Thursday, December 11, 2014

Baby, It Was Hot Outside (2014 Chicago Women's Half Marathon - Aug. 31)

Clearly this is long overdue. I haven't seen hot weather in a while! I've been finding it useful to me to go back and read reports of past races when preparing for new ones. Since I had taken notes on this race right after the event and just never managed to post them (perhaps because I was, oh, moving), I thought I'd go ahead and finally throw these out there. Perhaps they will be useful to you too.

Here's the link to when I was preparing for it. In it I mentioned planning to run with a pace group and figuring out my hydration/nutrition, along with my goals and in general hoping for an fun experience. In reviewing my notes I see that I addressed all of these concerns, so...

I lost my pace group almost immediately. I had been thinking to try for a 10:30 minute/mile pace (for a final time of 2:20) but then by mistake I locked in with the 2:30 group. By the time I realized this I couldn't catch up. It felt better to run on my own anyways, it always does.

I felt I got my fuel/hydration down pretty well:
  • 2.5 hours before I had tea and my Emergen-C;
  • 2 hours before I had oatmeal, a banana, and coffee (all this in transit);
  • 1 hour before I had half a Clif Bloks package and sips of water;
  • In the last half hour before the start I chewed some gum for a dry mouth but didn't take in any water;
  • I had two 10 oz. bottles of Tailwind in the chest pockets of my racing vest.
This plan worked well since I didn't have to make any pit stops on the course. I had some tummy tenderness during the last half of it (probably from the heat as much as anything else) but nothing unmanageable.

I knew with the heat and humidity I was going to have to take walk breaks every mile (rather than every other mile as I usually do at this distance), to give myself moments to cool down and so I could get more fluids in. I drank Tailwind at those breaks so had a steady intake of carbs during the race. As it turned out I didn't like having the bottles on my chest (I had even written about this with a previous race but didn't remember). When I run to work the chest bottles are balanced out by the stuff I'm carrying in the back pouch so I don't really notice them, but during a race I really notice the extra weight in front. I don't like using a hydration bladder (I just feel stupid sipping through a tube), so I'm going back to experimenting with gels for races, since I should always be able to access water on the course.

This race was billed as the first opportunity to run "The Magnificent Mile". Meh. I see these streets every day so it wasn't the thrill for me that it might have been. It felt the same as running downtown during the marathon. I didn't really like the activities structured around the race this year (a fashion show and black dress gala). It no longer feels about women's empowerment - we're all getting healthy together! - and more about women as consumers. I have very much loved this event in the past but since the new time (end of August) is also not a great time for me in the year (things get busy at work and school is about to start for the boys) I think I will sadly give this one a pass in the future.

I started the race with music but it jut didn't feel right so I turned it off until mile 7. Then over the last six miles I repeatedly tried to pick up my pace - and kept not being able to do it. I tried again with four miles to go... then again with two miles left... and then over the last mile I had to walk up the hills and resume running going down or on the straights. It was so frustrating - I can almost always push at the end and this time I just could not do it. Not even on the last stretch coming in to the finish line. Then I hit the finish line, stopped, and immediately felt chilled and sick. So it must have been the heat.

Official results: 2:17:48 total. 10:31 pace.

The first mile was 11:00 and then I was pretty much between 10:20-10:25 for miles two through eleven - I must have slowed down more than I thought in those last two miles. I was only 1:07 away from a PR - could I have found that on the course? The heat and humidity were out of my control. My training leading up to it, however, was more in my control, and it was not the best - I had missed a few long runs and endurance runs. I don't think that could have been avoided given what the rest of my summer was like, but I can't fall short on the training and then still hope for a PR

Could I have found another 30 seconds out there, just enough to lower my pace to 10:29? It doesn't really matter... but that I can even think that way shows me the power a number can have. Silly, but true for most serious runners I've found.

So, going back to my goals for this race, yes, I think I ran a strong and smart race given the weather conditions and my training. And yes, this race is well enough organized and I like the course enough that the actual experience of it is worth doing. But did I have fun? Was it exciting? Would I do it again? Not at the moment, no.

But never say never when it comes to races.

Non, je ne regrette rien -
Annie

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Scary Movie Month 2014

Despite all the work we were doing on the house in October to get it "viewing-ready" (for our annual Halloween party), we did make sure to celebrate Scary Movie Month with a good share of movies. To make it a little easier on ourselves we chose a number of well-loved ones and also split a number of them into two days viewing. And promised ourselves no movies about haunted houses, since we're still getting used to living in one. A house, that is, I don't have any reason to believe it may be haunted.

The Fog (John Carpenter - 1980)
Previously viewed in 2009
A classic, and scarier than I remembered. Lots of jumps! Of course we watched this in an old creaky house that is not familiar to us so we did have some "What is that?" moments after seeing this film.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957 - on Svengoolie)
This was a Svengoolie movie (a Chicago area horror movie host who shows on Saturday nights). Frequently I only make it through an hour or so of his selections but this one had us sticking through the awful low-budget commericials. If we'd been able to watch this straight through we might have been able to make it to the end as it was interesting, but in the end time was against us and we went to bed. Don't tell me the ending if you know it - I might want to watch it again some day.

American Werewolf in London (John Landis - 1981)
Previously viewed in 2005
One of the first scary movies I ever saw with The Dude, and again, better than I remembered it. Certainly funnier, and scarier to boot. And also just interesting. I love how these late 70s / early 80s movies could just take their time setting up the atmosphere.

The Host (Joon-ho Bong - 2006)
Previously viewed in 2006 (in the theater)
One of my favorite monster movies ever. And I love that it gives me a view into another culture as well. For me this is up there with Gojira (the original Japanese movie that was cut up and added to to make Godzilla) and I could watch these both every year.

Coraline (Henry Selick - 2009)
Previously viewed in 2009
If you have kids, be afraid, very afraid. When you're not busy being enchanted, that is. And do not let your children see this until they're at least eight.

Evil Dead 2 (directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell - 1987)
Previously viewed in 2006
Another one where I forgot how scary it is (and gross). Really I should have known better since I had the same experience with another Sam Raimi movie last year (Drag Me to Hell). Why do I only ever remember the funny bits of his movies?

Rope (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart - 1948)
We're working our way through Hitchcock, a new one every year. This one was a little tedious - it was adapted from a stage play and felt very "stagy" - it was also very much of its time and class and I had little sympathy for the characters (elite New York socialites / upper crust). But it was nicely suspenseful to watch the characters break down and it was nicely satisfying in its ending. Thank you, James Stewart, for making this worth our time after all.

Bloodlust! (1961 - on Mystery Science Theater 3000)
This would have been entertaining (not great, but entertaining) without all the interruptions. (Mystery Science Theater 3000 was another TV show that showed horror movies - but only B movies - and with ongoing commentary). It made me appreciate Svengoolie all the more, since he comments on the movie at set times but not all the way through. In the end I couldn't finish it. The best part was the opening feature, some promotional film from the National Dairy Council from the 60s. With that the constant snarky commentary amused me and improved on the film. But the nonstop chatter just took away from any suspense there might have been in the main feature, or any opportunity to build sympathy for the characters.

Creepshow (directed by George A. Romero, written by Steven King - 1982)
Previously viewed in 2008
A collection of five short films, paying homage to the classic horror book series. These didn't creep me out as much as when I saw it before (even the bug one), I think I've gotten used to a certain level of grossness. Instead they were weirdly familiar and comforting. It was good to have this to watch while we assembled more Ikea furniture, in our last push to get ready before our Halloween party.

Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero - 1978)
This was one of the few movies this year we watched all the way through in one night. Our party was past, and we could fully commit to Scary Movie Month. A good movie, and neat to think of it as a precursor to the many zombie movies that have since followed. And also to think back on its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead, and to see how this built on that one (and how times had changed in the ten years separating the two).

The Omen (directed by Richard Donner, starring Gregory Peck - 1976)
Two of my least favorite tropes in horror movies - demonic possession and children - combined in one movie! And yet it didn't feel real to me in the way The Exorcist did, and therefore not all that scary. Maybe because the child in this movie really just felt like a prop and not a real child? I didn't feel anything for him or have any good sense of the different relationships - so then who cares about the rest of it? This was a lesson that a truly scary movie also needs to be a good movie on its own. It did make me want to watch Firestarter to see if my theory about good child actors making a significant difference holds true.

My Name Is Bruce (Bruce Campbell - 2007)
Last one of the month. Halloween night. Something lighter to balance out the last two. But I still expected something better than what we got - maybe another Bubba Ho-Tep? Bruce has it in him to be good and this could have been an intersting reflection on what it means to be a B-list actor in some very good movies. Instead he was just a joke. Lesson from this one - the director matters. Bruce should not be directing himself.

So many movies I would have liked to have seen. But oh well. There's always next year!

What's your favorite scary movie (doesn't need to be horror)?

Still working through the Halloween candy -
Annie




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Baby, It Was Cold Outside (2014 Hot Chocolate 15K Race Recap)

Oh, what a cold day it was.

I decided to arrive late to avoid a long and cold wait in the 1st start wave. (With over 40,000 total race participants they had 20 different start corrals divided into two waves.) I didn't know for sure if it would work out to do so - if I would be allowed to move into a different corral or  have to wait till the very end instead - but it also allowed me to leave the house later. I like leaving the house at 5:35 a.m. instead of 5:10.

I had an extra pair of pants with me to wear on the way there and for afterwards, and a hoodie to throw away at the start (all throwaway items get collected and donated to local charities).

I've been more carefully timing my nutrition and liquids before races since reading Matt Fitzgerald's book "The New Rules of Half-Marathon Nutrition", both to make sure I have enough fuel for the event and to avoid needing a porta-potty during it. I ate my usual oatmeal with raisins and walnuts at home before leaving, with a small cup of coffee (if I'd left earlier I would have brought these with me and eaten them in transit). Then I brought just enough water with me to wet my mouth occasionally and to take with a Vega gel fifteen minutes before starting, and gum to chew on right before the beginning if I felt thirsty. For this race I didn't need to worry about super-hydrating the day before, since it was cold and not so long.

I got to the race site and found a porta-potty. Once I was there and could see what the weather conditions by the lake were like, I swapped out my usual running hat for a beanie so I wouldn't have to worry about my hat being blown off if we encountered serious wind (which we did).

It was well organized this time (I've done it three times before and each time there was something poorly planned). No lines at gear check, barely a line at the first porta-potty visit and NONE at the second, amazing. With no one else to worry about I took my time at the second porta-potty stop, taking a little shelter from the wind.

I walked over to the race corrals and then continued walking around the park, I didn't want to get in a corral any earlier than I needed to and wanted to just keep moving so I could stay relatively loose and warm. Once I was sure the first wave of corrals was closed and the race had started (so I wouldn't be directed to enter my actual, assigned corral, the last one of that wave) I started walking over to the 2nd wave to see if I could get into the first corral there. No problem! I entered 5 minutes before the official closing time (for a wait of 25 minutes before starting vs. a hour) and was even able to move right to the front. Sweet.

The announcers did a good job of keeping us entertained while we waited and the race officials did a good job of keeping us moving forward, reminding people to move to the side if they slowed down or stopped for water, and not to run more than two abreast, and then we were off.

I started quickly and wondered if maybe I was going too fast, but figured I'd check myself at the mile splits and see if I needed to adjust. There were also a couple of downhills right at the start as we went under streets and so I just went with the flow. I had turned on my Garmin, not to keep strict account of my mile splits but more as a timer. I compared their time against mine when I hit the first mile so I would know approximately when I crossed the starting line and how fast I took that first mile. It was a good thing I wasn't relying on my Garmin since we spent a chunk of time underground during that first mile and it doesn't handle that well, though it seemed to have adjusted itself by the end of the second mile.

So first mile done, okay, finished that in just over 10 minutes. All right, if I can keep this up with no bathroom breaks, and then push it at the end, I should be able to to break 1:30 overall. But better still would be to make every 5k split under half an hour.

When I race, as I pass each mile marker I set myself a clock goal for the next one, based on how fast I took the first mile and what my overall goal is. So for instance, in this race, I crossed the first mile marker at 55:40. Knowing I started at 45:16, I set myself a goal to cross the next one at 1:05:40 or sooner. And so on and so forth. And then I don't think about the rest of the distance much, just that next mile. If I go over (or under) my goal in that next mile I still give myself the full amount for the one after that - I don't start making adjustments to each individual mile goal until I'm a ways in and can more accurately gauge how I might perform going on.

Anyway, first mile done, going fast but not uncomfortably so. (I can still clearly remember the first time I ran a mile in 10 minutes and what an amazing thing it was to me. And how much effort it took!) Can I keep this up? I'll have to - and then some - if I want to make my goals. So I kept on for another mile. And then another. And then I was fully warmed up and crossing the first 5k in just under 30 minutes and I thought, I really could do this.

The course started in Grant Park, went north and underground to head over to the Loop, then south on Clark St., then jagged over to Michigan and then again to Lake Shore Drive where it stayed until heading over to the lake and then turning back north. There were some odd in-and-outs to make up the total distance so some tight turns, and it eventually ended by going around Soldier Field and the Museum Campus (the west side of the campus - the hillier side) and then back into Grant Park.

I'm pretty familiar with much of this terrain so there was nothing noteworthy per se. There was a lovely sunrise over the lake when I arrived at the park in the morning. It was interesting to see some bits of the South Loop that I hadn't before, especially the Columbia campus. And I knew the last mile would be surprisingly hilly and hard. So while I enjoyed my surroundings, my focus was on keeping as steady a pace as I could.

At mile 5 I took a walk break and had my second Vega gel. I'm still trying these out - I love the taste, and they go down easily, but the texture is a little gritty and I think I would want to switch things up if needing more than one gel. Any recommendations for vegan gels? I don't like Clif Shots. GU works well for me but their amino acids are from animal sources. I did just see that their VP of research and development was featured in the latest Runner's World (former Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet) - I may write to suggest they find plant sources for their amino acids to make them vegan friendly.

I took walk breaks at miles 2, 5 (for the gel), and 7 miles. I think these breaks make a lot of difference in being able to maintain a consistent effort - they refresh my legs, changing up the muscles used. I don't ever walk for long, maybe a minute, tops - but it's enough. And all the while I kept an eye out for those mile markers. I kept coming in consistently under 10 minutes, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot.

The second 5k split came and seemed pretty even to my first, maybe a little faster, so I knew unless the wheels fell off completely I would be able to make my 1:30 goal. And potentially then some! I was still feeling good but aware of the hills coming up which would slow me down, so I started speeding up a bit, both to bank some time against those hills and to see how much under 1:30 I could potentially go. I started passing people more deliberately and going down the hills more aggressively to get my legs used to the quicker turnover. It started getting a little crowded on the course, at times I had to push past people especially at the bottom of hills when I was going fast and couldn't easily slow down to avoid them. Watching the miles move by at closer to nine minutes pace than ten.

Then the last mile, with all those uphills. My goal here was just to keep moving, to keep a steady effort and not to worry about speed. Only a mile, now, only a mile. It was the longest-feeling mile on the course, though.

And then I was at the mile 9 marker, and there was the straightaway to the finish line just after (somehow it was still a very long feeling three-tenths of a mile). Could I pick it up again? Yes, I could! Once I got started I was just going too quickly to stop and had to push through two people running close together - a quick "Sorry!" and then through.

And then I was past the line and stopped immediately. Whew! I always feel for a moment that I might throw up. Then walking, walking. Yes to medal, thank you. Yes to water to save for later. I had a single goal at that point: gear check. There I would find warmer clothes to swap into or layer on, a change of shoes and socks, my home-made sports drink (water, lemon juice, agave nectar, cayenne, salt, and chia seeds) and food. I tried to find my group in the Runner Reunite section but couldn't, and it was just too cold to wait. Grabbed my free sample of blue corn chips and left. SO many people! I walked over to the restaurant where we would be meeting up but it wasn't open yet, so I stopped by a Starbucks for a decaf americano to warm me and to get some spicy seed mix and a banana, since the food I brought wasn't inspiring me, and then hopped on the train and headed home.

Final time: 1:27:44 (nearly 5 minutes off my previous best).

5k splits:
  • 5k - 29:41 (9:34 pace)
  • 10k - 59:08 (9:31 pace)
  • 15k - 1:27:44 (9:25 pace)

213th of 1118 in my age group - top 20%.

I'll take it!

Proudly yours,
Annie

Friday, November 14, 2014

Building Up

I've been experimenting with what I can realistically do in the mornings before the household wakes up. I'd like to increase the amount of time I spend boxing each week, and also the intensity of those workouts. I had been doing some every morning, gradually increasing the amount of time each day and thereby increasing my weekly totals. But I was finding, just as I have with my running, that if I'm doing it every day I have to go easy every day. I had a couple of weeks where it felt as if I was just putting in the time - and that is valuable, that teaches my mind as well as my body to get used to that amount of time on my feet / in the ring. But over the days I became less thrilled with the quality of that time. This is actually a small victory for me - I had acclimated to the longer times! That's no small thing for someone who is trying to maintain a solo practice.

So this week I started doing longer, but fewer, sessions. Just as I do with running (I typically run four times a week: two easy short- to mid-distance runs, and then one tempo or speed session and one long run*), I'll box four times a week, and continue to increase the amount of time I spend doing it - but now I'll be able to increase the intensity as well. And go on like that until I just can't increase the amount of time I spend on it in a week, at least not without giving something else up.

Now it's ever more clear to me that I need to find some training. There's a UFC Gym near my work that offers free sample classes, and I think I'll try to get a session in December. And then keep exploring my options.

Ever hopefully yours,
Annie

*I'd like to run five times a week, but right now I'm not running at all on weekends, and I need a day's break during the week.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Getting Ready

This Sunday is the Hot Chocolate 15k. It's my fourth time running it. It's the first race in a long time where I've been able to stick with my training plan pretty closely, and I was feeling good about it. My paces for my speed workouts and tempo runs have been much faster than my training plan called for in fact, since I had input my results from my last race (the Chicago Women's Half) which was tremendously hot and humid, but it's gotten a lot cooler since then.

I think I finally have the hang of how to work the Runners' World Smart Coach training plans so they work for me - a lower mileage range but high intensity. I naturally push myself hard, but I can't always get in all the miles, just from life conflicts.

I was feeling good about this and then I got a cold at the beginning of this week. I still wasn't worried - just a cold, after all, and plenty of time until race day - but yesterday did not feel good. All I can do at this point is rest as much as I can today and see what tomorrow brings me.

My first goal, as always, is to run a "smart" race, depending on the circumstances of the day (such as being sick), but also one where I feel I left it all out there. My second goal is to break 1:30. And my third is to just take as much time as I can off my PR (1:32:30 in 2010).

I'm excited about the course, we'll be running a lot of the trail but not until the second half (so hopefully the crowds will thin out by then), plus some time on both Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. The race finishes heading north into Grant Park, so the usual challenging uphills right before the end. But I'm familiar with them at least. I think they've finally worked out the logistics of the sheer number of people (+40,000); yesterday's packet pickup and expo was MUCH better organized than it's ever been in the past. I'm trying to work the start corrals so that I don't spend a lot of time waiting around in them - my initial assignment had me at the end of the first wave which would mean nearly an hour of standing around. I've requested to be moved back (so I can start at the beginning of the second wave) but if need be I'll just show up late. Everything is chip-timed as it is, and I know from experience that I'll be spending the first mile or more just trying to get free of people, so I'd rather do it after 15 minutes of standing around than an hour.

More after Sunday!

With hope,
Annie

Saturday, October 25, 2014

On The Road Again

Well, after a break of maybe four years (and my license expired), I drove the car again. Got a call from The Dude saying Buddy's bike had broken down on their way to soccer practice and could I drive down to where they were with a screwdriver. After trying to think of all the different ways they could possibly manage without my doing it, I got the Goo dressed, found my keys, grabbed the tool kit, screwdrivers, and diaper bag and headed to the garage.

I don't think I have ever been more freaked out in my life.

And then I just did one thing at a time. Turned on the light in the garage. Got Goo in the car seat. Put the other stuff in the front seat. Sat down. Adjusted the seat and the rearview mirror. Put on my seat belt. Checked the emergency brake. Turned on the car (keeping it in park) and tried out the pedals to remind myself which was which. Opened the garage door. Put the car in reverse and backed out into the alley. Closed the garage door. Drove the 3/4 mile to where the boys were waiting for me on the side of the road.

And then after they fixed the bike, I loaded up the car with tools and toddler again and drove back home. They continued to soccer.

And you know what?

It felt good.

It really does come back to you. Just like "riding a bike" (something else I don't want to do in Chicago but with more reason, I think).

I can't wait to get re-licensed and be officially (ahem, legally) on the road again.

Bravely,
Annie

Friday, October 24, 2014

Still Slugging Away

As you may remember, I was given a gift certificate for a month-long small group class at my gym, and I chose to use it in May for boxing. And promptly fell in love with with the sport, so much so that I quickly signed up to take the class again in June.

I knew I would not be able to take the class in July, so I asked the instructor for suggestions for training on my own for that month. I also went ahead and found an instruction book for women from Gleason's Gym (yes, that Gleason's Gym).

During July I mostly trained at my gym in their open studio room, following a routine similar to what we'd done in class (minus the heavy and double-end bags and partner work). So, shadow-boxing, drills, jumping rope, and boxing-specific strength training, with some cardio work before and afterwards just to make it feel like a full workout.

August came and we knew we would be moving and that life would be too busy (and funds too tight) to take another class. I also knew I would be losing my gym membership once we moved. I knew if I were going to continue with boxing I would need to find a way to do it truly on my own. 

Of course I asked myself whether it made sense to continue at all. Do I need to be doing this? What for? Especially knowing that it may be a long time before I can work with a trainer again and longer still before I would be able to spar. And then one night I had a dream... and when I woke up the answer was clear. Yes. Pursue this.

And with renewed dedication, I found ways to motivate myself for those times when it's hard to continue on my own, and worked on finding a way to fit this into my life. I spent September practicing routines and habits so everything wouldn't be new once we moved. 

So where am I now? Five to six days a week I get up early, make my tea, put away the dishes from the day before, say my prayers, and then head downstairs to the basement. I work on strength-training for both running and boxing for about 10 minutes, switching up my exercises each day. Then I start my drills and shadow-boxing. I started at about 45 minutes over the course of the week, am now at 75 minutes, and am working up to 90 minutes per week. How much I do in any given day depends on what's going on in my day overall and what other workout I have planned. I don't jump rope right now - the ceiling in the basement isn't high enough and I don't have time to go outside and then back in again, every minute in the morning matters. That's fine, I have confidence I can pick up jumping rope again easily enough. I would love to have a heavy bag or speed bag in the basement - maybe as a Christmas present?

And then I stretch a bit, go upstairs and get myself and the kids ready for the day, and get my run in after dropping The Goo off at daycare.

I do plan to find someone I can work with on an intermittent basis, and eventually I'd like to find a gym I can work at regularly. I've looked into the Park District gyms and there are none near me that offer boxing but perhaps that will change. And next year I plan to attend the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament so that I can connect with the women's boxing community in Chicago - there is a Masters level at the Golden Gloves so there have to be other women my age out there doing this!

Life is good.

Contentedly,
Annie