Unplugging for a Week

I’m taking my blog title literally and going out to Wander and Ponder in beautiful Cabo San Lucas, Mexico this week. My last vacation was three years ago and I’ve been looking forward to this vacation since returning from the previous one. :-) The resort that I’m staying at apparently has a wi-fi connection that’s unreliable according to online reviews, so this week will be an exercise in “unplugging” myself and enjoying the small things. I hope to get a few runs in along the beach, enjoy massive amounts of pool/beach time, indulge in food & drink, and smile as much as I can. I’ll ponder my wanderings (and post pics!) when I return!

Now go do something nice for yourself!

-J

Finding Mojo with the Moji

Confession: I don’t “ice” sore muscles as often as I should. I prefer a hot shower, some deep stretching, and extensive foam rolling to take care of my aches and pains. But sometimes I can’t avoid grabbing that old bag of peas from the freezer and slapping it on my knee for an hour or so. In the past, I’ve played soccer and the peas were always good to me. My knees were always the first part of my body to take a beating playing the sport. Running has taken priority over any other sport in the past couple of years and, in January, I started training  for several races in preparation for my first marathon at Chicago 10.9.2011. And…I haven’t been icing. But when Fleet Feet Chicago selected me to become a tester for a new product, the Moji One, I was interested (and more motivated to ice/heat my joints).

In one word, the Moji One is convenient. The fusion cell can be chilled in the freezer or warmed in the microwave within a short period of time. As some of you may have experienced, a bag of frozen peas doesn’t stay a bag of frozen peas for long. (Once you allow the peas to defrost & place the bag back in the freezer, the whole operation becomes a block of ice.) The Moji One is also designed to be used on twelve different body parts: shoulder, groin, knee, ankle, hip, hamstrings, calf, achilles, piriformis, quad, shin, and foot. And while I haven’t tried the Moji on all of these parts of the body, I have no doubt that it could stretch and strap easily to all of them. The design is pretty genius. The Fusion Cell, as they call it, attaches to the stretchy brace by velcro. Once you place it there, it doesn’t budge. The top half of the brace is longer than the bottom half and is especially comfortable when fitting it over your knee. The brace is extremely stretchy and you don’t have to work hard to make sure that the fusion cell is applied as directly to the skin as possible. I have used the Moji on my knees several times now and I like how it creates a cooling effect around my entire knee without being uncomfortably cold (my knee wasn’t frozen solid like it would be with a bag of peas :-)) Manny has probably gotten more use out of the product than I have. As a new runner, his knees are certainly taking a beating. He’s used it both to warm and cool his knee and I think it’s helping.

My only (picky) gripe about the Moji is that it doesn’t stay cold or hot for as long as I would like. My bag of peas provides lasting relief for an hour at least, but I find the the Moji returns to room temperature after about a half hour. I still find the Moji One very impressive. If anything, it’s motivated me to make sure I’m rehabbing muscles to prevent injury in the future. Plus, I can’t pack a bag of frozen peas in my suitcase for vacation to Mexico, but the Moji One will most likely make the cut if I have some extra room in there!

*I was not compensated for the above review, nor was it a requirement of participating as a Moji Tester.

-J

Speedster Sometimes

I’ve been laying low this month. As June is ‘stepback month’ for me, I’ve had a lot of time to stop and think about where I’ve been and where I’m going this year in terms of training for the Chicago Marathon. It’s always difficult to summarize 6 months of life, no matter how busy or relaxed the half year may have been. And while it may be cool to look at my running stats and point out where I’ve excelled (at certain times when I didn’t think I would), I’m not sure I want to do that right now. That will be my gift when I complete my first marathon on October 9th.

For now, I’m reveling in the simple things. The daily accomplishments that make me feel good. Since 13.1 Chicago, I haven’t run more than 6 miles at one time. I’ll admit it’s frustrating. I told Coach last night that it feels like I’m going through a month-long taper tantrum. I see people tweeting about their first couple weeks of marathon training and get jealous of their long distance weekend runs. I want to shout out to everyone and say that I’ve “officially” started my training as well. I’m meticulous about planning. Manny will tell you that I create to do lists that must then be summarized into a “master to do list” afterward. I make lists in order to avoid forgetting about accomplishing certain things and then decide not to do them at all. This isn’t to say that I never accomplish those things that I set out to do. I guess it means I dedicate time to things worth accomplishing and instinctively neglect those that do not matter. That’s okay. At the beginning of this month when Coach told me that I should only run 60 miles total, I began each week with a goal to limit myself. After sprinkling in a few hot yoga sessions, I had a plan that would make me feel just as active as if I were starting that ‘official marathon plan’ among my running peers.

Last night I saw the light. It’s been about a month since I did any sort of serious speed work training and I was craving it. So I decided to run 1.5 mile warm-up, 6 x 400 meter speed intervals (with 2 min recovery), followed by a 1.5 mile easy cool-down. I typically do 800 meter repeats and was excited to see what kind of kick I have in my legs for a shorter distance. It was my first time doing an interval workout with the Garmin FR 305. (Super easy by the way). The watch beeped for a few seconds signaling the beginning of the speed interval and I took off. The trail I like to run on close to home is around a full recreation field at a local university; they typically have softball/baseball games going on in the evenings, which is when I like to run. I always get a bit nervous (self conscious) about doing my speedwork when there are other people around. Heaven forbid I should spit up a lung or unknowingly fling some spit into my face instead of the ground (which has happened by the way–wind on the lakefront). But I was feeling strong and I told myself they’d only be looking at my and thinking “wow, she’s running really fast!”. So I took off. In the end I completed 6 x 400s at a faster pace than I’ve run all year long. I was consistently running a 6:00 min/mile pace! Each interval felt more challenging, that’s for sure, but I had no idea what kind of splits I ran until I got home and uploaded the workout on Garmin: 1:28, 1:41, 1:32, 1:35, 1:36, 1:34. I’m impressed with these times and myself! The slow cool down home was calming and I managed to miss the rain after it started “misting” when I was one block from home.

I have a feeling I felt so good because I’ve allowed myself to slow down this month. It’s slowed my internal anxiety about running—those questions like: “Am I doing enough? Did I run that workout at the correct pace? Is it truly feasible to reach for Corral C at Chicago?”. (The only anxiety I have now is jumping into a serious training schedule next week!) This period of rest has also slowed my physical anxiety. I’ve been foam rolling almost every night, remaining conscious of how much water I’m consuming daily, and sleeping better than I have in a few months. And, finally, I’ve even been able to witness some more people in my life become active and start running themselves. A real treat.

Conclusion? A slow June may be just what I needed. See? I can be a speedster sometimes!

-J

Things That Make Me Happy

The simple things make me happy. These are just some of the ones that have popped into my head lately:

Lilac Pastelle Nail Enamel by Revlon.

I found some rings I haven’t seen in awhile last week. One of my favs=turquoise.

Reconnecting with old friends at a badass brunch spot.

Witnessing others get active. Manny started running last week!

The fact that I will be here in a week.

Packing for a beach getaway with items like this.

A new June routine.

My sister’s video updates about what she’s doing in Oklahoma this summer.

What makes you happy?

-J

Sweatin’ It Out: Adventure into Hot Yoga

June is ‘stepback month’ for me. While you may hear about ‘stepback weeks’ in terms of marathon training, I feel like you rarely hear about runners taking a month to slow down and take it easy. There are probably a few reasons for this. Either they never consciously take it easy for several weeks or they’d rather not admit it to their #runnerd friends on Dailymile and/or Twitter. I decided to take it easy this month after training consistently for 4 months and racing two half marathons (along with a few other shorter races). My ‘coach from a distance’, Chris, put a cap on my mileage and told me that I shouldn’t run more than 60 miles in June. When he first gave me this guideline, I was like “okay, I can do that. 60 miles isn’t that bad”. You truly realize you’re a runner when you scoff at the idea of limiting how many miles you run in a given time period. Because it rarely is the number you want it to be; you always have to do a few more. (Case in point: I ran 100 miles in May, after adding in one more run to make it an even number.) But the light at the end of the tunnel, I suppose, is looking forward to starting my official Chicago Marathon training by jumping into some crazy mileage when I return from vacation at the end of the month.

After settling in with this idea of a recovery month, I decided I needed something to occupy my time/mind. It just so happened that a friend of mine had a Groupon for two months of unlimited hot yoga at a studio down the street from my office and I decided to take it off her hands. The studio wasn’t a convenient location for her and she didn’t have the time to truly take advantage of it. I registered for two months at TruHarmony Yoga near the Chicago and Franklin brown line and have attended 2 classes so far.

I’ve never truly practiced yoga. Sure, I’ve bought a few DVDs and tried to stand on my head in my own living room, but as far as dedicated time and effort to classes, it’s never been a priority. Yoga tends to make me feel refreshed and stretched out. I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and struggle to keep them loose especially when I’m running a lot. But yoga makes my posture more aligned and I feel like I can control my breathing. The first class I attended at TruHarmony was a Yogasculpt/Bootcamp class. I knew it was going to kick me in the butt. The instructor was incredibly energetic and got the class excited to sweat it out. The rooms are heated to 95 degrees for the full hour and they encourage each individual to remain in the room no matter how you feel. It’s more jolting to your body if you exit the room and return to the heat, which is totally understandable. This was probably the first full body workout I’ve had in awhile. (I guess I don’t consider running a full body workout anymore). I feel like I sweat more during one hour of hot yoga than I did at the sweltering 13.1 Chicago race. I typically don’t drip sweat during a difficult run, but I was drenched from head to toe after yoga bootcamp. My second class at TruHarmony was to be more relaxing, as it was Restorative Yoga scheduled as a week “wind down” on Friday evening. Another runner in the class suggested to the instructor that we focus on hips, which I was happy to hear. I tend to have a bit of tightness in my hips constantly after running. The entire hour felt like a deep hip stretch. We did poses that I’d never even seen before. And looking back on it, I’m sure I’d be embarrassed to do some of these poses even in the comfort of my own living room. It’s a testament to the studio and instructor that I felt comfortable enough to perform these poses in the presence of others. :-)

All in all, I like the studio and the classes I attended. My goal is to attend at least 2 classes per week, along with shorter weekly mileage through the end of the month. I may not be as close to 60 miles this month as my ‘coach’ would like, but the rest and recovery I’ve done so far through yoga has been a nice change of pace.

Have you taken the time to cross train appropriately in between training cycles? What’s your favorite way to stretch/restore your running muscles?

-J

Becoming a Techie Runner

I’ve been thinking about getting a Garmin for awhile now.  It’s gotten to the point now that whenever I see a friend on Dailymile post their workouts using Garmin Connect, I get jealous. I’ve been running and tracking my stats with Runkeeper for over a year now. And for the most part I’ve been really happy with it. It does exactly what it needs to do for people that want to get ‘techie’ without getting too bogged down in the details. Their Live feature is great for tracking people during a race and I always liked being able to strap my phone into my armband and have one device for both my music and my GPS tracking. But I’ve learned I can’t depend on my phone for everything. Apparently these things aren’t meant to be put through torrential downpours and insane running sprees through ‘urban rivers’. After almost killing my phone just for the sake of making sure I ran the correct mileage in the rain one day, I decided I probably need to take the plunge and buy a Garmin.

I’d perused the Garmin site countless times before, but never knew which model was going to be the best for the functions that I wanted/needed. So, as I typically do, I posed the question to the runners on Dailymile:

“Ok, so I am going to make my first Garmin purchase soon and I need some advice. Trying to decide if the 210 is going to be worth it. Chicago DMers, any issues with GPS tracking running downtown? Otherwise I may just get the FR60 with the foot pod. Let me know what you think!”

And these are just a few of the responses I got:

After thinking about the amount I wanted to spend and the features included in the models I was considering, I decided to buy the Forerunner 305. I was still nervous about the size of the watch–I have extremely small wrists (even for a girl) and I didn’t want to feel like I was carrying unnecessary weight on my runs. The price was right–only $125 on Amazon including the heart rate monitor. I figured it was a steal and decided to buy it last week.

Needless to say, I was psyched to start using it yesterday. On the nice days this past spring, I (more often than not) decided to use the treadmill at the gym for my speed workouts instead of running outside because I wanted to make sure that I was running my intervals at the correct pace. Even when using Runkeeper, it was hard to determine my splits. Now, all I have to do is program the workout accordingly, press Start, and occasionally monitor my speed throughout my run. I took the FR 305 for its second “test drive” tonight and I’m really pleased. The only issue left to settle is the heart rate monitor strap. The standard size isn’t small enough to fit my ribcage and stay put throughout the run. Turns out the Garmin store on Michigan has an x-small option for 8 bucks. I’m sold.

What do you use to track your workouts? If you don’t have a Garmin, have you ever considered getting one?

-J

Inspiration Friday: Week 2

I thought about what this week’s inspiration could be for a couple of days and couldn’t think of anything. Inspiration doesn’t always come when it needs to and sometimes you find it in the least likely of all places. I’m beginning this weekly ritual so that I can stay mindful of my goals and remember that there’s always going to be something to be happy about when I’m running/active. Anyone that has ever trained regularly for a race or followed an exercise regimen knows that it’s often not easy. Luckily, the hard work pays off in the end and you can look back on those hard days and know why the pain was necessary.

This week’s inspiration is more simple than that. This past week, I had the pleasure of taking Manny to Fleet Feet to get his first pair of official running shoes. Many of you may know Manny as my “cheerleader” (how I refer to him in most race recaps). Others may know him as “DJ extraordinaire”. And without him to support me through my running in the past couple of months, I know that I would not have come so far. After the Shamrock Shuffle this year, Manny started to drop hints that he wanted to start running and take advantage of some running swag. I have a feeling spectating just wasn’t enough for him anymore. (And, really, when is it enough?) I’m finding inspiration in the fact that he wants to try something new, become more active, and enjoy some therapeutic alone running time. It’s therapeutic for me and I know it will be for him too.

He walked out of Fleet Feet with a fresh pair of Mizunos and today, on his day off, he’ll be running in his first pair of running kicks…EVER! I think everyone probably knows someone that has thought about running before, but never taken that first step. It might inspire you to do more if you reach out to that person and share your passion for running–and who knows, they might just beat you at your next race.

-J

13.1 Chicago Race Recap: One Hot Race

Saturday was a tough day. I had high hopes to post a time under 1:45:59 in order to qualify for Corral C at the Chicago Marathon. After qualifying for Corral D but coming within 45 seconds of Corral C at Flying Pig at the beginning of May, I thought I’d take another stab at posting a faster time (what would have been a PR, mind you). I knew the day was going to be a scorcher and tried to not think about the forecast all week. I made sure to hydrate and prepare for what was to come. Regardless of what the weather was going to be like, I wanted to be mentally prepared.

I always like to eat a larger meal two nights before the race, rather than 8 or 9 hours before I get up to get ready on race morning. Having a  heavy stomach is never a good idea. I didn’t really know what I was going to eat, but after briefly raiding the fridge , I thought up a yummy dish. I cooked some bow-tie pasta and topped it with baby arugula and roma tomatoes with a bit of lemon juice. I ate it so fast, but felt like I had the perfect amount of food to be prepared come race morning (with some additional grazing and munching throughout the day on Friday, of course).

Friday morning I slept through my early a.m. alarm, so I had to skip my pre-race shake out, which usually consists of an easy one-mile warm-up and 1-2 miles at a speedy pace. There’s not much you can do in the way of last-minute preparations for a long distance race, but the “shakeout” makes you feel in control and comfortable after a short week of tapering. “Taper tantrums” is an appropriate term for what a runner goes through before a race and this past week was no exception. All I wanted to do was hit the pavement for one more long run. You know, just squeeze in another 2 hour run just to see what happens? …bad idea! Retaining energy for race day is almost always worth it, though, and I was happy to oblige. I ended up grabbing a quick dinner on the patio at Blackie’s downtown before heading home to relax and prepare for the next morning. I devoured some light fish ‘n chips, hydrated, and tried to stretch as much as possible once I got home.

I rested easy and slept soundly for once in my life! I’m a really deep sleeper and don’t usually have an issue with restless pre-race nights, but this sleep was the best I’ve had in awhile. I was in bed before 10:15 pm (which is an anomaly for a night owl like me–my normal bedtime is around 11:30 or midnight!). The 4 a.m. wake up call sounded and I was ready to go. I drank a small cup of coffee, ate two packs of Cinnamon and Spice oatmeal, and hydrated with some Gu Brew. The train ride downtown was calm and peaceful, as they normally are at such an early hour in Chicago. We saw several runners board the train and gave them the classic ‘head knod’ which means “I know, I know…it’s damn early!”. The race organized shuttles to run from several locations in the city to the south side for the race, which was great. Getting down there so early was not ideal, but the commute would have been much more difficult for someone without a car if they hadn’t offered it. And besides, I hadn’t been on a real school bus since, oh, the 11th grade?! Weird…

The air was sticky and humid when we got off the bus. I had never been so far south of the Hyde Park neighborhood and was surprised by how beautiful the lake looked at such an early hour. The last time I was at the beach that early was probably after a party-filled night freshman year of college–when going to the beach at 6 am seemed like the best.idea.ever. But, really, there’s something about seeing the lake so calm in the morning before the city gets to abustlin’ again.

I sat with Manny, my cheerleader, and enjoyed the shade while I fueled up. I am really loving Shot Bloks right now. The sugar content doesn’t seem as high as some other options and all the flavors I’ve tried so far are yummy (especially the margarita one!). I managed to use the restroom two times before entering the corral–apparently I was properly hydrated! I hoped that the water I consumed that morning would burn off during the run and I could avoid a pit stop.

I met Tim, my pacer for the race, at the Fleet Feet tent and briefly warmed up for 10 minutes or so. I was happy to have met Tim at a #runnerd meetup in May when he offered to pace me. It was the first “pacing experience” for both of us. I typically like to train and race on my own, but I was happy to have someone help me work toward my goal of getting into Corral C for #CM11. I told Tim it was appropriate that we were going to begin the day’s race in Corral C, so that we’d both qualify for Corral C in October. (Note: Tim already posted a C-qualifying time prior to 13.1 Chicago—impressive). I did my last minute stretching and waited impatiently as most runners do in corral. I knew the heat was going to be a struggle and each minute would count when it came to posting a good time.

The first couple of miles, I felt great. The PR was in the bag. The first 4 miles went around Jackson Park and it was primarily in the shade. It didn’t really feel like I was in the city at all, to be honest. Ever since I moved to the city, I’m craving some trail running. Reconnecting with some old friends, like Jessica, have got me thinking about registering for a few in the coming year. It brings me back to my cross country days. I felt pretty smooth–I was controlling my breathing and keeping my form light. After Mile 4, the heat really set in and I prepared for full sunlight. This is when my legs started to feel fatigued. I normally don’t feel so heavy at this point in a race, no matter what the distance. I remember thinking to myself, “I do 4-5 miles on a easy day! Why do my legs feel like this?”. I walked through each water station, being sure to get enough water in my stomach and over my body.

Once we got to Mile 6, I began to break down mentally. The heat was really getting to me and I knew that we were losing sight of our goal. My phone, which I was using for music as well as GPS tracking through Runkeeper, decided to randomly turn itself off. Up until that point, I knew what our average pace was and where we were at time-wise. I can deal with running without music, but I’ve learned to depend on half-mile updates in order to be mindful of where I need to be pace-wise. I think I need to consider training less without these audio cues in the coming months so that I can learn more about my own body’s pace (a Garmin will probably help with that). After I turned my phone back on and restarted my music (not Runkeeper), I was thrown off. The heat in the middle section of the course was pretty unbearable. At this point in the course, we started to see more people slow down and take a rest on the side of the trail. No runner ever wants to see a fellow runner struggling so much with exhaustion. Every person I saw was being tended to by the aid workers, which is a tribute to how well-run the race was. Each mile, the next water station seemed further and further away. After each water station, it was harder and harder to stop walking and kickstart the legs again. I took a Gu at mile 6, when I started to feel woozy and dehydrated. (At this point, I popped a few Endurolyte caps by Hammer Nutrition as well). Despite having hydrated appropriately all week, I don’t think I could have prepared myself for the amount of fluid-loss on Saturday. It was just that hot. I’ve heard that the heat index reached 95 degrees during the race–and I believe it.

After Mile 8, I was mentally broken. I kept pestering Tim, asking for pace times. I’d say, “How are we doing?” or “Are we still on pace?”. And each time, it got harder and harder for him to answer me with a “YES!”. At the same time, it became more difficult for me to ask the question, knowing that we would have to push (and I mean, really push) for the last couple of miles if I wanted to post a time under 1:45:59. After coming to the realization that it was out of reach, I focused on listening to my body. It was telling me to stop–to slow down. I don’t remember when we found out that the course was red flagged, but it was pretty close to the finish line. Considering it felt like a desert, I wasn’t surprised that this happened. And it probably contributed to me slowing in the past 3 miles.

Overall, I posted an approximate 1:50:xx finish time, which means an 8:23 average mile pace. It’s not a time to be ashamed of, by any means. It’s not the time I wanted, but I am happy to have another race experience under my belt. I’ve run 3 half marathons in the past year, which is something I would not have believed a year ago. It’s kind of amazing how your own motivation can grow into something that teaches you about yourself & others in ways that you never considered. In October, I’ll run my first marathon and begin in a corral—-Irregardless of whether or not it’s C OR D, I’ll be happy I made it into one! My next (and last) attempt for Corral C will be at the Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half Marathon on August 14th. Corral C wasn’t meant to be this past weekend, but it could still be in the stars!

Looking on the bright side and happy to be healthy after a scorching race this weekend…

-J

Big 1-0-0!

I finally hit the big 1-0-0 in terms of monthly mileage! Especially after taking it very easy the week following the Flying Pig Half Marathon, I think this is super impressive. It seems like it’s getting easier and easier to push mileage every week. The past two weeks were highest in terms of mileage since my training began in January as well–each were 27 miles per week!

After the 13.1 Marathon this weekend, I’m going to take a step back in terms of training to prepare for my second training cycle to begin in July. June will be a mixture of rest, cross-training, yoga, and easy fun runs. Nervous about losing my mojo, but I’m confident that I’ll be able to kick back into high gear come July. I’m looking forward to an entire week on the beach and poolside in Cabo with Manny to celebrate our 4th anniversary. I’ll be all smiles!

Milestones are fun, aren’t they?

-J