Yellow Bananas

Sorry for my recent absence from WordPress. I’ll get to some running-related material at the end of this post. Bear with me.

My grandmother died about three weeks ago and I haven’t really felt like blogging. I majored in English in college, and I work in communications now, so when faced with a problem, I often have the instinct to solve it with writing. In this case the problem was my sadness at the loss of my grandmother coupled with my relief that her pain and suffering were over. At 105 (yes, really), her quality of life had dropped precipitously in just a few short months, although she only needed one prescription medicine, and it was clear that her time had come. I wanted to write something powerful and profound about my grandmother’s incredibly long life and about how that life and its end affected me. I had lots of feelings about Gran, but I couldn’t come up with anything to do justice to her. If I couldn’t write the one important thing I needed to write, I didn’t really want to write anything at all.

I kept coming back to the following little memory from the day of her passing. It seemed important at the time, though I can’t quite find the words for why that is. It may just merely be too apt, or that I’m searching for profundity in the mundane, but whatever the case may be, it stuck with me:

My grandmother lived so many years past the century mark that my family had long been making cracks about how “Gran doesn’t buy any green bananas.” On the day that she died, my aunt and uncle, my parents, and I took bananas from the bowl in her kitchen without discussing it. None of us thought to check the refrigerator for milk or other perishables, but grabbing the bananas was seemingly automatic. And wouldn’t you know, they were brand new and pure yellow, not a patch of green on them.

Maybe the significance of taking the bananas lies not in their yellow color, but in that the act of taking the bananas acknowledged that my grandmother was truly gone. I’m sure I don’t know, but that memory is indelibly etched in my mind.

In her honor, I’ll add a quote my father found in her address book to my (extra-long, to make up for my long absence) offering of inspirational quotes in this post:

“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.”

The slip of paper she saved noted the above as an ancient Chinese proverb. In looking it up, I’ve seen it attributed to Confucius and to Benjamin Franklin. Words of wisdom have value regardless of who spoke them, so I’m choosing not to worry about the attribution.

Further words to enlighten and inspire:

“Crawling is acceptable. Falling is acceptable. Puking is acceptable. Crying is acceptable. Blood is acceptable. Pain is acceptable. Quitting is not.”

 

“Small daily improvements are the key to staggering long-term results.”

 

“Fitness is not about being better than someone else. It’s about being better than you used to be.”

 

“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right.”

 

“Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.”

 

“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

 

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.” – George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

 

And finally,

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy

In other, running-specific news, I’ve got a couple of cool things to report.

On March 30, 2014, in truly grim conditions (39 degrees with rain and hail), I won my age group (females 20-24) in the Runners Marathon of Reston, posting not only my new personal best in that distance, but my first time under 4:00, with a 3:48:03. After posting (I can’t in good faith call it ‘running’) a 6:18:21 at the 2012 Georgia Publix Marathon, my first-ever marathon, no way did I think I’d run another marathon, let alone break four hours. I’ve now run six marathons. I lucked into the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon this fall and I’m hoping to run a BQ time there, although it’s not the most favorable course for that lofty goal. The Boston Marathon may have to wait until 2016 or later, depending on when registration opens (as I’d need to have run a qualifying time by then), but I plan to run it someday as a qualified registrant. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that would be a possibility for me. I really love racing in the rolling hills of Reston (previously I’d run a 10k and two ten-milers all starting and finishing at the same high school in Reston), so even though I had to endure biting winds, practically frozen fingers, and hailstones abusing my cheeks, I love Reston even more because that marathon opened my eyes to new possibilities.

Last Sunday, April 6, 2014, I ran in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. After the 2013 race I vowed to never run it again, but I signed up for the lottery again for the 2014 edition, and the same issues that bothered me in 2013 bothered me again this year. I put down what I thought was a pretty aggressive time in order to establish my starting corral, and I again found myself stuck behind hoards of people, many of whom were walking early in the race. I have no problems with people who run a race just to finish it or those who employ a walk-run strategy in order to finish comfortably. What I do have a problem with is those people starting in competitive corrals. At one point I found myself behind a woman wearing a shirt that said on the back, “If you’re behind me, you didn’t train for this either.” Real funny. Except that I did train and I’d like to get by! I was weaving in and around major traffic for the first four or so miles of the race, so I had to push pretty hard in the final six miles to keep my overall time to an average sub-8:00/mile pace. I posted a 1:18:42, which is significantly better than my previous best from the Army Ten Miler (1:23:14 in 2013), but I feel like I could’ve run another minute or two faster had there not been so many slower people in front of me on the narrow course. I wound up finishing with people all wearing red bibs – the red wave went off two or more minutes ahead of me as it was for people who had submitted an even faster estimated finish time. That race is all kinds of jacked up, and although it’s a “rite of spring” and pretty reasonably priced, I think I’m going to stick to my guns and really not participate next year.

Perhaps the biggest news of all: I’m running the JFK 50 Miler this fall. My time in the Runners Marathon made me an A-Standard qualifier for the nation’s oldest ultra, so after consulting with Jenny’s ultrarunner friend (I won’t name drop, but he wins these things and has been on the national team and is basically a really big deal while being a dad and a normal, all-around cool dude who is awesome enough to exchange emails with me) about the race, I took the plunge and mailed in my entry form. That’s right, mailed it in, very old school. Last night I checked the confirmed entrants list for my name (after having seen the check clear earlier in the week) and it was there. So this is happening! I lost about 36 pounds between late 2012 and mid-2013 while being very, very low-key about it. I didn’t tell people that I was planning to lose weight, I just did it. I’ve found that’s often the best way to do things: don’t tell people my plans, just show them my results. I don’t think that people make unsupportive, doubting comments to be deliberately cruel, but if they can cut down the validity of my commitments or my effort and watch me fail, that makes it easier for them to be at peace with their own inactivity or untried dreams. This piece of news is only for a supportive audience, and I think that you WordPress runners and running enthusiasts are that kind of audience, so I’m putting my faith in you to be cool as I prepare for this ultra in my own humble, workman-like, unflashy way.

Final thoughts to close out this overlong post (thanks for hanging in!). I’d like to make this blog more personal and more about my experiences. I’m still truly a gear junkie with a wicked shoe habit and a taste for protein bars so you can still expect plenty of product reviews (I’ve got reviews for the New Balance 890v4 and the Salomon X-Scream coming soon, as well as a couple of protein bar reviews), but look forward to a bit more of me in future posts. More often than not, the things in life that matter aren’t things, although things can be really, really cool.

Remember How I Said I Wanted to Run Sub-32:00 for My 4-Mile Race?

Well I ran 28:07, good enough for 78th place overall (out of 1508, I think), 15th overall female, and 6th in my age group. Really surprised myself!

The second to last hill was the toughest part of the race, as I knew it would be. I felt gassed and like I was breathing and breathing and getting no oxygen. But I stayed calm and pushed through. That final mile was my slowest of the race by far, but I lost a lot less time on that hill than I’d feared I would.

For almost the entire race I ran with a guy I didn’t know who looked to be about 55 years old, possibly current or former military. If he got a little behind me on a hill, he’d be sure to catch up; if I got a little behind him on a straightaway I’d increase my speed to match his. When we saw the huge crowd of runners on our way back from the turnaround point, he made a friendly comment about that. We paced each other without discussing it. I didn’t look at my watch until after I’d crossed the finish line, so I didn’t know what kind of pace we were maintaining. I knew it was challenging, but I didn’t know if it was sub-8:00, especially given how rough the fourth-mile hill was.

Well, it turns out that randomly latching into someone who wasn’t all freaky competitive worked out pretty well; I suspect we both helped each other.

I was bowled over by how fast I ran, especially considering how unsure I was that I’d meet my sub-32:00 goal. I dropped nearly 8:00 from my 2013 time of 36:01. Very proud of my effort and very appreciative of my dedication to my 50k training. This really motivates me to get out of bed each morning and hit my workouts hard so they continue to pay dividends.

I’ll sign off with a quote from the US President who I thought was hunkiest when I was a kid, Calvin Coolidge, that I think speaks to the importance of training:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrehearsed genius is almost a proverb… Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

The Hotspot, or How I Picked My Shoes for Today’s Race

I like to get on my soapbox about not using new gear or nutrition items on or immediately prior to race day. I’ve seen far too many dudes clad in shirts red with blood where their nipples used to be. The shirt they’re wearing? Usually it’s the race shirt that was distributed at packet pickup the day before. Using new stuff during or just before a race is just asking for trouble. Go with what you know.

But going with what you know entails getting to know your gear, and that testing period during training comes with its own risks.

A few weeks ago I hauled off and ran 21 miles after only planning to run 14 miles that day. I left the house with 14 miles still firmly in mind, but everything felt right: I’d managed to lock in at a zippy pace and I was more than keeping up with the folks from my trail running club, so I extended the run.

Unfortunately for me, I was wearing a previously untried shoe-sock combination. I’d run comfortably in this model sock with other shoes, and I’d put about 40 miles in the shoe without issue, but for some reason these two didn’t play well together over the 21-mile distance. When I peeled off my sweaty socks at the end of the day, I found the hotspot.

I’ve had blisters before, and I even got two blisters that healed up almost overnight from this run, but I’ve never had anything like this hotspot. Located on my left pinky toe, this hotspot became the axis of pain in my life. It hurt when it was touching something. It hurt when it wasn’t touching anything, or wasn’t touching anything more than it had been but a moment before when it was just fine. It would randomly send shooting, fiery pains up my leg that made me struggle to hide my winces in public. I began to hope that it would turn into a regular blister so it could finally heal. This thing was a monster. Taping it and applying bandaids just seemed to make it angry.

So I did what any good crazy runner would do: I ran on it.

Running with a blister, or a blister-type injury is not for the faint of heart. Every step is guaranteed to hurt, it’s just a matter of how much it will hurt. A sane person would rest and let a friction injury heal. I like to put myself in simulated race conditions during my training so I’m both mentally and physically prepared for what may lie ahead. Running with what could plausibly be a race-induced blister is valuable preparation, just as running without water to simulate the dry miles in between aid stations is critically important to establish what it feels like to struggle and how I’ll handle that.

In my extensive shoe collection I found a shoe that supports my feet comfortably without squeezing my blister or bothering it with any heavy overlays: the great New Balance 890v4.  So if you’re looking for a moral to this story, such as, ‘don’t run with a blister,’ I’m sorry to have to disappoint you, because my hotspot healed through my running on it. Long days stuffed into boots will still make it cranky, but I can run pain-free and the seemingly random searing pains have stopped.

For my four-mile race this morning, (and probably for my marathon at the end of the month, stay tuned) I’m going with what I know will protect my feet best: the New Balance 890v4 aka the Hotspot Healer.

I’m excited to get back into the racing mix, so my A goal (Have fun!) is already working out. Can’t wait to lean into my B (Finish) and C goals (finish sub-32:00) as well. Happy running!

Pre-Race Pi Day Friday Musings and Inspiration

Four pieces of of un-attributed inspiration to carry us all through the weekend:

Fear of failure is only for those arrogant enough to think that somehow they can achieve success without paying the price.

Don’t pursue happiness — create it.

A river cuts through a rock, not because of its power, but its persistence.

Never forget why you started.

This weekend I’m running the Four Courts Four Miler for the fourth time. I wish I’d been part of the inaugural event so I could have a really special streak going, but I’m happy to have found this whimsical local race. The start is filled with Irish cloggers, green everything (especially tutus), and lots of smiles. Partway through the race, an elite runner associated with the local running store that puts the race on will start dressed as a leprechaun, and for each runner the leprechaun leaps, $1 will be donated to charity. Those who finish before the leprechaun will receive a prize item. The first two years I ran this race I beat the leprechaun with times of 36:32.3 (2011) and 37:50.1 (2012). In 2013, after losing much of the weight I gained in 2012, I posted a 36:01, but the leprechaun got on the course merely 10 minutes after the initial starting gun, much sooner than in previous years, so I didn’t beat him that year. That was pretty disappointing, but the race itself was still fun.

This year I’m going into the race in even better shape and much better prepared to excel in the short distance due to all of the fast treadmill running I’ve been doing. I genuinely hate the treadmill, but I respect it and appreciate it for all that it’s done to improve my speed, determination (it’s so easy to quit when I don’t have to run back home, so each moment I continue on the treadmill past the point of wanting to stop is a victory), and mechanics.

I looked up the leprechaun’s 2013 finish time: 24:51, which is 34:51 by the gun. In order to match his 2013 time, I’d have to run 8:42.75/mile on average. I consistently run around 7:45/mile on the treadmill and in the 8:00-8:15/mile range outdoors while wearing a pack and/or my cell phone. Phone free and otherwise unencumbered, I can probably run sub-8:00 miles. I’m very familiar with this course having run it three times previously, so I know how tough it is, particularly the steep finish hill, so although I’m confident that I can log a strong performance, I’m not sure how realistic my time goal is.

That’s were the A-B-C goal principle comes in. With three goals, ranked in order of importance, it’s a lot harder to completely fail at a race and have a horrible day. Here are my goals for the Four Courts Four Miler:

A Goal: Have fun

B Goal: Finish

C Goal: Finish in 32:00 or less

I celebrated Pi Day (March 4 = 3.14) with my customary Friday muffin from a coworker (life lesson: be nice to people and help them and they will sometimes bring you blueberry muffins). My treadmill jaunt was a tough 4.02 miles (7:43.93/mile), rather than a festive 3.14 miles, but I was glad to have given my legs a moderate test. After the nine-hour flight back from Amsterdam on Sunday, my legs were swollen for a few days. On both Monday and Tuesday I was awoken not by my alarm, but by  agonizing leg cramps. I doubled up on bananas and took a day off from running on Thursday and the lingering tightness has finally abated.

I don’t really throw myself wholeheartedly into short distance races. I’ve got a lot of respect for short distances and those who run short distances well, but I’m not one of those people and I like training for long distances too much to probably ever become one of those people, but you never know. I keep saying I have no interest in a triathlon (multiple people have pressed me about attempting a tri), but ask me about that again in a decade. But since I’m coming at this race with a desire to do well, but an admitted lack of genuine seriousness, I’m not planning a quiet, carbohydrate-filled night in to prepare mentally and lay out my gear. On the contrary, after packet pickup I intend to busy myself celebrating a couple of family birthdays then visiting a friend who has bravely shaved her head in support of St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity aiding the fight against cancer.

I’m very excited for the first race of the spring season. I have to qualify “season” as “spring season” since there really isn’t seasonality to running. Even when it’s miserable out, there are still races to be found and outdoor training/fun to be had. My cancelled 50k was supposed to be in the dead of winter in February. So there are seasons when the elements are more favorable towards running, but running is always fun and always in season.

Sorry the Blog is in Ruins While I’m Traveling

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I’m traveling in Europe for pleasure followed by business followed by more pleasure. An unfortunate consequence of all of my jet setting is that I’ve neglected my blog. Happily, I’ve got reliable in-room wifi at this hotel. And I’ve got access to a treadmill for safe running without getting lost, so I took my first run of the trip this morning inside the little hotel gym. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like free weights marked in kilograms instead of pounds and treadmill speed and distances covered given in kilometers instead of miles to confuse the heck out of me!

When I’m not so tired, you can look forward to a little travel log discussing my adventures in Rome and now Amsterdam, as well as a review of the Adidas Adios Boost since I finished 60+ miles on that shoe before I crossed the pond. Adidas is a favored brand in Europe, so that seems kind of timely. And oh yeah, a long overdue love fest about Clif Shot Bloks (so much for spoiler alerts).

I’ve got to be at my work site early in the morning, so ciao/afscheid/goodbye for now!

My 50k Race Is Cancelled

The course is buried under 18″-20″ of snow and is criss-crossed by dozens of downed trees, so the race director made the tough decision to cancel. On the bright side, I’m guaranteed entry into next year’s event. I’ve really enjoyed my training, so while I’m disappointed to not be attempting my first ultra next week, I’m not too upset. I’ll use this good base to carry me through my March marathon.

I swore I’d never get Twitter, but…

I like to think that I’m a well-rounded, reasonably interesting person. I read contemporary literature as well as classic literature (I’m currently tackling Moby Dick a second time, hoping to get something different out of it now that I’m a bit older). I read non-fiction books. I like to have in-depth discussions about books. I watch all sorts of TV shows, such as: Breaking Bad, Chopped, Myth Busters, Family Guy, and Jeopardy. I’m a long-suffering fan of Washington DC’s NFL team.  I play slowpitch and fastpitch softball. I work out at a Crossfit-type gym and a conventional gym. I’m in a healthy relationship. I have a dog. I like to travel. I love trying new restaurants.

And oh yeah, I run.

Despite having all of those other interests/hobbies/things going on, running is one of the top things I think about, at least when I’m not running. When I’m running, I either go headphone-free and do some quality thinking about other things, or I get lost in my audiobook. But when I’m not running, the ticker tape in my brain is often RUNNING RUNNING RUNNING.

With a solid 10″ of snow on the ground in the DC metro area, today was a snow day for me, which means lots of thinking about running, and because I’m not able to treadmill, no actual running.

So to stave off total cabin fever madness, I’m dipping my toe into the online running community to see if it’s as warm and welcoming as the in-person running community can be. I’ve created a Twitter account and a YouTube account, so starting soon you can connect with me in both of those places via @HopeTheRunner and HopeAgainstHopeRunning.

Morning Motivation

 

Discipline means understanding and respecting the difference between what you want now and what you want most.

In the wee hours of the morning, sometimes I think I want to sleep more than I want to get up and run. My sleepy animal brain may not know it, but I really ultimately want to run. So I do.

 

If it hurts to walk, and it hurts to run, then run.

Solid advice I read somewhere from an ultrarunner.

 

Often enough, courage will save a man, if his courage holds.

This one got me through the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon. It was handwritten on the back of the shirt of someone in front of me. Knowing that I had the New York Marathon the very next week, I was facing a lot more than 26.2 miles that day and courage got me through.

 

Each new day is another chance to be great.

I doubt that this is original to me, but it’s less a quote and more of a description of the way I feel each afternoon when I start dreaming about the next morning’s run.

 

Look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have left to go.

It’s easy to feel defeated at mile 18 of a marathon.There are eight punishing miles left. But those miles are only going to be tough because of the 18 already behind you. Focus on that accomplishment and let it inspire you to finish the race. The first 18 miles probably seemed impossible at some point, too.

 

Don’t tell people your plans. Show them your results.

Translation: shut up and get to work.

Little Afternoon Win

I love Nature Valley granola bars, but sometimes it seems like I need a bowl and a spoon to eat one. Upon the first bite, the bar basically shatters into little oat-y shards and crumbs. Not very convenient for on the go! This afternoon, I’ve been too busy to come up for air, but the Hungry Monster (a cousin of the Taper Monster) started growling, so I grabbed a Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey bar from my office’s vending machine and scurried back to my desk. Both bars in the pack disappeared in about five chomps. Gone in the blink of an eye. Or so I thought. I was too intently focused on my work task to realize that I’d left behind the crumbs — fully another bite of sweet, crunchy goodness! Finding that secret last bite might not seem like much, but it put a smile on my face.

Running when Descending Stairs is Hard and Sitting Down on the Toilet is Even Harder, Plus a First Look at the New Brooks Transcend

One of my favorite feelings is the soreness and contented tired feeling after intense physical exertion. Tough gym workouts and long runs are my usual source of post-exercise bliss. It’s only a blissful feeling on the day of the exercise; if the soreness and fatigue extends into the next day, it ceases to be satisfying and starts being inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Today I woke up feeling like I was old enough to be Methuselah’s mother: I was so creaky that lowering myself onto the toilet was a real chore.

Rather than wallow in my aches and pains, I resolved to drive them away with a short run on the treadmill. Bracing myself with a hand on each bannister, I limped downstairs. For the uninitiated, this probably does sound like a literal descent into madness — another run less than 24 hours after clocking 21 miles and growing prodigious blisters? Well, the blisters receded quickly as a result of not messing with them. But non-intervention won’t cure sore, lactic acid-laden limbs.

Last week I received my Brooks Transcends. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard the initial buzz about these shoes because I have a lot of love for Brooks running shoes and these are really up my alley. I saw an ad for them and immediately thought, There’s my next marathon shoe. It was as though I’d dreamed them into life: a pumped up version of my beloved Brooks Glycerin 11s, the shoes that helped me not just break 2:00 in the half marathon the first time ever (and the first time I wore the Glycerin 11s for more longer than about 5k at a stretch), but absolutely crush it — my time in that pivotal race was sub-1:55. I generally like cushioning over the long haul. And for recovery days.

Today was certainly a recovery day and a great opportunity to bust out these boat-bottomed behemoths. The sole of the Brooks Transcend under the arch is so wide that I had a hard time standing with the shoes clear of the treadmill belt so it could start. That sole and midsole geometry looks a little weird, but the eye-popping colors keep this shoe from looking like a therapy or geriatric model. Check out the pictures at the bottom of this post to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Frankly, I don’t really care what the sole looks like since it feels like marshmallowy clouds beneath my feet. For the second mile of my very brief shamble, I eased the treadmill up to 6:40/mile pace and the shoe responded gamely — I didn’t feel weighed down by the Transcend and my turnover rate increased on pace with the belt, unencumbered. The full contact sole felt buttery smooth under foot. I’m accustomed to this type of shoe and this type of feel from Brooks and I love it. The Transcend does feel like a plusher, more cushioned Glycerin 11. I’m eager to see how these feel on a long run.

This morning’s short run purged some, but not all of my soreness. I’m still stiff, but no longer zombie-like. I surprised myself by upping the speed from a modest 8:20/mph after the first mile — what I had thought would be a death march wasn’t so bad after all. Thanks to this morning’s effort, I’ll be feeling worlds better tomorrow and I’ll be able throw myself into a more fun workout.

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