Friday, December 31, 2010

Run Into the New Year 5k, West Allis, WI

What can I say about a New Year's Eve race in Wisconsin where I didn't have to wear a hat or gloves, or even a long sleeved shirt? All I can say is, I think the unseasonably warm weather today in the Milwaukee metro area (55 degrees!!! Seriously!!!) was a direct result of my running in below freezing weather two weeks ago to test out my gear. If I hadn't done it, well, it would have been freezing, so since I did it, God laughed at my plans and gave me drizzly warm weather. So, to the other 1900 or so participants who were the direct beneficiaries of my pre-planning: you're so very welcome.

But I digress. It was unseasonably warm, and so I wore the usual: running capris, a singlet, and the fivefingers with toesy socks. I tied a running jacket around my waist just in case. We left the house and got to the race about 30 minutes early. The pre and post run activities are held inside one of the exhibition halls at the State Fair Park -- including allllll the portapotties -- so when we walked in to get our timing chips, we were assaulted by the smell of . . . uh, Wisconsin's wonderful "dairy air." We stood around waiting for the race to start and saw, along with my dear husband's paper New Year's hat, a Viking helmet, a woman wearing a bridal veil (15th wedding anniversary!) and a Kermit the Frog stocking hat (admiring the headgear at these races is a good way to pass the time).

Five minutes prior to the start, we went outside to the seeding corrals. Sweetness and I found the "open seeding: all runners" corral and lined up in the back. Not too many walkers in the "all walkers" corral behind us, to my slight dismay.

The starting gun went off, which meant we had about 3 minutes of walking before we crossed the chip timing mat, but once we did, Sweetness started pacing me on the one minute run/walk pace we'd discussed. The first mile went quicker than I'd expected, probably because, as Sweetness told me later, my stride was a little longer than usual. And also, because I wanted to at LEAST finish faster than the people who were doing the race on motorized scooters. Yes, for real, I'm not kidding.

So we knew by mile 2 we (meaning I, because poor Sweetness, who ran it right by my side, was at half his normal running pace) needed to slow down a bit. We altered the run/walk intervals to 1 minute run/2 minute walk for mile 2. By mile 2, the really really fast people were finishing the 5k, and also, some of the really really fast people running the 10k (two loops of the 5k) were starting to pass us. Also, it is apparently my pattern that at about the halfway point of any athletic event I
get really irritable and negative, even if I've done the distance before in training. Don't know why, haven't a clue, but because poor Sweetness was there (and obviously bored, because he was practically going in reverse in the Sweetness time/space continuum) for about a quarter mile, the conversation went thusly:

Sweetness: "Okay, time to run again. Oh, wow, that guy looks really tired. Hey, aren't those the other kind of minimalist shoe you were telling me about? Aw, what a cute couple up ahead. Hey, let's see if we can pass them. "

Me: (hissing) "Talk less. You need to talk less. How much more running?"

Sweetness: "Thirty seconds."

Me: "That is appropriate (pant) and helpful talking. More (pant) of that kind of talking."

Sweetness: (oblivious to my minor discomfort) "Okay!!! ten seconds left."

And so on. Until mile three.

My mile 2 time was slower, right on target, so I thought we would do thirty/ninety, and I'd finish pretty strong. Mile three was also on target, and due to the weirdness of the course, we crossed the path of my sweet ten year old stepson, who was running the 10k.

Now, apropos of nothing, though I love my stepsons dearly, my stepson's mother and I . . . well, there's never been much love lost between the two of us. And of course, Mommie Dearest (yeah, it's accurate) was there with Sweet Stepson and probably waiting at the end of the course, and would rush Sweet Stepson and my other two stepsons far far away from us as quickly as possible, so as not to have to, you know, actually behave like an adult and allow my Sweetness to see his sons. This hurts my husband tremendously . And so, I cannot tell you how much this was suddenly harshing my mellow. Well, you can probably guess.

On the other hand, I am not one for letting mean people harsh on my mellow for too long. And by the last quarter mile of mile 3, I'd devised a plan. Heh.

I saved up what spring I had left in my step for the last .1 of the course, the last turn before the finish chute, and came around the corner, not sprinting, but not jogging either, a nice smooth stride, and smiling. Silly Stepson was standing at the finish, swinging a cowbell (as I am sure he had done for the entirety of the race). I yelled his name, and he looked up, confused. I couldn't help but laugh -- Silly Stepson is not known for the quick draw -- and I ran past Mommie Dearest commenting on how surprised Silly appeared to be to see me . . . running. Heh.

I crossed the timing mat -- couldn't suppress a primal yell -- then told Sweetness to find Sweet Stepson on the last quarter mile of the course and run the chute with him. Thus, I got to finish my 5k with my husband, scream my head off for my stepson and my husband, my husband got to run the finish with his son, and I got to irritate my husband's ex-wife and go home with my sweet husband next to me . Win/win/win/win/WIN.

All in 47 minutes and some change. Not bad for a Friday afternoon.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three Things Thursday: December 30, 2010

(1) I am now the proud owner of three, count them, three pairs of Vibram Fivefingers. I believe that takes me out of the "enthusiast" category and places me squarely in the "crazy" category. It definitely places me in the "I have more Fivefingers than Sweetness" category, which makes him insanely jealous.

(2) I am also the proud owner of five (yes five) new pairs of toe socks. Three are Injinji (rainbow stripey!), two are Walgreens knock-offs with monkeys and sunflowers and black argyle. I heart them all. My eight year old daughter got hers from Santa. She hearts hers too. She's asked when she can have "toesies" (meaning Fivefingers). The kid already has a wetsuit for the triathlon she's doing in July. Oh, what have I DONE??????????

(3) I am also in possession of a super cool headlamp with a night vision setting. Which means Sweetness will probably soon drag me into Operation Hardcore: Phase Two -- Running in the Dark. With a headlamp. I wish I had known earlier in my life how much being active makes me feel like a total superhero, what with the technical gear and gadgets. A slow, chunky, middle-aged superhero, but a superhero nevertheless.

(4) Yes, this is a bonus. Tomorrow's the 5k. My stepson, who is 10, will be running the 10k. He'll probably finish the same time as me. Ah, youth is wasted on the young.

Resolutions, Schmesolutions

Bah, it's that time of year again.

You know what I'm talking about. It's that time of year when everyone picks out a part of their life they'd like to see improved, and vow to "get fit/lose weight/stop drinking/stop smoking/change jobs/work harder/work smarter/work less/yadda, yadda yadda." This comes in the form of a resolution. As in "resolved: I will do this thing that has eluded me lo these many years and FINALLY get my arms around this problematic part of my life."

Look, I'm all for improving one's life. But I'm not in favor of "resolutions." Because "resolutions" are recipes for failure. Have you ever, EVER seen someone hold to a New Year's Resolution? Me neither. That's because they're externally driven by society or by someone else's idea of what people should be doing with themselves. They're also driven only by the calendar. This is why people have a huge blow-out party on New Year's Eve; those with "resolutions" to keep know it's the last hurrah for a while.

Until, of course, the novelty of having a "resolution" to keep wears off and people revert to their old ways of being and doing.

Resolutions also get a big fail because they are too general. "I resolve to lose weight" can be accomplished by a steady, sensible eating plan and exercise over time, and it can also be accomplished by cutting off a limb (or doing a liquid diet, or having bariatric surgery, or some other equally radical quick fix). But one way is emotionally and physically healthy, and the other way lies madness. And after the madness, the weight comes back on. Yes, even for bariatric surgery patients. Because they have not dealt with the reason they are overweight in the first place.

Look, the bottom line is this: people get to the place where they intend to make lasting change happen in their own way and in their own time. And not a moment sooner. And it applies to all those places where it's dark, scary, and just plain hard. Weight loss. Fitness. Work. Relationship. Smoking. Drinking. Drug use. Mental health. Nonspecific, all-purpose brokenness. And also, forgiveness. Acceptance. And love.

So don't come talking to me about resolutions this week. I don't want to hear it. But I'll happily listen in mid-April. Or July. Or even October 21, at 2:33 P.M.

Whenever you're ready. And not a moment before.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Three Things Thursday: Christmas Eve edition

(1) Have I told you I'm training for a marathon? I haven't yet, have I. I will be running the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, Tennessee in December 2011 to raise money for St. Jude Hospital. I have a connection to Memphis, and to St. Jude, and this marathon, besides being my first, will be a homecoming of sorts. As things get closer, I will explain in more detail. For now let's just say that I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, and not just because I'll be on my feet for 6 hours.

(2) Because the St. Jude is my "A" race this year, I have solidified my race schedule for early spring of 2011. It will include the Steve Cullen 8k run in February, the Luck of the Irish 10k in March, and the Wisconsin half-marathon in May.

(3) My first 5k is next Friday. At noon. Sweetness is pacing me, even though, in real life, he's much, MUCH faster than I am. But he loves me, and I think he likes that I'm doing all this stuff with him. So I'm psyched.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hardcore, Part One

So. I'm registered to run my first 5k.

On December 31st. In Wisconsin.


So. Sunday afternoon, my husband (who will hereinafter be referred to as Sweetness) says "it's time to run outdoors, dear, and test your gear."

Of course he's right. Of COURSE he's right.

But do I want to run in sub-freezing temperatures? No. I don't.

So I suit up. I wear the following: brooks running tights, polypro base layer, eddie bauer windproof jacket, c9 wind pants, head gloves, and injinji socks with fivefinger bikilas. Also borrowed Sweetness's windproof North Face hat. I thought for sure I'd freeze.

Turns out, running outside in the cold makes me faster. I did 4 miles quicker than I ever have (though I am still painfully slow) and peeled off the hat and jacket within five minutes of my warm up walk. Only need a fleece ear wrap, I think, and may not need the wind pants if there's no serious wind.

It didn't hurt that I knew there was coffee at the end. Heh.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Minneapolis Duathlon, Part 3: Denouement, or How I Finished Last but Not Last

The first run leg, a distance of 1.5 miles, was a loop crossing the Mississippi River over two bridges: the Third Avenue Bridge going out, a little hop and skip through a park, and the Stone Arch Bridge back in to transition one. I started with every intention of doing the run/walk I had trained for. Run a little, walk a little. Rinse. Repeat. And I had read in many, many, MANY articles on how to complete your first endurance event to pace yourself and stick to your plan.

This is really difficult to do in real life. First, you are surrounded by tens to hundreds of other people who are running, some much, much faster than you do in real life, and the energy encourages you to start faster than your normal starting pace. Second, and maybe this is just particular to me, I got halfway across the Third Avenue Bridge, my alarm went off, I slowed down to walk, and some (well-intentioned but highly intrusive) guy put his hand on my back, boot camp PT style, and panted "come on! you can do it!" Had I been an observer it would have struck me as a kind and encouraging thing to do; as the target, it just made me want to pimp-slap him. After a while, he decided I wasn't going any faster than my mulish, 15 minute mile pace, and left me to my own devices midway through the park.

Coming up the walkway to the Stone Arch Bridge, my Vibrams got their first shout-out -- "FiveFingers Rock!" -- by a guy in Nike Frees. I wasn't feeling the love, as I was running over cobblestones and muttering "owowowow" at the time. (Note to self -- do better recon of the run conditions). But in all, I finished the first run a little early and transitioned on to the bike.

The bike leg was advertised as "fast and flat." But in the last 48 hours before the race, they re-routed the bike leg. Basically, the 12 miles went down, down, down, down. And downhill some more, leaving one to think that the second half would be nothing but up. In a 25 mph headwind. Which meant I was going downhill, but was unable to pick up any type of speed because of it.

This is where I started to hear the negative self-talk, which not coincidentally occurred right about the time that my blood sugar plummeted. The Voice said "you'll never make it. this headwind sucks, and you'll have 6 miles of uphill on the way back. you can quit now. just quit now." I stopped at mile 4, dug around in my pocket for my three Clif Margarita Shot Bloks and drank some water. Almost immediately, I felt better and hopped back on the bike, but still heard a lot of internal noise. "Who cares if you don't finish? Lots of people DNF. It'll be less humiliating than being last. Just pull over."

And then a very quiet, but firm Voice spoke. "This IS your personal best. You did that when you started back on the run leg. You do 12 mile bike rides all the time. This is just a bike ride. Keep riding."

So I did. I also distracted myself by counting how many people I saw throwing up (two), how many bike bottles I saw on the ground along the course (eleven), and swearing about the number of water stops along the bike course (zero. the only complaint I have about the race organization). The routing took me on a slight uphill, then flat course. I chicked a guy on a mountain bike. (He would later pass me on the second run leg, but oh well). Before I knew it, I was at T2.

And back over that #*^&% bridge again. By this time, it was clear that I was at the back of the back of the pack. But I wasn't really ready to see the sweep car behind me halfway through the park. I thought "dammit, I cannot possibly be last, I know there are people who transitioned behind me." The sweeps guy was really nice, and I teased him about having an entourage and feeling like a rock star. That said, it's a good thing that I have self-esteem, because the Stone Arch Bridge is a popular place to be on a late Sunday morning, and well, one big girl in a lime green singlet with a cop car following her is a bit of an attention getter. On the other hand, by this time I knew I'd finish, and it really didn't matter that I was last; I'd have met my goal.

One thing to get accustomed to as a back of the packer is how solitary it can be. This is most evident at the finish. Usually, by the time you get there as a BOPer, the bands are gone, all the good food has been eaten, and everyone's gone home but the race organizer peeps. So, finishing is bittersweet. You do all this work, and get all sweaty, and the party's moved elsewhere. If you are lucky (as I am) you have your wonderful husband waiting at the end for you with chocolate milk. So the race organizers gave me my medal, I got my banana, and sank onto the retaining wall.

And then. And then. The announcer said "it looks like we have a few more people finishing." Oh my God. Really?

It was true. I wasn't last. Fourteen people finished behind me.

And my husband and I stood at the finish and clapped and cheered for them all.

And really, out of all my personal bests that day, I think I'm proudest of that most of all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

3.76 miles

Very, very slowly. Ran some, walked a lot more.

The pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese I had at my birthday dinner didn't help. Dangit.

The bad news is, I didn't lose any weight last week. The good news is, I didn't gain any, either.


Thursday, December 9, 2010


Because I don't want cardiopulmonary disease.

Because I don't want to take statin drugs.

Because I don't want diabetes.

Because I want to be able to chase my children (and grandchildren) around the park.

Because I want to run up and down gorgeous mountain ranges with my sweet, cute, hot husband.

Because I love feeling the wind against my face, and in my hair, when I'm running, or on the back of the tandem.

Because I want to live, not just exist.

And if it takes funny shoes and spandex and my wiggly parts wiggling even more than usual,

I'll do it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Minneapolis Duathlon Fun Course: Part 2

It was a glorious day for a run and bike ride in Minneapolis.

As a complete aside, though I live in a midwestern city, I am not a midwesterner and I never will be. I was born and raised in the South, and I simply cannot understand midwestern stoicism. Nor do I tolerate midwestern winters well. But I do find Minneapolis a charming city. It's very bike and pedestrian friendly, and the downtown area has two bridges crossing the Mississippi River.

The run course was described in the race lit as a loop going out across one of those bridges and back across the other, and the bike course was a flat and fast out and back along the river as well. I anticipated pretty things to look at along the way.

My race support (also known as my sweet, cute, and loving husband) woke me up and brought me coffee and bagel thins, while I dithered and put on my gear.

A side note about gear. If you have any intention of doing any sort of physical activity, for the love of God PLEASE go and get yourself some good athletic gear. Don't limp along using old cotton t shirts and shoes off the rack from The Wal-Marts. I will talk more later about what, exactly, to buy, but suffice it to say that your experience will be far more comfortable in technical fabrics.

As I dithered, I began to get nervous, and started to hear a bunch of negative self-chatter. You know the kind. As it turns out, this is just your brain trying to protect your body from strenuous exercise. It's a protective mechanism, and one that we as humans have developed over time. I'll talk more about that later too. For now, all you need to know is this: tell it to shut. up.

Which is what I did. And so I went downstairs from the FAAAbulous hotel we stayed in -- The Depot -- and across the street to the starting line.

I shouldn't say starting line, because they were sending people off in waves every 10 minutes. As luck would have it, I was in the second to last wave. Which of course meant that there were very few people who would get to pass me before I would be dead freaking last. Oh joy.

The atmosphere was convivial. If you've never done an athletic event before, you should know that for the most part, the people who participate and run them are extra super positive, nice, and accepting. Also, you should know that these people come in all shapes and sizes. They are not all muscle heads with 9 percent body fat (though there are those). For the most part, they look, and are, normal.

Physically, I was as ready as I could be. Mentally, too. And then the airhorn sounded, and I was off.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Barefoot: Or, Why I Wear Those Funny Looking Shoes

I should maybe back up a little and tell you, really, how extraordinary it is that I run. At all.

I have tried in the course of my lifetime to run several times, and never, prior to this time, have I been successful in the least. I would go to the local Discount Shoe Barn, pick a purdy pair of "cross trainers," put on cotton gym socks, lace the whole thing up, and inevitably end 200 yards later with my knees and ankles screaming for mercy. I thought for sure I wasn't built for running.

But then, a couple of things happened. First of all, I met my husband, a former Marine, a distance runner, and a stubborn sweet talker with a penchant for persuading me to do things outside my comfort zone. Second, he started wearing these butt-ugly toe shoes and running in them, and miraculously his knee pain disappeared. And third, he thought it would be a good idea if I got a pair too, so that we could run together.

After much gentle but persistent harassment, one day, to shut him up, I watched a video of a Harvard evolutionary biologist, Dan Lieberman, explain why running shoes sucked. It featured a woman of about my build (read: like a brick shithouse) being wired up on a treadmill which recorded the comparative impact of her running stride in regular running shoes, and in these funky toe shoes. In the regular running shoes, her stride was longer and her foot struck the ground heel first. The impact on her body was incredible, a sharp peak on the monitor followed by a smaller ripple effect. In the weird shoes, her stride was shorter, and she landed mid-foot -- on the part between the toes and the heel. The monitor recorded a lower, more evenly distributed impact. This Lieberman fellow is convinced that running shoes change the body's natural running stride to our detriment, and that we are born to run . . . well, barefoot.

I thought, what the heck, and walked down to the basement, kicked off my shoes, and hopped on the treadmill.

Ten minutes later, I was ordering the funny looking shoes. Turns out, the Lieberman guy and my husband were on to something. In the funny shoes, my stride is shorter, and my foot hits the ground on the middle part of my foot. My knees don't hurt. My ankles don't hurt. It's amazing.

Yeah, they're Vibram FiveFingers. I have two pairs now, along with three pairs of funny toe socks.

They may be funny looking, but they turned me into a runner.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Maiden Voyage: Mineapolis Duathlon Fun Course, Part One

So, in a fit of . . . insanity? inspiration? both? . . . about two months ago the Husband and I signed up for the Minneapolis Duathlon Fun Course. When I announced this to my friends on facebook, and admitted I would be running 1.5 miles, biking 12 miles, and running 1.5 miles, all in one morning, I was asked why this would be considered the "Fun" course.

A year ago, I would have asked the same question. Putting on spandex and sweating excessively for a couple hours at a time didn't seem like my idea of fun either.

But then I had the epiphany that I am a type-A, goal-oriented person in all other areas of my life. Give me a deadline, and I will make. things. happen. I realized that if I applied that focus to my physical fitness, I might actually become, you know, FIT. And so I began the search for sporting events that were (1) within reason, physically speaking, (2) within reason, geographically speaking, and (3) within reason, financially speaking.

Duathlons fit all three. I have a bike. I have feet. I like ambulating on both. How bad could this be?

As it turns out, not so bad.

The Husband was going to do it "with" me (read: at the same time as me, but finishing far ahead of me) but then had to go and break his fourth metatarsal, leaving me to do the course solo, but with the side benefit of having extraordinary race support.

So we arrived in Minneapolis the day before to pick up racing chips and check in to the hotel. Minneapolis, by the way, is a lovely, green, progressive city. Very walkable and bikeable (that is, if your foot isn't broken). We stayed at the Depot, which was at one time the train station for the Hiawatha Line running between Minneapolis and (wouldn't you know it) Milwaukee. The room was lovely. The net access, not so much. Luckily, there is a coffee house steps away from the front vestibule of the hotel. Sweet.

The night before, we found a Noodles and Company and I tucked into a salad, Tuscan whole wheat linguine with grilled chicken, and a glass of wine. And lots of water. I slept like a rock.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Slow. Yeah, that pretty much describes my pace, be it run, bike, or swim.

But it could be worse. I could be unable to run, bike, or swim, and how crappy would that be?

I have never been an athlete. As a kid, my dad nicknamed me "grace" because of my general physical ineptitude. I vastly preferred sitting on the front porch with a book than running and playing with the neighborhood knuckleheads. Invariably, when trying something "sporty" I'd end up injured or embarrassed. Begged off on gym class as often as possible.

I have also never been skinny. And I don't mean an extra ten pounds that won't come off. I mean at the age of 14 I was 5 feet 9 inches, weighed 170 pounds, and looked like a full grown woman. Most of it was (and is) boobs and butt. Oh, and thighs. Now, after 2 kids, there's a tummy pooch too. Fun.

So for me to consider donning spandex and doing physical activity which causes my jiggly parts to jiggle even more violently . . . well, let's just say it wasn't in the picture.

Until I visited my hometown this past spring. I come from a small town in the South, and down there you don't run unless you're being chased by someone. Vegetables are boiled until gray with fat back included, and fruits generally come out of a can. Meat is almost always fried. It shows.

And I saw my mother for the first time in four years. She is probably up to 400 pounds now, and between the weight and her rheumatoid arthritis she can barely walk. I love her, but I have that genetic disposition, and I don't want to be her.

So here I am, on an almost daily basis wiggling my feet into funny shoes and sweating profusely, to get myself healthier.