Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's Good to Be Back

As much as I try to be flexible, life can get in the way of running sometimes. This week was especially tough. I wanted to take a few days off after my half marathon trisko. Then I had some busy work days. Then Jack wasn't feeling well. Things kept piling on, and it wasn't until Saturday that I was able to get a run in.

Not running is really bad for my brain. Things were stressful at work, but I know they effected me more than usual. When I started to dream about checking emails from my phone, I knew the crazy was out of control.

On Saturday, I ran a relaxed five miles, It felt fantastic. Today was even better. I got up early and ran ten miles at trisko pace + 20 seconds. I ran from Moline to Rock Island, then across the Mississippi River into Davenport. Then I passed the baseball park and ran along the river to cross at the Arsenal Island bridge. I ended with a challenging run through the campus of Augustana College. It's one of my favorite courses. I felt really fortunate to be able to run in such amazing places.

More importantly, I think my head is back where I need it to be. I feel ready to go back to work tomorrow and am confident I can handle what's thrown at me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Race Report: Madison Half Marathon

The night before the Madison half marathon trisko, my cousin Michael's wife Ana (who is Italian and thus a fantastic person to have nearby the night before a race) asked a simple question:

"Why would anyone want to run a marathon or half marathon?"

My brother, running the full, gave the Everest answer - "Because it's there." I expanded on that, saying that a huge part of the appeal of running a long distance race is that it's really hard to do. It's challenging to train for it, and it's even more challenging to complete it. That challenge gives you a tremendous sense of accomplishment that we don't get to experience in our normal day-to-day lives. Andy agreed and said that it feels amazing when you finish, and the beer you drink after a marathon is the greatest one you've ever had.

Little did we know that struggle and challenge would be so much on our minds the next day.

As always, I'm getting ahead of myself.

It had been a challenging couple of weeks. Solid travel for work meant lots of time way from Steve and Jack. Steve had to work Memorial Day weekend, so I decided Madison could be a Mommy-Son roadtrip. It was also a chance to spend some time with some of my favorite family members - my brother, my aunt and uncle, and three of my cousins. In between, I'd throw in a half marathon. Really, what could go wrong?

Andy and I hit the Expo, and I showed tremendous restraint, buying just a new hat with the race logo on it. They also had t-shirts that proclaimed, "Will run for beer, cheese, and brats," and I don't know how Andy resisted the "26.2 Miles? You Betcha!" shirt. In the brief time we were there, Jack convinced my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Chuck to take him to the brat festival, where he won a stuffed dolphin and three snakes. Good thing, since I think he only brought about 20 stuffed animals from home.

Back at the house, the Italian relatives cooked a huge feast of pasta and bread. It was completely fabulous. It being Wisconsin, there was also a lot of cheese. Excellent.

Jack and I decided to share a bed, which meant about a hundred years of him playing with my hair, having various tigers kiss me goodnight, and me saying over and over, "Quit kicking your legs or I swear, I will make you sleep on the floor." He finally conked out, leaving me to sleep, then wake up at 12:30, 4:00, and finally 5:00 when it was time to get up. Not good.

After bagels and coffee, Uncle Chuck drove Andy and me to the starting line, explaining that we shouldn't have to deal with parking. We did some people watching, enjoyed some pre-race nervous peeing, and I finally bid Andy goodbye to take to the starting line. Madison is an unusual race in that the half starts before the full marathon. It's really a good thing, as it's best to just stay out of each other's hair.

The starting line was really crowded. I actually wasn't able to fit on the pavement and just stood in the dirt and funneled through when the gun went off. No big deal, since it was chip-timed, but I wonder if they'll change that in future yeas.

I ran the first few miles near the 2:00 pacer, figuring I'd run there for a while, then pick it up in the final miles. That was not meant to be. At mile 4, I felt incredibly tired. And not tired legs, my friends. Tired, like, I could take a nap on this comfy pavement tired. Two weeks of travel and poor sleep caught up to me. I felt lousy.

Then, I made a decision: if I wasn't going to run a good time, I might as well have a good time. I made an effort to take in the sights of the very pretty course - we ran past three different lakes, past the Badger football stadium, through lovely neighborhoods, and through University of Wisconsin's campus. The volunteers and spectators were all friendly. It was great.

I finished in 2:06, nine minutes slower than my PR, and one minute slower than my previous slowest time. But what are you going to do?

I met up with Phyllis, Chuck, and Jack so we could watch Andy run. At mile 18 or so, he looked pretty good. At mile 23, he looked okay, too. I ran with him for a few steps and told him where to meet us afterwards. He said he wasn't feeling great, thanks to the remains of a cold he was fighing. Then we headed to the finish line. I saw lots of people who had been running around where Andy was, and Jack and I had fun cheering for them. But no Andy. I was worried. I know that a lot can go wrong in just 3 miles.

But finally, he was there. I yelled, "Go, Andy! Don't let them run out of beer!" Jack chased after Andy and ran with him for a little while, which Andy later said actually helped him.

Chuck went to find Andy at the meeting spot and he was nowhere to be found. I grabbed Jack and went to look for him. My fear, which I didn't share with anyone, was that he might be in the medical tent. Thank Yoda he was okay - my cell phone rang a minute later. It was my mom - Andy borrowed someone's cell phone and called her to tell me where he was. Andy explained that yes, I'd told him where to meet, but that in those last three miles it fell out of his brain. Totally understandable. He, too, was far beyond his goal time.

The good thing is, he kept it all in perspective, just as I was working to do. Sometimes, it's just not your day. Neither of us was racing under peak conditions.

And remember what I said before about part of the appeal of racing long distances being how hard it can be? Well, because it's hard, sometimes you're not going to succeed. If you hit your goal or set a PR every time you toe the line, then you're not setting tough enough goals. Finishing a race strong and getting a PR is an amazing feeling; I know since it happened to me just a few weeks ago. But the other side of the coin is real, too. There is some value, even some satisfaction that can come from working hard at something and not making the mark.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Race Report: Imagination Library 5K

One of the things that definitely rocks about running half marathons triskos is that I can easily work other races into my training - even into recovery. So, less than a week after my Total Trisko Triumph, I ran the Imagination Library 5K as a training run with Steve.

Steve, as faithful Coffee Betsy readers know, is training for the Bix 7 with the admirable goal of not feeling like he is going to die when it's over. I'm scheduling some 5K races not so much for speedwork, but more to make things fun. I decided we should run together, partly so I'd remember to keep my pace slow enough for a recovery run, partly because Steve is fun to hang out with.

When we arrived at the starting line, I was a little bit bummed that I wasn't truly racing it. The weather was kind of lousy - cold and really windy, which made for a poor turnout. A 5K with a poor turnout is totally in my wheelhouse, and looking at the times for my age group, I probably would have finished second. But no matter - the point was to have fun, and that we did.

The race started at a park by the Mississippi River, then followed the bike/running path at a simple out and back. It turns out it's a good thing there weren't many people there, because things were getting mighty crowded in the middle of the pack where we were hanging. I wonder if they will have to alter the course in the future.

It was great to be able to go for a run with Steve, something we used to do together a lot, but haven't done much in a long time. It was especially well timed because I'd just returned from a three-day work trip in Charlotte and was gearing up for a week of more trips. A 5K may not provide a lot of time for us to just hang out together, but it was a nice start.

We hit the three mile mark, and my mom and Jack were there cheering for us like crazy. We waved Jack over so he could finish the race with us, and that thrilled him. The three of us crossed the line together holding hands.

The thing that surprised me the most about the race was that it was swag-tastic. We got the typical cotton t-shirts, which featured a cute picture of a running book, but our goodie bags also included Cliff or Luna bars, coupons for free Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, and best of all free tickets to go to a Quad City River Bandits baseball game! They even had finisher's medals, and the volunteer was kind enough to give one to Jack even though he'd run bandit - they must have had plenty. After the race, there were more Cliff and Luna bars, bottles of water with BioFreeze samples tied to them, and all kinds of food. They also had bounce castles and were getting ready to set up craft tables and face painting. I felt bad for the organizers because the weather was so lousy that people didn't really stick around afterwards like they would have. I hope they try again next year and have better weather. I'll be there for sure.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Don't Mess With Dehydration

This week's Take It and Run Thursday is about gearing up for warm weather running. My advice on this subject is so simple that it is pretty well condensed just in my title. I am hoping that you will still continue to read.


Good, thanks.

So, we have all read that drinking water/Gatorade/whatnot while running is important and that getting dehydrated is bad. It is such a simple concept that we haven't really absorbed it. Dehydration kind of doesn't seem like that big of a deal; I mean, it seems easily solved, doesn't it? Run in hot weather, get thirsty, drink water. Done and done!

But there's a little bit more to it than that. The thing is, we need to avoid getting to the point where dehydration is a problem to be solved. I think that the first step is to understand just how much water you can lose running in hot weather. Last summer, I ran a 20 mile training run. I started early in the morning, so it wasn't as hot as it could have been. As an experiment, I weighed myself before and after the run. I was shocked to discover that in the time I was out running, I lost about eight pounds.

Take a minute and think about that, and not about the fact that losing eight pounds in just a few hours without giving birth is a tiny bit awesome. Eight pounds is about a gallon, so picture the milk jug in your fridge and think about the fact that I sweated out that much water. I know, totally sexy, right? And totally disturbing to lose that much water weight.

In other fun anecdotal news, I was having some problems with cramping in my left calf a few weeks ago. The weird thing is that it wasn't necessarily happening when I was running - it'd cramp up if I was just watching TV or something. I mentioned this to one of my running buddies after a training run. "You could be dehydrated," he said.

Pfft. Yeah, right. No way was my very unique and weird cramping related to something as simple as dehydration. But I figured it wouldn't hurt to drink more water, so I did.

And you know what? It worked. No more cramping. Turns out it was not so unique after all.

Do I have you all sold that dehydration is no joke and that you should not mess with it? Good. The next step, especially when the weather gets hot, is to have a Hydration Strategy. It's going to take more than just a vague plan to drink water, people.

I've started taking my Batman Utility Belt by Fuel Belt with me on long runs. I really like knowing that I can grab a drink whenever I want to. I will probably invest in a couple more bottles so that if I need to, I can swing by home and reload. I also recommend enlisting aid from your loved ones. When I was running 20 milers in the heat last summer, I asked my mom to put out water for me. Not only did she put out gigantic bottles of water in her driveway, but she put ice in it. It was absolutely heavenly. Yay, Mom! And finally, it's smart to drink water throughout the day, so that you're not starting your run in a deficit situation.

Dehydration: It's no joke.

Race Report: Quad Cities Distance Classic

I walked to the starting line of the Quad Cities Distance Classic half marathon trisko feeling more confident than I perhaps ever have for a race. I felt very prepared for the race. Not just because my training had gone well (though it did), but also because my training had become so important to me. In the months since I started training for this race, my life went through quite a lot of upheaval. I unexpectedly lost my job, went through the always trying period of a job search, and was lucky to find a new job quickly. Then I had to adjust to a new job that was challenging - and required quite a lot of travel. Training for this race was my constant, something that I could control. The fact that I kept training proved to me that the emotional horsepower to meet my goal.

Plus, there were the messages on my wrists. On my right wrist, I wore my Road ID. Inscribed on it is the mantra that I developed at this very race last year, running a half marathon trisko on Mother's Day in the pounding rain, sleet, and winds: ONE TOUGH MOTHER. On my left wrist was a reminder inspired by The Laminator and Frayed Laces: DDYA, which stands for Don't Deny Your Awesomeness. In the days leading up to the race, I would find myself with a stray negative thought, wondering if I could really meet my goal. So, I took a pen and wrote DDYA on my wrist as a reminder to put my thinking right. I rewrote it so many times that now, days after the race, a hint of blue ink still remains on my wrist.

In fact, the only concern I found when I reached the starting line was that, in a long sleeved shirt and tights, I was dressed more warmly than anyone else there. Was I overdressed? Was that a mistake? It was too late to fix it, so I hoped for the best.

My goal for this race was simple: 2:00 or less. My previous PR was 2:05, so it was ambitious, but I was confident I could do it.

And I tried a new strategy for this race, a strategy that I like to call "Running Smart." This offers a sharp contrast from my previous strategies of "Just Start Running And See What Happens" and "Go Out Way Too Fast And Totally Bonk At The End." I set Paula the Garmin to encourage me to run the first nine miles at (or reasonably close to) my required pace of 9:09. Then in the remaining 4.1 miles, I could run faster if I felt good.

So hey, maybe I should stop talking about it and just run the race already, right? Right.

I did my best to relax in the first mile, but I blazed through it way too fast at 8:20. I knew there was a big steep hill at the second mile, so I figured that would slow me down, which it did - 8:57. Still too fast, so I focused on relaxing and running at the right pace. I saw some runners around me who I wanted to be ahead of, but I reminded myself that my goal was not to stay ahead of Orange Shirt Girl, but to finish in two hours. I kept going, hitting the next few miles like this:

Mile 3: 9:02
Mile 4: 8:57
Mile 5: 8:57
Mile 6: 9:02
Mile 7: 9:06
Mile 8: 9:03
Mile 9: 9:04

So, I managed to ease up a bit and ran some pretty consistent splits. I was happy to have my Batman Utility Belt Fuel Belt with me so that I didn't have to stop or slow down for water stops. I was even happier about the fact that, thanks to my training runs with my running club, I knew several of the volunteers. The Distance Classic is a small race - and run on Mother's Day - so there were not a lot of spectators. Seriously, maybe 12 for the first 12 miles. It was great to be able to see some of my running buddies and have them say things like, "Good job, Betsy. You look really good." Because we'd all talked about the race quite a bit during and after those Sunday morning runs, they knew what I was trying to do, and they could see that I was on my way there. It was a great feeling.

After I passed the 10 mile mark, I called Steve and told him where I was. He said that he and Jack were at the stadium excited to see me finish. I felt great and picked up the pace.

Mile 10: 8:38
Mile 11: 8:37
Mile 12: 8:49

I kept looking at my splits and doing math in my head. I knew I was going to make my goal, and I was absolutely thrilled. I was a bit warm in my long sleeves, but I figured I could deal with it for a few more miles. Things were going great. Then, at around the 12-1/2 mile mark, a little cartoon devil popped onto my shoulder. "Just walk to that next telephone pole," it encouraged. I have no idea where that devil came from, because I was tired, but still strong. I definitely had another half a mile or so to give. So I brushed him off and kept going. I was rewarded by the site of my running buddy John standing at the corner, enthusiastically cheering, "Looking good! You've got this one!"

I ran into the stadium and onto the track. In an attempt to maximize that last 1/4 mile, I ditched my Fuel Belt like ballast and tore into it. Steve and Jack were waiting near the finish line. Steve cheered for me and Jack joined me on the track. With my guys cheering for me, I blazed through mile 13 in 8:35 and the little .1 at 6:59 pace.

The final result?


Previous PR? Smashed.
Race goal? Obliterated.

There was nothing left to do but celebrate. I got my finisher's medal, ate some bagels, bananas, and cookies, and picked out some red petunias - all finishers can choose some annuals to plant, and I'll be happy to have them be part of my garden. I cheered in some more of my running buddies.

And then, I spent the rest of my day feeling triumphant. I put on my red OxySox and took a nap while snuggling with Jack and watching Star Wars. The boys took me to see Disney Earth and Steve made a great dinner for me and my mom.

I have two more triskos scheduled for the next few weeks. A week from Sunday, I'll run Madison, and then on June 7 I am running 13.1 Chicago. Because I did so well in this race, I feel like the pressure is off a little bit and I can relax a bit. That said, I am thinking about running Madison with the first eight miles at 9:09, giving me another 5.1 to speed up if I want to. We'll see how I feel. But until then, I feel like one tough mother!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Running Moms vs. The World

Take It and Run Thursday this week is a salute to running moms. I could write hundreds of blog entries about why I think it's important for me to be both a mother and a runner, how running makes me a better mom, what I hope Jack learns from my efforts, and so on. But today, I want to focus on how my fellow Mother Runners and I are taking on the rest of the world.

I absolutely hate it when McDonald's offers two different Happy Meal toys: one for boys and one for girls. I have spent the past four years making it clear that there are no toys that are just for girls or just for boys. If you want to play with a truck, fine. If you want to play with a doll, fine. Just play and have fun. But McDonald's sees things differently, offering My Little Pony for girls and Leggo stuff for boys. I prefer to bypass all of that crap and just ask Jack if he wants the horsey or the Leggos.

But at a recent visit, the McDonald's employee circumvented my efforts, handing Jack and toy and saying, "Here, this is for boys." It was a hand-held electronic sports game. Jack quickly looked at the display and saw that there were sports games and Hello Kitty games and that the sports ones were for boys. "That's cool," Jack said, "Because girls like Hello Kitty, but they don't really like sports."

Oh, hell no.

Jack lives in a home in which Daddy is just as likely to kiss boo boos as Mommy... and in which the most athletic of his parents is, in fact, Mommy. Girls don't like sports? You put Mommy and Daddy in a footrace, and we'll see who likes sports best and who's faster.

I sat Jack down and reminded him that plenty of girls like sports. Like his friends Emma, Kara, Avery, and Elizabeth who play soccer with him. Like the very strong and determined women who we watched run the Olympic marathon on TV. And, of course, like Mommy, who is a dedicated runner. He immediately saw the error of what he had said and thought it was silly that the sports games were given just to boys.

We running moms fight these sexist messages every single time we put on our running shoes. Every drop of sweat proves that women are not just for decoration, that we are athletes just like our male counterparts. My hope is that I am raising a boy who will not immediately dismiss girls when picking a kickball team, and a man who will respect the strength that women possess.

Dose of Cute

You know what this blog means?

I mean, besides more frequently updated content? And sponsors clamoring to give me cool free stuff to review?

More cuteness. And thus, I bring you an update on Spring at Stately Wasser Manor.

Jack's school put on a circus a few weeks ago, and Jack was an acrobat. Let me tell you, it was worth the price of admission (free) just to hear Jack repeatedly say the word "acrobat" when he was practicing his moves at home. He didn't pronounce it wrong, but let me tell you, there was quite a lot of effort and concentration behind it. Anyway, the circus itself was wall-to-wall adorable, with kids acting like elephants, lions, cowboys, tightrope walkers, strongmen, and of course, acrobats. Jack, in his glittery vest and headband (not to mention handlebar moustache) executed forward rolls, jumped on a trampoline, then stood at the top of a human pyramid of fellow acrobats with a triumphant "Ta da!"

Easter weekend immediately followed. We took Jack to an egg hunt at the zoo, and really, the word "hunt" should not be used to describe these events. The grass in a roped off area is covered in eggs, and the kids go and pick them up. There is no actual hunting involved... though Jack, ever thorough in his quest for candy, looked under every blade of grass to make sure he got them all. He then brought his bounty home to his "candy stash," which is a big plastic container that he puts behind the chair in the living room. Since he somehow manages to defy kid-dom and not eat it by the fistfull, we indulge this. The Saturday before Easter, Jack and I made a bunny cake. I post not one, but two pictures of it because I am really proud of how well it turned out. I am really good at baking and can absolutely bake a cake that tastes good, but it is rare for me to come up with something that also looks good. Easter morning featured an egg hunt in which Jack had to actually hunt for the eggs. I will always remember his first Easter, in which the Easter bunny scattered about ten plastic eggs in Jack's immediate sight on the living room floor. The eggs did not contain candy, as the bunny knew he didn't eat it yet, but instead were filled with binkies. This time around, Jack got a ton of candy, which he used to further stock the Candy Stash. He also posed for this picture and managed to look like right after he got his Easter basket, he changed out of his frog jammies and went to fight in the Civil War. We also introduced Jack to the bounty that is a brunch buffet, and he did an admirable job of putting down scrambled eggs, fruit, raw veggies, ham, and tater tots.

I am now officially a soccer mom, as Jack is participating in the Little Strikers soccer program. He's on the same team as several of his friends, and their team name is the Tigers. ("Just like Roary, Mommy!") Steve is the assistant coach, which is a good thing indeed, as the main coach didn't know anything at all about soccer and forgot to tell the kids things like that the goalie can use her hands. The Tigers had their first game on Tuesday, and it was hilarious to watch. I had to be careful about cheering for Jack, because he had a tendency to stop, turn to me, and give me a thumbs up. He's having a great time playing, especially because it turns out you get ice cream afterwards.

Last but not least in the Cuteness Review, my parents were in town and took the three of us to a Japanese steakhouse for dinner. It was prom night, and Jack was completely mesmerized by the girls, with their brightly colored fancy dresses and elaborate hairdos. Jack went up to three different girls and said, "Um, excuse me? You look really beautiful, just like a princess." The girls completely melted and thought he was the most adorable thing ever. I felt a bit sorry for their dates, who probably failed to say anything half as charming to the girls. And really, it's awfully hard to compete with a line like that and a look like this.