Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Run for the PR and Also for the Hill of It

As I wrote earlier this week, I was quite nervous going into this weekend’s Run for the Hill of It 5 Miler. This heat has made me extremely sluggish the last two months. In addition, as this was my first opportunity to set a new PR for a distance, the pressure was on. Sure, I could have relaxed my expectations considering the heat, but that’s just not me. Though I would never wish the stress I put on myself on anyone else, the pressure that demands perfection, it certainly does lead to success. Which brings me to my race recap for this weekend’s event:


If you can't see through the obnoxious glare it says 41:35!

Take that 5 Miler! I crush you!
That’s right peeps! I set a new PR for my 5 mile distance and I beat my old record by a whole minute!
Leading up to the race I was extremely nervous. I had 3 levels of goals:

1. Finish with at least an average 9 min/mile. I sustained this over 10 miles at a race, so I can do it over half the distance right?

2. Match my current PR, the only PR I have for a 5 mile distance, at 42:33. Possible, however, running that race was an incredible accomplishment. It would be very hard to beat.

3. Beat my current PR. This was my ideal goal, but I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to achieve it.

The morning of the race I couldn’t keep any food down and I barely drank anything. I knew going in that the shady course through the woods would prevent some of the scorching heat that was already rising. This was comforting. I also knew, however, that even if the heat didn’t reach its full potential on the course, the humidity sure would. My co-worker Julia and her husband Steve were joining me for the race. Mike sat out again to his unhappiness and played photographer instead. The race was a 2.5 mile out-and-back on Forbidden Drive, a beautiful trail path along the Wissahickon Creek in Fairmount Park.

Pre-race with Julia

First time testing out the Minimus Trail on actual trail. Also, compression socks for an extra leg boost!

The Philly Phanatic gets the runners pumped up
And we're off!
When the gun went off myself, Julia, Steve, and 300+ other people tore down the path. A half mile in I glanced down at my Garmin only to find that my lap pace was at 7:51. That’s got to be wrong, I thought. There’s no way I’m pulling a pace with the number 7 in front of it. It continued bouncing around between 7:51 and 8:05. It was only when I hit mile marker 1 and my watch said that I had just run an 8-minute mile that I really started believing the numbers. First thought: OMG I just ran an 8-minute mile! That doesn’t happen very often. Second thought: Shit, there’s no way I can sustain this for another 4 miles. I’m totally screwing myself and I started out too fast!

I decided to focus on a man in green about 5 feet ahead of me. I thought okay, just keep this guy in your sight and use him to keep you going. Slowly my confidence began to rise as the race went on. I arrived at the 2.5 mile turn around only to see the split time clock reading 20:05. That’s right, I sustained an 8-minute mile over 2.5 miles! Goal number 3 was seeming more and more realistic!

On the way back I kept the man in green in sight, however he was about 20 feet away instead of 5. I was starting to wear out from both the humidity and lack of energy. When I’m not feeling well during a race I go through a 3-step checklist to address the problem, looking at legs, breathing, and mental state. 1. How are my legs feeling? Fine, no problems there. Feeling strong. 2. How is my breathing? It could be better. It feels a little stressed. Need to take slower, deeper breaths and recover. 3. How’s my mental state? Getting better and better. Still not in uber-confidence mode, but only improving as time goes on. I dumped a total of 3 cups of water on my head during the entire course, which kept me feeling cool despite the rising humidity. My Garmin started fluttering up to 8:30 lap pace on the way back, sometimes going as high as 8:50, but I kept my spirits up!

With less than a half mile left I saw a hill coming up. I don’t remember going down that on the way out! What the hell! Get outta here! Despite this surprise, I kept trucking along, knowing full well that I could beat my PR if I kept up the pace. As soon as I got to the top of the hill I saw the finish line. I sprinted, as fast as my body would allow, across the finish line, utterly exhausted, on the verge of puking, and overwhelmed by my victory. I even teared up a little (there’s no crying in running!).

I promise you I'm sprinting, not just flapping my arms like a chicken and skipping across the finish line

Check me and my new PR out!
After I caught my breath I waiting for Julia to finish so I could be obnoxious and yell her name at the top of my lungs. Steve had finished long before, in about 36 minutes. Did I mention he’s in his 60s? Yeah, he’s ridiculous. At my age he was running 5 milers in 26 minutes, which definitely could have scored him top finisher if not top placer. He did come in second place in his age group. Not too shabby! He went for a 2 mile cool down run afterwards. Like I said, ridiculous.

Julia crossing the finish line. Mike tried to snap Steve crossing, but he's too damn fast!
All in all it was a fantastic morning. The only thing that could have made it better is if Mike could have run. Patience! He’ll be back before he knows it. We’re hoping to run two more races with Julia and Steve in September. They are 5ks, which is a distance I’ve been shying away from as my ultimate goal is to be an ultra runner. However, I’m also curious to see just how fast I can get. I’m in my mid-twenties so there is still time to improve!

Also, may I just point out that I don’t think its coincidence that I re-added speed work and set a new PR in the same week. After a month of feeling super slow, going fast again this week felt really good and made me feel really capable. Speed work is must from here on out! No more over-sleeping! Get to it girl!

5 miles leaves room for ridiculously oversized celebration cookie!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Delicious (and Nutritious!) - Let's Get Naked

Welcome to another edition of Delicious (and Nutritious)! Today’s honorary foodie item is Naked Juice. Now normally I am not really a juice person. Or rather, I love juice, but I usually avoid it. Many people forget that juices are actually high in calories, sugars, and carbohydrates, especially if you are not drinking 100%. Its not hard to forget about eating a meal or a snack, but drinking juice can easily be done without thought and you might not remember to add it into your daily calorie count. Usually I stick to water only, with a cup of green or white tea in the morning, and 1-2 glasses of white wine over the entire week, usually on Friday night (oh how different from college days!).

I do make exceptions, however, for Naked Juice! I usually have 3-4 a week and use them as a snack during the workday. They are all made 100% from fresh fruits and veggies and have no artificial flavors, added sugars, or preservatives. Hate eating your vegetables? Well then drink them instead! If you are worried about or have trouble getting enough servings of fruits and veggies then I urge you to try a Naked Juice. They are a great mid-morning or late afternoon pick me up.

Yum yum delicious!
There are a variety of different drinks including fruit juices, fruit smoothies, protein smoothies, and even coconut water. And within each of those categories are enough options to keep you excited for quite some time!

My absolute favorite is Green Machine. “Looks weird, tastes amazing,” their slogan for this particular flavor, pretty much sums it up. Most might be turned off by the dark, seaweed-green color and the noted addition of spinach, broccoli, garlic, blue green algae, and others on the side of the bottle (of course that’s what attracted me to it!). I assure you friends, it tastes delicious! Every time I take a sip it’s like I can feel all the delicious, nutritious nutrients swimming around in my body. I’m also a fan of Mighty Mango, Blue Machine, and Orange Carrot. Pick one up and try it for yourself!

In my fridge this week


Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Training Plan Post

Look out! Extremely lengthy post below!

When I decided to run a half marathon during Thanksgiving last year I didn’t even own a proper pair of running shoes let alone did I have any idea about what to do for a training plan. At that point I had been casually running 3 miles 3-4 days a week for a little over 2 months, but I wasn’t following a strict regimen. It was more of a whenever I feel like it type of situation. I spent a few days taking serious time to search for the best training plan for me. In the end I decided I really liked what Hal Higdon had to offer. Through many a Runner’s World Forum searches I found that a lot of people were using Hal’s program and had good things to say. He offers programs for a variety of distances (from 5k to ultramarathon). For most distances he has also designed different plans based on different degrees of experience (from novice to expert). And to top it all off his plans seemed very easy for me to understand. A lot of plans I looked at read something like “Tuesday - 2 x 400, 3 miles...” Like I said I didn’t even own proper running shoes, so this kind of jargon was definitely over my head. I just wanted something simple, predictive, and repetitive (in a good way). I finally landed on Hal’s Novice Half Marathon Training Plan. It was 4 days a week with predictable distances and gentle mileage increases. It was something that I could easily blend into my full-time work schedule.

So, the only problem with Hal’s Novice Half Marathon Training Plan? It was 12 weeks long and the half marathon I was planning on running was 25 weeks away. I had two options. I could continue my casual 3 mile runs for the next 13 weeks before starting the program. Or, I could stretch Hal’s plan over 25 weeks and get a jump start on training. Not wanting to dillydally or lose the sudden motivation I recently gained to run the race, I chose option B. There was no reason I couldn’t start right away. In fact, I hoped the longer training period would make me feel more confident come race day, since at that point I was still terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it at all.

The next step was to actually write my 25-week plan. I used my chosen plan as a base, keeping the same basic structure and distances, but I added two different types of variations to extend the plan from 12 to 25 weeks: 1. I repeated some weeks, which allowed the miles to really sink in before increasing the distances. 2. Instead of increasing my long runs 1 mile every week I increased them 0.5 miles every week, allowing me to not only add more weeks, but again, to make me feel more comfortable with the distance before moving to a bigger mile number. Below are Hal’s 12-week plan and the first 12 weeks of my 25-week plan, where both of my strategies are illustrated. Even just looking at the first 4 weeks of each plan (highlighted) you can see the slight alterations.

My personalized plan ended up working out really well for me. By the time the race rolled around not only had I been able to schedule and run several shorter races to get used to the racing vibe (a 5k, 8k, and 10k), I had also been consistently training for 6 months (half a year!) and felt really comfortable as a runner. When it came time to make my marathon training plan it was just coincidence that there was another 25 weeks between the half and the full. I was so used to being in training mode at that point that I had no problems or gripes about getting back into it right away. I did take a week off for vacation right after the half (Puerto Rico!), but I still logged a casual, no stress 20 miles.

I honestly don’t mind always being ‘in training.’ It keeps me focused and active. And it doesn’t mean every single run has to be taken with the utmost seriousness. With 25 weeks instead of 12 or 16 weeks there is room to breathe and relax a little bit. I am definitely a planner. In fact I am an OCD, super organized, crazy person planner. I usually have a general plan for my life made at least a year out if not more. And I know what I’m doing everyday for the next month without having to look at my calendar. With my race schedule tentatively planned out into 2014 it seems as though I’ll always be ‘in training,’ or at least for 48-50 weeks out of the year. I don’t really mind this. Having a plan makes me feel secure. I’m a person who craves structure and organization. If a number is on my training plan it’s almost always the case that I’ll do whatever I need to in order to satisfy it (Sunday being a good example).

My first marathon is 16 weeks from this Sunday. 4 months. Seems like a long time, but it will probably fly by. Having looked at my fair share of marathon training plans, most seem to be between 16 to 18 weeks, some going as high as 20, some as low as 12 (which seems a little short to me). The point is, that with the Philadelphia Marathon a little over 16 weeks away most people have either already started their training or are just about to. As already discussed in this ridiculously long post (sorry!) I’m already ahead of the game. For the marathon version of my 25-weeks I took all the good patterns I picked up from my half training plan and just amped up the mileage. I’ve also started to add more complicated weekly plans, including more speed work, tempo runs, and back-to-backs. Unlike Thanksgiving last year, I now know a lot more about running and feel comfortable adding these in. In addition to revising my half plan I also made sure to consult some actual marathon training plans, so I know to add things like alternating really long with not so long runs on consecutive Sundays.

Alllll of that said, some people are much more relaxed about their planning than I. Take my wonderful fiance Mike for example. He is what I would call a “natural born runner.” He has long, lean, legs and the metabolism of a hummingbird. He ran cross country in high school, but stopped once college started, not really starting again until I got running crazed this past year. On our 4 year anniversary weekend trip to NYC in February he joined me on my 7 mile long run. From then on it started becoming routine every Sunday for him to come with me. After a few months he started adding his own weekday runs too, but he never plotted it out on a chart or bothered with the details. He barely even recorded them after he finished (unlike me, who plots every twist, turn, and step on He started running a few of the shorter races with me, mostly to keep busy (he rather run the race than sit for an hour and wait for me to finish). He casually signed up for the half a month or so before. The same half that I was following a rigorous 6-month plan for. He ran the race and beat me by 10 minutes, having had a third as much training as I. So its not hard to imagine that again, as I am in 6 months of training for the marathon, he has not followed nor probably intends to follow any sort of plan for the same race. Granted he is recovering from his heel spur right now (an injury that may be due to his unplanned, sporadic and varying mileage) so he can’t run at the moment. After he recovers I do hope that he considers at least king of plotting out some mileage goals, but at the very least he will continue to join me on my weekend long runs. And this in itself will serve to minimally prepare him for the race. Thank goodness one of us is a planner!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rainy Nights and the Return of Speed Work

Yesterday was supposed to be a rest day, as Mondays usually are, however I have a race coming up this Saturday so I decided to exchange my Monday rest day for a Friday rest day. I was expecting the weather to be a little cooler than the weekend, but it ended up being better than expected: around 75 degrees and rainy! I haven’t run in the rain since April. Back then 75 degrees seemed hot, hot, hot! Now it sounds oh so delicious.

After my delightful rainy run
As I said, I have a race this Saturday: a 5 Miler on Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park. Not only is it my first trail race, but its the first time I will be completing a race of a similar distance for the second time (does that make sense?). What I mean is that I ran an 8k in April (4.97 miles) so this is my opportunity to beat my previous record (+0.03 miles, but basically the same distance) and set a new PR (personal record). I’m nervous for this race because of this fact. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and even though this isn’t the big one (aka the Philly Marathon in November), its still important that I do well. I’m all the more nervous because not only have a run this distance before, but I exceeded my original time goals during the 8k, meaning it will be even harder to beat.

So, that said, I’m firmly re-instituting speed work this week! In late April I started adding 2 mornings of speed work, 2 miles each day. Honestly though, I’d much rather force myself to go farther than faster. Quite frankly running fast sucks. It hurts. A lot. But no other type of run I’ve done has been as rewarding as speed work. Maybe its because I can see the progress so clearly. I was literally shaving seconds off of my times every week. And when you are only running 1 mile at a time, seconds count. Now, after weeks of sleeping through my speed workouts, and weeks of being slow and sluggish, I need to suck it up, get up, and get the eff out there! I don’t know if my two speed workouts this week will do enough to make my times that much faster on Saturday, but it can’t hurt. Though my training plan calls for 3 miles of speed work twice a week, I’m going to start again with 2 miles instead. When I increased from 2 to 3 miles back in June I had a hard time adjusting. Just adding one more mile to speed work was challenging, and my miles were much slower than previously simply because I knew I needed energy for the third mile. And since it’s been a few weeks, I know I’ll get a lot more out of 2 miles than 3.

This morning I ran my 2 miles. It was terrible. It made me hate running. But, after less than 15 minutes of run time I was done and had not done nearly as bad as I’d thought I would considering I’ve skipped a few weeks. And, I actually woke up early, which is a miracle! Not a bad way to start the day!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Time It Took Me 10 Hours to Run 16 Miles

Based on how my weekend was going already I should have expected no less from Sunday. In my dream world I was going to get up at 5am, eat a quick breakfast, run my 16 miles, and be back before 8:30 and the worst of the heat. In reality, I slept in until 8:30 (having not gotten much sleep the night before), ate breakfast, and didn’t get into my running shoes until 10:30am. I knew it was going to hurt. I knew it would not be fun. Nothing takes the fun out of running like 95 degrees and 80% humidity. Fortunately I plotted my 16 miles locally, planning to pass by my house again every 4 miles in case I needed a water refill or bathroom break.

Pre-run, ready to go!
Water bottle and gels: check!
I fell apart at mile 2, when I hit my first turn around point. I had 2 miles back to the house at which point I was supposed to start leg 2 out of 4. The sun was pounding down. My feet were going so slow that I think they barely left the pavement. I felt like I was swimming except instead of cold water it was the thick, stale, humid air. I began to realize that I was not going to make it mile 16. I wasn’t even going to make it to mile 5. There was no way I could continue in these circumstances. I’ve been running in this heat wave all week long so why did it feel so hopeless now? Well, mentally knowing you have to run 4 miles is a lot different than knowing you have to run 16 miles. I can make it through 40 minutes of hot, humid hell. But we were talking about more than 2.5 hours! Had I gotten up earlier it may have been a different story. Maybe not. This heat wave hasn’t even given the ground enough time to cool at night. It’s been pretty miserable 24/7. During those 2 miles home all sorts of negativity and compromises were going through my head: maybe I can just try to make it to 33 mpw like last week, maybe I don’t need the extra 2 miles this week, that would mean I only have to run 10 more after this; maybe I can just try to make it to 30 miles this week which would mean I only have to run 7 more after this instead of 11 more; maybe I just have to accept that I’ll only run 4 miles today and this week will be a crap shoot and a failure. Neither my head nor body were in a good place.

After the morning 4 miles...dying
After stumbling home and holding my head in front of the air conditioner for 5 minutes and sprawling out on the wood floors for another 10 I began to get some positivity back. Okay I just need to break this up. Maybe I’ll go to the gym and use the treadmill. After all I do have that membership lying around. I should try to get some use out of it. Then maybe I’ll do part of the mileage tonight after the sun goes down. Maybe it will be cooler then. And wouldn’t you know that’s exactly what I did. After melting into the couch for two hours and fully recovering from the morning I got my butt up and headed to the gym. Fortunately its only a half block away so I didn’t expire in the heat on the way there. I was hoping to get 8 miles laid out, which would be challenging since I am a self-proclaimed treadmill hater. I get really bored and it’s too easy to just switch it off, give up, and go home. When I run 3 miles outside I usually have to run the 3 miles back to get home, hence I am compelled to run the entire distance. Amazingly though I was able to crush 8 miles out pretty quickly (or faster than I have been running outside lately anyway) thanks to my iPod and the Bourne Ultimatum playing on the gym TV. Who needs sound when you can just watch Matt Damon kick ass for an hour and 20 minutes?

Afterwards I went home, showered, scarfed down some grub and went grocery shopping with Mike. We then proceeded to melt into the couch all over again with the Law & Order: SVU marathon until the clock struck 8pm, at which point I once again dragged my butt up and ran my last 4 miles of the day. Surprisingly this last run was the most pleasant of the 3. The air had cooled a bit and the sun was going down. What a huge difference from how I felt during my morning 4 miles. It was a breath of fresh air to actually enjoy running again. And though my legs certainly felt as though they’d already run 12 miles that day, I had no soreness or pain. Maybe running every few hours in segments isn’t such a bad idea, if only to get your legs used to quick recovery. I’ll need this if I ever plan on doing back-to-back races like many runners do.
And so, there you have it: 16 miles in 10 hours. While I would have been ecstatic to have run all 16 miles consecutively, especially since this was my first attempt at this distance, I’m proud of myself nonetheless. Its challenging enough to get yourself out of the house to run once a day. So the fact that I was able to push myself out of the house 3 separate times is astonishing to me. Good thing I have no life too, and I can dedicate a whole Sunday just to running.

Update: Mike finally got his x-rays. He does have a heel spur in his left foot. He got measured for his orthotics on Friday. They should take 2 weeks to arrive and 10 days to break in. He’s also supposed to get a shot of cortisone every week for 3 weeks. So hopefully he will be running again by mid-August. Meanwhile, he’s been trying to bike a lot to make up for it. While I was hitting the treadmill yesterday to avoid the heat he headed up to Forbidden Drive for a good two hours on his bike.

Mike - serious face bike man
During his ride Mike took our awesome new camera with him. It can survive in water at depths of up to 16 feet, withstand a 5 foot fall, and hold up against 14 degree temperatures. For someone (me) who has broken expensive, fragile, super thin camera after camera this is a welcome addition to our household. If not for our outdoor adventures, then at least for my day to day clumsiness.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Hot Night and a Cool Afternoon

So far my weekend is turning out a little different than I had planned. It all started Friday evening. Mike and I headed to Sweetgreen for dinner. We made sure to hit up the sweetflow too since its hot as heck! Afterwards we went back home to cool off in the a/c and flipped the channels looking for a movie. Then, at 9pm, just as I was thinking about turning in, everything went dark. The electricity had blown out on our half of the block, probably due to the fact that everyone was running all of their window units on high. Any other time of the year I might not have freaked out. Friday night, however, we were two days into a ridiculous heat wave. The temperature was not supposed to go below 80 degrees that night and humidity was very unforgiving. Our immediate fear was that it would get too hot for the dogs. We couldn’t open the window since it was still boiling outside. Instead we all laid out on the hardwood floor in the living room and tried to be as still as possible to keep our body temperatures down. Thankfully at 5am, 8 hours later, the air came back on and we dragged ourselves into the bedroom hoping to get some actual sleep.

Needless to say we were exhausted by the time the sun came up and there was no way we were getting up for boxing at 6am. Instead we slept until 8am and I headed out for a 4 mile run around 9.  It was already pretty nasty outside by that time and I barely made it back home without passing out. I was really upset we missed boxing. So when I got back from my run and found Mike jumping rope and doing crunches I grabbed our gloves and decided to have our own boxing class! 350 crunches: check. 50 push ups: check. Jump rope: check. Unfortunately by the time we got to the boxing part I was ready to throw in the towel after my run and all of that conditioning. At least I had good intentions! Also, I wanted to get on to our next activity: pool party!!!

Our friend’s in Baltimore were throwing a crab fest and pool party. We missed the occasion last year so I was really excited to go this time. I’m allergic to shellfish so I did not partake in the crab massacre. No problem though. I was perfectly content sitting in their pool for 4 hours. We got home around 8:30pm and grabbed some fro-yo again to cool off. Sigh...I miss the pool already. This would be so much easier if the landlord just let me build one in my living room like I wanted!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why Do We Run?

This is probably a question asked more frequently by non-runners. As in, “what the hell would motivate you to take part in such torture?” And while runners may know exactly why it is they run, it might be hard to put into words when they are asked. And sometimes there is no one answer.

I started thinking more about this question a few days ago. I read a lot of blogs that are more food-centric. A lot of people are clearly into this running thing as a means to eat. And why wouldn’t you be? Running is one of the highest calorie burning activities you can do with an average of 100 calories burned per mile (note: varies slightly when taking into consideration weight, height, body fat, etc.). All it takes is 3 miles, 30 minutes and then maybe you can grab that extra blueberry muffin (if you can find a blueberry muffin less than 300 calories these days. Yay America!). So earlier this week I was trying to figure out if I was one of those run to eat or eat to run people. Many times I find I have to force feed myself just so I have enough energy to run. At the same time I do indulge in dessert almost every night (there’s always room!) and it does make me feel a little bit better knowing I just burned 500 calories.

Overall though, food is not really the reason I run. I run for much more than that. I run to feel alive. I run to sweat. I run to feel the burn. I run because its fun. I run to get away from it all. I run to feel accomplished. I run to see what I’m capable of. I run because I can.

In a few weeks I plan to launch a monthly series dedicated to runners and running of the past. Running has been around a long time. In my research so far I’ve come up with many reasons why people run. We run to catch food, to deliver, to report, to exercise, to show power, for fun, for sport, for prestige, for prizes. The list goes on. Some of these apply to today, some don’t. I hope to look at these more closely in my investigations.

Okay enough serious face. Great weekend ahead: boxing and a 3 mile run tomorrow morning, then headed to Baltimore to take refuge from this ridiculous heat at our friend’s pool party, and back in Philly for an (hopefully) early AM 16 miler Sunday! Time to get going!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You Are Beautiful and Broccoli Bouquets

 A few random mini posts today:

- Someone wrote ‘you are beautiful’ on the water fountain at Lloyd Hall up by Boathouse Row. That person could have wrote something really mean. Instead they wrote something positive and uplifting for everyone walking, running, biking, even rollerblading by, who are working hard and sweating it out. It makes me smile every time I see it.

- It is hot out. I mean blistering hot. I’ve been very sluggish and slow on my runs lately. I’ve been sleeping through my speed workouts and making up the miles on slow runs in the evenings. For a few weeks I thought this might be because I am overtraining. Maybe I should be splicing in a few weeks of decreased mileage to give myself a break (okay, I know I should be doing this). Or maybe its the heat that’s getting to me. Since when is 7 days in a row of mid-90s, if not 100 degree temperatures, a common occurrence? Common in the sense of: this has happened more than once this summer already! Its too bad I hate the treadmill because then I would actually get away from some of this insufferable weather. Until then I’ll just continue perfecting my awesome shorts tan!
My broccoli bouquet

- I’ve been overkill on the broccoli this week. It’s only Wednesday and I’ve gone through 6 stems already and bought 3 more for tomorrow. I also got really pissed when I found out Mike ate the entire pre-chopped bag we got Sunday at TJs. I guess there are worse things to be obsessed with. Do you think Mike would mind if I carried broccoli down the aisle instead of flowers?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Delicious (and Nutritious!) - The Sweet and The Green

This is the first post of a whenever-I-feel-like-it series about yummy things. Today’s inaugural post is about Sweetgreen! If you are not from the DC area you may not be familiar with this heavenly place. Allow me to enlighten you:

On their website they describe themselves as “fast-casual dining.” They offer salads (either pre-menu-ed or make-your-own) that are all made from fresh, local and orgranic ingredients. They make, quite simply, the best salads in the world. Even those who are not ‘salad people’ can be turned into converts after one trip here. And if you still have room after your salad (and you’re having a sneaky non-vegan day) you can always get dessert. ‘Sweetflow’ is their tart frozen yogurt to which you can add a number of fresh fruit toppings, granola, and other delectable goodies. It’s all natural, fat free, and full of live active cultures (mmm cultures). And if all of that is not enough to make you try the place then at least do so for their eco-friendly approach to dining: their restaurants are built from reclaimed materials, they use compostable packaging including their utensils, they power their business through wind and solar power, and they compost unused food scraps and recycle as much of their materials as possible. All in all a very progressive place!

The company was started by some Georgetown University students a few years back. Their first store is about the size of a closet and is located right on M Street in Georgetown DC, a major shopping hubbub and also luckily 2 blocks from my Mom’s house. When I was living home towards the end of college we frequented Sweetgreen on a weekly if not daily basis. And still, whenever my sister or I are home it is traditional that we make a trip (or 2) for lunch!
So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that Sweetgreen was coming to Philly! ‘Beside myself’ would be a good way to describe it. It was actually a freak accident that I came upon it. Their location here is just off of Penn campus where I work. One day a few months ago I happened to head up to that spot planning to hit up a Middle Eastern place for lunch. Needless to say I quickly abandoned my previously made lunch plans when I ran into Sweetgreen’s newest location. I was so excited when I went inside and I mentioned to the staff how much I loved their company and how I used to live right next to their original store. Then, for being such a loyal customer, they gave me a 40% discount on my salad! Extra super awesome!

Unfortunately I haven’t made it up there as much as I’d like. I try to bring my lunch to work everyday to cut down on costs. Fridays I usually splurge and eat out, but with all of the insane heat we’ve been having it’s hard to convince myself to walk the 30 minute round trip. However, I was thrilled this past weekend though when my sister came for the Midnight Madness race. Being that the race was at night time instead of the early A.M. like usual we had to consider our dinner options carefully. It’s no fun running on an overly full stomach! This was the perfect opportunity to hit up Sweetgreen and Caitlin was especially excited since they haven’t migrated to NYC yet where she lives. She even picked up a second salad to eat for breakfast on the bus ride home the next morning!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Midnight is for the Crazies

Last night (or should I say very early this morning!) I had the pleasure of racing the Midnight Madness Run put on by the Stroehmann Back on My Feet 20in24 Event. And let me just say that it was SO much fun! I think it is my favorite race so far that I’ve done.

Caitlin and I showing off our fab accessories
A bit of background on the event: The entire race is based in Philadelphia and the course consists of the 8.4 mile loop extending from Lloyd Hall on Boathouse Row (right behind the Art Museum) all the way up to Falls Bridge and back around again. The main part of the event is the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. The point of this ultra is to run as many 8.4 mile loops as you can within a 24 hour period. It’s definitely a different kind of ultra. The other major part of the event is the Relay Challenge, where teams of 5 run between 5 and 20 loops (as a team) as quickly as they can within the 24 hours. Depending on how many loops your team decides to run you are either marked a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum team. For example, those running on a platinum team, meaning 20 loops (4 loops per team member) have to keep up a minimum pace of 8:40 min/mile in order to finish in the 24 hour period. The other two smaller events consist of only one 8.4 mile loop each: the Midnight Madness Run, which starts at 12am, and the Pajama Loop, which starts at 6am.

Princess star wand lightsaber battle
As you can imagine it was all kinds of craziness by the time we showed up at 11pm between all the different events going on! My sister Cailtin came from New York a few hours before to run with me. The last time I ran with her was two summers ago in 2009. She had been running for a few years. I was out of shape and overweight. I barely made it a mile before I told her to go ahead as I grudgingly walked home, knowing I wouldn’t be able to run any further with her. I was nervous about running with her again. In my head I thought maybe I’d be just as much of a failure as last time. Silly I know. Once we arrived at Lloyd Hall we decked ourselves out in glow in the dark accessories including awesome princess star wands (which I managed to hold for the whole run by the way)! Caitlin’s friend also drove down from NYC with her husband to run. Unfortunately Mike ended up sitting out because of his foot, so it was just us girls.

Lining up at the start
The race started at 12am sharp and we sped off into the dark with 400-some other runners. We ran the loop counter-clockwise. Meanwhile the Relay and Lone Ranger runners (who had been running 14 hours at that point) ran in the opposite direction. We were instructed before we left to make sure we kept far to the right to let them by and also to yell words of encouragement. Some of them definitely looked like zombies. After 14+ hours I would too! Others seemed really cheerful and even yelled words of encouragement back our way! I was truly amazed at their perseverance and positive attitudes. Overall I think this was the nicest group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of running with.

The three of us girls had a great time on the course and we chatted the whole time. This was the first race that I didn’t actually race and it was a nice change. Before we headed off I had had a time goal in my head, but I quickly realized I wasn’t in the mindset to really push it and focused more on just enjoying the experience. By midnight I’ve usually been in bed for 2 or 3 hours so needless to say I was quite sleepy! And though I’ve run on that path countless times it felt very different this time. The river was peaceful. The moon was out and the sky was cloudless. The weather was perfect. No need to worry about 90 degrees and scorching sun. Plus there were hundreds of floating glow in the dark lights on the runners illuminating the night! You really can’t beat that kind of view! Before the race Mike had commented that there were a lot more women than men running the midnight event. I replied that its not completely irrational to think that there are more women because women don’t usually run at night and now they can take advantage of this experience. I’m sure some women do run at night normally, but Mike would never let me go without him. There have also been attacks in months and years past on solo female runners in the area, so even without Mike having to tell me I usually rule night time runs as a no-no.

The race ended great, with Caitlin and I sprinting across the finish line together. I had such a great time running with her. I felt like I was slowing her down, but she stuck with me right to the end. Crossing the finish line with her was a moment I will never forget and I hope we can run more races together in the future. Next year I’m hoping to run the Relay Challenge. It looked like so much fun to camp out with your friends and run a race in the process! Overall I give this race an A. The staff and volunteers were wonderful, they put on a very unique experience, and they even had a great swag bag with tech shirts. Not to mention we helped raise over $300,000.00 for Back on My Feet with our registration fees. I will definitely be back!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I've Been Bitten!

Bitten by the ultra bug that is. When I first decided to run a half marathon I didn’t even know ultras existed. For those of you aren’t familiar with running dork terms, an ultra is any distance beyond a marathon, or 26.2 miles. Common ultra distances include 50k (31.07 mi), 50 mi, 100k (62.14 mi), and 100 mi. I got my first introduction to ultra distances when I picked up a copy of Dean Karnazes’ Ultramarathon Man. It seemed impossible to me that any person could run 50 let alone 100 or more miles consecutively. While the book was very motivational for me during my half marathon training I quickly wrote off any thoughts of running an ultra. Even the thought of running a distance that long left a bad taste in my mouth. There was NO way I would ever be able, let alone actually have the desire, to do that.

As much as I initially disliked the idea of ultras, I kept thinking about them more and more. And I kept reading more books and blogs about ultra running, which only made me continue to think about them. It wasn’t until I ran my third race, however, that the word ‘possiblity’ started to enter my mind. I designed my half marathon training plan to include some shorter races so I would get a sense of what races were really like before the big day. I did a 5k in February and a 10k in March. I finished both races, but I found them challenging. Even though I had been consistently training for months at that point, my times were not as fast as I expected. I left each race grateful for the experience, but ultimately disappointed with myself. Running a race and training for a race turned out to be much different than I thought.

In April I ran my last training race, an 8k, with hopes for more success. When the gun went off I ran hard and fast. I knew immediately it would be impossible to keep up my ridiculous pace for all 5 miles. As I rounded the halfway point though, I realized that I had kept up the pace. In fact, I was reeling in people like fish and passing them! “Maybe I CAN do this!” The last half mile was the toughest part, but I pushed even harder and sprinted to the finish line. I ended up finishing 2.5 minutes faster than I had hoped for and had clocked a finish time that was faster than any of my training runs.

After that race I realized I was capable of pushing myself and I liked the idea of ultras more and more. They seemed attainable, possible, and heck even potentially enjoyable! It wasn’t long after that day that I started lining up ultras on my future race plans. A few 50ks next winter. A 50 miler next June. Then one day I said to myself “I am going to run 100 miles.” And saying it didn’t seem scary. It didn’t seem hopeless. It definitely seemed crazy, but a good kind of crazy.

Come on, how could you NOT want to do this? Doesn't it look like fun?
So that’s where I’m at now. That is ultimately what all my training will lead to. That is what it is all designed for. And hopefully, in June 2013, I will be running my first 100 miler. It would be great if my first 100 miler could be the historic Western States 100 in California. I will apply for it when registration opens in fall 2012, but its lottery-based, and there’s only a 1 in 12 or 13 chance that I’ll get in. If not, there are others on my list. Either way it will be a monumental moment. I imagine it will change my life, if not my entire being.  Until then though, its baby steps. A little more each week. And everyday I feel a little less crazy and ultras seem a little more normal.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I am: Vegan With Benefits

Obviously there is no such thing as ‘vegan with benefits,’ but that is what I was calling myself for awhile. Of course this is extremely offensive to any real vegans, like my sister, who scowled when I told her this. I first tried out the vegan diet in 2008 and kept it up for a year and a half until I moved up to Philly. In the land of cheesesteaks it became much more difficult to eat vegan and I got fed up with it and quit. Surprisingly though (to me anyway) I didn’t dive right into a bacon cheeseburger! My body had learned to love and crave non-dairy and non-meat products. So, with the exception of the occasional turkey sandwich or non-fat yogurt, I was still vegan. Or, ‘vegan with benefits’.

Since then I’ve gone back and forth into periods of being a strict vegan again. I began another one of those periods yesterday. I was hardcore vegan the whole month before my half marathon, getting into tip top shape before the race. Afterwards I had a food party that lasted seven weeks and Sunday night I decided it was about time I jumped back on the real vegan train. There are a number of reasons why I choose the vegan diet. Firstly, I have a freak load more natural energy when my diet is strictly plant-based. I basically fly out of bed in the morning and do a song and dance. Secondly, I am sort of lactose intolerant, so if I’m vegan I can skip all of those pesky GI problems and get on with my day. Thirdly, vegan dessert is always awesome! Its like they make it out of rainbows and butterflies! It always makes me smile. And, if you know me at all, you know I LOVE dessert and there is ALWAYS room for it, even in a healthy diet.

I wasn’t always such a healthy vegan however. When I first started I still ate crap. It was just vegan crap. I have always had problems with food. I did crazy diets in high school. I thought being vegan would be the easy way out. WRONG! Lots of people probably assume that if you’re vegan you must eat healthy. But don’t fool yourself - you can still gain weight and be overweight as a vegan. There are certainly less options and so probably less of a chance of this happening, but there is nothing stopping you from picking up the vegan chicken nuggets if you use the ‘as long as its vegan’ approach.

Ultimately, however, being vegan led to healthier diet, and I’m happy to say that I now naturally crave good foods. In fact, french fries make my stomach turn (as does anything fried) and I haven’t had a soda in who knows how many years. Mike and I have definitely become food snobs. It didn’t happen overnight, just a little bit at a time. One week we decided we would try to only eat whole grains. The next we tried to incorporate more veggies. The next it was ‘drink only water and if it must be juice then only 100%!’ Like I snobs. I feel bad about this sometimes, especially if we’re out to dinner with friends or someone is hosting us and I don’t like what they’re serving. I’m not trying to be a bitch I swear!

Vegan, almost vegan, or not at all vegan, I feel lucky to have finally found a healthy (mentally and physically) way to fuel my body. I don't diet anymore. If I want a cookie (or 5) I have one. I still pig out on occassion. But instead of chili cheese fries its broccoli and hummus. Broccoli by the way is the greatest vegetable ever invented. Kids can hate it all they want. More for me! Muahaha!

Anyway, as I segue into my next ‘real vegan’ period I would like to take a moment to say goodbye to the foods I’ve gotten close to again over the last 7 weeks:

"We love you! Don't leave us!"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Week 6 Recap: The Importance of Rest Days and Beating the Heat

Sometimes you have a bad day at work. Sometimes you have a bad week. The same can be said for running. This week was one of those not-so-good weeks. Fortunately it ended on some great notes, but it started out and continued to be tough right up until the end. Of course, the reason it was so rough was 100% my own fault and my bad week definitely could have been avoided. Let me explain:

Taking advantage of the day off of work on Monday (Fourth of July) Mike and I decided to take a nice bike ride. He has been dealing with some foot pain (either plantar fasciitis or heel spurs...x-ray to come later this week hopefully) and hasn’t been running nearly as much. And, just like me, he gets super grumpy when he’s not exercising! So I volunteered to join him on a bike ride so he could get some cardio in and we could still spend the day together. ‘Some cardio’ on what should have been a rest day ended up being a 44 mile round trip to Valley Forge. Not having been on a bike for at least 9 months, my body was really hating me during the last 75% of the ride and the effects of this snowballed into the rest of the week. I was still suffering from exhaustion the next day, when I was to begin my 6-day running week. Somehow I made it through my 6 miles on Tuesday, though a whole 5 minutes slower than normal. Wednesday morning, still exhausted, I ran out of time in the morning and was only able to finish 2 of my 3 mile speed workout. And on Thursday it really fell apart. Not only was I still feeling tired, but the heat was scorching and my insides were out of wack. Several people in my office have been feeling sick from the humidity, and I too have hardly been able to keep anything down all week. Just a half mile into my 6 miles I knew I was not going to last. My head was burning from the heat and my heart just wasn’t in it. I cut the run short, feeling disappointed, but also with full intentions of making up the mileage before the week ended.

So you see the first 4 days of week 6 pretty much sucked! And walking home from work Thursday after my failed run, knowing I had big number ‘15’ on my mileage calendar for Saturday morning, I was feeling really nervous. I re-strategized though, cancelling my Friday run to give myself a much needed rest day. And you know what? It worked! I was back in action Saturday morning, itching to run and feeling well rested and ready to go! Sometimes you just need to give yourself a rest day, whether you think you need it or not.

As to Saturday’s run, mile 15 happily came and went and I even teared up a little after I finished. I’ve had harder long runs and definitely hillier ones, but number-wise this was an accomplishment. And, though easier than other runs, that doesn’t mean it was easy. My legs were pretty sore the last two miles, but the biggest issue I dealt with was thirst. Mike and I headed out around 9:30am, not as early as I would have liked, but I really needed to sleep in after such a rough week. It was still quite cool when we left, especially since it finally rained cats and dogs the night before, alleviating some of the humidity that has been making us all sick! Only 4 miles in I found myself drinking a lot of water. I always try to take a few sips every mile, but I usually avoid completely quenching my thirst mostly out of fear that I will have to go to the bathroom. Pretty soon though I could not contain my desire to chug water and I was also dumping it over my head every 10 minutes. It didn’t feel particularly hot out and the breeze was making it feel nice and cool so I couldn’t understand why I was so thirsty. It wasn’t until we returned home, however, that I realized it had hit temperatures in the 90s and that, despite the CLIF Shot Bloks, full breakfast, and all the water I drank, I still lost 2 pounds! It just goes to show that even it might not feel that hot (especially if you keep dumping water over your head!) the heat can be really damaging and you have got to take care of yourself and hydrate properly. Mike and I have pretty much been consuming water non-stop even 24 hours later. We just can’t seem to get our thirst quenched! But, despite not recovering hydration-wise, my legs feel ready to go again. I’m continually amazed at my body’s ability to recover so quickly. One more short, easy run tonight and its on to week 7!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Death to Burpees!

Any training plan will tell you that cross training is an important and necessary part of your running plan. Its a great way to get a burn and work on muscles that might not get as much of a workout on a normal run. And strengthening these parts of your body can help you improve your running performance. As well, cross training can also just be a nice break from running, which, especially if you are stuck running the same routes all the time, can be a nice change. There are all types of cross training. Some people bike. Some swim. Some just do the elliptical at the gym. I found my perfect cross training about 6 months ago. For a number of years I’ve been interested in taking some kind of boxing or self defense class. I thought it would make me feel powerful and in control. In late January, after numerous times of searching the web for classes in the Philadelphia area (and numerous times of finding a place and then chickening out on actually signing up for anything) I finally emailed a guy and the next Saturday morning dragged Mike up to Manayunk for our very first class. And as if getting up the courage just to email wasn’t enough, I almost didn’t even go in (and probably wouldn’t have if Mike weren’t there). One hour later I emerged elated from Joltin' Jabs, my hands shaking so badly I couldn’t even sign my name up on the calendar to attend the same class the next week. Shaking badly because I had just pummeled them into a heavy bag repeatedly over the course of an hour.

"I will make you cry"
Joltin Jabs is a brilliant place and its exactly what I was looking for. Its actual, hard core boxing with an actual pro boxer - Joltin’ Joey DeMalavez. He only takes a max of 10 people at a time, giving you lots of one-on-one attention during the 55 minute class. After you’ve had a few classes of basic intro to different punches you start up a rotation that soon becomes familiar: speed bad, double end bag, heavy bag, jump rope, upper cut bag. Two rounds of 3 minutes each at each station. Interspersed by more push ups, crunches, bear crawls, and “what the f*ck” exercises to destroy you. No doubt about it, Joltin’ Joey will kick your ass. And I promise you will love every second of it. It only took two classes for Mike and I to rush to City Sports and pick up our own gloves and wraps. Its cardio. Its strength building. Its fast paced. I fell into yoga about a year ago and stuck with it for about 6 months. Since I started with Joey I can barely stand to go to a yoga class (only if its summer, its outside, and its free). Its just not a workout unless a tattooed, muscle armed, shaved headed boxer is yelling the F-word five inches from my face while I am dripping sweat and the rocky theme song (yes he does occasionally play this; it’s Philly for goodness sake!) is turned all the way up on the speakers.

So yes, this is my perfect cross training and Mike and I go at least once a week. It’s the best ‘gym type’ membership/package I’ve ever invested in and it supplements my running so perfectly. Not to mention if I have a particularly stressful week I can rip the upper cut bag to shreds or punch the heavy bag until my hands bleed (which they often do; I’m not paying all that money to punch like a baby!).
Mostly, I enjoy every part of his class. EXCEPT the dreaded burpees. This particular exercise irks me tremendously. It’s a combination of two things I hate: getting up from an on-the-ground position and jumping in the air. I hate getting up. Once I am in a horizontal position you may as well just leave me there. In yoga I used to curse the instructor under my breath when she told us to sit up from savasana. Its funny because I’m happy to run 10 miles no problem, but ask me to get up off of the floor if I’m laying down and I will be the laziest person ever. Maybe its that I immediately want to regress to a relaxed, sleepy state and being forced out of that is extremely uncomfortable. This probably sounds really strange and I’m probably not explaining it quite effectively enough, but anyway the point is that I hate burpees! Everytime I stagger up and jump in the air I feel like I'm Atlas trying to raise the world on my shoulders and then only half a second later I am plummeting back down to earth into a push up position. Repeat for 30 seconds. Seriously, give me 1000 crunches instead.

I was so infuriated by the existence of this exercise after class the other day that I actually looked up its origins (so that maybe my dissatisfaction could be better directed). Turns out this ridiculous form of torture has existed since the 1930s and was invented by an American psychologist named (drum roll please...) Royal H. Burpee! Apparently he developed the test to measure agility and coordination. If he could see me today performing his exercise he would write a big fat ‘NONE’ in his logbook. But...I’m not one to give up, so I’ll keep doing them every week and I’ll keep looking silly, but hey, at least I’m doing them!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Victory! How I Finally Made It to Mile 31

31 miles, oh how sweet you taste! I’m proud to report that after 3 months I finally made it to 31 mpw! And why exactly is this so exciting you ask? What the heck is so special about mile 31? 30 would be a more logical milestone. Well let me explain...

I started training for my half marathon the first week of December last year. I started with a modest 12 mpw, increasing <5% each week, sometimes not increasing at all to really make sure the miles felt comfortable. But then, in March, I caught running fever! I thought “hey, I’ve been doing this for 3 months and feel totally capable. I wonder just how far I can push it? Why not increase 2 miles every week? Or 3? Or more?!” And so I suddenly went to increasing my mileage 10-15% every week. This is a big no-no! But I was still relatively new to this whole training thing and thought why not? What could possibly happen? Four weeks later, just after I closed out an awesome week of 30.89 miles (a month and a half ahead of my original training plan by the way) I experienced sudden, searing pain in my left knee mid-run. I was forced to walk and was barely able to even manage that. I was confronted with the fact that I had to slow down and rest for a few days. And the only thing harder then training is not training at all. But I forced myself to take a few days off, iced every night, got a brace, and was back the next week, cutting my mileage way down to make sure I didn’t injure myself again.

One week later I was feeling great and I began to amp up the mileage once more, feeling uber confident and eager to make up for the time I lost icing on the couch. Flash forward another four weeks: having just finished a 30.72 mile week, I was heading into what would have been my 31+ mile week when BAM! Knee is shot again. Apparently I need to be told not once but twice to take it slow, steady and not be a super jerk and run like crazy! Around this time I also started having these strange thoughts of “maybe I will NEVER be able to get to mile 31. Maybe my body just isn’t built for it.” Silly of course, but on the 3 mile walk home after my knee gave out, this is exactly what was going through my head. Fortunately after a full week of rest (okay 4.5 days, let’s not go crazy here!) the pain went away and I was able to run again. My dreams of 31 mpw had to be shelved for the time being though. The half was approaching and it was time to taper. And then there was a week’s vacation in Puerto Rico (no training, just maintenance miles). And so the first week of June I began my 25-week marathon training plan, starting with a healthy 25 mpw and increasing ONLY 1 mile per week. NO EXCEPTIONS! And guess what? It worked! Who knew that proper mileage increase could prevent injury and get you to your goal? NO WAY! And so THAT is why mile 31 is so major, because it took so long to get here and THIS time I did it correctly and injury-free.

And speaking of my long awaited and finally attained 31 mpw, the run that finally got me there nearly kicked my ass. Fourth of July weekend in DC = the most crowded, hot, and humid place on the planet. Perfect time to score a 13 mile run on Sunday morning! Though the 85% humidity nearly destroyed me (I had to stop home 11.5 miles in to re-hydrate as I had long run out of water at that point), I still really enjoyed my run. In fact, it might be one of my favorites. Running really is the best way to see places! Starting in Georgetown I hit up Dumbarton Oaks, Rock Creek Park, Connecticut Avenue Bridge, the Phillips Collection (my old job!), the White House, the Mall (3 miles of dusty, hot, crowded bliss!), Arlington Memorial Bridge, the Mt. Vernon Trail, and Key Bridge back to Georgetown.

Overall a very nice, albeit sweaty, partially dehydrated run. In fact the only thing that really pissed me off about this run was something that happened near the Lincoln Memorial. Something I never thought would happen: someone STOPPED ME to ask for directions! Okay, well I sound like an ass when I say it like that, but think about it: I’m running, clearly not taking a leisurely stroll around the Mall, but grunting, spitting, breathing heavily running! I mean I have a water bottle STRAPPED to my hand for goodness sake! If I don’t have enough energy to hold my own water bottle maybe that means I’m trying to focus on something else! Like running! The most ridiculous part of the whole thing though, was the fact that there were literally 10,000 people around! Like right next to me. Anyway, of course I stopped to give her directions. Partially because I’m too nice (I was flicking her off in my head though) and partially because I was 9 miles into my run and I was just too exhausted to argue. I just grunted, pointed the right way and kept on trucking.