And BOOM goes the Dynamite!

So since the end of January when I officially began my training and committed entirely to running regularly, I have run 161 miles and spent over 25 hours putting one foot in front of the other. It’s crazy to think that last fall I wasn’t even thinking remotely about changing my routine as much as I have in the past two months. I’ve officially become comfortable with the schedule and the amount of time it’s going to take in order to commit to living up to the mother of all dreams (for now, at least)–the Chicago Marathon.

Last week was spent being anxious and worried. Saturday morning would be my first race of the ‘season’ and I wasn’t sure if I had prepared well enough to get the time that was running through my head. On Monday, I wasn’t feeling so great and was dealing with the symptoms of a minor head cold. Rather than going home and feeling depressed that I couldn’t motivate myself enough to get my blood pumping for at least a half hour, I went to the gym and tried to push myself. (I would have much rather gone for a run outside, but Chicago has decided to completely ignore the fact that it is, indeed, spring! Just silly.) All day I tried to decide between two different workouts–a 6 mile tempo run or a full-on 6 x 800 Yasso workout with 1 mile warm-up and cool-down. I decided that I would be a wuss if I left myself get by with just running a normal tempo run (3 miles at long & slow, 3 miles at race pace or faster). Whether or not this was a good decision–I don’t even know if I could tell. My left knee was tight and bothersome during an easy 2 mile warm-up. The distance turned to ‘2.0 Miles’ on the treadmill and I found myself increasing the speed by over 2.0 mph and letting my legs fly. It’s funny how sometimes the motivation to run even faster can come in one split second. And essentially totally change what you tell your body to do for the next 30-45 minutes. I leveled with myself after 3 or 4 strong-ish 800s at 7:13 pace and told myself I would decrease the Yasso laps from 6 to 5 just to keep my knee in check. I ended with a slow cooldown with thoughts about my knee going through my head–why now? what should I do? should I stretch it out? should I ice it for hours when I get home? should I even try to push it this weekend? should I play it safe? —> all of those nasty negative blunders that can get the best of you when you don’t need ’em around. I went home and felt good about what I accomplished…and thought about how I didn’t want to disappoint myself on race day.

The week was slow and regular. I managed to work in another 4 slow miles on Wednesday despite a runny nose that was determined to outrun even itself. The knee felt better and I was preparing to be mentally secure with an 8:30 pace for the Sam Costa Quarter Marathon. While 8:30 would not be such a horrible pace for my first race of the season, it’s hard for me to acknowledge that it’s ‘good enough’. Afterall, ‘good enough’ on Race Day seems like it should leave you empty of all the energy you arrived with but the adrenaline of having run such a great race.

Saturday morning arrived with an alarm clock at 6:45 a.m. in Indy. My body was still set on Chicago time and believe me, I felt the loss of that hour! Chris, my brother, arrived at the house around 7 am reeling and ready to go. He said it perfectly when he admitted , “I look relaxed and calm on the outside, but inside my brain is going a mile a minute”. Chris was to run the Half Marathon and officially his first race of the season. I managed to squeeze in a cup of coffee, a small bowl of Rice Chex with a splash of milk, and headed out the door with my family, my support.

When we arrived near the start and entered the church that was hosting us that morning, I wouldn’t say I was energetic or ready or pumped or psyched–or any of those words that you think of when someone is excited to accomplish the first goal of many. I was calm. I was collected. I got my bib, put my shoe tag on, and readied myself for the race that my body wanted to run. Chris, a friend, Mark, and I went out for a light one-mile warm-up and headed for the start line.

It may sound very cliche, but everything clicked the moment I started running. My warm-up had contributed to my worries about my knee, as it just wouldn’t relax and let the tension go. Shooting pains through my knee cap made me think that it may be a really long race for me that morning. But when I took off from the start line, I was calm, steady, and keeping up with a steady pace. After a Runkeeper snafu, I finally managed to calculate my split times from the audio cues and keep an 8:00 min/mile pace from one mile to the next. I really don’t know what I was thinking about during the race. I feel like I didn’t even listen to the music pumping through my ears and didn’t really realize where I was on the course. I only stopped for a quick gulp of Gatorade at mile 2.5 and avoided the rest of the hydration stations. I just felt like I didn’t need it. In a few words, I was: blank, steady, strong, and confused why it seemed easy.

Coming up the last hill of the race, I knew that I was going to blow my goal time of 53′-55′ minutes out of the water. I crossed the finish line at 50:12 with an average pace of 7:40 min/mile. WHERE THE HECK DID THAT COME FROM?! I don’t think I have an answer to that question even 2 days post-race. All I know is this–those Yassos must have paid off ! I was the 8th woman to finish and won 2nd place in my age group! And I’ve got the hardware to prove it! …And as my brother so aptly put on Dailymile post-race, AND BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE!

– J

Work>>>Home. The Urban Commute.

This week I tried my very first work-to-home running commute. The first taste of spring weather was just too wonderful to pass up and I wasn’t feeling strong enough to do a Yasso or speed workout on the treadmill as planned, so a quick run home in 50 degree weather was exactly what I needed. And to top it all off, it was warm enough to wear running shorts sans leggings for the first time this year. I had never done this before. Running an A to Z route is different than the routes I normally run, as they typically involve running a loop away from home and turning around once I get halfway through my planned distance. (“Loop” is probably not the most ideal term for where I run when I do this because the route is by no means circular. I typically run in the general direction of home and let the traffic signals guide me to avoid stopping and waiting for traffic. Such is the life of an urban long distance runner! Case in point:

Notice how I make over 10 turns when I run downtown as compared to the rest of my route. πŸ™‚

The logistics of running from work to home seem like they would be difficult–especially for a purse-carrying woman. But letting go of material possessions like my planner and all those unnecessary things I bring with me on a day-to-day basis felt liberating. I changed into my running clothes, laced up my Kinvaras, and got ready to leave it all behind. I left my desk at work with my wool jacket over the back of my chair and my purse where it can usually be found everyday of a normal work week. I left with my phone in my armband, my house key looped on my right shoelace, and my CTA pass and debit card in a pocket. Until the next morning, this is all I would have to worry about–and I liked it.

Since this was my first time completing my after-work commute home, I decided to keep the route simple. In fact, it only involved one complete turn southbound. In hindsight, I think I would have enjoyed the jog a little more if I had worked some more turns into it, but the weather was so nice and the sun was shining when it does only on spring days. I really had no complaints. Cutting out travel time from work to the gym and from the gym homeward meant that I had more time that evening to relax and spend with people I care about, which is something that I try not to sacrifice when working toward a long distance goal like I am now. After I got home, there was still 30 minutes of full daylight (thanks to Daylight Savings Time!) and I felt more energetic after the short run home.

I’m not sure if I would ever decide to run from home to work, but there’s time to experiment and have fun with working my runs into my day. I have a feeling my days at the gym are numbered as we get some more warm days on the calendar. It’s always a nice option for those cold rainy days and I can’t completely nix strength training from my training plan. Working some creativity into the normal running week was a welcome change!


It Must Be Springtime

I lied. It’s 35 degrees outside right now…Ok, so maybe it’s not spring just yet, but several things in the past couple of weeks have made me feel like it’s just around the corner. I’ve always said that I don’t have a favorite season of the year, but rather, a favorite period between seasons. It’s an important distinction, really. Especially when it comes to weather in the Midwest, it’s easy to feel like it’s either sweltering hot or bone-chilling cold outside. It’s times like these that give you a hint of one season one day and a hint of the next the following day. Today it was drizzly and foggy when I woke up, but my walk to Whole Foods for lunch (Pizza Wednesday special!) was incredibly pleasant. And to top it all off, I didn’t have to don that heavy winter coat and wish that I had chosen a lighter jacket the rest of the day (that happens quite often in a city with constantly changing weather).

Besides the obvious implication that the weather is changing, the change in seasons has induced other changes. On Monday night, my boyfriend and I decided to rearrange our living room. I’m somewhat notorious for making changes to my apartment, but since I moved in with Manny over 14 months ago, we have only made minor changes like hanging a different painting on a wall or adding knick-knacks somewhere on our shelves (complete with buddhas and lucky elephants). Just as many women do when moving into a bachelor pad environment, I made many small changes when I first moved in, but haven’t really felt the need to do some larger rearrangement since then. SO–with Manny’s motivation, we FLIP FLOPPED the living room. It’s nice to have a different wall to stare at and ponder if I have the energy to go out for a run and the puppy seems to like more floor space to lay around on (that girl is always fighting sleep, I swear). My favorite part of this “new wall” is a small tapestry that used to be my grandmother’s that we hung in the center of an empty gold-painted frame. It reads ‘Uff Da’, which is a Scandinavian phrase that means many things–it can mean “oh my god, what a horrible day”. It can be said when lifting a heavy box. It can be said at times of excitement and anxiousness. It can mean absolutely anything you want it to mean, but I have a feeling it will bring different thoughts to mind each night when I sit on the couch and think about my day.

One of the other changes that has allowed me to alter my life in some way is the ability to run my long distance jog on the weekends outside! YES–outside! Luckily, in the past couple of weeks I’ve had my pick of a fairly mild Saturday or Sunday to dedicated to running 8+ miles around the city. My first escapade outside took me from Pilsen, to Buckingham Fountain along the lake, through downtown and back south to Pilsen. This is a route that I had never run before and it was such a great feeling to allow my body to take me somewhere that might sound far mentally, but is not farther than my body is willing to take me physically. Last week I did an 8-mile loop north to Division, down Western Ave, and back through Pilsen. I’m absolutely loving this mixture of gym time during the week and outdoor freedom on the weekends. The sticky, humid gym with it’s measly treadmill-to-runner ratio makes me thankful for my outdoor runs on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Oh ya, and I don’t [entirely] dread walking the pup at night anymore!!! Those -20 degree windchills froze both me and the pup there for a few weeks and romping in the snow after the blizzard covered BarkLee from head to toe so much that you couldn’t even see her! An evening stroll around the neighborhood is so much more enjoyable when you don’t have to put layers on just to walk around the block. πŸ™‚ I’m looking forward to more spring strolls through the sunset air. Yesterday was probably the first evening when I felt like I wasn’t trudging to the gym through pitch black skies. It was still light out when I got out of work, which made heading to the gym so much easier. Longer days are coming!

The spring is going to put a spring in my step, I can tell. Looking forward to more runs outdoors, more motivation to go out to restaurants I’ve been wanting to try all winter, and either revamping the apartment in a whole new way or looking into moving into a new place altogether. The itch has begun!


Kickin’ in Kinvaras

After a long awaited trip to Fleet Feet, I am finally sporting some new Saucony Kinvaras and I am head over heels happy with them. My ‘coach’ recommended them to me as a nice low profile, lightweight training shoe and he couldn’t have been more right about it. This was my first time buying shoes at Fleet Feet (I had only previously walked through their doors when picking up my race packets for other races I registered for), but I felt extremely confident in the fact that they would know what they’re talking about because of friends’ reviews. The last time I bought a new pair of running shoes was December of 2009 after returning from my study abroad trip to Belgium–I was determined to run my first half marathon the following May after being deprived of some sort of athletic culture and overindulging in Belgian fries and samurai sauce and delicious Belgian brews. My dad bought them for me as a Christmas present and I was all too happy to strap them on and hit the pavement. Since the Indy Mini Marathon last May I have continued to use the Brooks and probably should have bought a new pair months ago. [I’m not sure what their mileage count was but I can tell you from the shin and foot pain I was having, they had to have been long gone for plenty of miles now.] I walked out of Fleet Feet tonight after trying on some Mizunos, New Balance, Pumas, and finally the Saucony’s.

They felt so incredibly light that by the time I got on the treadmill I realized I was more motivated than I had originally planned to be. (Yes, some days I PLAN to be motivated. Others…not so much.) I was thinking that I would do an easy 5 mile at pace, but instead I did a tempo run with my fasted mile being at a 7:30 min/mile pace. I haven’t run that pace in an extremely long time. In fact, I probably can’t even tell you when that last time was! I had no tightness in my hips which is the first place to feel fatigue during an ambitious workout. I’m looking forward to more runs like this one–they’re the ones that keep you going. It’s funny how all of the struggle is relative; Mile 5 was at a 9:00 min/mile pace and it felt to drag on and on and on!

And when I got home I was happy to find my welcome packet to the ACS Team DetermiNATION with a nice training tank tucked inside. Nothing like some nice apparel to get you motivated, right? [Anyone else look forward to collecting race shirts as much as I do?]

I’ve found myself so distracted at work lately, just itching to lace up my shoes and go out there during the day when the sun shines through the office windows. One of these days maybe I’ll go for a run during lunch if time permits. It will sure be nice to run along the lake as the sun sets in a couple of months. πŸ™‚