Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Biting the proverbial bullet

Today was one of those days. You know, when you feel like dragging yourself up a flight of stairs is a true effort and there should be a cupcake (with peach frosting, specifically from Babycakes) waiting at the top as a reward. Or maybe that's just me.

Mmm, chocolate-peach babycakes cupcake
With the double marathon thing coming up in less than 5 weeks, I had to go running. But that was really the last thing I could conceive of doing. Even after a 20oz iced coffee (that actually made me even more tired...yes I know I should probably lay off the caffeine thing. But it tastes sooo goood).

So when I got home, I promptly hit the couch for a *quick* snooze. It was magical, all 40 minutes of it. I was actually running in my dream. Not from zombies or even for the bus. Just running. Yet when I woke up, physical activity was still less than desirable. Conclusion: couch too comfy.
Nope, not my couch. But isn't it awesome?!
For those who want it...now: Link

Since I knew I had to bite the bullet sooner or later, and I wanted to catch the sunset too, I took a few bites of a Black Cherry Almond Clif bar, downed a glass of water and made suggestive eye contact with my running shoes. Still no spark. Much like when my Garmin tries to get GPS signal on a cloudy day.

It was really the perfect evening, I could hardly complain. But don't get me wrong, there was all kinds of complaining going on in my head as I took off.

I feel like I go through an emotional and physical roller coaster during a run, irrespective of distance. There are moments when I could punch somebody, or everybody for that matter, and then there are moments when I just want to remain forever and ever in a newly acquired state of bliss.
The marathon.

Here is how it went down today:
(note - I did not actually talk to myself out loud. It was tempting though)

Mile 1 - so this is really happening?! @#$%^&*!
Mile 1.5 - when will this be over?
Mile 2 - I feel (and probably look) like an elephant.
Mile 2.5 - that double marathon in 4.5 weeks is a funny concept.
Mile 3 - left, right, left, ri - oh look a bird!
Mile 4 - Okay, maybe I can do this....
Mile 6 - This is pretty awesome. Ooh, that random street looks like so much fun. Detour!
Mile 7 - Lala -lalalala-lala-lala
Mile 8 - Step aside, old pedestrian lady 'cause I'm flying' like a madwoman (but am not very coordinated)
Mile 8.5 - I don't want to go home yet. Detour!
Mile 9 - Weeeee! I'm done. But now my arms feel like they're missing out on the action.

So I headed to the gym for a quick date with some free weights and threw in some fun on the leg press machine for good measure. (I'm not sure why but I absolutely love that thing. It's just so...comfy)
The morale of my rambling is that in most cases, I have the greatest running adventures when I least feel like going, to begin with. That's true for yoga classes, too. When I feel like I could hardly hold a downward dog and I am so not motivated to get to class - I pretty much always have the best time ever.

So, in general, I like to blindly throw myself into workout situations that seem least desirable - because somewhere inside that head of mine something is reassuring me that it's going to be a blast.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tricks of the Treadmill

Treadmill, dread-mill...it's usually not so much fun. And as the weather gets so amazingly pretty, why would I ever be caught running in place versus roaming the outdoors?! You'd think it's a no-brainer, especially since I live so close to the beach.


Nevertheless, sometimes I actually want to hit the mill. Sometimes, I don't want to pay attention to my surroundings and just want to relax really intensely, if that makes sense. With no bikes, birds, homeless people or tourists (hey, it's Venice) to dodge, the treadmill requires no brain power and is pretty ideal for mindless running. As long as you manage to keep moving fast enough to stay on it, of course. And yes, I have managed to fall off, though not recently. Must be all the kale I've been eating.

I had the same intentions yesterday, so I went down to the gym in my apartment complex and took the last treadmill, sandwiched between a bunch of buffer-puffers walking uphill. Come to think of it, it's all very hamster-like.

Unsurprisingly, after a few miles of much appreciated empty-mindedness, I got really, painfully bored.

So, I brought out some tricks I taught myself while I was living in London - a city I adore and miss dearly, but one that abounds in crappy weather conditions.

I have found the key to treadmill happiness to be changing things up and regular intervals. Sometimes I will change the incline every 0.5 miles by 0.5% or 1.0%.
Example: run 1 mile, then bump up the incline by 0.5% each half a mile until you hit 4 miles at 3%, then scale back the same way until you're back to flat. That's 7 miles made a little more entertaining.

I also like to play a pace-pyramid.
Example: Run 1 mile to warm up. Or if you're not yet bored, run 2. Then, increase your speed by one increment (depends on the treadmill, but say, 0.1mph) every 0.25 miles, which is a lap around the track. Keep doing this until you are running at about 75-80% effort, sustain this for 0.25-0.5 miles, then slow it back down gradually. Repeat as desired. This, I have found, happens to be a really effective form of training that is much easier to do on a treadmill versus out in the wild.

Again - just try to stay on it. It might be funny to others, but it's not so pretty to fall off.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Extra Mile

Let's play some running jeopardy.

Q: The first woman to be the overall winner at the Badwater Ultramarathon – a 135 mile race across Death Valley, in the middle of summer, with a few mountains climbs thrown in, just for fun. Oh, and she won it 2 years in a row. 

A: Who is Pam Reed?!

I just finished reading her 2006 book, The Extra Mile. Quick and fun, it reads much like an autobiography. Her personality really comes through and she gets very personal – through her long battle with anorexia nervosa, marriages, children and how she kept running a part of her life even when it seemed like she was sacrificing so much else.

Many of the stories shed light on the unsurprising fact that men do not like to be “chicked” (i.e., passed by a woman) and that a woman has to accomplish far more to be taken seriously as a competitor, relative to what a male runner would have to achieve. Why? Did I mention men don’t like to be chicked?
I really appreciate women like Pam who show how much booty women can kick if they really try.  

I’m no feminist, and it’s not like I think women are “oppressed” in the world of sports or something. I just think that athletic achievements of the female gender are way undervalued and underrated. With all the attention to superskinny models and A-list celebrities, I just think young girls could really use some strong, positive role models from the world of sports. But in a face-off with men’s sports (or the Kardashians), it’s easy to guess which way media coverage would go.  

Many women never really consider competing against men. It’s becoming a better known fact, however, that in long distances, women seem to have an edge over men, which is why the gap in world records between genders narrows with the length of the race. Pretty cool, right?  

Anyway, here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I wanted to highlight from Pam’s book, on how to make it through a really long race:

“No matter how daunting a race might be, I start out trying to convince myself that it’s “obstacle free”. There are always lots of problems if you know where to look for them. And if you can’t find them, you can always create them.” Genius.

“I try to stay away from negative thoughts […] Aside from keeping track of food and drink, my ideal mental state in a race is not thinking about anything.”

“Not liking to run long distances is actually why I’ve been able to run 100-mile races […] I do it 1 mile at a time. In my own mind, I’m not really running 100 miles. I’m running 1 mile 100 times.” (I usually break marathons down into 5-k or 10-k distances...that's worked pretty well so far)

Quoting the race director of the Leadville Trail 100: “You are better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can.” Amen.

As I prepare for my first ultras this year, I’m pretty darn excited, but super nervous at the same time. But I’m also confident that I can do it, because that’s what I have decided. Period.

Random curious fact: Speaking of period, Pam also describes a ‘funny’ but less than pleasant experience whereby she got her period at mile 90 of the Badwater race. She kept going and still finished fourth overall, the second woman, though she wasn’t having such a great race (oh I wonder why). This lady’s a tough cookie to crack.

I’m sure that by now you want to do something to improve athletic opportunities for girls & encourage young ones to get off the couch and get movin’. You can have a tremendous impact by supporting the Women’s Sports Foundation. They’re the largest charity in the US to do just that and I will be running my butt off for 52.4 miles (a double of the official marathon) on July 29th in San Francisco to support them. As of today, I need to raise $343 more to meet my fundraising target so instead of buying me a drink, please sponsor my run. Drop some money, any amount in my virtual bucket, won’t you?  Check out the link on the right or click here to donate. Thank you. Gracias. Koszonom. Merci. Danke. Grazie. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Destination: Hungary

Destination: Hungary
It's been a holiday long weekend of sorts and naturally, at least half of my suitcase is filled with running gear. You just can't trust that the weather will comply, so it only makes sense to prepare for all kinds of conditions.

The best part of being somewhere different is the chance to explore, to discover new ground. In running shoes, of course. I brought 2 pairs so I could alternate. Perfectly normal.
I don't get to come back to Hungary too often...I was born and grew up here but didn't run around much back then, so it's fun and nostalgic.

A huge benefit(?) of new running routes is that I generally have no idea how far I have run (my ability to tell time, let along distance, disappears as soon as I set into motion).

Enter to the rescue: my Garmin. But not this time.

As much as I want to log my miles in an exact fashion, as much as I want to know precisely how far I have run on any given day, I have actually been running gadget-less since I landed in Hungary, with no virtual buddy to track me.

Places I've been running...outskirts of Budapest and by Lake Balaton
Now I know what running naked must feel like. I did bring a simple watch to keep me sane and be able to tell time though. And I wash't really naked (like that needed to be confirmed).

Simple, but effective time-keeping device...
Oh, and did I mention I ditched my iPod shuffle, too? Uh-huh, I went all out. No Skrillex to jazz me up.

I kid you not, it has been magical. I love my gadgets, but what I love even more now is this crazy sense of freedom. No pace to keep, no milage goal. Just new terrain, new scenery and my pretty hot pink running shoes leading the way.
I love my new "other pair": Brooks PureCadence
Not having music on lets me focus more on my breathing, which is something I've been meaning to do more of for so long. Much like organizing my closet, though admittedly, that may never get done. The plan: inhale, and potentially even exhale though my nose...like yoga on the run to improve aerobic capacity and calm the nervous system. It also keeps your effort level in check for what are meant to be aerobic/easy, longer runs.

The icing on the cake - I took my little (okay, at 14 he is now less of a baby but still) brother out on a short spin around the park. We ran a loop and he kept a pretty swift pace. I was proud and all smiles. I told him after loop #1 that we are, in fact, doing 2 (it's a 0.5mi loop), which got a less than enthusiastic response...until I also told him to go and pass all the other runners on the course. Then, off we took again, I think even faster this time.

My awesome brother striking a pose...or trying to scare me.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: "Eat & Run"

I eat. And I run. I'm even vegan. But I am still not (a female version of) Scott Jurek.
In case you haven't heard, Mr. Vegan Master of the Ultrarunning universe, Scott Jurek, is out with his first book - Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness.

Naturally, I got it and devoured it as soon as it hit the (virtual) shelves. In the book, Scott talks about his upbringing, early athletic career, struggles and victories both in running and life. It was a really quick read, incredibly engaging.

Each of the 21 chapters is a story in itself, and many of those stories tie together at some point in the book. Each chapter ends with a yummy-sounding recipe, which I would have gotten up to make right away - if only I wasn't too involved in reading the book. Most of the chapters also end with a little paragraph with some basic training advice.

To Scott, optimal nutrition drives performance and he talks at length about how he has tweaked his diet before and after becoming vegan. There is a lot of detail about how food works with your body and though I tend to read such claims with one eyebrow constantly raised (I know I need to stop or else I'll develop some unsightly wrinkles), I actually really liked and agreed with a great majority of the information he laid out. No glaring scientific inaccuracies, which I was incredibly happy about (and yet expected no less).

He is extraordinary, beyond dedicated and clearly superhuman. Even if he claims he was not born with any genetic athletic superiority. Sidenote: Don't you just love how both Scott Jurek and Dean Karnazes ("Ultramarathonman") claim they are generically 'average', yet both are capable of unbelievable physical accomplishments (Dean recently ran across the continent of the US and Scott holds a laundry list of long distance running records - but they are so different that I am not making a comparison). I assume this is meant to send a message of "you can do whatever you set your mind to," which is fantastic but I still don't believe that they are not superhuman. If not physically, then mentally. Moving on...

An unconventionally inspirational, very matter-of-fact (which describes the book itself) quote makes appearances in every story told. Sometimes you just do things. I can't argue with that (and I'm sure Nike would agree)...it has now pulled me through a few tough moments on my recent runs. So, thank you to Scott's dad, the author of that not-so-unique-but-powerful sentence.

The running stories are incredible. I have added a few ultras to my "must do" and even more to my "must never do" list.

The Energizer bunny's got nothing on Scott.

The recipes are a shining example of what most would call "hippie vegan" and I'm perfectly fine with that. Lots of fruits, veg, grains and greens, Flora Oil Omega 3-6-9 (one of Scott's sponsors), miso, coconut oil/flakes, chia seeds, tempeh, etc. Most seem relatively uncomplicated and I'm excited to try them out (and do the nutritional analysis, of course, which is really the only thing that's missing from the book). I'm probably going to start with long run foods - as I am getting really tired of gels and could kill for some real food a few hours into a run. Posts on that later.

Even if I don't yet think of marathons as short walks around the park and I haven't signed up for a 100-mile race (I'm calling it an exercise in patience but it's really that I am super scared...even of my 100k (62miles)), I loved this book and may end up reading it again one day. Yes, I do that sort of thing once in a while.

The next book on my list, which I am already well into and loving (but in a different way and I'll tell you why later): The Extra Mile by Pam Reed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Running Chi-Town - 13.1 Chicago Race Recap

I can hardly remember the last time I visited Chicago - and what better way to explore the city than through running? Theoretically - awesome. In practice - the race did not cover much ground in the actual city.

Such a great city. (source)
Nevertheless, the course was pretty Fun, Flat, Fast & Fantastic. Since I wasn't running "race pace", I noticed things beyond the pavement, Garmin screen and runners ahead. I sort of had to, because despite the slower pace, feverish chills and congestion are not happy company for any runner.

Note to self: running 13.1 (or however many) miles in 85ish degree heat and high humidity when you are sick, contrary to popular belief, is not therapeutic. Even if, on some level, I did perhaps question whether this would actually be good for me, not running never really crossed my mind. I was not going to bail on accompanying Daniel and his 2nd half marathon adventure. Though I suppose there were times in the race when he seemed to wish I did (apparently I was having too much fun, which may not have been true for everyone around me?). Either way, we finished together and everyone was happy (especially after some beer and iced coffee!)

Anyway, let's get some race facts in order.

Early morning drill...
Start time was 7am, which is nice and allowed for a little sleep-in... The organizers provided shuttles from 2 different locations in the city and one of them happened to be a 5 minute walk from the hotel. *Joy* Our shuttle left at 5:30am and was at the start by 6am, leaving plenty of time for all those routine pre-race things.

The magnitude of start corrals was crazy/impressive. There was a corral for pretty much every letter of the alphabet, based on estimated finish times. Wave starts were separated by 1:30-2:00 minutes, so I would have been pretty annoyed in, say, corral Z.

But there were about 5,000 runners/walkers and since all were to be unleashed onto a narrowish bike path, I totally understand (and appreciate) the intention to separate people. It didn't feel crowded, even as runners were rushing/sprinting back on the other side of the path (it is an out and back course).

The beauty of out-and-back courses is that you can see and cheer on those really fast people that sprint by when you've still got a good way to go...and then once you've turned around, you are reminded that, in fact, you are not the last person and you may just chill out. And keep cheering.

The course runs along Lake Michigan, on the lakefront bike path, and is quite picturesque. The scenery does not change much through the run, but there are subtle variations or sights in the distance that keep it interesting.

Given the heat, there were a handful of sprinklers along the course, which felt like heaven. They were giving out hand towels too, which would have been useful, had they been cold. Ice was also being handed out in water cups, and while I debated stuffing some down my shirt, I decided to just cool my water with it.

Hot or not though, the winner did set a new course record of 1:08:02. I bet he really wanted to get out of there. Fast. The lady winner finished in 1:22:40, which is still pretty amazing.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the event and it sort of makes me re-think my aversion to running the Los Angeles edition of the 13.1 series (though that course is hardly appealing).

 That's a big bucket of shoes! Imagine how smelly it must be in there.
I do love it when races make a real effort for charity.
And of course, there was a beer tent. And deep-dish pizza, too, as one might expect in Chicago (I passed on that one). Oh, and I re-realized that I really, really like this city.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Race Recap - Ojai 2 Ocean Marathon

Marathon #11 is now history.

I enjoyed it, though not in the traditional sense. While I was reminded how many issues you can run into during a 26.2mile run (so not pleasant), I also realized I am actually quite risk averse when it comes to running. I can't help but obey what my body tells me to do and I don't like the thought of ending up injured - no PR is worth being sidelined for in my world. So, given the circumstances, slow and steady was the name of the game and I successfully finished way off my target, clocking out of the race with a 4:09:05 time. But you know what? I was still smiling.
Before the race (post-coffee)

After, with a really strange grin on my face


We were shuttled to the start, in Ojai, from Ventura - the eventual finish by the beach. The 6am race start meant a 330am wake-up call. We stayed in the Marriott, which was close enough, but had we booked at the Crowne Plaza, I would have been walking distance from the shuttle stop. The ride took about 20 minutes and I'm glad I  took the 4:45 ride...left me with just enough time to do everything, bag drop, visit important places and all.

This was a small race...but very well organized. Not much standing in line for anything.

Random story: I had a really interesting conversation with a Japanese man on the shuttle - a really wise and impressive guy. He has run races on all 7 continents, totaling about 250 races. His favorite? Himalaya 100miles. He showed up for Ojai, having had no sleep and after running the Diablo trail marathon in NorCal the day before (a hard, hard race I am told). His goal? 1000 races, and one in every country of the world. He was like an encyclopedia of race reviews. So awesome. But he kept saying how he believes in slow food and slow running because he wants to run for as long as he is alive. Clearly, I agree.

Moving on...


First half of the course...ish
The polar opposite to large, city races. Calm and quiet, no real spectators (except at the finish), about 800 runners and a sleepy, sometimes scenic but generally sometimes boring course. Okay, that last part describes a many larger races, too. The course was technically easy and fast, given a large net elevation drop and flat territory for the last 6 miles. But if you went out too fast on the 3-mile climb from mile 3-6...well you probably wouldn't have been happy by 20 anyway.
Most of the course is run on bike paths and the quality of the road is pretty decent. There is also a trail option (unofficial option, but it ran right next to the path for about half of the race) if that's your kind of thing. My joints were thankful.
In general, it's a great race that lets you get into your zone, once you find it, and there are no disturbances to shake you out of that. But you better find that zone to finish.
Gels provided on course
Though I appreciated the chance to meditate, I did miss that extra bit of adrenaline that larger races give you.

Aid stations - about every 2.5 miles or so. I ran with a handheld bottle, which was necessary. Gels and electrolytes were provided at 3 stations, or at least that's all I saw. Of course, having your own gels will help avoid many potential problems, unless you've used and know what's provided.


Forget Disneyland. This is the happiest place on Earth! Ok, not really. I was happy to be done, but also had a nice stroll going into the finish, so I had to end my meditation session. The finish area was pretty well organized and it was easy to find people. As for food...the usual suspects made an appearance: bagels, bananas, orange wedges, mini CLIF bars (yay!). There was also a sports massage tent, but I had made a reservation at the Massage Place and my legs were eager to get there asap.
Recycled steel medals. Pretty cool
Overall impression: The race was super well organized, low-key and I am super happy I did it. Great fun and great PR potential for those who care! :)