Monday, January 26, 2009

Red Pants

Jack is capable of dressing himself (mostly, so long as there aren't any buttons or whatever involved and if you are flexible about which shoe goes on which foot). It doesn't happen every day because it takes him so catlicking long to focus and get something done on his own that usually I just dress him. Cause, you know: I've got things to do.

But when he does dress himself, there is one element that is always present: Red pants.

Jack will emerge from his room wearing whichever shirt strikes his fancy - often something with a hood so he can be a Jedi, or maybe with his favorite character of the moment, but it is always joined by a pair of red sweatpants.

Yesterday, he dressed himself in an ivory sweatshirt with an orange and blue camping motif... and red sweatpants. It really didn't work together at all, but whatever; I let it go.

In the course of the day, his outfit got dirty, so I asked him to change. Sure enough he managed to find, buried in his drawer, another pair of red sweatpants. I didn't even know he had another pair.

Why red sweatpants? I have no idea. His favorite color is blue, and I don't think I've ever said or done anything to encourage this particular satorical choice.

But I'm not going to say anything. I like seeing what he comes up with on his own.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Race Report: Frostbite Footrace

It has been bitterly cold here on the ice planet Hoth, also known as the midwest, so I was happy to see that the weather on Saturday was going to be a relatively balmy 25 degrees - it would be a shame if the "Frostbite" in the Frostbite Footrace turned out to be literal.

This was a new race for me, which is always an exciting thing. I love that I live in an area where there are actually a few races available in the winter months - it really shows that we have a dedicated running community. It was also a new distance, an 8K, which we all know means an automatic PR.

The race was held at Scott County Park, the same place where I ran the Governor's Cross Country Race in the fall. So, I knew that I could expect a beautiful setting... and lots of hills. Although I haven't done any focused hill training lately, I have been making sure to include hills in most of my runs, so I felt semi-prepared for it.

After I got my race packet, I did a short warm-up run. I never used to warm up before races, but I have started doing so, and it really seems to improve my performance. And on a cold day, the warm-up also served as an opportunity to check what I was wearing. I started the warm up with a pair of tights under a pair of fleece pants, a long sleeved technical shirt, a windbreaker, a vest, and a hat and gloves, with my buff around my neck as an option to pull it over my face. I'm glad I did the layer check, because I ended up ditching the vest - if it felt a tad warm running just half a mile or so, it would be a mistake for the race. The other layers stayed, and I felt fine.

I was chatting with some friends at the starting line when all of a sudden, the gun went off! Oh, all right then - I guess it's time to start running! A minute or so later, I remembered to start my Garmin. Race results haven't been posted yet, so my final time is a bit off. I'll have to update later.

The course had been semi-cleared. That is, there was no ice and no real danger, but much of the road was covered in packed grey snow. It is much harder to run on uneven terrain like that - I really notice a difference in my effort. I tried to run in the clearest parts of the road whenever possible, even if that meant a bit of weaving.

As I expected, the course was very hilly. Most of the hills were longer, gradual slopes, but around the 3 mile mark, we went through a big dip. I heard pretty much every runner around me groan in anticipation of that hill. I tried to focus on the positive - that although it was steep, it wasn't too long, and that I was over halfway finished with the race.

The weather was not too bad, especially compared to what we've had for the past week or so. As always, once I started running, I wasn't cold at all. The wind posed more of a problem. In the middle miles, there were some cross winds that blew snow on us. It looked really beautiful, actually, like sand blowing in the desert. I resisted the urge to find another runner to use as a human shield.

The hardest part of the race was the last half mile or so. It was uphill, and a wicked headwind arrived just in time to make a hard hill even harder. I ducked my head to drive into it and played my "I love hills" mental game. I told myself, "You're really strong on hills. The other runners are struggling right now, so this is your chance to pass them. They're tired, but you are strong." (Whether or not any of this is true is really beside the point.) I also invoked the spirits of Frayed Laces and The Running Laminator, telling myself, "DDYA: Don't Deny Your Awesomeness."

My awesomeness allowed me to kick past another runner, chicking him into the finish chute.

After a short walk to catch my breath, I went inside to drink some hot cider, which was fantastic, then swapped my base layers for dry ones. I am also happy to report that my efforts were good enough for third place in my age group!

Paula Garmin gives me a finishing time of 42:25, with an average pace of 8:47/mile, which is awesome, albeit a tad inaccurate. Again, I'll update when I have my official finishing time.

Hilly challenging course at a time of year that guarantees lousy weather? I'll be there again next year.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Scenes from Stately Wasser Manor

Steve: You're not going running tomorrow, are you?
Betsy: ...
Steve: Betsy, the weather report used the words "dangerously cold" to describe tomorrow's temperatures. It's not even going to get to zero.
Betsy: But...
Steve: Seriously, it's a bad idea. Promise me you won't do it.
Betsy: Fine, I'll go to the gym and run on the catlicking treadmill.

In Praise of the 5K

You know what's great about a 5K?

It is only 5 kilometers long.

I know, it may seem like I'm stating the obvious. But there's something great about running a race that's such a short distance.

For one thing, it just doesn't take very long. If I need to, I can hire a babysitter to hang out with Jack while I run and it doesn't cost me a fortune. And this year, I actually ran a 5K, then came home and hosted a birthday party for approximately one zillion four-year-olds. Try running a half marathon or more and doing that.

A 5K is also a great place to experiment with race strategies. Should I start off easy, then pick up the pace? Attack the hills and try to pick off people there? Or try running a really hard pace and see if I can sustain it.

If a strategy like that goes awry in a half marathon or marathon, you are pretty much screwed. But in a 5K, if you really make a bad choice and wind up sucking wind, hey, you only have a couple of miles to go. You can still finish.

Finally, a 5K can still afford you the all-important bragging rights. It's a short distance for runners, but to a non-runner, it can seem insurmountable. You ran 3.1 miles? Voluntarily? All at the same time? Unthinkable!

So, all hail the mighty 5K! And to see what other runners think of this race, and it's big brother the 10K, head on over to Runners' Lounge.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Night Training

Jack (shown above with his two robot friends) has been succesfully potty-trained for quite a while now. He's also been dropping hints that he would like to ditch the pull-ups at night and wear his awesome Star Wars underwear to sleep, too.

So far, I have smiled cheerfully and said, "You're doing so great with the potty, buddy, and I just know that soon, your body will be ready to go all night. But until then, we'll wear the pull-ups just in case."

But let's be honest. What I really mean is, "Mommy really does not like having to wake up in the middle of the night to clean pee off of you and change the sheets, so suck it up and put on your pull-up."

It has been, literally, months since Jack last had a nighttime accident in his pull-ups. I have been throwing away $15-20 a month in unused disposable underwear.

So, I told Jack, "Guess what! Your body is now ready to go all night without a pull-up! And guess what else? I bought you a new mattress pad to make your bed even more comfy! You are such a big boy!"

This roughly translates to, "Guess what! Mommy figured out that a one-time investment of $20 in a waterproof mattress pad is a better deal than buying pull-ups that you don't need!"

The key, it seems, to effective parenting, is occasional laziness.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Race Report - Indoor Track Meet

On Friday night, I got to do something that not many people get to do after high school or college: I ran in a track meet!

The meet was the Augustana Indoor USATF track meet. For a mere $13, I was able to enter as many events as I wished... not to mention relive those old days of running track meets.

"Run your own race" is a bit of advice that we runners often offer up to one another, and it could not have been more valuable to me than at this race. I was guaranteed age group wins in every event that I entered because there were no other women between the ages of 30 and 34 there. That was cool in that I like to take home blue ribbons, but less cool in that there was no one there who was appropriate competition.

I lined up to run in the slow heat of the mile. My fellow runners included college students, kids, and two older women who are elite local athletes (I recognized their names from course records at races I've run). And in that race, each and every one of them passed me. I came in dead last.

That might have been disheartening, but it wasn't, because my finishing time was 7:09:05. That is an outstanding pace for me! I may have been last, but in running my own race, I could not be happier with my finish.

I was also reminded very quickly of why I always hated running indoor track meets. The dry air is just miserable. You know how it feels when you have a cold, can't breathe through your nose, and wake up completely parched? That is how I felt just one 200 meter lap into that race. My fellow runners and I stood around between events just hacking.

I ran the 800 next, and I'm happy to say that this time, I didn't come in last (I came in second to last, if you must know). Better was my finishing time of 3:08:08.

I had good intentions of running more events. The 600 meter, maybe the 200 for the heck of it, along with the longer distances of the 2000 and the 3000. But that dry air was hard on me, and my paces had my legs burning. So I opted to just run the 2000.

Throughout the race, I hung behind three college-aged women. I was happy just to be able to keep up, but in the final lap, I pulled past one, then another. Better still, when the race was over, one of the girls I passed puked.

Any event that allows me to pass a girl in her 20's... and make her vomit from the effort... is a victory in my books.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ignoring Your Coach

Take It and Run Thursday is nothing if not timely for me this week. The subject is "Training Plans Do's and Don'ts." Next week, I start officially training for the two triksos (aka "half marathons") I'm planning on running this spring. I've spent some time choosing the right training program for my schedule, adding it to our online family calendar, working to incorporate some group training runs (as part of my goal of getting to know local runners) and generally geeking out with excitement at the great runs I have ahead of me.

I love training plans. It's like having my very own coach who tells me how far and how fast to run each and every day. There is no doubt in my mind that the training programs I've used for my longer races have gotten me to the starting line prepared and in as good of shape as was possible for me on that given day.

At the same time, an important lesson I've learned is that sometimes, you have to ignore your coach. That is to say that although the training program is important, it's not carved in stone, and some degree of flexibility is vital to my sanity.

For example, sometimes I'm just going to have to take an unscheduled rest day. It could be because I don't feel well, because Jack has pulled on his Cranky Pants and is being a total nightmare and I can't ditch Steve with him, or just because. And if my training plan calls for me to run 10 miles, but there is a 5K that day that I really, really want to run, I am going to make that work.

Running is one of the most important things in my life, but it's not the only thing. As much as I love training, sometimes, I've just got to ignore my coach.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Winning and Losing

As Jack grows up, I see it as my duty to teach him a number of important lessons. Lessons such as where it is, and is not appropriate to bring a lightsaber, will surely serve him well as he becomes a productive member of society. One of his most recent lessons was that when you play games, sometimes you do not win. This is, of course, especially true if you play against me at a trivia game, even if the trivia game is just Disney Scene It.

Jack reacted to Mommy's recent victory (which I swear was free of trash talking) by punching me.

Steve and I immediately declared "bedtime" and scooped him up.

Now, Jack is of a mind that if you ahve already hit Mommy, you are pretty much in as much trouble as you can be, so you might as well keep going. His ensuing rampage included throwing a toothpaste covered toothbrush at the wall, pouring a cup of water on the floor, and an impressive overall level of bitchiness.

When he finally calmed down, it was time for the Parental Lecture. This time, I stepped in:

Jack, you know how sometimes Mommy likes to run races? Well, sometimes I win, and it is awesome. I love the feeling of winning, of knowing I ran a great job. And I get to bring home a trophy or a medal, and that's really cool, too. But sometimes, even though I tried my hardest and ran really fast, I don't win. And that makes me mad, and it makes me sad, because I really wanted to win, and I really wanted to get that trophy. But, the other woman beat me fair and square, and that's just the way it is. And it would not be okay for me to hit the woman who beat me in the race, would it?

Jack agreed that it would not.

With the Parental Lecture over and the lesson (hopefully) learned, I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight.

But, you guys?

I cannot get out of my head the image of punching some chick who beat me in a race. She sprints past me to the finish (no doubt 'roided up), and as she turns to congratulate me on a good race, I punch her square in the ear.

That, my friends, would send a message far more clear than the one I tried to impart on Jack, that message being: Do not pass me in a race. I like to think that the word would get out, and other women in my age group would think, "Well, I would like to win, but I would also like to not be punched in the ear. Maybe second place is not so bad."

I'm In

I just got the world's coolest email: my local running club is sponsoring an all-ages indoor track meet on Friday.

Obviously, I'm in.

I mean, how cool is that? I haven't run a track meet since the early '90s, and that fact has me so excited that I am willing to overlook how much I always hated indoor season. It is not very often that, as an adult, you get to do something that is so simply fun. Plus, for a mere $13, I can enter as many events as I want.

I think I'll skip the really short 55 meter race, and I don't do hurdles because I think we all know I'd face plant and break my nose. So, we're looking at the mile, the 800, the 200, the 2,000, and the 3,000.

So, who wants to come on out and join me in the 4 x 400 relay?

Friday, January 02, 2009

2009 Goals

It is clear to me at here on the interwebs, all of the cool kids are posting their 2009 goals, and I am nothing if not cool. Here's what I'm thinking:

1. Run at least two half marathons triskos. Set new trisko PR of 2 hours or less (down from 2:05).
2. Run at least one marathon, setting a PR of 4:30 or less (down from 4:38).
3. Get a Fuel Belt and a Road ID. That should be easy enough, but they are important things to do nevertheless.
4. Run at least three new races.
5. Here's the big one: get more involved in running locally. I love my online running friends, but I also want to make some real life running friends. To that end, I am working to participate more in my local running club. I am also planning on joining the group track workouts on Tuesday nights, and anything else I can think of. I want to go to races and see people I know.

Best of luck to everyone for a great 2009!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Best of 2008

This week's Take it and Run Thursday challenge is an easy one... maybe Tom and Amy think we'll all be hungover or sleeping late today. It's easy - favorite post of 2008.

I just glanced through this year's posts, and the final installment of my Quad Cities Marathon race report got the most comments by far, with 23. I guess I can understand why - I went through a whole lot of emotions in that post, which recounts the last 6.2 miles of the race. I was in pain, I struggled, I accidentally talked to myself, I met an angel, and I had a triumphant finish with Jack at my side. Crossing that finish line with my little guy was one of the peak experiences not just of 2008, but of my life.

But I don't just want to share one of my own posts. A favorite post from a fellow runner that immediately comes to mind is this one from my fellow running Betsy, Eat, Drink, Run, Woman. Betsy had been sharing a tireless account of her incredibly hard work in her quest to qualify for Boston. In this post, she gave her race report from the marathon where she met her goal and made plans for Boston. Betsy had shared so much about her training, her BQ attempts, and the challenges therein that when I read that she was headed to Boston, I was almost as happy as if I'd done it myself.

Happy 2009, everybody.

Looking Back

My goal for running in 2008 was a simple one: Take it to the next level.

When I announced that to my husband, he was preplexed. Hadn't I just run my first marathon in 2007? What more is there?

There is, as my fellow runners know, much more (without even getting into the concept of ultras). By training for that first marathon, I was born again as a runner. 2008 gave me the opportunity to take the next steps.

In the winter, I didn't stay inside and let my fitness level lapse. I bought cold weather gear, toughed it out, and discovered the joy of running in the snow.

I added speedwork to my training and altered my goals so that they weren't just to participate in and finish races, but to perform better. Instead of avoiding hills, I sought them out, even during tough long runs.

When I piled on the miles in marathon training, I didn't use that as license to eat giant chocolate chip cookies every day. Instead, I considered better sources of fuel and ate a heck of a lot of chocolate chip cookies.

I learned more about running, devouring books on the subject, seeking out the advice and opinions of fellow runners.

The results include a multitude of accomplishments that I'm proud of. I scored PR's in almost every distance, added a new distance - the trisko - to my resume, ran somewhere in the neighborhood of 780 miles, and came home with four age group awards. But those numbers don't tell the whole story, not to me.

The best example of having my running be at a higher level came on Mother's Day. I was registered to run my first trisko, and I'd had some rough going in the weeks leading up to it. I had an injury that forced me to take a week off of running and to eliminate speedwork in the time leading up to the race, forcing me to revise my goal from 2 hours to "whatever."

The morning of the race greeted me with horrific weather. It was cold and pouring rain. I knew that running a long run would be a tough, possibly miserable experience. "Why am I doing this," I wondered. I could very easily make the decision to just stay in bed. No one would really blame me for it, and I could just spend Mother's Day being pampered.

Instead, I got out of bed, laced up my shoes, and made my way to the starting line with the other gluttons for punishment. I realized that it was times like this that showed what I was made of, not just as a runner, but as a human being. I was making the choice to do something even though it wasn't easy, even though it would be downright unpleasant at times. I had worked hard for it, and I knew that I could - and would - do it, for myself.

I had to run portions of that race with my head ducked down to keep my hat from being blown off my head. The rain soaked my feet before I even started the race. There were no spectators for most of the race, only volunteers trying to stay as dry as possible. A hill at mile 12 had quite a few other runners walking. But I pressed on, doing my best to savor the experience and all of its challenges.

I finished the race proud, not just of my time of 2:05 - not too shabby considering what was working against me - but of the fact that I made the choice to go to the starting line, put one foot in front of the other, and keep running.