Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sock Monkeying

Peer pressure has been building on me in a big way to try compression socks. For a while there, it seemed like every blogger and her brother was getting a pair of compression socks to test out. (and by the way, I am more than happy to review any products any readers might have laying around. I have tens of readers!) Then, Runners World featured them as well. Across the board, people seemed to love them. Said they were comfortable and really aided in recovery after long runs. Also, they are knee socks, which is what I wear whenever possible during the winter. I had to try some myself.

The only thing holding me back was the $30 price tag. Maybe I'm cheap, you guys, but $30 is a lot to pay for a pair of socks. Other than my shoes, I don't know if I have any running gear that cost $30. Okay, maybe a jacket. But still!

Regardless, the peer pressure kept on pressuring (as is its job), and I finally caved and tried a pair of Recovery Socks.

The socks came lightning fast, and I could hardly wait for a long run to try them out. I ran a tough 12 miler in the pouring rain and was more than happy to put some cozy knee socks on.

Friends, they are indeed tight. You have to really pay attention to what you're doing to get them to fit right on your legs, but once you work that out, they are really comfy. I had experienced some cramping in my calves during the run, and that totally shut down as soon as I put on the socks. Score! I wore them all day (including hidden under a pair of jeans when I took Jack to the art museum). I felt great and had absolutely no soreness after my run.

The only drawback I found was that I really liked them, thus creating the need to buy more ridiculously expensive socks.

This time, I decided to mix it up with Recovery Socks' competitor Oxysox. Oxysox are a couple bucks cheaper, and as an added bonus, come in red. Just like the Recovery Socks, they came in the mail quickly.

I tried out the Oxysox after Sunday's trisko dress rehearsal ("half marathon training run"). I liked them even better than the Recovery Socks. They were easier to get on, slightly more comfortable, and did I mention they were red?

I plan on wearing my Crazy Expensive Socks after all of my long runs moving forward. Maybe even after really challenging speed work. And when I travel for races, I'll wear a pair right after the race, then another pair if I'm driving home the next day. The true test will come in the winter when I try them out under tights during a run for extra warmth.

And now, the peer pressure is on you. Any temptation to try Crazy Expensive Socks? What's your most expensive running gear (other than shoes)?

Dress Rehearsal

Thanks to my involvement with my local running club, I had a great opportunity on Sunday morning. We ran a 13.1 mile training run for the Quad Cities Distance Classic Trisko (“half marathon”) – and not just any 13.1 miles. We got to run it on the actual race course!

I decided to look at the training run as a dress rehearsal for the main event. Would my plans for fuel, clothing, and so on work on race day? What would the changes to the course be like?

So, the night before the run, I totally forgot that I was doing a trisko the next day and didn’t make much of an effort to carb load. Dinner was cheeseburgers, baked beans, and grilled carrots. And let me tell you, it was delightful. Near as I can tell, my lack of carbs the night before had no ill effect on my running the next day. That is definitely one of the advantages of a trisko over a marathon!
For breakfast, I had a race day favorite meal: toasted English muffin with peanut butter and honey, plus coffee and some water. I meant to eat a banana, but I forgot . No problems there.

I brought two packs of Jelly Belly Sport Beans in cherry – that’s the good kind with caffeine in them. I figured one pack would be enough, but that the second pack would serve as a security blanket or would hook me up in case of emergency. I ate about half of them at 6 miles and the rest at 10. That was good, too.

It’s spring, so you can never be quite sure until the morning of a race what to wear, so I may not be in the same thing for the race as I wore to the dress rehearsal. But if I do end up in my yellow short-sleeved Brooks Podium shirt, grey C9 skirt, C9 socks, One More Mile hat (“Running is my happy hour”) and my Asics 2140’s, I’ll be very comfortable.


My faithful running companion Paula Garmin was on my left wrist, over a simple wristband for padding. On my other wrist, I wore my Road ID that bears my mantra ONE TOUGH MOTHER.

Tragically, my iPod is all screwed up. It is stuck in the locked position and I can’t get it un-stuck. I am going to mess with it more this week in hopes of fixing it, the alternative being to buy a new one, which I’d rather not do. In desperation, I borrowed Steve’s. I say desperation because Steve is notorious at Stately Wasser Manor for making the world’s worst running playlists. The songs are all good, but way too mellow. You can’t work up a sweat to any of them. I ended up not using it at all, which I’ll get into later.

My biggest experiment was wearing my Fuel Belt. I really like it, but would it be annoying or uncomfortable for the duration of a trisko? I loaded it up with Gatorade (yellow, adorably matching my shirt). I put the iPod in the pocket, along with just the key to my car, leaving the rest behind to not have any jingling or extra weight. Then I attached my Amphipod, filled with Sport Beans, to the side of it. My friend Cindy compared my Fuel Belt to Batman’s utility belt, which is so awesome that I will call it my Utility Belt from now on. The Utility Belt was completely comfortable, so I’ll be happy to wear it on race day.

The course has been changed since last year. There’s still a massive uphill right after the first mile and a big downhill at around 4. There’s a short, steep hill somewhere around 9 to get onto a bike path by the river that I’m not too worried about. The great news is, the nasty hill at mile 12 that gave me such grief last year is gone, baby gone. My strategy is to run the first half on pace to finish in 2 hours, giving myself the option to speed up in the second half if I feel like it.


There was a huge turnout for dress rehearsal – at least twice as many as the previously best attended training run. Among the people there was Kelly, a fellow runner who works with Steve. Her goal finish is about the same as mine, so we decided to run together. And it was delightful! I had such a good time talking to Kelly that I never used Steve’s questionable iPod – and the miles flew by.
So, all in all, Dress Rehearsal was a success. I feel totally prepared to run this race and to run it well. With any luck, last year’s 2:05 finish will be erased for a new trisko PR!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Race Report: Steve’s Old Time Tap Spring Chaser

“Would you like a wristband for free beer after the race?”

Those words, spoken by a volunteer when I picked up my race packet, led me to believe that Steve’s Old Time Tap Spring Chaser 5K was likely to be a good time. A further perusal of my goody pack revealed a random assortment of stuff: a decent looking short-sleeved cotton t-shirt (technical shirts are a rarity for local races where I live, so I have lots of good sleeping shirts), flyers for other races (two of which I’ve already signed up for), my bib and safety pins, a pen, a coupon for a free box of frozen waffles, a coozie for Michelob Ultra (on a continued quest to become The Official Beer of Running), and, hilariously, a bar of Dial soap.

My goal for the race was simple: to NOT set a PR.

My reasoning was simple: the race was on Saturday, and on Sunday, I had a training run for my upcoming trisko (“half marathon”) that was on the actual race course. A dress rehearsal, if you will. And having that dress rehearsal go well was far more important to me than killing myself for a random 5K that I signed up for a week prior.

Saturday morning rolled around. I parked my car by a strip club (seriously), and headed to the starting line. There, I met up with a bunch of other members of my running club. You guys have no idea how happy that made me. One of my main 2009 goals was to become more active in my local running community, and the image of success I had in my mind was hanging out before or after a race, chatting with other runners. It felt great to do just that. Even better, one of my fellow club members came up and told me that she was goggling running blogs (as we have all done), and happened to come across mine. How cool is that? (And hi, Kelly, if you’re reading this!)

The course went through Rock Island, up a nasty hill at the 1-1/2 mile mark, and finished in front of the sponsor bar (convenient). I made an effort to keep my pace relaxed – challenging, but not too challenging. I couldn’t resist the urge to pass some people on the hill, but I made up for it by stopping to drink a little water, something I really don’t bother with on a distance less than 10K.

As I neared the finish line, I passed another woman… only to have her pass me and slip past me into the chute. I congratulated her on a strong finish. Then, I found out later that she was in my age group and kept me from coming in third. And the award was a pint glass with the race logo, which would have been really freaking cool.

It’s true that I wasn’t running my best (my finish time of 25:38 was well off of my PR of 23:44 and I had a lot left), but that other woman ran a better race than I did that day. It was a little lesson to me about what can happen if you give anything away in a race! Next time I pass someone at the finish, it will be decisive – they will stay passed.

Running Philosophy

Being a distance runner doesn't just change your body. It also changes your outlook.

Jack and I were playing outside a few days ago. He rode his trike about three houses away from ours and declared that he was exhausted and could not possibly ride alllll the way back to Stately Wasser Manor.

He chose the wrong person to try to sell that one to.

Instead of getting a piggyback ride back to the house, he got a lecture about how sometimes you get tired, but you still need to dig deep, find strength, and keep going. And how if you ever want to win at anything, you need to keep trying, not give up, and never quit - or you will never have a chance.

Wouldn't you know it, he managed to find the power to move that 100 feet back home, probably just so I'd shut up about it.

Then, last night, I was watching The Amazing Race. The teams were in China and had to endure a foot massage, which was apparently quite painful. There was much yelling and gnashing of teeth, but all I could think was that, sure, it probably hurt a lot. I believed that. But the massage was only 10 minutes. It couldn't be so difficult to endure something for just 10 minutes.

Then, the racers went to the pool where Michael Phelps won his pile of gold medals. They needed to run a 400 meter relay, and my goodness, there was quite a lot of complaining about how hard it was, how exhausted they were, and so on. Then, they showed the finishing times. The slowest team finished in 18 minutes - that means they each swam for 9 minutes total, with breaks while the other team member swam. Swimming is hard, no doubt, but again, it just isn't that much total effort to do what needs to be done.

Running has taught me the importance of tenacity. Even if something seems difficult, chances are, it's not something that needs to be endured for that long. I can suck it up, and I can do it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Here's a Quarter

Last week's
Take it and Run Thursday (for which I am fashionably late to the party) asks a simple question - how does blogging influence your running? On the surface, it might not sound like going outside, running hard, and sweating your butt off doesn't seem like an activity that would mesh well with sitting at your computer and banging out your thoughts. But in actuality, these two things mesh together really well.

When you become passionate about running, it consumes you. Every step you take, every bite you eat, every change in the weather gives you something running-related to think about. And you want to talk (read: obsess) about it as much as you possibly can.

The trouble is, we are surrounded by non-runners. If you're lucky, one of them will listen to you politely while their brain switches into screen-saver mode, waiting for you to stop boring them. But more likely, you'll be met with one of the classic non-runner responses of:

  • I don't know how you do it.

  • How long is your marathon?

  • Must be nice if you have the time.

  • Running? I only run if I'm being chased.

The non-runners think that last one is especially hilarious. Too bad we've all heard it a million times.

But start a blog, and all of a sudden, you will have friends who are every bit as excited about running as you are. Not only would they love to hear about the awesome tempo run you just had, they actually know what a tempo run is. They are more than willing to indulge your going back and forth about which marathon to run in the fall, your concern about the updates Asics is making to your shoes, and fully understand why you paid that much money for socks.

In essence, by starting a blog, you have unlimited quarters to call somebody who cares.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Coach, I'm In

I got an email yesterday from Steve with two important pieces of news.

1. Registration for the Bix 7 is now open.
2. Steve refuses to "almost die" at the race this year.

Take a look at this picture, taken before last year's race by the lovely Amy from Runners' Lounge:

Steve looks cute, happy, and ready to tackle one of his favorite races. Steve likes to run, though isn't as obsessed with it as I am (he has obsessive hobbies of his own). But the Bix is special, a fun event that most of the Quad Cities participates in, and he doesn't ever want to miss it.

The trouble is, it's a really tough course. Seven miles is a lot, especially if you're used to running about three. Add to that a ridiculous number of hills and typically hot weather.

The result was that after the race last year, while I happily chatted with fellow Loungers, Steve was red faced, knocking back drinks, trying to get some food into his system, and generally feeling like hell.

Not this year, he vowed.

As you can imagine, that made my little ears prick right up. I asked if I could coach him, and he agreed.

Steve's goal is simple: run the race with no walk breaks and without feeling like he's going to die afterwards.

I'm going to keep the workouts equally simple. We'll gradually increase the miles of his long run so that seven doesn't feel so daunting. Many of his running routes will incorporate hills - in the beginning, the middle, and the end, so that he'll be prepared for that aspect of the race. Because Steve isn't concerned with his time, I see no need for intervals or tempo runs, so we'll skip that, instead adding elements to keep it fun - the occasional weekend 5K and Bix at Six training runs.

This time around, when I meet Steve at the hill with the flag on it after the race, both of us will be smiling just like in Amy's Before picture.

Side note: Thanks to everybody for your support of my plan to replace marathons with triskos ("half marathons") this year. Because I am a marathoner, I have to admit that part of me feels like I am not going for the full glory by focusing on a shorter distance. I know it's unreasonable, and in fact if someone else said that, I'd tell them that running half marathons is nothing to sneeze at, especially since I am planning on not just running them, but racing them. Still, it feels good to have my decisions validated by runners who I respect. Thanks, guys.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Trisko Kid

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my running goals and how to best fit them in with the rest of my life. My new job, while awesome in many ways, poses some challenges. The frequent travel (so far we’re at four trips in six weeks) is the biggest one. In one way, I’m working that out. I have resolved to still go running when I’m travelling, even though it means having to wake up extra early. It’s worth it to me, because starting a hectic day with a run is a great way for me to feel centered, and to really feel like me, even in a strange environment.

The trouble comes when I get home. Steve and Jack have been incredibly supportive of me in just about every possible way. That includes both work and running. And because the boys are so great, when I am home, I want to spend time with them.
Right now, I can, as the great Tim Gunn would say, make it work. I’m using the FIRST plan to train for a trisko (“half marathon”) on May 10, then another on May 24. Tuesday nights I do a track workout, then Thursdays I do a tempo run – unless I am travelling, in which case I do those workouts whenever I am on the road. On Sundays, I start my long run at 7:30 in the morning, and with the longest pre-race run planned at 13.1 miles, it doesn’t eat up my entire day – both with the time to run and the time to recover.

But when my thoughts turn to marathon training in the fall, I get a little worried. My mid-week workouts will be about the same, but those long runs on weekends are a lot tougher. If I go out and run a 20 miler, between running, an ice bath, eating a giant pile of food, and recovery time, half my day is shot. I love the time I spend running, but if I’ve already been away from home for a couple of days in the week, it’s a lot of time spent away from Steve and Jack.

That’s why I’m thinking that 2009 may be the Year of the Trisko (which, again, sounds much cooler than the Year of the Half Marathon).

A trisko is, of course, a respectable and challenging distance. But my long runs won’t take so long. I’ll feel ready to hang out with my guys after a sandwich and a shower, rather than an ice bath and a nap. And because it’s easier to recover from the race itself, I could do more of them. I can also set more aggressive goals, knowing that it’s easier to sustain 13.1 miles than 26.2.

My calendar is already starting to fill up. There’s the Quad Cities Distance Classic on May 10, followed by the Madison Half Marathon on May 24. And I just convinced Steve that it would be really fun for the three of us to go to Chicago on the weekend of June 7 so that I can run 13.1 Chicago. I could run the Quad Cities Half Marathon in September, but then follow that up with the half marathons in Des Moines or Kansas City.

The marathon will always have a special place in my heart, and I know I’ll go back to it someday. But for now, triskos may be the way to go. Just call me The Trisko Kid.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Beer, Brats, and Running

I got an email from my brother on Friday announcing that he is running the Madison Marathon on May 24 and that I should do it, too.

My immediate response was that no way could I be ready for 26.2 miles in that short an amount of time (despite Andy’s arguments that Steve Runner is training for Boston in just five weeks). But then I realized that although I couldn’t do the full marathon, I could run the half.

The more I thought about it, the cooler the idea was. I am running a trisko (“half marathon”) two weeks before at the Quad Cities Distance Classic, but that seems like plenty of time to recover from 13.1 miles. My favorite aunt and uncle live in Madison, so we’d get to stay with them. I'll get to hang out with my brother. The race is at the same time as the bratwurst festival in Madison, so a post-race beer and brat is a done deal. And the race is Memorial Day weekend. Steve will be working that weekend, so Jack and I could take a road trip and have a Mommy-Son adventure.

Next thing you know, I’m signing on the dotted line and registering for the race.
There has also been an interesting side effect to all of this.

I went for my long run yesterday. Since my mojo’s been missing for a couple of weeks now, I decided to just run 10 (rather than the 11-12 I had planned) and to run it at a very relaxed pace. Paula-Garmin went in my pocket so I wouldn’t be distracted by her. The fact that it was cold and windy out reinforced that decision.
So, I did it. I ran 10 miles. And guess what you guys? It felt good! It was not a miserable suck-fest slog. I felt happy and strong and awesome. My 9:30 pace (Paula-Garmin may have been in my pocket, but she was still on) was not as fast as my previous sub-9:00 10-miler, but it was still totally respectable for me.

The mojo was back, and all I needed was a little extra something to be excited about.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It's Gotta Be The Shoes

Buying running shoes fills me with anticipation. They are not just Asics 2140’s in a size 8-1/2 with blue trim. These are the shoes that will support me for hundreds of miles, whose brilliant white color will be grayed with puddles, splattered with mud, and caked with dirt. These shoes may be the ones that I wear when I run an amazing, inspiring workout on the track, that will suffer with me on a wrenching tempo run, and that will triumph when I PR at a race. $100 is a small price to pay, 100 words too small a tribute.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Chasing Mojo

Good morning, interwebs. I am still in Minneapolis for work and still, as faithful sexy readers know, trying to regain my Running Mojo after some disappointing sessions.

I went to bed last night planning on getting up at 5:30 and running again. At 5:30? I reset the alarm for 6:00. But then at 6:00, I decided to lace up the shoes and give it a go on one condition: no treadmill.

My strategy for regaining that elusive Running Mojo is to make running fun, and let's face it: that is not going to happen on a treadmill in a hotel gym where I have nothing to look at but a tiny screen playing Saved by the Bell and a wall of mirrors.

I layered up and headed outside, where it was in the 30's (yes, in April) and snowing lightly (again, Minnesota). I brought Paula Garmin with me, but kept her in my pocket, reminding myself that the point wasn't speed or distance, but the joy of running. This being Minnesota, I quickly found a beautiful lake, surrounded by snow-covered trees, and ran around it.

The setting was beautiful. I have heard many people muse that they can't imagine living in the Midwest, especially not the upper Midwest like Minnesota, but I can definitely see its charms. I saw bunnies running across the path, and for much of the way, the only footprints on the snow were mine.

As for the run? It was not one of those runs where, at the end, you feel amazing and want to spend the entire day telling everyone about how great it was. But it was pretty good. A solid, average effort.

Next up is Sunday's group run. I'm going to run 10 miles, which should be plenty far in advance of my trisko ("half marathon") on May 10, and I will run it at whatever the hell pace I feel like.

I'm coming after you, Running Mojo. Prepare to be chicked.