Monday, May 31, 2010

To The Start Of Summer!

Marathon training season officially started for me today with a lovely 10-mile run, longest run of the year so far. Took the first five miles nice and easy (it was humid today), slowed down a bit over miles six into seven, then started feeling not only revived but sassy, so took the last three miles quick. But true to my resolution to run by feel and not by time, I did not wear a watch, so I don't know my pace. Just that it felt really good to run hard and that I surprised myself at how good it felt and how long I kept going hard --- I had been nervous about the run today since it had been about a month since my last long run, at 9 miles.

And then I came home and had my snack while lying in an ice bath. Fun times!

Music listened to: Nikka Costa's most recent album, "Pebble to a Pearl," and "Just Because I'm A Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton" with covers by a wide variety of artists such as Alison Kraus, Sinead O'Connor, Me'Shell Ndegoecello, Shania Twain, and others.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

I'll Take All The Advice I Can Get (I Just May Not Listen To It)

After Sunday's DNF from the heat, I was very happy to see "Coach Jenny"'s advice on running hot marathons in Runner's World. It's cooled down a bunch here this week but everyone I know who is planning on doing the Chicago Marathon is a wee bit nervous about what the weather will be like this year, both for race day and the months of training beforehand. Not much to do but pay attention to the weather reports, be careful, and take shady routes as much as possible.

Cookies, Cookies, and More Cookies

There's been a lot of cookie baking going on around here this past week, which is kind of silly, 'cause it's also been hot and humid. I had to do my baking when everyone else was either out of the house or asleep, so I wouldn't have to listen to the grousing.

The first batch was for me, just because. My favorite --- Spicy Oatmeal Raisin, heavily adapted from "How It All Vegan." Some of this got given away and a lot went into the freezer once I realized I would be doing other baking this week. My photos didn't come out well enough, but here's my version of the recipe:

Spicy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup quick oats
1 cup flour (I use half spelt, half all-purpose unbleached white)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp dried cardamom
½ tsp pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 banana, mashed
½ cup dry sweetener
2 tbsp oil
1 cup sour milk (milk or soy milk + 1 tsp vinegar)
½ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts
½ cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F. In a large bowl, stir together the oats, flour, salt, baking soda, and spices. In a second bowl, mix the mashed banana, sweetener, oil, and sour milk. Add this wet mixture to the dry one, and mix together gently. Add the raisins, nuts, and chocolate chips and stir until just combined. Scoop spoon-sized portions onto a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Makes 30-36 cookies. Halves well.

The next batch was for a friend of mine, who won a raffle I set up at work. Peanut butter cookies from "Baking Illustrated," the same folks who do America's Test Kitchen. I do not mess around with their recipes. Though I have found that I get more cookies per batch than they do, so there's something I'm not doing the same.

Also from "Baking Illustrated," their oatmeal-raisin cookies. This was for my uncle D. I'm offering a batch of home-made cookies to anyone who donates $35 or more to Girls On The Run
(you can donate here: http://www.active.com/donate/BofABonusSM2010/AEllis193), and he was the first one to take me up on the offer. I'm hoping there are many more! I do have a picture of these:
Next week I've got more peanut butter cookies, plus the ever-classic Tollhouse chocolate chip, for a bake sale for Buddy's daycare. But coming up this weekend --- strawberry shortcake! I haven't yet decided if I'll make these with a biscuit or a scone base. Either will be good. I'm feeling a little overloaded on sweets myself --- haven't even tried the oatmeal raisin from last night yet.

(Of course, my late night baking party was fueled by my all-time favorite gorp: dark chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and peanuts. Mmmm, gorp...)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Share Your Soles 10K Race Report

D.N.F. Did not finish.

In the end, it was just too hot for me. 89 degrees, long stretches without any shade, no breeze.

I ran the first half feeling okay. I kept myself pulled back the first mile, but then panicked a bit when I saw just how slowly I'd run it. So I picked up the pace and ran my next two miles progressively faster, feeling okay, and steady, slowing a bit when there was some shade to enjoy it, then running a bit quicker through the hot bits to get through them.

In retrospect, this was the exact wrong strategy, because then we ran out of shade and there were only hot bits left. But I'd already gotten myself hot trying to make up for lost time.

I have trouble with overheating, and once I got into that sun I realized I was uncomfortably close to my limits. I ended up completing the course - first giving up trying to best my previous time, then on finishing the second half faster than the first, and then I gave up on running altogether. I took off my timing chip and walked the rest of the way in, passing, along the way, the ambulance picking up those who didn't stop quite soon enough.

Overheating is such a frustrating experience. My legs felt fine, my breathing was fine, but my head - oh, she was not quite right. I've had enough experience with heat and with migraines to know that when my head is "not quite right" I need to immediately pull back, re-group, and get outside assistance if need be. Especially since that feeling usually comes with its playmates: bravado and stupidity.

So, I finished. I gathered up my gear bag. I ate my salty snacks and drank my Gatorade. I started the long walk back to the train stop. At my transfer station I had a long wait: long enough to feel completely fit again, long enough to feel completely dissatisfied with my morning's experience, long enough to doubt my decision and wonder why I left my darling child on a Sunday morning and why I bothered to race at all.

And then I got home, to my nice, shady, green neighborhood, and I decided I wanted to go for another run.

I went out for three miles, assuring The Dude that I would be careful (sort of). A few blocks in I realized what I really wanted to do was take it easy for the first half, pick up my pace for the second half, and finish with a strong kick for the last 400 meters. That I just hadn't gotten enough oomph in my day and I was going to get it now.

And so I did. And it was great. And once I finished and was walking around cooling down I realized this was exactly what I had visualized for myself as I trained for the race, for weeks now, and what I hadn't gotten from the race itself. And also that it was this feeling (starting steady, picking it up, picking it up, picking it up and then kicking. it. in.) and not the time, that I was really looking for in my race experience.

Ah-hah!

So, going forward, that's how I want to train and race. By feel more than by the clock. It makes sense - I'm never going to be fast - and weather conditions (and how much I've been sleeping) are always going to be out of my control. And that's okay. I loved running when I was super slow and getting faster has opened up some lovely new possibilities for me, but if I want to become like that "running granny" I wrote about last week then I've got to love the experience of it and not the results.

I got so excited by my new insights that I signed up for more races, just for fun. Next up, on June 6 - a 10K at the zoo with Buddy and some friends, untimed. And then July 18 another 10K at my favorite race location, Montrose Harbor, for pre-marathon practice in "racing by feel" - and dealing with the heat.

The day - redeemed. The excitement - back. The times - well, we'll see.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Ready?

I've got a race tomorrow, the Share Your Soles 10K.

I'm as ready as I can be, I guess. I know I'm stronger than I was at my last 10K six weeks ago - I've done some good speed workouts and long runs since then.

Mentally I definitely feel more prepared. I've done some "mindful" runs without music, have studied the course map and know approximately where the miles are, have figured out realistic goals for each mile and will write them on my arm tomorrow morning. I know it will be hot and am prepared for that. I know the course is not flat (it's Chicago, so I can't exactly say it's hilly, but it's not flat) and it's a out-and-back course so whatever elevation I find on my way out I will also find on my way back.

I've been fighting a cold for two weeks now and today it got a little uglier, so I'm not happy about that, and I didn't sleep well last night. Plus this week my ankle has been a bit noisier. But I'm going from the keyboard to some relaxing yoga, Tension Tamer tea and ice on the ankle, and then bed, so that's about all I can do about those things.

Wish me luck and cooler temps all morning!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oops, I Did It Again!

Getting ready to go out for my run this morning, reached into my bag to grab my iPod, and... nothing. I left it at work last night.

Sigh.

Today's was an easy 4-mile run, and again, I think it worked out for the best that I didn't have my tunes. I needed to make this easy, so that I don't wear myself down before Sunday's race, and I have a hard time keeping myself to an easy pace once I get warmed up and excited, especially if I've got rocking good music to run to.

So what did I do instead?

~ Focused on my breathing again, making sure I kept everything nice and easy, smooth and constant.

~ Looked for irises, one of my favorite flowers. I always forget about them until they're in bloom since they're not often used in bouquets. But I love how rich they are, all different colors and textures, and how fragile they look but how tough they really are.

~ Admired gardens. Lots of pretty gardens in these neighborhoods, plus some "interesting" ones. I espeically liked the front yard all lined with wood chips for the three big fluffy dogs residing there.

~ Said "good morning" to anyone who looked like they might respond, and nodded at anyone who didn't.

~ Fantasized about someday qualifying for Boston. (Hah! Maybe if I'm still running when I'm eighty - and don't get much slower in the meantime.)

~ Sang to myself at the beginning of the run, when I needed a little help getting on. "Yell Fire" by Michael Franti.

~ Enjoyed all the green! Today was a beautiful sunny day, the first in a while, and by now all the trees are in full leaf and all the grass is grown back from winter. Everything looked lit from within, all that chlorophyll busy throwing off oxygen and energy. Glorious!

I may just start doing all my pre-race runs without music!

Hero of the Day

Wow! I just read about Mavis Hutchison, South African ultra-runner, who is in her eighties. Today is the anniverisary of her 1978 run across America. That's right, the whole country.

Here's the article in Runner's World, with a super-cool photo of her in her racing singlet. I'm printing this one out and putting it on my wall of inspiration at work.

Run on, Mavis!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yum!

I've been reading some food blogs lately, including a couple that focus on running and healthy eating. I love looking at the photos of beautiful salads.

I've been trying to figure out what is so compelling about these blogs to me, and I think a big part of it is nostalgia. This one in particular makes me think back to the one year I lived by myself in a small studio apartment - the first (and now probably the only) time I was in a place that was all mine. It was sunny and clean and compact and perfectly sized for me. I loved this apartment and I loved my little galley kitchen and I loved to spend my evenings coming up with beautiful food to eat and trying new things out that definitely made me fall into the "health nut" category. I was single and had almost no social life and could spend my time and money playing with expensive ingredients.

(Also, the author is more of an "assembler" than a serious cook, which is pretty much how I operate in the kitchen too.)

This evening I waited until Buddy went to bed and The Dude went to rehearsal before assembling my dinner, so I could sit and really take it in. And then it was so pretty on the mat and my dishes that I just had to take a photo. It was even yummier than it looks (our camera is on its last legs).


So for tonight's delectation I had a salad of romaine lettuce over our "magic salad" base. This is made up once a week of shredded carrots, cabbage, and radishes, with green onions added, and then we eat it all week long either on its own or mixed in with lettuce. I also added sunflower seeds and Annie's Goddess dressing thinned with apple cider vinegar.

Then the last piece of my new favorite pizza, the Gourmet Veggie Pizza from Chicago's Pizza. At first I wasn't convinced by this - eggplant is not my favorite vegetable! - but now I love it wholeheartedly. Broccoli, grilled eggplant, onions, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzerella and fresh spinach on their awesome tomato sauce and crust.

And later for dessert a small portion of blackberry cobbler topped with low-fat yoghurt, made healthier by cutting back the sugar and using half spelt flour in the topping. No photo here - this was made last Saturday and everything has fallen together by now. It was beautiful when it first came out of the oven though!

And I have to point out that the napkin is a Merimekko print from the 70's, carried from Chicago to Germany (where I lived in high school) to Massachusetts and now back in Chicago again. Talk about nostalgia!

Happy dinner to me!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oops

I left my iPod at home today. I was halfway down the block with Buddy when I realized I didn't have it - I knew I'd been travelling light this morning but not that light - if I hadn't had him I would have turned around and gotten it. So today was my first track workout ever without my tunes.

I was a little nervous about it since track workouts always require some extra oomph and music is the easiest way to get that. But I figured this would be good practice for the race on Sunday (Share Your Soles 10K) and just good practice in general. Also, it was a fairly easy workout as far as track workouts go, 6x400m.

And you know what? I think it worked out for the best! Right from the start I focused closely on my breathing, my form, and how my legs felt. I was trying for as consistent a feel as I could get, checking my time halfway through each repeat to confirm my pace and then adjust as need be. I used my breathing to slow me down when I suspected I might be going too fast, and then changed my breathing pattern at the very end when I wanted that last extra oomph and didn't know where I was going to get it from. And my repeats were the most consistent they've ever been, all at 2:13 with maybe a second's variance in either direction once I got through the first one.

Of course, it's one thing to focus this intensely when I'm only doing 400m at a time. After next week, when I start my marathon training in earnest, my track workouts are all mile repeats and that's a long time to focus so closely, especially given how slow I run. I will really want my music then. But I might try turning off the iPod for some of those repeats... you know, just to see how it feels.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tracking My Obsession - Part 2 - Off to the Races!

Once I moved to Chicago, in 2000, the running scene was hugely different. Chicago is a city full of runners and great running places. I mean, you can't go anywhere without seeing runners, and if you're anywhere close to the lake you can barely keep from tripping on them. I had taken a break from regular running during my last months in Massachusetts as I become more and more involved in martial arts study, but now I started again, and even signed up for another marathon training program that did not involve fundraising.

Part of this training program involved my first road race, the 2001 Chicago Distance Classic. It was not love at first race. It was brutal. It was hot, of course, August on the lakefront, and a distance I had not covered before (20K, or about 12.5 miles). Nor was I in any way prepared for it. I finished - I even managed not to finish last - but I had no fun, and stopped my training program shortly thereafter.

Over the next four years I started and stopped and started running again. I stopped because of injury, or because my life got complicated - I started because there was nothing that made me feel as good as running did.

I had just started running more regularly again when I met The Dude, in 2005. There is nothing like being involved with another runner to affirm your own love for it. The Dude did not think I was crazy for heading out in all kinds of weather. The Dude understood how I felt after a good run, and that even a bad one was better than no run at all. And The Dude inspired me with his stories of marathons and half-marathons and running with his mom and their tradition of running the Ohio River Road Runners Turkey Trot together every year. That year I ran the Turkey Trot for the first time with him. There were old guys in sweatshirts and young women in tights, middle school kids, lots of middle-aged folk just like me, dogs barking furiously from the sidelines. It was hard, it was cold and windy and rainy, and it was AWESOME.

Chicago is a city where you seriously could run a race every single weekend of the year and not leave city limits. Add in the surrounding suburbs and you could make it every Saturday and Sunday. After that first one, if I'd had more money and time I would have run another race every month, I loved it that much. Instead I got married and worked weekends, ran a couple more a year later, then got pregnant. I kept thinking about races, though, kept planning, kept hoping. Kept having dreams of running a marathon.

So to start running again last year, to improve so much through better training, to be consistent in my training, to find ways to safely continue through injury, to build on the work of last year instead of starting all over again yet again, and to be in a place where I can realistically train for that long-awaited, 14-years-in-the-making marathon... why this is heaven indeed.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Marathon Running With Girls On The Run

So I'm training for the Chicago Marathon, raising funds for the organization Girls On The Run (GOTR).

I think what excites me most about their organization is the non-competitive nature of it. That all girls, regardless of their ability, can take part in the training and the fun and the accomplishment of finishing a 5K.

It's also important to me that the advantages attributed to exercise for girls - better self-esteem, making healthy choices, improved body image - are made explicit through the GOTR lessons. It's done in a fun, playful way for the elementary school girls, more seriously for the middle schoolers.

I loved being active as a kid. I was always taking some class - ballet, gymnastics, jazz dance, horse-back riding, even rhythm gymnastics. I went hiking and cross-country skiing with my parents, swam by myself and with my dad, and biked everywhere.

And then, you know, as a girl things can just change for you in high school. At least they did for me.

I had always been aware that I was heavier than other girls (no surprise, as I started sneaking food starting at age 8), and was unhappy with my body. With puberty this unhappiness just exploded. All my physical activity became focused on losing weight. I still biked and hiked and skiied, but the fun in it dwindled as I obsessed about the calories I was or was not burning, and made plans to stop eating that I couldn't ever fulfill. I read the teen magazines and did the exercises promising to get you a bikini body by summer - I didn't. And then I got to college and gave up, and my weight and my health paid the price.

It took a while to get back to enjoying physical activity just for the fun of it. I've written recently about how I got started running after college and fell in love with it; I also started studying martial arts at that time and got introduced to the spiritual aspect of sport. And I had always remained a walker, covering long distances, both out of necessity since I didn't drive, and out of satisfaction in being able to get everywhere on my own feet. But I needed to work out some of the crap I'd accumulated in my head about my body and food and fitness and health before I could truly let go of my compulsive eating and thereby truly enjoy moving just for its own sake. I'm grateful to say it's been a good number of years that this has been true.

My hope for the girls taking part in Girls On The Run is that by taking part in the training, in the lessons and by being part of a team, that they may never lose their love of movement for its own sake. It is a blessing, every day, to be able to run, to have a healthy body that is for your own use, not someone else's. Girls On The Run shows these girls that blessing, and so I am grateful to be able to train with them and for them as a member of their SoleMates team.*

*Even if it is a cheesy, cheesy name.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Just An Ordinary Run

Good day for a run today. Somewhat cool but not cold, air comfortably damp, no noticeable wind. I went out for 5 miles on my favorite run-before-work route, which takes me from Buddy's daycare up a smooth gradual hill, through a pretty residential neighborhood with lots of flowering trees, then some not so interesting bits until I hit the park that I love, from which I then go back into nice neighborhoods until I get home.

On my easy runs I am working on keeping a slower steady pace. It's very easy and very tempting to start off quick, but then I fight through the last two miles. If I manage to avoid this initial temptation I then struggle with the urge, once I'm warmed up, to deliberately pick up the pace, thereby turning it into a tempo run. But I need to remember that at the end of the summer I will be attempting to run 26.2 miles, and the only way to do that is to learn how to temper my pace. I have enough other opportunities for speedwork, so I tell myself, "Anne, sometimes an easy run gets to stay an easy run."

Lots of birds today, skimming across the fields, lots of May flowers, good music on my shuffle. Just an ordinary day, and what a blessing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tracking My Obsession - Part 1 - Telephone Poles and Trails

I realize that to many of my friends, my obsession with running may have come as a surprise. And even looking over the first few entries from last spring, I see that I show no sign of the single-mindedness that was about to spring forth.

But I have been running for 14 years now, since 1996, and fell in love with it immediately.

I don’t know why I started, though it was probably to lose weight and because I didn’t have easy access to a gym nor money for a bike. I started by running to one telephone pole, then walking to the next, then running again, and so on, until I could string a decent number of telephone poles together. And then there was no stopping me, especially once I realized that I could possibly run forever if I ran slowly enough.

I had two favorite routes, one on the road heading out of town where I could run on the broad shoulder with little fear of traffic, passing farmland. I loved to run this at night and in the winter, with the moon and stars above me, watching my breath in the dark.

In the day, and when the trails weren't made treacherous by ice, I ran into the woods and along old train tracks, passing the backs of farms with a view of the nearby hills, golden in the sun.

Most of my running was completely solitary, with no one around, and never any other runners. I didn't think of myself as part of the running community, being too slow and too fat, and not interested in road races. But even then, I dreamed of running long distances, of being a "real runner," of doing marathons and maybe even an ultra someday.

After a year or so of this I moved to my old college town where I had access to the track and cross-country trails at my alma mater. More rolling hills through farmland, more tree-shaded paths. Glorious. And now too, more runners - sometimes from the college, sometimes from the town - and even occasionally a local cross-country race, with wiry old men in singlets and young women in shorts and middle school kids all mixed in together, dogs barking furiously from the sidelines.

I still didn't think of myself as a runner, though I seriously considered training for a marathon through the Team in Training program. I even went to an information session for it, but in the end the fundraising involved scared me too much, as did the prospect of hours spent slogging around the track. No, my racing days were still to come.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Three Singing Pigs Say "La-La-La"

Okay, that's a quote from one of my favorite books to read to Buddy, "Moo Baa La-La-La" by Sandra Boynton. I loved her stuff when I was a kid so it made me so-o-o-o happy to find out she has many books for the little ones. Anyway, this posting is all about my favorite songs to run to - the kind of songs that just get you going, no matter how done you think you are.

So, in no particular order, my top 15 songs to run to:
  1. "Let's Get Retarded" - Black Eyed Peas
  2. "Freedom" - George Michael
  3. "Head Over Heels" - The Go-Go's
  4. "Till I Get To You" - Nikka Costa
  5. "Keep Walkin' On" - Faith Hill (with Shelby Lynne)
  6. "Another Saturday Night" - Cat Stevens
  7. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" - Stevie Wonder
  8. "Everlasting Love" - Carl Carlton
  9. "Under Pressure" - Queen
  10. "Yell Fire" - Michael Franti
  11. "We Are Family" - Sister Sledge
  12. "I Can't Wait To Meetchu" - Macy Gray
  13. "Authority Song" - John Mellencamp
  14. "Pa' Bailar" - Bajofondo Tango Club
  15. "You Shook Me All Night Long" - AC/DC
One thing I love about these songs, besides the fact that they can get me going like nothing else can, is that by now I've accumulated memories of running with them. So "Freedom" comes on my iPod, for example, and I remember being on the treadmill in the gym this winter, on one of my first runs after several weeks of nursing my injured foot, and how glorious it felt to be running at all. Every one of these songs has some memory of feeling good on a run - at peace on a sunny Sunday afternoon, or triumphantly gutting through that last 800m repeat before heading off to work, or heading out on a long run exploring someplace new, knowing I can go anywhere and still get myself home on my own two feet. Feeling powerful, and peaceful, and with a full heart.

God, I love to run!