Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Committing to being committed

Day three of summer break found me making a summer "To Do" list, which included creating a marathon training program.  As I ate my way through half a box of Cheez-Its, I scoured the Internet for a suitable training plan.  After much frustration, a nap, and several hours of procrastination, I decided to adapt several different training regimens into one master plan that I creatively entitled, "Chicago Marathon Training."  Then, despite my hatred of calendars, I devised a simplistic (and colorful) monthly program.

I carelessly typed in workouts such as, "6x800's" and "10 mile race pace" and didn't bat an eye when I penciled in a 22-mile long run on Labor Day Weekend.  In fact, I kept right on going until all 14 weeks were filled with some type of numbers that resembled a craptastic marathon training plan. 

Then, staring blankly at my beautiful creation, I deleted it with one "click."  I've never been one to complete things half-heartedly - except when it comes to marathon training. 

Training for the marathon is a commitment, and perhaps I'm a bit of a commitment phobe - but I've got some serious baggage, which explains my tentativeness on many levels, yet is no excuse - I know.  In the past, I've made serious training plans, only to watch them unravel mid-way through due to various factors: weather, boredom or a Saturday night out with friends, which leads to one too many vodka sodas and a day-long hangover, which makes a Sunday 20 mile run out of the question.

Although I love schedules, many marathon training programs leave little room for flexibility, let alone, a life outside of running.  So instead of penciling in pre-emptive miles, I'll write them in as I go and try to relinquish some control.  And maybe even surprise myself in the process.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A "Finger lickin' good" race report

June.  The month when summer begins, school ends, and drinking takes precedence over running - sort of.  When it gets hot, I get thirsty.  And the only cure is beer.  Or wine, vodka, sangria...

Debauchery and sizzling temperatures aside, I still make time to get my run on at a few local events.  I may not be properly trained or hydrated for any of them, but no need to get serious about running (or anything else for that matter) until the thermometer dips below fifty degrees.

Run #1: Wissahickon Trail Classic

Living in Philly, there are very few hills; until one travels to the outskirts of town to the Wissahickon trails.  On a pleasant Saturday morning, a few friends and I trekked our way outside the city to run 6.2 miles on mountainous-like terrain.  Having ran the race in 2010, I dubbed myself an expert on such nonsense nursed a cocky inner-monologue - for the first mile.  After approaching hill mountain number one, I soon realized just how out-of-shape I was.  I also started breathing like an 85-year-old with an oxygen tank.  As I dodged uprooted branches and shuffled up hills, I became mesmerized in the beauty of nature.  That last sentence is totally bogus; in reality, I was thinking to myself "Is this effing race over with yet?!" while simultaneously enjoying the scenery/trying not to get poked in the eye with a stray tree branch.

When I finally finished the race, glad that I hadn't wiped out on a hill like the guy who beat me at the last second, I basked in the sweat/dirt that encapsulated my body and smiled, for nothing is more satisfying that accomplishing something difficult.  As the sweat in my eye burned, I watched as each of my friends crossed the finish line, all of them grinning, despite the difficult terrain they had just trodden.  Nothing beats camaraderie, challenge and a true sense of accomplishment.  I'll be back in 2012, perhaps with a bit more training under my belt.

Run #2: Fried Chicken Run

Anyone who knows me is aware of my love of meat.  And beer.  And running.  So when the Fishtown Beer Runners decided to combine all three of my passions into one event, you can bet I celebrated - with a beer, of course. 

The Fried Chicken Run was not a race, but a leisurely 5.5 mile run to a bar, where chicken and beer awaited sweaty runners.  Perhaps sweaty is an understatement; more like "drenched" runners.  Thanks to the sweltering Philly humidity, I arrived at the establishment about 2 pounds lighter than when I started the run.  Obviously, I had to replenish all of my lost fluids - with beer. 

If all of my runs ended with the fried chicken/beer combination, then...
Actually, then I'd probably make more bad decisions than I already do...until next year's chicken run!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Italian Chicken-Lentil Soup

One of the things I've come to enjoy in the past year is cooking.  Specifically, in my slow-cooker.  I've dubbed "Crock-pot Sunday" as the day I test out new recipes while engrossing my tiny apartment with the aroma of food.  Add a little Ella Fitzgerald in the background and sometimes I think I'm at a romantic restaurant instead of my cramped kitchen. 

As a runner, I have to make sure that I eat a balanced diet; as a runner in her 30's, this has never been more important.  Gone are the days of heating up Lean Cuisines via microwave (I can't believe I ate those).  Nowadays, while cooking is a way for me to relax, it also helps me keep track of what exactly I'm putting into my body.  And with marathon training around the corner, fuel is imperative!

On the menu this Sunday: Italian Chicken-Lentil Soup

I've never made soup.  Or cooked with lentils, so this was going to be an experience.  I actually had most of the ingredients on-hand, which shocked even myself because I think this actually means that I can somewhat consider myself more than a "novice" at cooking!

Prep: 15 min Cook: 6 hour 15 min.
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
4 medium carrots, sliced
1 cup dried lentils (rinsed and sorted)
4 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil or 1 tbsp. dried basil leaves (I used 1 bay leaf because I didn't have basil)
Shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired

Remove fat from chicken.  Mix remaining ingredients in slow cooker except : mushrooms, tomatoes, basil and cheese.

Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours.

Remove the chicken from cooker; place on cutting board.  Pull apart chicken into shreds.  Return chicken to cooker.  Stir in mushrooms and tomatoes.  Cover and cook on low about 15 min. until heated through.  Sprinkle with cheese. 

Hopefully, my first attempt at making soup will be a success - and I'll have lunch prepared for at least the next two days! 

Monday, May 16, 2011

In a funk

Sometimes I get bored with my day-to-day workout routine.  This generally happens when the weather finally breaks and it is finally light enough outside for more than nine hours.  I start frolicking around the city, gorging myself with beers at outdoor happy hours and smiling because it's almost summer and I will have all the time in the world to work out like a maniac/lounge by the pool perfecting my tan.

So although I've been running for the past month, there is no documentation of it.  And that's fine by me.  Right now I'm not necessarily training for anything major - that will begin in the sweltering month of July when the realness of the Chicago marathon hits me.  Until then, I'll be partaking in a few fun races just to keep my competitive heart sane (and my body in tip-top bikini condition).  Here's a list of some of the races I intend on running:

Wissahickon Trail Classic: This is 6.2 miles of intense, single-file trail and I love it.  I ran this race last year when it was like 90 degrees and 100 percent humidity and still had a blast.  You won't see any cell-phone-talking girlie treadmill joggers here - this is for the purely dedicated and insane running "professionals."

1/2 Sour/ 1/2 Kraut: Seriously, say the words, "beer" and "sausage" and I'm there, whether it's a half marathon or not.  Although there is an option for a full marathon, I'm not entirely sure that June in Philly is the best time to log 26.2 on the trails.  But, who knows.

20in24: For this insane 24 hour relay race, I'm teaming up with 3 others.  We're each running roughly 16 miles all for the "Back on My Feet" charity, which helps homeless people become self-sufficient through running.  I'm thinking I need to join this organization in the future.

SheRox Duathlon: I've always wanted to complete a duathlon, ever since I registered for one 7 years ago and never did it because it was raining.  (I have my days when I'm a wuss...no shame)  Not only will this be my inaugural duathlon, but it's a "women's only" event.  I'm not sure if this excites me because of all the "girl power" I'll witness or disappoints me because I won't be able to see any hot men in tri outfits. Hmmmm.

I think that's a good summer line-up, don't you?  I mean, it has to be better than all of the crap I'm going to watch on T.V. this summer, right?!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Guest Post!

Check out my guest post for one of Philly's best running clubs, Fishtown Beer Runners.

Had an awesome week of sight-seeing and running to catch you all up on.  But first, I must enjoy being home and the amazing summer-like weather Philly is having! 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Feel the burn

Sunday Funday.  Most would consider this a day of leisure coupled with brunch, bloody mary's and baseball.  Add a 34-mile bike ride into that mix, and my Sunday is perfected.

I love running.  I really do.  Running and I have endured a relationship that's lasted for decades. Hell, we might even be common-lawed at this point.  But sometimes, I need my space.  I need to spice things up - with my bike. 

OMG, suburbs DO exist!
I wouldn't say I'm "cheating" on running by biking, but it is thrilling to bring something new and fresh into an old and stale relationship.  This Sunday, a group of fellow runners/friends biked to the suburbs...the SUBURBS!  I can't contain my excitement about this.  You just can't find a good strip mall and chain restaurants in the city these days.

Our trek ended at Johnny Brenda's, also known as the bar that serves the "Best bloody mary in Philly," according to myself and a few friends.  A few beverages and two bars later, I saddled up for a semi-intoxicated trek home.  I. Love. Sunday Funday.

I also love biking.  Despite the chronic pain in my quadriceps, I look forward to Sunday rides.  Perhaps this is a fad and the newness will wear off soon...but I doubt it.  My bike is my freedom.  I can go anywhere.  I can also go downhill a super high speeds, which is an adrenaline rush and a half. 

I've felt the burn before - relationships, work, finances - but this time, something's different.  The burn feels refreshing, not worrisome.  And I can't wait to feel it again.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bread, bikes, and blossoms

The weather in Philly has not been idea for running.  Yes, that's my lame excuse for a poor attempt at logging the miles lately.  Maybe one of these days Mother Nature will decide that she's punished the Northeast corridor enough and give us some sunshine and mild temperatures. 

Although sucky weather may deter me from hitting the pavement, I rarely let it dampen my spirit.  But sometimes, even the most diligent runners need a break from the norm.  Especially if it involves cherry blossoms.

This past weekend, some friends and I hurled ourselves into a rented mini-van and made our way to Washington D.C. to salivate at the renowned cherry blossoms.  In the process, several of us learned the following:  Cherry blossoms are not real cherries; museums in D.C. are FREE (what!); pub food in D.C. tastes the same as pub food in Philly.

Blossoms pre-monsoon-like rainstorm

While I mosied around D.C. thrusting my camera at every sight of a cherry blossom, I saw volunteers setting up for the famed Cherry Blossom Ten Miler.  I was insanely jealous and could feel the adrenaline rushing to my weary legs.  This race is on my list for 2012 (assuming I am chosen in the lottery).

Better-looking blossoms
 After an eventful trip to D.C., I mustered up the energy to bust-out my brand-new/slightly-used bike the next day for a 26 mile jaunt to outskirts of the city.  I realized quickly that I was not educated properly in the area of bicycle gears, which cost me the embarrassment of walking my bike up several steep hills.  Despite the feeling of knives stabbing my thighs on the ride back to the city, I couldn't help but conjure up a little evil laughter every time I passed a runner.  Suckerrrssss.

As soon as I nestled my bike in the garage, I ordered an air pump from Amazon.  I have a feeling that my bike and I are going to be best buddies this summer...

Banana bread awesomeness
 Totally unrelated to biking is banana bread, which I made tonight.  I don't particularly enjoy baking as much as I do cooking, but I also tend to buy bananas and then not eat them.  So I decided to act like my mom and make bread on a random weekday night. 

So although the blossoms and bread were awesome, the biking still has me feeling like I ran a marathon on Sunday instead of biking one.  If you know more about biking than I do (which is like, everyone), then I'd love to hear your tips.  Until then, my flower-printed youth helmet and I will continue to get acquainted with each other on the bike path each weekend.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Get it, girl

There's this poem that I read to my students at the beginning of the year, you know, that time when we're all in the awkward getting-to-know-one-another phase.  I hate ice-breakers, but writing - I like.  Nothing but pure emotion scribbled in a spiral notebook, a safe-haven, where frustrations, triumphs and inadequate thoughts are hidden from the brutal confines of the "real world." 

Trust yourself.  Believe in your words - they have a purpose.  My lecture becomes somewhat of a sermon, students looking bewildered, like "What the hell, Miss?"  But then we read.  We read passionately.  And all the sudden, we unlock the doors to our hearts and let the feelings flow with our pens. 

Today, a students whined, "When are we going to write stuff like we used to write?"  For once, I was speechless.  Almost.  I blamed it on the strict curriculum.  Teaching to the test.  I placed blame on everything but myself.  But I knew I was the one who had failed them. 

"Get it, girl."  A quote from a poem a student wrote back in September.  I didn't get it anymore.  Or perhaps I just forgot that I had it?

So I went for a run.  Alone.  And I thought about what I had "missed" with my students.  I thought about the areas of my life where I "get it" all the time - is that possible?  Does it happen? 

I didn't come to a conclusion.  But I'll get there.  And in the meantime, I'll be content with the aspects of my life that, for the time being, I "get."  Because life is too short to over-analyze - that I get.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Minimalist or Maximalist?

Most running stores these days are zealously advertising the benefits of minimalist shoes, such as the Vibram Fivefingers. Shoes as such are supposedly going to "make your foot healthier by allowing it to move naturally and freely."  This idea of barefoot running largely gained popularity from McDougall's book, Born to Run. A fan of the book myself, I was definitely intrigued by the minimalist movement - the success stories from runners, the scientific research - in theory, it makes sense. 

But there is always an exception. 

Back in 1996, at my very first cross country practice, one might say I dabbled in minimalist running.  I threw on a cheap pair of Nike shoes that had about as much support as a training bra.  After four hellacious miles, my body felt as if it had been mangled by a combine (we had lots of those in the country, obvi).  Thus began my journey on the road to figuring out the perfect combination of support for my Forrest Gump appendages.

Dear Mom and Dad: WTF?!
Although I vaguely remember being in corrective shoes as a toddler, I'm living proof that the only thing those braces corrected was my curiousness.  And I'm sure my parents felt at ease having a two-year-old who was unable to get herself into much mischief due to her inability to run around with normal baby legs. 

Yes, somewhere along the way, a doctor noticed that my feet severely overpronated, a term I would not fully understand until twenty years later, when I found myself working at a speciality running store.  You see, in order to run virtually pain-free (or with as little discomfort as possible), one's foot needs to land in a neutral position.  For someone who overpronates, support is needed in order to achieve this. 

Medial posting = support
Support can come in many forms.  Some shoes have built-in support.  This is indicated by the gray area, otherwise known as "medial posting," on the side of the shoe.  The more gray, the more supportive the shoe is.  People refer to this as a stability shoe.

While some suckers can get away with only needing the support of a shoe, others (such as myself) need to double-up.  I'm talking about orthotics + a supportive shoe.  When I get the combination of orthotic and shoe correct, I am able to run long distances without much pain.  However, if my support is even slightly off, it gets ugly.  My knees hurt from too much support.  My hip hurts from not having enough support.  High-heels are my shoe of choice because they give amazing arch support.  Too bad I can't run in them... 

So when it comes to minimalist shoes, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon.  I am a maximalist, through and through, and no matter how much I try to "train" my feet by sauntering around the city in flip-flops during the summer, it always ends the same way - at my chiropractor's office.  Therefore, I'll keep my orthotics and thank my parents for trying to "correct" me at a young age.  Perhaps some things were never meant to be mended after all.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Race Report - Leprechaun Run

Baby run, cut a path across the blue skies
Straight in a straight line
You can’t get here fast enough
-George Strait, "Run"

From time-to-time, I'll find myself perched at my computer, unable to refrain from purchasing 99 cent country songs.  Sometimes while running, I'll repeatedly play these songs in my head.  And on a particularly spring-like day in March, I did just that. 

Perhaps being born and raised in America's "Heartland" taught me more than just how to navigate unmarked/unpaved roads in the middle of nowhere; it taught me how to cure my boredom with simple tasks.  Like memorizing lyrics to songs.  Only to randomly remember them some 15 years later.

So on a brisk, spring-like Saturday morning in March, I jogged to the start of the Philadelphia Leprechaun Run.  A five-mile race is not a popular distance, but I was eager to see how fast I could run, considering my training has consisted of zero speed work and an average of 20 miles per week.  I clocked the first mile in seven minutes flat, and it didn't feel that fast.  But I always go out entirely too fast in races.  So I focused on remaining consistent.

At the half-way turn-around I silently counted as the leading women passed me on the opposite side of the road.  I was number fifteen.  HOLY SHIT!  At this point, I knew I could break into the top ten. 

Although anxious, I continued to hold my pace.  Instead of focusing on the negative (thoughts like: my entire body hurts or why does that guy next to me keep blowing snot rockets? Ew.), I thought of something calm.  Something I could focus on for the remaining 2.5 miles of agony.  And that something was George Strait. 

Well, that's not entirely accurate.  Strait's song, "Run," for some reason or another, crept into my head.  And I passed one runner.  Then another.  Until, after a 7 minute and 14 second last mile, I crossed the finish line with a personal record of 36:52 and the twelfth woman overall.

As any competitive runner, I've had time to reflect on the race - what I need to improve/what I did well - and although self-satisfaction is sometimes hard accept, I do believe my days of navigating country roads somehow led me to the roads I face today.  Some are bumpy and some are smooth, but instead of running from them, I'm running with them, occasionally taking a beating now and then.  But every once in awhile, coming out on top, cutting my own clear path in the process.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Running line-up

Finding a good pair of running shoes is like watching bad reality television - you get hooked and right when you fall into a comfortable routine, almost to the point where you feel you can't live without it, the company snatches it away.

Thus has been my dilemma with finding a running shoe for almost a year.  Ever since the kind people at Nike decided to do away with my beloved Zoom Elites, I've been struggling to find a replacement.  And I'm sad to report, my luck has been grim. 

Still heartbroken over parting with five years of awesome memories that my Elites and I shared, I did what any runner would do - I bought some rebound shoes.  They were Asics.  They were soft.  I liked.  But after one steamy ten-mile run, my knees felt like I had torn both ACL's.  No pain/No gain?!  Yeah, right.  I threw those suckers into my closet forgot they ever existed. 

Frustrated and exceptionally sore, I did the inevitable - I scoured online websites in hopes of finding some back-ally store that would magically have some of my old Elites in stock.  Elated at the possibility, I went on a Google search frenzy, which ultimately left me with burnt thighs from my overheated laptop and nothing more.

About $600 of my hard-earned money...worth it.
Finally, I surrendered to the fact that finding the right shoe is going to be a trial-and-error ordeal.  And it's going to cost me quite a bit of money.  Hence, my lengthy collection of running shoes.  At my worst, I think that I'm never going to find one that works.  What would I do?  Stop running?  Spend thousands of dollars on new orthotics?  Sigh.

In the meantime, I'll continue my search.  And occasionally, sink my feet into an old pair of Elites for a short run, if only just to remember how amazing they feel.  Because, truth be told, there are some relationships that we can never quite tear ourselves apart from.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Runnin' old school - a race report

Persevere.  Ask any runner and he/she can probably give you an accurate definition of this word, along with several examples.  And while this may have been an S.A.T. vocabulary word that teachers tried to get students to memorize with some monotonous flash cards, a runner most likely learned the meaning of persevere on the track.  Or a muddy trail.  Or during one of those hellish practices where the coach made the entire team engage in an indian run on a ninety-degree day.

Persevere.  Despite my stellar vocabulary, compliments of Sadlier-Oxford and quality television shows such as "Jersey Shore", I didn't quite grasp the meaning of perseverance until I began running.  Even then, I don't think I could have prepared myself for the obstacles I would endure in my future - running related or not. But looking back, running indeed made all the difference.

Persevere.  If I think back to the first time I was insanely proud of myself for overcoming an obstacle, it would be the New Riegel cross-country meet in eleventh grade.  Being from the country, the course was flat and boring, and of course, included running around a man-made track in the middle of a corn field.  Aside from dodging piles of cow manure during the race, it was an egregiously hot day.  I was not in the mood for a 3.1 mile ass-kicking, which is precisely what happened the year prior. 

However, my dad had showed up for moral/parental support, as he generally did.  Sensing my negative (and bitchy) teenage attitude, dear old dad proposed a challenge - that I run without my watch.  The control-freak in me panicked; how will I know my mile splits?  I can't possibly run a personal record without constantly peeping at my sweat-infused Timex!  As I pondered whether or not I could part with relinquishing control, dad upped the ante and proposed a bet:  If I raced without my watch and improved my time, twenty bucks would be my reward.  To a broke teenager who worked at Hardees, this was all I needed to hear. 

Persevere. As the race began, I remember looking at my wrist several times, only to see a farmer tan where my watch used to be.  After a few panicked moments, I easily settled into a pace and, for the first time, felt a sense of calmness during a run.  Instead of worrying about mile splits, I set my focus on passing as many people as possible.  As I flew by numerous runners, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off of me.  In the end, I crossed the finish line two minutes faster and twenty dollars richer than I had the year before.  Perseverance felt damn good.

Persevere:  It comes in various forms and oftentimes, takes several attempts, as well as some blood, sweat and tears.  But in the end, conquering a goal, in running or life, makes it all worthwhile.


Monday, February 28, 2011

"A" is for anemic

Anemia: A condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells. 

In other words, a lack of iron. 

I found this out the hard way, during my freshmen year of college when my weekly cross-country mileage superseded my iron consumption.  Of course, I was 100% at fault for declining to eat the mystery meat served up at the cafeteria.  But seriously, how could I argue with an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord stocked with cocoa crispies and pickles?! 

Although I'm not one to point fingers, I can guarantee you that growing up in the Midwest did nothing to teach my young self about proper eating habits.  I grew up in a household where we had a separate freezer for meat.  Like an entire cow's worth of meat.  And there it sat, wrapped up in matte white paper, ink- stamped with phrases like "T-bone steak" and "ground chuck." 

So that famous catch-phrase, "Beef: It's what's for dinner" was indeed my family's motto.  Almost nightly, my mother would whip up some part of that deep-frozen cow.  Beef and noodles with mashed potatoes?  Hell yes.  Spaghetti with meat sauce?  Bring it.  Minute steaks?  Yeah, I got a minute for one of those bad boys. Pass the A-1 sauce, please. Add in a tall glass of two percent milk and I swore my hands were somehow transforming into hooves. 

However, despite all of my meat consumption as a child, college brought on a new week night dinner special.  Ramen noodles.  They were easy, cheap and could be consumed in my hot-pot in the comfort of my tiny dorm room.  It was awesome.  Until one day, it wasn't. 

High mileage and little consumption of iron-rich foods had me feeling like Hester Prynne, only the "A" I bore wasn't noticeable to anyone but myself.  Iron supplements and some force-fed cafeteria "meat" finally cured me - or so I thought.

Since college, I have not once been tested again for anemia.  But, I'm quite certain that b*tch is back.  Don't get me wrong - I've tried to have blood work done.  Problem is, my veins are too small to extract any blood.  And the thought of going to the hospital to wait hours on end to be poked and prodded has not sounded appealing on any of my days off from work.  So instead, I've been trying to eat iron-rich foods.  And meat. 

Taco Salad Success!
 This poses a problem.  One, cooking with meat scares me.  I'm always unsure if it's "done."  Plus, if I cook meat, I'm stuck eating it for days.  And after all those days of eating meat, I'm sick of it.  So then I take some time off and anemia continues to invade my cells. 

With that being said, I'm really trying to make conscious choices when I eat.  For example, I do, on occasion cook meat.  And sometimes I even get super creative and make taco salad.  Actually, I've only done this one time, so I took a picture as proof.  Not only is the salad meaty, it's got lettuce (full of iron) and avocados, which I read somewhere are a "good source of fat."  I'm not sure where I read that, but I'm sure it was a credible source, like a T.V. commercial or something of the like. 

Yes, I need to get my iron levels checked, preferably before I start bustin' some ass training for Chicago.  Food recommendations would be awesome.  Making me food would be even more awesome.  Just sayin'.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

86ing Minneapolis

A few months ago, with the help of a few beers, a friend and I decided to run the Minneapolis Marathon.  Many of our friends have already qualified for Boston 2012, and while cheering on the sidelines is a rush in itself, it's not good enough for most runners - especially the crazy competitive type, such as myself. 

Minneapolis in June sounded perfect, as did the training leading up to the race, which would be optimal in the usually awesome Philly spring weather.  It was a flawless plan.  Until Boston decided to get all elite on our asses.

I knew the day was coming when achieving a BQ would require me to run faster than 3:40.  I just hoped I would qualify before that day.  Now, with 3:35 as the *new* BQ for my age group, I am left feeling a little uneasy.  Yes, it's only five minutes faster than the previous BQ time, which, in a marathon is like one less stop at the porta-potty. 

But nothing in life is guaranteed.  Even if I run a 3:35, a spot in the coveted Boston Marathon is not promised.  Therefore, I'm shooting for a 3:30 in Chicago.  Instead of cramming in a spring marathon, I've decided it would be better to focus on preparing my body for the brutal beating it will take come July, when marathon training for Chi-town begins. 

How is this different from my current work-out regimen?  I have no idea.  That's a lie.  I do have an idea - and it includes track workouts, long runs at marathon pace, consistent weight-training, and some solid stretching.  Thinking about all that makes me cringe with excitement.  I realize that there will be days when I curse marathon training, but just the same, there will be those times when I can't wait to lace-up my shoes and hop outside for an easy 8 mile run. 

Can I really shave 20 minutes off my marathon time?  I can.  I have to.  I will.  Or I'll die trying.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Keep right on going

That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going- Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump, albeit a fictional character, was a self-motivator.  Or perhaps all runners, despite age/gender/ability, have that determined gene lingering somewhere inside their brain, perhaps nestled snugly against the one that thinks marathon training is "fun."  (It is.)

"Keep right on going."  Forrest did it (in corrective shoes, might I add).  Yet, if I'm saying that running is a metaphor for life (and I am), then one knows that there are twists and turns.  And perhaps even that race where you throw up Gatorade once crossing the finish line.  But somehow, despite all of life's curve balls, you manage to put one foot in front of the other.  And breathe.

So on a particular frigid morning, I layered on the dry-fit, laced up my Brooks and stepped outside, Mother Nature's blustery wind slapping me awake.  I made a spontaneous decision right there on my stoop to run only 3 miles, or however long I could withstand the feeling of windburn on my face.  As I pounded the asphalt on the Schuylkill River Banks, I thought.  I thought, as I tend to do on runs, about life.  My so-called tumultuous life.  It's not that bad.  In fact, it's great.   I've been down.  I've been up.  I've built up walls - who will knock them down? Go faster.  Slow down.  Take the high road.  Take the road less traveled.   Be honest, but not too honest.  Say what you feel.  Watch what you say.  Be careful.  Be mindful.  Always be on the look-out. Don't look back.  Look ahead.  Never give up.  Don't quit.  Keep going.

Keep right on going.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Calling all marathon training programs...

In approximately two weeks I will begin training for yet another marathon.  After running six of these bad boys, one would think I'd have the training aspect of marathoning down pat.  Not true.

I've dabbled in several "programs," throughout the years, from Intermediate/Advanced training on Runner's World websites to books, such as Run Less, Run Faster.  However, despite the fact that I am physically capable of completing 99.9% of the workouts listed in said programs, I find that reality called "life" eventually kicks in and I actually end up completing about 50% of my training plan. 

Add in the fact that I still need to add cross-training to the mix (yoga/spinning/drinking) and really, I feel as if I'm training for an Ironman.  Therefore, this time around, I'm creating my own training program.  Well, kind of.  My training buddy is also contributing, since we'll be doing the bulk of our running together. 

Essentially, I feel it's important to have three to four days of running a week.  Not all of the runs are "easy" and not all are "hard."  Balance, although something I'm not that great at, is the key with marathon training.  With that being said, I give you a "rough draft" of what I envision a typical week of training will look like:

Monday: Gym (weight training, easy 3-5 mile run on treadmill)
Tuesday: Track workout
Wednesday: Yoga (at a real studio, not in my apartment where I am super distracted and frustrated because yoga makes me hate life)
Thursday:  Tempo run/running club (Thurs. is beer runners night, but I generally run to get to our club's meeting spot, so can use that part as my tempo run. It's also a great night to get in some miles, depending on the bar we're running to.)
Friday:   REST
Saturday: Long Run
Sunday: REST

Knowing my body, I think two rest days a week are key.  I would like to somehow fit in a spinning class, but I'm not sure where that would go.  I like having rest days before and after my long run, but will sometimes do a "shake-out" run the day after I go long.  Of course, training plans are flexible, but I do want to establish some sort of routine. 

What training plans have you found to be successful

Seriously, I'm game for any suggestions.  And any plan that will guarantee an entry to Boston 2012!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Windy City, Here I come!

Fact: I will spend $145 on an entry fee to the Chicago marathon, even if it means I have to eat pasta for the next week.

Registration for this famed marathon opened up early this morning (1:00 a.m.) and I feared not being able to get a spot. But at 5:30 a.m. Eastern time, slots were still available.  So I did what any insane runner would do - I paid the outrageous entry fee, risking the chance that I would probably overdraft my checking account to do so. 

I've signed up for Chicago years back (when it was a mere $90), but ended up not running because the friend who signed up with me backed out.  This time, I am planning to run with a good buddy of mine whom I coerced into running seven years ago (and who will be running Boston for the first time this year...woot!)

So, despite my drained bank account, I'm super excited for the race.  I am not excited about the weather in Philly lately.  Snow/ice/ice residing on top of snow does not make for awesome running conditions.  But I have managed to get my ass outside a few days a week, so for that, I give myself a gold star.

What are some marathons you are running this year?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Just what I kneaded

A few things:

1.) It's cold.  Too cold to run? For me, yes.  I'm good with anything above 20 degrees, but when the temps dip below two-zero, you can bet my ass will be pounding the rubber on a treadmill.
2.) Treadmill running almost makes me want to throw on 2 pairs of running pants and every other piece of running attire I own and brave the frigid Northeast air just so I don't have to RUN ON THE DARN TREADMILL.
3.) Bought the Brooks Ghost, the first neutral shoe I've worn in awhile.  I'm thinking I can flounder between very mild stability and a neutral shoe.  I just need something with cushion.  These apparitions may be a winner.
4.) All my treadmill running + new shoes + an excessively difficult weight-lifting session + a night of drinking and dancing in very poor (but cute) shoes left me in pain.  While my hangover was cured with gatorade and some bad reality T.V., my stiff neck and back remained.  So I got a massage.

For the past few years, I've been going to the chiropractor regularly.  My neck and upper back can get excessively tense.  This might be due to the fact that my feet overpronate like none other and sometimes, my alignment can get out of whack.  Or maybe I should blame this on the few minor car accidents I've been in (don't worry, I don't even own a car anymore).  Whatever the case, the combination of chiropractic care and massage has worked wonders.

Unfortunately, my chiropractor up and closed and I almost cried, but then thought, "Nah, I don't need to get cracked/rubbed down every few weeks...plus, I'll save money!"

That lasted 2 weeks.  Today, I broke down and sought out a masseuse, who ironically also works for a chiropractor and gave me his information.  It was fate. 

So while my upper extremities are still very tight, I at least have some relief.  A few days of yoga and low mileage should get me back into the swing of things.  And hopefully by that time, the temperature will reach above freezing.

What remedies do you find work for excessively sore/tight muscles?

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Ruin is the road to transformation"

Yes, I chose to title this post based on a quote I heard in the sappy movie, "Eat, Pray, Love."  Some Saturday nights are best spent in the comfort of one's own studio apartment ordering movies and drinking red wine.

While there have been numerous times where my life has felt as if it were in "ruins," the one thing that has always helped me transform into something greater is running.  Aside from all the stringent training that can sometimes be overbearing, running gives me a certain balance.  Problems don't seem as impudent after a run.  My head becomes clearer, my feet become lighter, and all of the day's worries are forgotten, even if only for the time it takes me to run 5 miles. 

This is not to say that running cures all the ruin in one's life; however, it can transform you in ways that no amount of therapy or prescription drugs can.  Plus, the word "run" is in the word, "ruin," which proves my point entirely...

While I'm transforming my body into pre-marathon training mode, my weekly mileage continues to increase.  Here are this week's stats:

Julia Roberts makes yoga look so easy...
Monday: 3.5 miles on the treadmill, average about 8:00 pace; weights class for one hour.  My normal instructor sprained his ankle, so we had a substitute for my total body conditioning class.  It was still a great workout, but he repeated the same circuit three times, and I got bored.
Tuesday: Did 45 minutes of yoga.  I always feel great afterwards, but I still hate yoga.  I've thought about going to a "real" class, but at $15 a session, it's hard to justify the money when I can do it free at home.  Or at my gym...ughhh...thinking about yoga makes me tired.

Wednesday: A snow day from work! Got outside for a 4 mile run, then went and bought some of my favorite Balega running socks (which now come in cute colors!)

Thursday: Beer runners! Having missed my bus, I sprinted like a bat-out-of-hell to the opposite end of town, caught another bus and barely made it in time to meet some friends.  Overall, a bitter cold 8 miles.  However, the delish beer at the bar afterwards made up for all my hard work. 

Friday: DAY OFF. 

Saturday: Took my new Nike Lunar Elites out for 6 miles.  Not a great shoe, and a rather painful run at a 7:50 pace.

Sunday: Another day of yoga...30 minutes was all I could get through.  Seriously, does anyone have tips on how to enjoy yoga?  I desperately need to do it...my limbs are very un-Gumby-like.

Week Total: 21.5 miles

I'd like to get a base of 30 miles before I begin marathon training in early March.  I'm still debating on whether to run 3 days a week or 4 days during my training.  Which marathon programs have you used and found successful? 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Shoe Review: Nike Lunar Elite

When it comes to food, I've done away with my childhood pickiness and embraced my adventurous side.  However, when it comes to running shoes, I'm the finicky kid who wants chicken nuggets and fries every night of the week. 

Finding a running shoe that works has always been a struggle for me.  Being in corrective shoes when I was younger probably didn't help matters much.  After thousands of dollars spent on running shoes and orthotics, I finally found my "sole" mate: The Nike Zoom Elite.  Not only did this shoe hug my foot in all the right places, but it molded well with my orthotic and provided the exact amount of support my effed-up legs needed. 

But of course, some relationships can't last forever.  So last winter, when Nike decided to give the Zoom Elite a total body makeover, I was devastated.  Although we had many great memories together, our future was looking grim.  I tried to hang on as long as I could, hoarding old models of the Zoom Elite from shady shoe websites.  But my efforts were in vain and soon, I was back on the market again, trying to find another match. 

Although I was skeptical, I decided to give the new version of my old shoe, the Nike Lunar Elites, a try.  While the structure has, in my opinion, been destroyed (flat sole, more room in the toe box), the sales people at my local running specialty store said it still felt like an Elite, just lighter.  Yeah, right.  So, I bought a pair.  And today, I ran in them. 

Nike Lunar Elites.  I wanted to love them...
No bueno.  While I love the color and overall aesthetics, the Lunars are firm.  I've always preferred a soft shoe, so this was a definite disappointment.  My legs were uncharacteristically hurting after mile three.  I'm not sure why this is, as the support of the Lunar does seem to mimic that of the former version.  However, the softness issue is a huge dealbreaker for me, so it's safe to say that these hot little numbers will only be brought out for really short runs, and perhaps some speed workouts. 

So, the search for my perfect shoe continues.  Marathon training begins the first week in March, so I have some time to find "the one."  I also have a very old pair of Elites that I'm wearing until the soles fall off, and a pair of Brooks Ravennas that are just "okay."  Feel free to recommend your favorites!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A balancing act

Back in college, and quite frankly, even a few years after college, I used to think that I needed to run seven days a week.  This was going to make me faster, stronger, and less stressed.  Truth is - it did none of those things.  Instead, I became frustrated whenever I had to think about when I was going to get a workout in.  How many miles?  Tempo run or track workout?  Trail run or road?  Which race should I run?  It was exhausting, not to mention, draining my pocketbook of what little cash I possessed. 

So, I quit took a hiatus.  I never quit - ever.  But I listened to my body telling me that a break was in order.  I didn't race for about two years. While I still ran, I did so when I wanted.  If I felt like going fast, I went fast.  If I wanted to leisurely run/gossip with a friend, I did.  I tried out classes at my gym, volunteered at races, and when I was ready, began training again. 

Since my running epiphany, I've learned that my old training regimen is better off left in the past.  Today, I choose "quality over quantity" when I devise my workout plans.  In order to keep me balanced (literally and figuratively), I add in a few cross-training days and at minimum, one rest day.  Keeping this mindset while planning the training schedule for my next marathon (details to come) makes me ecstatic instead of frustrated. 

My "friends" Shiraz, Chianti and Malbec

And since the weather in Philly isn't exactly spectacular right now, there's no need to trek out in 6 inches of snow for a run/shuffle; instead, I can safely do yoga in my apartment and hope the people in the brownstone across the street aren't looking across the way into my window and watching my ass fall over. 

While cross-training and yoga (mainly yoga) will never be as enjoyable as a brisk run, at least I have some "friends" waiting for me after my workout. 

What are some tricks you use to keep your training "balanced?" 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Snow and ass-toning

This morning, while most people in Philly were snuggled under the warm confines of their covers, I braved the elements and headed out for a run.  I'd been wanting to meet up with Philly Runners for awhile, but would usually find some excuse not to go. 

That was the old me.  The 2011 version is more diligent about her running as opposed to her Friday night happy houring. 

My stoop.  Getting out the door is the first step!

Despite all the snow on the ground and falling from the sky, there were quite a few crazies in attendance.  I met up with two friends and we shuffled our way along the 8.5 mile loop.  Even the icicles forming on our eyelashes couldn't deter our motivation.  We spent the first half periodically talking and taking water breaks under bridges, not only to rehydrate with our icy-laced bottled water, but more so, to wipe our wet/windburned faces. 

The second half of the loop was difficult.  We remained mainly silent, except to occasionally state how much our asses/thighs hurt.  Running in snow is no joke!  However, I couldn't help but think how awesome my keister would look in jeans after all of this snow-toning. 

We completed the loop in 1 hour and 16 minutes, which included water breaks and the time we slowed down because a snow plow blasted us with black/brown snow.  All in all, an 8:56 pace is definitely acceptable on a day like today. When living in a place like Philly, with oftentimes unbearable winter and summer weather conditions, one comes to embrace the fact that not all runs will be quality.  However, with a few dedicated running buddies, they can most certainly be enjoyable!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Barbells and Buckeyes

Just the necessities...
I hate the first week in January at the gym.  Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that many people have made the resolution to get in shape, and I hope at least half of them stick to it.  What I don't like is when the majority of the treadmills are occupied by latte-sipping/cell phone talking women in velor jumpsuits.  Yes, I actually go to the gym to break a sweat  drench myself in perspiration while I begrudgingly pound the rubber.  My shorts rarely match my shirt and the lovely white towel my gym lets me use is caked with the day's make-up when I'm through with it. 

Despite an over abundance of gym wannabies crowding the machines, I was still able to snag a spot in my favorite weight-lifting class.  Although it was a tight fit and despite smashing my pinky finger with the weight from the girl's barbell behind me, I got my ass handed to me for a good hour.  And it felt awesome. 

Some sad-looking Buckeyes
When I take this class regularly (2 times a week), I definitely feel much stronger when I run.  Last fall, when I was training for the Columbus Marathon, I lifted weights on my own (i.e. did P90X whenever I felt the urge, which wasn't very often).  And I paid for it come race day.  Not only did I run my worst time since my marathon debut (because really, the first marathon will always be the slowest), but I felt weak during the race.  Is it just me, or are real-life trainers more effective than any DVD or self-regimented exercise programs? 

After my class, I whipped up a batch of buckeyes in preparation for the Sugar Bowl tomorrow.  Admittedly, this was almost more difficult than doing 100 tricep kickbacks.  Perhaps I should stick to barbells and leave the Buckeyes to Coach Tressel.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Running in the new year

New Year's resolutions are like jeggings - a good idea in theory, but after awhile, they lose their luster.  Unless you're a runner.

Pre-race mugshot

Although I've never been one to resolude anything on January 1st, beginning 2011 with a positive outlook seemed like something I could latch onto - especially if it involved a frosty midnight run.  So when a friend suggested ringing in the new year running a 5k instead of kissing random strangers, I leaped at the opportunity and thought the following:

Running + friends + new year + open bar = AWESOMENESS!

"Cheers!" to new beginnings
 And awesome it was.  At the stroke of midnight, I "ran" in the new year with a smile, ecstatic that I was entering 2011 doing something I've loved for most of my life.  As I lapped around the Link, it occurred to me that perhaps resolutions are really enjoyable goals that people set out to achieve instead of bothersome tasks on a "To do" list.

As I blazed into the finish shoot, running 22 minutes and some change, I left 2010 in the dust and had a silent epiphany: A new year means letting go, but also, looking forward. 

Champagne in hand, I toasted to a new year and made a resolution to make 2011 the best running year of my life.  As David Gray suggests, it's  "A new day at midnight."  Indeed, it is.