimidating to runners who were worried about hills! It probably looked steeper than it really was. It certainly looked like a substantial incline to me, but as I may have already stated, there was no hill on this route that compared in any way to the Anacortes Sunset Loop!
The uphill climb continued for several miles, although after three or four miles it changed from "uphill" to "hilly." That is where downhill portions alternated with uphill bits. At each milepost there was someone with a stopwatch calling out times. Last year I pushed to maintain a 10 mph pace on the hills. This year I was doing quite a bit under 10.
I had remembered the final downhill as beginning after mile 6. But this time I realized it started sooner, at least by 5½ miles. I kept expecting another uphill but none appeared! So I pushed myself into "last 3 miles" mode and tried to pick up the pace. That's not too hard to do when you're switching from uphill to downhill, but this year I didn't feel like I was flying quite as fast as last year. Maybe because I had been runner faster on the ups, the difference in pace was less.
My pacemaker on the downhill finish was some guy, I couldn't describe him or even remember what he was wearing, but all throughout the last few miles we ran abreast. I know I was working to keep up with him; I wonder if he was working to keep up with me? Even when I felt I slowed or sped up slightly, he seemed to keep the same pace. I felt certain that in the final stretch he would put on a burst of speed and pull ahead of me to the finish.
If he did that, I was pretty sure I would not be able to keep up with him. I wasn't running at a full 100%, but I was pretty close to the top of my effort ability. I was saving a little bit (very little) for a final push to the finish line, but practically speaking, I usually cannot outrun a male who is running his hardest (even if it is a male running the same pace as me!).
At some point in the last mile or so, the possibility of death crossed my mind. Okay, I'm being a bit overdramatic. But I did think of a magazine article I had read just the day before about hidden asthma, as well as exercise induced asthma. I couldn't help thinking, as I was sucking air, "what if I have a sudden asthma attack and collapse and die?" Now I have never had asthma, and I have run lots of long races without a problem, but still. I seem to recall reading about—or maybe seeing a story on Gray's Anatomy or ER—elite athletes (much fitter than me) who drop dead from an asthma attack.
Then the finish line was in site. Phantom asthma be damned—I drew on one final burst of energy and threw myself toward the finish line. I think I actually lost my running mate somewhere. I like to think that I pulled ahead of him in the end.
Once across the finish line, I stumbled toward someone who helped me removed the chip strap from around my ankle (I still have marks where it cut me), and looked around for my mother. There were people everywhere. There was no way I was going to just spot her. So I made my way to our designated meeting point.
After standing there a couple of minutes, I decided there was no harm in going to get some water before I waited. Then I waited. And waited, scanning the crowd for a familiar face or head. I contemplated asking to borrow someone's phone to call her. I considered offering my beer and chowder tickets to someone in exchange for the use of her phone. I wondered if I really had to wait until 11:00 (another 45 minutes or so) before I gave up and headed back to the hotel.
But eventually she found me. It had taken a while for her to work through the crowd, and apparently she had been watching the 8K finish line instead of the 15K! Oh well. We took a few posed post-race shots. Hopefully the official photographer will have a few pictures of me running.
I didn't bother with the chowder or beer (ugh, anyway), and we just walked on back to the hotel so I could take a shower. Later, after I was dressed, we went to Whole Foods and bought some takeaway lunch to eat in our room.
We didn't want to bother with a fancy lunch because I had a splashy dinner planned at the London Grill. (C'mon, you didn't think I would leave without eating there, did you?) My justification was that instead of spending money on an expensive massage, as I did last year, I would invest in dinner instead.
So at 7:00 we dressed up as best as we could and headed down to the restaurant. It was quiet on a Sunday night, and we were seated at a nice table near the back of the room. I had already pretty much decided what to order, though I was torn between the Filet Mignon and the New York steak.
In the end I went for the New York steak, medium rare. It was perfectly done and served simply but stylishly with a generous portion of green beans and carrots, plus an artful mound of creamy garlic mashed potatoes. Mother chose a scallop crusted halibut dish.
We started, however, with a Caesar salad for two, prepared tableside. What fun! I asked the waiter to go light on the dressing, and thank goodness I did, because there was plenty and then some even so. But I restrained myself from shouting "stop" as he glugged olive oil into the bowl. After all, would you tell Picasso, "not so much blue"?
The waiter had two large wooden salad bowls, one in which he mixed up the dressing and later tossed the salad, and the other just containing the lettuce. I of course said "yes" to anchovies, so he mashed up the anchovies with some of the other ingredients, mustard, Worcestershire, probably some garlic. Then he whisked in the yolk of a coddled egg. Next he squeezed in the juice of half a lemon, and whisked it as he glug, glugged the olive oil. Piling the romaine lettuce into the bowl, he tossed it all, added a generous amount of shredded parmesan and croutons, and divided it onto two plates. Scrumptious!
After the salad they brought us each a tiny scoop of lime sorbet, no doubt to "cleanse our palates." Then our delicious entrees—I saved about 2/3 of my steak to bring home—and finally, when we declined dessert, two chocolate truffles.
A grand meal indeed!
The next day, Monday, was St. Patrick's Day and our final day in Portland. Since Monday is a running day for me, I headed out resolutely for an early run. I felt pretty sluggish, but I wouldn't have wanted to miss the opportunity to run in Portland anyway. I ran in Waterfront Park, across Steel Street Bridge and down the Eastside Embankment, and back across Hawthorne Street Bridge. Later I calculated my entire route (including some doubling back and forth and the trips from and to the hotel) as about 5½ miles.
Before we checked out of the hotel, I made breakfast (as I had on Saturday, but not on Sunday because of the race). I had brought along packets of Quaker Weight Control Oatmeal, which I mixed with some dried cherries and cinnamon before adding the hot water, then stirred in half a chopped banana and topped it with sliced almonds. It was delicious and filling, and really worth the extra calories (the Weight Control type has 160 calories per serving). Each packet has twice as much fiber and twice as much protein (thanks to whey protein) as ordinary oatmeal. So I figure the extra calories are equivalent to having an egg on the side, which I would probably do at home.
Then we finally had to pack up and leave, with only a couple more bags than we came with (thanks to Nordstrom and Whole Foods). The drive home was much quicker and easier than the drive down... even with a stop in Centralia for one final, gooey, sugary cinnamon roll. I know I'll pay for it, but it was so, so worth it!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ankle and hamstrings and quads, oh my!

I'm not a complainer. Well, I am, but not about aches and pains related to running. I pretty much accept them as a temporary consequence of a hard workout, usually alleviated by things like a little bit of rest, a nice hot bath, Advil on occasion, and more exercise (once the muscles are warmed up the aches go away). I prefer not to indulge in too much self-coddling, because I fear that if I allow myself too much recovery time, it will just lead to more and more days on the couch, eventually culminating in abandoning running altogether and a weight gain of 50 pounds (or more).

(I do hope that I would recognize serious pain that indicated serious injury, and obtain medical aid as needed.)

Well, the Anacortes run certainly gave me a taste of those "temporary" pains. My quads were so achy (due, I believe, to the downhill portions), that they yelled at me for two or three days whenever I walked or ran downhill, or (attempted to) walk down a flight of stairs. On Sunday, the day after the run, I took a trip to my parents' to walk on the beach, and had to walk down 120 steps to get to the beach. I silenced the screaming quads by holding onto the railings and hopping/swinging from step to step, a sneaky maneuver which looked like a merry frolic instead of a way to avoid bending my legs!

And then there's the subtle "toilet seat drop," where instead of squatting and lowering your posterior to the toilet seat in the usual fashion, you grasp either side of the seat so that your arms, rather than your legs, bear your weight as you sit down.

By Wednesday, happily, the pain had receded to a slight sensitivity.

My other aches and pains, perhaps caused by the hilly run rather than general patheticness (if that is a real word), have been hanging on a little more.

My already troubled achilles tendon has been acting up, making for a periodically sore ankle. (Not enough to keep me off the streets, though!)

And then there's this other weird condition, possibly due to a tight hamstring, or maybe something with the calf muscle (I am vigorously resisting any thought that this might be some kind of a knee issue). Basically when I try to bend my right knee any more than about 50% , I get a lot of pain, either in the hamstring right above the knee or the calf below. This totally does not affect walking or running—I only feel it when I try to do a child's pose in yoga, or kneel for some other reason, or bend my leg excessively getting into bed or a car. (I've been able to modify my movements to avoid the problem, except I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do in yoga class tonight. Considering that child's pose is a resting position, I hardly want it to hurt!) But maybe I'll be all better by then. Hope lives on.

I am trying not to overstrain myself this week, since I have the Portland Shamrock 15K on Sunday. So I'm trying to balance "taking it easy" (sort of) with my compulsion to keep up my mileage and try to burn off the cookies I keep eating (in spite of my vow to stop eating cookies!).

But I do feel pretty good right now (sitting in a comfy desk chair), and after I go to the Y tonight (Thursday) and go for a run Friday morning, I'm completely on rest and recovery till the Shamrock Run begins on Sunday morning.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Springing forward!

It's that time of year again, when my morning runs (which have been getting lighter every day) are brutally plunged back into darkness, just so that others can have daylight longer in the evenings. Oh, me too, but between work and the Y I doubt if I'll hardly notice it for a few weeks further into spring.

Yesterday, while still on old time (standard time), it was nicely light when I left home a bit after 7 a.m. to begin my trek up to Anacortes for the Sunset Loop 10-miler. (You know, my opportunity for total humiliation.)

The run didn't start until 10 a.m., but I wanted to leave early to allow time to stop at Starbucks, pick up my mother of course, and still get to Anacortes in time to do a long warm-up, ideally a preview of the 2½ mile loop (in order to make the 10 mile run 12½ miles total).

Of course I left home 15 minutes later than planned, and there was some delay at my mother's, and Washington Park is further out of Anacortes than I had recalled (past the Anacortes ferry, and I was really just thinking about downtown), and there was actually a line to check in when I finally got there. So, bottom line, I didn't feel like I had enough time to safely start around the loop and risk being caught somewhere out in the middle too close to the starting time.

So I did my warm-up out and back, about 7/8 mile along the loop, up the first two hills and then back down on my return to the starting line.

And guess what? I wasn't the only solo runner. There were 23 other lunatics like me out there.

And guess what else? I wasn't the slowest runner either. My mother reported that there were definitely runners finishing behind me, including some relay team members. I guess I'll get a better perspective on my place in the crowd when they post the results on the Anacortes city website.

Not that it matters. This was a long run for me, not a race, remember? My only goal as to time or pace was to have my last quarter faster than each of the first three quarters. And I accomplished that, although I suspect I was running the uphills slower by the fourth time around—I really pushed and pounded on the downhills and levels (what there were of them).

This was an incredibly tough—I mean challenging—course. Each of the four loops was 2½ miles. The actual Sunset Loop road is only about 2¼ miles around, so they added a small inner loop through the campground to make up the distance. (The course was totally unmonitored, so I guess everyone was on the honor system not to skip the extra loop!) The first half of the main loop is a series of moderate to steep uphill climbs. Somewhere past the midpoint the road starts to slope downhill again, with just one additional hillclimb thrown in. Then the last ¾ to one mile runs downhill back to the parking lot and start/finish line. That is where the relay runners traded off to their teammates and the rest of us heard our interim times as we started out on yet another loop.

I'll have to double check my times later, but I think this is what they were (the times reflecting the total time to that point):

First loop: 24:20 min.
Second loop: 48:59 min. (There was a discrepancy between what I thought I heard and what the record-keeper's clipboard said, but I'm pretty sure I heard 49 minutes after I passed through, so I think I'm right.)
Third loop: 73:52 min.
Fourth loop and final time: 97:15 (that's one hour, 37 minutes, 15 seconds). I thought I heard them say 1:47:15, which left me dismayed throughout my cool-down run, but then I checked the clipboard and was relieved to see the correct, lesser time!

I spent a lot of time with the calculator on my phone figuring out the time for each loop, the pace for each loop, the pace overall (about 9:44 average overall, about 9:15 for the last loop, I think), but I'm not going to bother reciting all that here.

With my 1¾ mile warm-up run, I was still a little short of my 12+ mile goal for today, so I decided I needed a cool-down run to finish out the mileage. I figured 5/8 mile each way would give me a mile and a quarter, for a total of 13 miles, close to the full half marathon distance.

This was the slowest 1¼ mile I have ever run in my life, I'm sure. As I shuffled out onto the trail, a woman who appeared to be starting the final loop in the relay asked me if this was my fourth time around. Fifth, I said, then amended to clarify it was a cool-down. This woman, whose entire relay team was slow enough that I could run ten miles in the time it took them to do 7½, passed and pulled ahead of me. Yes, I was going that slowly. I thought the 5/8 mile mark would never arrive! (Luckily, the road back was then downhill. Thank you, gravity.)

These hills were so challenging, that I'm hoping Portland next weekend will seem easy in comparison!

When we finally left the park, around noon, we stopped at the Calico Cupboard in Anacortes for a rejuvenating cinnamon roll (shared, of course), and a light lunch (soup and salad and a big hunk of hearty grain bread with honey butter). I also had ordered one of their scrumptious peanut butter pies to bring to an auction that evening.

I hobbled out of the Calico Cupboard (muscle soreness setting in a bit) carrying my PB pie, to rush back home to soak in a hot bath (loaded with Epsom salts) and get ready for the auction.

For everyone who wondered how Katie Holmes could run the New York Marathon and then go out in high heels that night, let me say, wearing high heels after a long run is a piece of cake. If anything, it's easier than wearing flat shoes because the high heels require less flexibility in your calves and achilles tendons (which just might be tightening up a bit). (Of course, that might bode ill for the next day, but I was amazingly fine today. Only my quads were sore, which I suspect was from the downhills.)

I almost flipped out at the auction because my dinner ticket showed fish instead of cow (beef), and I had been counting on the London Broil... to rebuild muscle, you know. But I just hid the ticket and asked for beef, so that worked out fine. (Others may have complained that the meat was underdone, or not warm enough, but as I got my cow meat I was happy.) Red meat, red wine, and two pieces of chocolate cake (someone else's dessert donation, and it was scrumptious!)—what more could you ask for in a post-long-run meal?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Asking for trouble

I am planning on a "long run" on Saturday which has the potential of being my biggest running humiliation yet—perhaps ever.

What I've done is signed up for a ten-mile relay up in Anacortes, to be run by me alone. Now, the run information calls it "relay or solo," so there is some possibility that there will be others in it for the long haul. But the greatest probability, I bet, is that most of the runners will be doing the relay.

The relay is four laps of 2 ½ miles each. So while I am slogging around 25% of a ten-mile run, I will be running with, or against (or in the dust of) persons who only have to run 2 ½ miles total. Can you guess who will be running faster? Can you guess who will be passed again and again and again?

And what happens if I don't finish within the maximum time allotted for all runners in the relay? Will they come pick me up and drive me away? (I think the maximum time is set because the road will be reopened to traffic.)

Oh, there is great opportunity for embarrassment here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I can fly, or I can run around the airport

For the last few weeks a co-worker has been recommending running the trail around the Arlington Airport. He claims it's 5 ½ miles around, so twice around would make a decent 11 mile run.

With the various races and hilly runs that I've been doing, I hadn't managed a trip out to Arlington until today. I designated it as my Sunday destination run earlier in the week.

Before I committed myself to a long-distance run in a strange location, I needed a little more information. My co-worker wasn't around on Friday, so I emailed the Arlington Runner's Club with a very important question: Are there restrooms available along the trail?

The answer came back quite promptly (thank you ARC), but not too satisfactorily. Apparently the only restrooms were located at the Stillaguamish Athletic Club, near the beginning of the course. One restroom in 5 ½ miles made me a little nervous—but it wasn't impossible. As long as I had the one restroom.

Well, they forgot to mention one thing—that the Stillaguamish Athletic Club doesn't open until 2 p.m. on Sundays! And I got there at 11 a.m. (which was still an hour later than I'd intended).

But I am nothing if not resourceful, and I had already noted that there was a shopping center with various shops, including Starbucks and McDonald's, only about half a mile from the trail. It can be done. (In fact, I stopped to use the restroom at McDonald's before starting out.)

Since this was a strange course to me, I was a little nervous about whether the trail would be clearly marked. During my run I encountered occasional runners and walkers, but it was pretty quiet out there.

The first ¾ mile or so (heading east from the Athletic Club) follows the main road, on a well-trod dirt path. At the second stoplight, a brown "trail" sign directed me to turn left. Happily, these signs were well-positioned along the length of the trail. The trail alternates between gravel and packed dirt, with one short paved section. I know lots of people like to run on gravel, but I personally prefer packed dirt or a paved surface. My favorite surface (which was not very common) was packed dirt covered with grass and moss.

I ran alongside the airport, although all I could really see of it was some buildings. I didn't see any planes. The trail also passes, or actually runs through, what appears to be some kind of gravel yard.

My favorite part was about three miles in, where the trail winds through a wooded area. It reminded me of some of the footpaths I walked in England. There were a couple of spots where I was confused over which way the path went, but if I had been more alert I would actually have noticed there were trail signs marking the way!

Eventually the trail met up with the main road again, and I was almost done with my first loop. To be on the safe side, I decided to veer off the path and run the extra half mile to Starbucks to use the bathroom before I started around again. Plus, the extra distance added almost a mile to my total run!

The second time around the distance seemed to pass more quickly. This almost always happens once I become a little familiar with a route. Instead of wondering where I am, how far I have left to go, where I'm going next, etc., I am able to recognize landmarks and I'm often surprised how quickly they appear!

Before I knew it (well, not quite that fast), I was approaching the road for the second time and this time I turned left to return to my car. In the last mile or two of the run, I felt myself speeding up and running a little harder. I often like to push the end of a long run, even if that's not an official part of the day's training plan.

This time around, my stop at Starbuck's was by car, and I left with a latte in my hand!

(My opinion of the Arlington Airport trail: It's a good run, a good length, but really needs better restroom access, ideally at the beginning and midway on the trail.)