Friday, March 30, 2007

The Accidental Twelvist

With all this chatter about stress, I decided to do something about it: I took the day off. Mind you, I don’t exactly have a stressful job, per se, but I’m surrounded by stressful… err, stress-spreading people.

But what a day to choose! It’s sunny and almost 60 degrees outside, so I struck out for a free run. No time goals, no speed targets, no distance in mind. Just running.

In keeping with today’s stress-free theme, I drove and parked my car near the hike/bike path so I wouldn’t have to run through the high-speed traffic of Steels Corners. Even around 10 a.m. on a Friday, dozens of cars were speeding down the street. Who would have thought? The idea of driving somewhere to go running has always been strange to me, but you should see this traffic!

So, I started in the opposite direction I typically take the path and thought I would run toward Hudson until I got bored and then I would run back. As I have mentioned several times, however, I have no intuition about how this area is laid out, and I ended up getting lost and found and lost again. When I found OH-91, I turned what I guessed was south and found my way back to my civilization.

The whole time I kept a healthy, not-too-fast pace—around 8:00/mile. I know it’s only a little slower than the last run, but I was running at a really relaxed, leisurely pace. And even sang out loud when I needed to test my condition and stop feeling lonely. (Imagine me trotting down some Stow side streets singing “She’s Electric” by Oasis. Hey, their not my neighbors.)

By the time I found the path again (it was a relief when my car appeared at the top of a hill, around a bend), I had run about 12.35 miles. It seemed so much easier than the ten miles I ran last Saturday. And had I known my mileage when I was ending my run, I totally would have run the extra .65.

The only stumbling block in the run was a slight knee problem. No, I didn’t overdo it. I just twisted it while avoiding a dead animal. Eww.

Sidewalks are sporadic around here and halfway down OH-91, my sidewalk disappeared. And when I have to run on the street, I insist on facing traffic so I know when to jump out of the way. I’m not exactly a fan of surprises that come in the shape of speeding cars.

So, when my sidewalk ended, I hopped up on some roadside grass until I could cross to the other side of the street. But that grass appeared to be more a place where medium-sized animals go to die than anywhere people actually tread. I freaked when I saw something gray and furry in my immediate path, and then twisted my knee getting out of the way. It pained me for a few minutes, so I took a 20-second timeout to stretch.

And the only other downside was that I almost killed a dog!

For those who don’t know, I’m St. Francis of Assis, Ohio. Stray dogs, in particular, have always found their ways to my house or just parked themselves next to my car when I’m out because they know I have to take them home. But I’m also terrified of big dogs because I was attacked by one as a child (although I won’t discriminate when there is a dog in need).

Doggies!When I saw two large dogs mingling and unleashed in a front yard today, I crossed the street with the hope that my running on the other side of the street wouldn’t entice them. Well, it worked for one of them. The other dog came tearing across the street barking at me, so I stopped running and let him do his doggy inspecting. Satisfied (or not) with the experience, he turned to run back to his house right when a car was passing.

The second I heard the car, I yelled for the dog and he jumped out of the way just in time. Sigh. I'm still worried about that dog and suffering from the experience. And that was how I used my good karma today.

Finally, my HRM indicated some good ranges for my running intensity… but I’m going to go interpret what all this means now.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

How I Really Feel About It

After much kind nudging, I finally got my hands on my very own heart rate monitor—the Nike Imara. My understanding of the piece of equipment and my aerobic/anaerobic levels is a little lacking at the moment, but I anticipate being better prepared to chat about these things on the other side of this weekend.

But I was so eager to play with the HRM that I strapped on the sensor last night to measure my resting heart rate (55-65 bpm) and discovered how I really feel about work.

From a resting state, I checked my work email and found that just opening Outlook made my HR jump to the 65-75 range, and opening a message from my boss pushed it to 75-85. So, I took my test a little further. I maintained a resting heart rate for the drive to work, but found that it jumped to 90-95 the second I walked through the door and peaked at 125 when a series of others’ bad planning and decisions disrupted the flow of my day-before-vacation.

That was when I stopped with the HRM. I had learned enough.

Unfortunately, I missed lunch again and was exhausted with a stress headache by the time I came home. I was (this) close to wimping out after a 6 p.m. nap, but felt motivated to play with my HRM the way it was meant to be used!

It was just a relaxing 2.25-mile run in my immediate neighborhood, but it was the first time (since I started branching outside my neighborhood) that running that distance was actually relaxing to me. Until recently, two miles was a distance run for me! There are several grades on my street that I used to call “hills” that barely phased me this evening. I love the feeling of breezy running and undeniable improvement.

While I did use my HRM during the run, I’m not sure how to gauge my results and will have to complete my reading materials to know what I’m looking for when I’m running and how to get better. Between the HRM and my Nike+iPod, I not only feel like a Nike product slinger, but a little bit like RoboCop too.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Beautiful Day in my Neighborhood Pool

Michael Phelps took the 200 butterfly in 1 minute, 52.09 seconds.

By the time 4 p.m. rolled around, I had only gotten up from my desk twice: once to get a glass of water and then again to make some CoCo Wheats for lunch. And I felt much more inclined to go home and take a nap than jump in the pool.

But I promised myself months ago that particularly on days like today I had to at least give my activity du jour a try—whether it’s swimming, running, yoga, nagging or cycling—because I know I’m grateful when I’m done. Such was the case today.

I swam away my stressful day with a sunny 3,100-yard workout:

  • 1,000 yards free
  • 5 x 200 yards free
  • 1,000 yards free
  • 100 yards free

No timed sets or butterfly this afternoon because I not only lacked any real energy, but had a nagging pain in my right arm that left me a little tense and wincing. In fact, I still have it. It must have been caused by some tragic right-clicking incident, considering the physically eventful day I had. Either that or I’m being attacked by that silent work killer: carpal tunnel. If my crumpled little arm could move, I would knock on wood right now. I guess my good intentions will have to do.

But enough of the sympathy: the swim was great. Despite the energy slump, I have to admit that reading about Michael Phelps’ record-breaking ways helped me get out there. And I really needed it. It’s incredible what something like running or swimming can do for your mind when it has been a stressful day, week or year. Sure, I can get lost in my thoughts, but I have sworn off work-thinking during my training as much as I’ve sworn off the rec. center track (although whenever I ran on the track I mostly did career-path planning, so it wasn’t mentally all that bad).

CoCo Wheats can't be beat!For the second time this week, however, I had someone at the pool approach me for the same swimming advice. Both people (one last Friday, another today) had the problem with swimming endurance, such that they would swim a lap of freestyle, rest, swim a lap of breaststroke or sidestroke, stop, swim a lap of free, and so on. They both wanted to know how they could get the magical thing called endurance.

My response: swim.

But apparently it was not the answer either person wanted. The one asked, “are there any other exercises I can do to improve my endurance?” Swimming, I suggested. The other said, “after I swim a lap, I don’t want to stop or have to switch strokes, what can I do?” Ummm, swim. I realize that there are exercises one can do to help swimming, improve swimming. But I believe that the only way to get to lap 2 is to swim! Same with laps 3, 4 and 5.

I wasn’t sure what else to say, like “eat a can of fava beans before 5 a.m. every Wednesday and then ride a stationary bike for 30 minutes and you’re there!” I think that's how Michael Phelps mastered his craft. (Smack forehead.) I know that getting in shape in any exercise or discipline is difficult (and we all know my downfalls and inability to understand the best approaches!), but don’t try harder to find the easy way out than the real answer. Grrr.

Nevertheless, I have discovered that skipping lunch and swimming at 4 p.m. is my favorite time to swim. Not only do I have time freedom while I’m swimming (rather than having to swim, shower and get back in about an hour), but I get to go home when I’m done. And I have to admit that today could have easily been a 2-mile workout, but that bright sun lured me outside. I took Friday off work and cannot wait to enjoy what is shaping up to be a lovely day.

Knock on wood for me, please!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

That Settles It: I’d Rather be a Hamster

Thunderstorms were rolling through Kent when I headed to the rec. center this afternoon (I had been staying on the weather up and up all week; that’s why I went swimming yesterday), so I headed inside to run. It was my first time running on a treadmill. As you know, I have only ever gone flying off a treadmill.

My goal was to run a 10K around 8:30-9:00/mile, so I stepped on the machine, pressed the large “ON” button and chose the 10K option. Seems straight forward, right? It always does.

I’m running around 6.7 mph for close to a mile when the treadmill suddenly slows to walking pace. It had been my understanding that running machines with large buttons were intuitive and easy to use, so I blamed this gaffe on user error. I must have done something wrong. So, I start over with my 10K, enter my weight and begin running again. And the same thing happens. Then I just restarted the machine and ran on manual around 6-7 mph for 1.5 miles. But not without incident.

When I first started running on the machine, it felt a little strange having the ground moving beneath my feet. I couldn’t quite get comfortable with moving my arms, so I held on for dear life for the first couple of minutes. Then I let go and tried to allow myself to drift back enough for room to move. And then I stumbled. It wasn’t too bad a stumble, but loud enough that Jeff, who happened to be at the weight circuit behind me, jerked around and gave me the good old ‘L’ sign to the forehead. I kept hearing the word “loser” repeated for several minutes, but that may have just been in my head.

Until it happened again.

This time I definitely tripped over the clean air and the next time I stumbled on a stubbed toe. The third time, however, was the charm. I jumped off the treadmill, walked over to Jeff and swore for several minutes when I saw the sun had come out. So, I took my anger outside and ran the remaining 3.1 miles of my 10K in the beautiful weather.

It was really difficult to run at first: running feels different when the ground is just standing there, waiting to be traversed. But I took the run at a healthy pace (8-9 min./mile) and even considered whether I could sing the national anthem while I was running—but I sang “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” instead ;-)

My only regret was that I hadn’t started my run outside, but I was able to get my mind off the fact that I couldn’t manage to complete a task regularly performed by hamsters. Even on my second and third tries.

So, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you what I looked and felt like on the treadmill today. This video actually features the exact treadmill I was using at my rec. center in the exact location I ran this afternoon. I was not, however, wearing a squirrel costume.

Apparently, squirrels aren’t as adept as hamsters either.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Spring Break Has Sprung

Top three favorite things about spring break:

3. desolate campus
2. zero traffic
1. empty rec. center pool

The days leading up to spring break are buzzing with incensed college students who don’t know where they’re going for break or how they’re going to look in their bikinis. And then on the first Monday of spring break, it all dies down and we’re left with peace and quiet.

So, my expectations were high today for the pool. Minutes after I started swimming, the other two people in the pool left. But seconds after they were gone, you know who showed up. No, not the bad guy from the Harry Potter books. Flipper. There weren’t any confrontations or major swim-offs today, but I definitely gave the old codger a run for his flipperin’ money.

Jeff and I are convinced he’s some tenured professor, and now I’m quite eager to identify him. Unfortunately, most professors don’t wear flippers when teaching their classes or holding office hours. I'll find a way. More Flipper news as it happens.

But when I wasn’t trying to identify my arch-nemesis, I was swimming an easy 2,000-yard workout in the 30-minutes I had, including:

  • 500 yards free warm-up on 6:30
  • 5 x 100 yards free on 2:00
  • 1,000 yards free on 12:30

No butterfly today. Sad, I know. But it's a Monday... and if that's not an excuse for unacceptable laziness, I don't know what is. I cannot explain, however, how nice it was to have my Monday lunch hour back. Granted, I only get my lunch hours back for the week (and then again in another 5 weeks), but the freedom is incredible. For once, I think I'm going to go straight home and... do my taxes.

Other than that, I need to set out a plan for running (i.e., races and getting a clue) and cycling, as well as make arrangements for an upcoming trip to Portland, Oregon. I know, I know: tone down the running pace and the thrilling Monday evenings.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I Wish I Were Lance Armstrong

I have become notorious for my enthusiasm-based decision-making. Whether it’s attaching myself to projects twice my size at work or registering for four graduate classes in one semester, I’m pretty good at overextending myself and expecting the best.

And in most cases I push through the difficult portion, get everything done and look back with pride. Hence the reason I’m targeting the Ironman! But today I failed—because of poor planning, bad timing and even worse shape.

After yesterday’s 10-mile run, I felt motivated to get moving on my warm-season training schedule. So, I woke up early this morning, ate a bowl of oatmeal, packed my swimming bag, hopped on my bike and headed for the rec. center at Kent State. But as I traversed the same hills I thought were cake yesterday, oh how I wished I were Lance Armstrong!

Between the tiredness in my legs (which I did not feel when I left; darned enthusiasm!) and what actually did turn out to be my poor cycling shape, I was showering in lactic acid by mile three. I was about two-fifths of the way to the rec. center when I hit a hill that just stopped me in my tracks. I had overdone it. Realizing that I probably wouldn’t have anything left to swim when I biked the rest of the way, I turned around and rode back home. In shame.

On the bright side, I did get an hour of good, hard, hilly cycling this morning, and a fair assessment of what kind of shape I’m in. It’s just a good thing that my first triathlon isn’t until August. And I thought running was going to be the difficult part. Pshaw! Plus, I don't have my afternoon class tomorrow and can make up my swimming then.

But if I couldn't be Lance Armstrong, I think I would be Peyton Manning. Not only does he have a Super Bowl ring and half the sponsorships in the Western world, he's also one funny guy and was on SNL last night. I love/hate people who are so diversely talented. I didn't actually catch the show, but read the recap and caught the Web videos. Check out his United Way spoof. Viewer discretion is advised.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Even if I’m not going to run the Cleveland Half Marathon….

I can still prepare. Besides, you never know when a good race might just pop up in your neighborhood. And sometimes you can just make your own.

I woke up this morning without even the slightest urge to run. It was foggy outside and expected to rain for hours and hours on end. I felt cold and tired and blah, blah, blah. But I’ve adopted my “don’t think about it, just do it” philosophy, particularly with swimming, without any attribution to Nike, thank you very much. So, I toiled over how to dress for the weather (as always, I overdressed with a fleece), made a deal with Neil to meet me near his junk food store, and headed out the door.

When I chose my 10-mile iPod workout setting, I thought, “well, I can set it at ten and see how far I actually go.” Ten miles later I was glad I did.

Today I ran the route I rode my bike last season, which I thought was long, tiring and uber-hilly. And as I cruised through it, I began to doubt a) my shape last year and b) my cycling abilities. The hills were harsh, but I didn’t feel the same agonizing burn I got when I rode my bike. So, I began thinking that I should really get back to bike training and hope that the pain was more a product of my out-of-shapiness than my ineptitude in bike-riding. I’m still dealing with this running thing!

As I previously mentioned, I’m trying to pick up my pace. And I realized something about myself today: I can run faster than my 9-minute St. Malachi miles! I really listened to my body and paid attention to pace this time and realized that whether my body gets tired, I’m likely to settle into a slower pace and never go back. So, whenever I felt exhausted or tired, I just picked it up a notch.

Yes, I thought about my 200-yard fly sets and was able to maintain a 7:37/mile pace for my first 10-mile run.

My last five miles were all around 7:30 (but the first couple miles were a little pokey). In fact, as I was finishing up mile 10, I passed a couple out for a walk and the guy said, “Hey, great pace!” Now that was nice to hear!

And I only found it a little strange that my casual, yet considerably more-hilly Saturday morning run was not only double my St. Malachi run, but generally faster. I realize that I didn’t actually “race” that run (my goal was to just finish!). But if I wouldn’t have slunk into that sub-G pace, I could have premiered in far snazzier fashion!

So, I met up with Neil at our designated spot. He stood outside the store holding a big jug of Gatorade—the one thing in the world I needed at that moment. I had long been paranoid about hydration (especially since my couple of bad instances with dehydration), but I made sure I had been thoroughly hydrated over the past several days, as well as this morning, and felt fine throughout the run (thanks for the advice Salty One!).

It took me a little over an hour twenty to run the 10 miles, so I was really great on the hydration front. Plus, it was damp outside (and, oh, the puddles!) and maybe 45-50 degrees. But I was glowing with accomplishment!

My feet, however, were sore after the run—to be expected. But my shoes might be looking forward to retirement as much as I am. Melissa gave me a little bit of lowdown on running shoes the other day and warned that mine might need to be replaced (I don’t quite remember when I bought them, but it was probably around… July?). They were my first pair of running shoes since about 1993, and I was wearing those 1993 shoes when I first started running last spring. It was no surprise when I had some serious foot problems. I’d like to not make that same mistake this time around.

But what shoes to get? Which shoes are on your feet?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Flying to Fuel My Stride

Good thing: I left work an hour early (because I missed lunch) to go swimming at the rec. center.

Bad thing: I went hungry-grocery shopping after swimming and nearly bought the whole store.

In between watching the tournament (I have been wearing my lucky Georgetown shirt all week long) and making rice pudding, I’m plotting out my long run for tomorrow. It looks like it will rain all day long, which makes me wonder whether I should hold off until Sunday. Or I’ll bust out the raingear.

And I was definitely on top of the swimming weather today as well: it was lightning-free and I took this 2,200-yard swim...
  • 1,000 yards free
  • 3 x 200 yards fly
  • 100 yards fly kick
  • 500 yards free

Halfway through the first 1,000 yards, I thought I should start picking up my swimming pace (since I’ve been working on improving my running speed). I took out the first 500 yards in about 8:00; I brought it home in 5:30.

I love that feeling when my muscles are warmed and I could not only swim forever, but I could swim hard and fast forever. It’s a feeling I hope to achieve (someday, please!) in running.

Mr. Phelps: the ultimate butterflierThe last 500 yards of the warm-up left me energized, so I turned immediately into my first 200 yards fly. Let’s just say that there’s no better way to wind up and whip down your exhausting week like swimming 600 yards butterfly.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I love swimming butterfly even when it makes me feel like I want to die.

Butterfly has always been my best stroke (although I was never really happy to swim it in competition), but more than anything else I like its effect on other areas of my athletic life.

Hitting the point of absolute exhaustion in a fly set is probably one of the more painful things I endure in my training. But there’s such a feeling of accomplishment when I just push off the wall and continue with my next set. My body adjusts and I may still be tired, but I get better and better each time I push myself beyond my comfort level.

So, when my legs want to fall off in the middle of a long run or when I’m struggling to make it up a hill, I push through it with my fly-reinforced will. That’s really the only semblance of will power I have, so I better keeping flying away.

Update: the Hermes Cleveland 10-Miler on April 28 sounds like my best bet for the spring distance race. I’ll also be scouring the Web and the country for other tasty races and destinations. Thanks to everyone for your suggestions and support.

I realize the Cleveland Half-Marathon isn't a one-time deal, but I was looking forward to the challenge. But I can't lie: I'm looking forward to the trip even more!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Supreme Bummer

I was filling out the registration form for the Cleveland Half Marathon on May 20 when I realized that I'm not actually going to be in Cleveland on May 20. I cannot explain how supremely bummed I am (although the reason I will not be in Cleveland is really cool: I'll be in New York for my friends' engagement party).

I have known about this party for some time, but I was so drunk with excitement over this race that the date conflict didn't register until now. At least I noticed before they took my money!

I'm going to go sulk for a while and then find a new half-marathon. I'm sorry, Landon! We'll have to find another race.

A Dip in the Pool

Despite all my swimming years, I have always been a big wimp when it comes to getting in the pool. Especially when the water is cold. It typically begins with a slip dip of my tow in the water, followed by a reluctant shudder. The slow process continues with splashes myself a little bit with water and then lowering myself inch-by-inch until I take a deep breath, drop into the water and push off into my workout.

I’m typically surrounded by eager-to-jump-iners who leap into the water with abandon and get that pain done quickly, like ripping off a bandage. Unfortunately, I’ve never been swayed by peer pressure and stick to my stupid way of getting in.

My pool and its lightning-prone windows.When Melissa jumped into the pool today, I was still touching my little twinkle toes in the lane next to her. So, by the time the lifeguard blew the whistle and told us to exit the pool because of lightning, I was only about waist-deep in the water. (The rec. center pool is surrounded by large windows, which makes the pool area aesthetically pleasing, but lightning-inconvenient.)

That’s right: my swimming workout involved a few arm dips and a warm shower. Sad, isn’t it? We were determined to stick around, but apparently you have to stay out of the pool at least 30 minutes after the last lightning strike. Boo on that.

We thought about just running or hitting the weight circuit, but we had both come to the rec. center in our bathing suits and no workout clothes. Instead we spent out time plotting in the car about what incredible number of yards we would tell people we swam.

My hopes are pinned on some decent early-evening weather so I can have a good run. Right now I have that guilty, flabby feeling in my muscles that, if it doesn’t get shaken quickly, turns into eternal laziness and fatigue. But swimming tomorrow will provide a break between my running today and plan for a longer hike on Saturday.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The upside of sludge season is those unexpected nice days—the ones that start with a 60 percent chance of rain and gloomy clouds that linger too long, but ends with sunny skies and springy breezes. For once, one of these days happened on the first day of spring.

So, you can imagine that my motivation was greater than the “take a nap” level I mentioned on Tuesday. Around 4:45 p.m., I jumped into my running gear and made my stealthy way out the door and parked at the rec. center. I tied my car door key to my shoe with much anxiety and took off to the hills of Kent again.

Recently, I have felt the urge to start improving my running times again. When I first started running, I paid too much attention to running times and too little to distance. But now I’m building my distance and would like to start picking things up a bit. I know that I am capable of running much faster than my 9-minute/mile pace from St. Malachi, but I just need to do it!

Sometimes, however, this Nike+iPod thing just doesn’t work well for me. I know the first two mile-markers on my path, so I not only get my stats (duration, distance, pace) readout from my iPod, I can also calculate it myself. My run started with 6:35 mile, then 6:50 for the second. But when I checked my iPod in the middle of my third mile, it told me that I was running at a pace of 28:35/mile. No, I didn’t lie down and die; apparently my shoe and my iPod weren’t on the same page. Either that or I had actually started running in place. I felt like I was moving.

Anyhow, I just ignored the errant technology and stuck to my goal of running for 45 minutes. It was such a nice day I could have run for a couple of hours, but I had my 6:15 p.m. class to shower and stop sweating for. But I will have to build up my “short” days in the same way I need to work on lengthening my “long” running days.

It hadn’t occurred to me until recently that my running workouts could range from long to short days. I just thought I was lazy on the days when I ran shorter workouts (whether it was because of time or energy). But I have had a number of people explain to me the dynamics of the long and short running days, and I feel my running confidence building. This realization has also reinforced the fact that training for running and swimming (at least in my head) are two wholly different things. And that’s my excuse for not being very good at the running one!

This weekend I would like to get a general sense of how I should structure my running schedule in preparation for the half-marathon in May. Next week is spring break at Kent State and, while I still have to work, I won’t have to give up my lunches on Monday and Wednesday for class. That’s two extra training periods at my disposal! And I’m looking forward to taking advantage of them. My fingers are crossed, however, for some good weather (knock on wood and all that jazz).

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

OK, I’m In

Whether it was the sunny day or just Landon’s ever-persuasive powers over me, I’ve decided to target the Cleveland Half Marathon on May 20 as the next to next race on my schedule.

I would like to find a 10K to run in the meantime, but I’m running against a scheduling conflict: I’m taking a Saturday class this semester, which meets from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Saturdays through April 21.

It was a big bummer when I thought I wouldn’t be able to do the Julie Zajac Memorial Run on April 15 in University Heights (I’m attached to a really neato calendar from some year past and it throws be off all the time). Julie went to John Carroll, so I was really sad that for the first time I’m qualifiably a runner and wouldn’t be able to make the run. But my computer calendar tells me I can make it! Thanks Bill Gates!

The Julie Zajac run, however, is a 5K. Any 10K suggestions?

Amidst all of these running decisions, I managed to get in a good swimming workout. It was an abbreviated session (as usual with work lately), but I tried out my triathlon suit in the water for the first time.

By the time I stopped swimming competitively, suit tech had just moved past the high-neck/back-zip style and onto the likes of paper-suits and other early- to mid-90s swimming fashions.

The high neck always freaked me out because of my paralyzing claustrophobia (I always thought I was going to get stuck in the suit if I wasn’t being strangled), so it was an experience to work with this suit today.

The suit.It was also the first time I tried Speedo FASTSKIN and any suit with legs. The material is supposed to absorb a minimal amount of water and dry quickly. I didn’t get a chance to hop on a bike at the rec. center (I get the sense that they wouldn’t want me running around, tracking water all over the place), but it was strange to feel the subtle evaporation of water from the suit when I climbed out of the pool.

But I would like to get a better sense of how it works when I’m running. And how I feel about wearing it in public.

Yet when I jumped in the water, I felt like the only appropriate thing to do was swim:

- 100 yards butterfly to start
- 500 yards free
- 500 yards free
- 200 yards free

Only 1,300 yards, but I will get back to my old distances in time. My recent focus on running has left less time for swimming. But only a few more weeks of the spring semester will take up my Monday and Wednesday afternoons. I cannot wait to have my five days back!

Speaking of Wednesday afternoons, I will try to run between work and the 6:15 p.m. class tomorrow. My motivation around that time of day tends to range from "conquer the world immediately after I run 10 miles" to "take a nap immediately after I wake up from my nap."

Let’s just hope for the former: I have a half-marathon to run in 60 days.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Season Called Sludge

It wasn’t the best idea to invoke that rec. center track ban last week. Sure, it made plenty of sense last Tuesday when it was 75 degrees and sunny outside with the rolling hills ready to be conquered. But the sleeting sloppy snow-turned-rain that ruined today made it really difficult to run. Not only was it slippery and dangerous, it was one of those drippy days that leaves you covered in a slick, frozen sheen and shivering from the leftover dampness.

So, I ran less than two miles today and gave up. The stuff that was falling from the sky reminded me more of getting spat on multiple times than anything else that regularly comes down in winter. And it left the sidewalks crunchy and deep with the stuff.

Rather than running, I decided that it’s time for a change: we need to propose a mid-season between winter and spring. I would called it Sludge. I don’t know about other parts of the planet, but NEOhio is thick with sludge for at least 2-3 months between the time spring should arrive and winter has refused to leave.

I think it would prepare us better for the season in which we don’t know whether to dress for sleep, rain, snow or swell weather. Perhaps I would have more water-repellant clothing than the single pullover I wore for the St. Malachi run (that thing is great—even if it does say Euclid Panther Swimming across the back; not that there is anything wrong with that).

We have Mariel staying with us this week and it looks like it will be a good time. Neil is having far too much fun grilling her with rapid-fire questions about New York: doing laundry in New York, buying televisions in New York Best Buys, food shopping in a Queens grocery stores and which subway line to take where.

But I have my lunchtime all to myself tomorrow. To swim or to run? is projecting a sunny, cold day, so it might be more of a swimming day. Plus, Wednesday through Friday are promising some 50-plus days. And that, my friend, makes for some good running weather (for me, at least).

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Why We Sprawl

Two years into living in the south (of Greater Cleveland area), I have finally found a reason for urban sprawl: unknown-distance running.

Ever since the novelty of my one-mile track street wore off, I have been itching to venture out into the surrounding “neighborhood.” Unfortunately, the streets around here tend to have more speeding cars than sidewalks. And if you’ve heard me quip about riding my bike on the street, you can imagine how I feel about running. I guess I was just a sidewalk-raised kid.

Today's loopBut I took to Steels Corners with abandon today and headed toward the hike/bike path near OH-8. I had always eyed the path for some quality running and kicking hills, so I took it to a hilly road. Before I knew it I was rounding the street and heading toward a local commercial area that I could have sworn was much farther than it now seems.

You see, the sprawl advantage is that grid-oriented people like me have no concept of distance whatsoever when there are no blocks to count. Rather than worrying about where or how far I had run, I just took off down the street and crossed my fingers I would make it back.

My goal was to run about 45 minutes (it was cold), so I wanted to run out for 20-25 minutes and then head back. Instead, I took a back road that looped around from Cuyahoga Falls back to my part of Stow for a long, hilly run.

Although it was really nice to be out in the middle of nowhere, tackling hills and challenging myself more than the rec. center track allows, I was a little afraid of being out in the middle of nowhere. Granted, I was only a couple of miles from home… but also surrounded by what appeared to be acres of grass and wetlands, some empty developments under construction and more than a few creepy-looking roadside cars. There was a strip of industrial-looking buildings, but they didn’t provide much comfort on an early Sunday morning. I planned out in my head which of my keys I would use against an attacker—whether it was a human being or a coyote (I don’t know what kinds of animals are out here)—but reasoned that next time I should also bring my phone.

So, it was a relief when I finished climbing the last hill and saw Steels Corners in the distance. It’s funny the way I feel when I approach hills with a steady stride these days: I’m running strong and thinking to myself, “I can totally take this hill at this pace and not feel a thing; it’s going to be great!” Then I actually start running up the hill and the magic disappears.

But I can feel my strength and comfort with running hills improving already. Just a week ago, running up a 6-percent grade hill made me want to stop running for a bit. Running up two of those hills made want to stop running forever. I may not be achieving the time improvements I envisioned (oh, they’re very subtle goals right now), at least my outlook on hill-climbing has gotten better.

By the way, today’s run was 5.36 miles over about 45-50 minutes. When I decided to take the route, I was certain it was an 8-10 mile run. Alas, my grid-girl instinct was wrong. It’s too bad: halfway through the run I was certain I wanted to start training for the half marathon in May. But it was a good run and a great discovery that can be fine-tuned with a few added turns and hilly roads.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Top 5 Hardest Things About Returning to the Pool

5. Actually swimming.
4. Putting on my bathing suit.
3. Getting in the cold water.
2. The pain! Oh, the pain.
1. Dealing with ‘Flipper.’

That’s right: after a rather long absence, Flipper was back in the rec. center pool. Not only was he back in the pool, he was in my lane.

I have no problem with lane-sharing. In fact, I think it’s a required part of pool congeniality that everyone should observe. When I see a person sitting on the deck waiting for a spot, I stop to invite that person into my lane. I like swimming down the middle of my lane as much as the next person (and with the angled ceiling rafters, I’m not the straightest backstroker in the pool—that’s just beyond my control). But if there are more people than lanes, I’ll stick to my side of the lane and you stick to yours.

And people have different approaches to the lane-sharing dilemma. Some people ask; some wait for an invitation; others just jump right in and swim.

Flipper. Well, that guy’s just rude.

Only two other people were swimming when I finally got my butt to the pool (according to my blog, March 1 was my last swim). I grabbed a kick board, put on my cap and began the painful process I require to ease myself inch-by-inch into the water. Don't ask.

So, I was sitting on the edge of my lane with my legs in the water when Flipper walked around the corner from the recreational pool/hot tub area. Because I have such an aversion to this man, I tried not to pay attention to him and the subtle flexing and purring I’m certain he was doing behind my back. I could hear the flippers slap on, clap against the deck and walk toward me. He walked right up to my lane, stepped on my kick board and essentially jumped over me and into the lane.

Perhaps it would have been a cute maneuver if I actually knew the guy (and didn’t just blog about him on a semi-monthly basis), but that was just plain rude.

What’s more is that the three marked lanes were all occupied, but the unmarked other half of the pool was empty. Not a soul over there. And he steps over me, takes my lane and swims down the middle of the lane.

At first I thought that he may have been swimming in the lane before I arrived. But isn’t that just tough noogies if he wasn’t there when I took the lane? It’s like saving yourself a place in line for Barry Manilow tickets and not telling anyone but yourself.

So, I had to use my best weapon in the water. It wasn’t my incredible ability to do handstands and back flips in the shallow end. No, it was butterfly. I hadn’t been swimming for more than two weeks, but I had the angry energy to pull out a few laps. I felt like one of those animals that uses a gesture or action (like a bull stomping its foot, a gorilla pounding its chest, a lion licking its chops) to signal my huffing madness.

Well, a girl’s gotta do what a girl has got to do. Good thing for me, it only took about 2.5 laps of my warning shots for him to swim over to the open end of the pool. Grrr.

Once I had my lane back, I swam the following 1,500 yard workout:

- 500 yards free
- 200 yards one-arm fly
- 100 yards fly kick
- 200 yards one-arm fly
- 500 yards free

About 300 yards into the first freestyle set, I actually became winded and tired in a way I haven’t experience in a long time. It entered my mind that I should break, but I would never let anyone I know give up that easily. So, I followed my own [constant] advice and pushed through the tiredness and the pain. Lo and behold: 400 yards hit and it was smooth sailing past the threshold from there.

With all of this time out of the pool, however, I felt really out of rhythm with my strokes today. I couldn’t even get my fly kick going. But at least I completed the swim.

Once the semester ends and I get my Monday and Wednesday lunches back, I would like to start working on building my yardage again. It will be nice to have at least five weekdays at my training schedule’s disposal. But May couldn’t be close enough.

(Despite the Flipper incident, I promise I'm not being a poor ambassador to the triathlete community. I'm just sticking up to the rec. center bully. Look out, Flipper!)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Finding Rest and, Perhaps, a Treadmill

I’m getting sleepy… very, very sleepy. And as I sip my last cup of chamomile tea, I’m getting almost too enthusiastic about being tired enough to sleep a full night — despite the lousy excuse for a human being I was today.

Yes, I missed swimming again, but this time work got in the way (why am I saying this time?). Then I committed the ultimate sin when I came home: I plopped down on my uber-cozy bed for “just a couple of seconds.” Forty-five minutes later, when Neil came home, I woke up.

You see, when I was skipping lunch to finish a project, I promised myself I would go swimming at the end of the day. And then when I didn’t actually leave early and was driving home along OH-8, I looked longingly at our local bike path (now that has some delicious hills—notice I say “delicious” as I sit on my couch typing and drinking tea before going to bed) and promised myself I would go running this evening. But that nap wiped me out and it was getting dark and I had spent so much time counting excuses that next thing I knew I was just doing some weight training in the middle of my living room as Duke lost to VCU.

Tomorrow I will swim. And perhaps I will run too.

I know that I have sworn off the rec. center track, but I have considered getting a treadmill for my apartment. Initially, the drawbacks were a) carrying it up three flights of stairs when I bought it; b) carrying it down three flights of stairs when I move; and c) disturbing my neighbors. But my downstairs neighbors have recently become so obnoxious that Neil and I thought for a moment that Monday’s 3.6 earthquake was actually our neighbors wrestling again, so that (courtesy) is no longer a concern. We’ve also decided to stay put for one more year, and now I’m really just down to one grand excuse for not making the plunge.

Well, I guess there is one more thing. The big treadmill incident. Or was it an accident? Long story short: I was standing on a treadmill, wondering why it wouldn’t work, when someone decided to plug it into the wall when my attention was somewhere else. The thing zipped on so quickly that I was launched across the room. I imagine that it was far more entertaining for standers-by, but not so much for the person who could no longer stand… by. And I don’t think I’ve been on a treadmill ever since.

Perhaps by next winter I should get over that fear... or memory. While it was nice to get out in the sub-zero temperatures and trudge through the mounds of snow this winter, there are days when I just wouldn’t get out because of the weather. And removing that excuse would be great for my training regiment. It should pay on muggy summer days too. Besides, don’t those things give you some mean hills? I suppose it’s something to keep in mind.

For now, however, I have sleep on the mind. Last night was my first decent sleep in weeks, and I’ve been limiting my tea to all-herbal, all the time (FYI: that tea from Starbucks yesterday was decaf too; I’ve quit the Lipton green from work all together. Now, if I could only quit that whole “work” thing… oop, who said that?). In fact, I’m just polishing off this cup of chamomile and looking forward to some rest.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Walking Weather

So, I lied.

When I left work this afternoon, it was far too nice outside to just sit in the dreary halls of the Music and Speech Building waiting for my class to begin. Instead, I put on my backup running shoes (I didn’t bring any exercise clothes or gear), parked my car outside the building and strolled the mile to Starbucks, where I picked up an iced tea.

I still had plenty of time remaining before class, so I walked up as many hills on north campus as I could. Wouldn’t you know it: it’s really easy (now) to walk up those things! Perhaps I should spend a few months training in San Francisco before I run the Cleveland 10K or half-marathon in May. I could really tune up my hill-running that way! Plus, I would get to live in San Francisco (although considering Monday’s wimpy 3.6 earthquake that scared the bejesus out of me, I might be better suited to a place where the ground doesn’t have a greater tendency to move when it’s not supposed to).

But I’m off to bed for now. I’ve had some severe sleeplessness lately, and I’ve kept myself up many nights enumerating the things that could be causing my sleeplessness, but you can see where that was going. While I think it started shortly after I began drinking the Lipton green tea at work, that tea-drinking coincided with some major work/stress-shifters in my job as well (such that stress was actually moved from somewhere else and directly onto my shoulders—and I typically handle these things so well!). Tonight, therefore, begins my quest to figure out what has been causing my late-night misery. My hope is that all the figuring will tire me out and I’ll just drift off to sleep.

Skip to my Lou

If it hadn’t been for the sloppy weather, I could have been persuaded to abandon my planned rest day for another good run after work today. But by the looks of it, you’re more likely to find me catching up on my latest The New Yorker in the hallway outside my classroom than taking a Wednesday evening run before class.

What good does a surprise 70-degree day serve if it’s raining all the time?

Sure, I could run at the rec. center again, but I’ve decided to ban the track from my running regiment for the time being. Running in circles for a couple of hours has its perks… wait, wait a minute. No, it really doesn’t.

But all this outdoor dedication is for a good cause: I’m hoping that I can acclimatize between now and whenever hot, muggy days hit NEOhio to make for less painful and dangerous breathing situations this summer. Perhaps I can just ease into 90 degrees one day at a time? Or even explain to my slightly asthmatic lungs that I’m going love hills for the next several months and they’re just going have to deal with it.

Going back to the track right now would be like curling up in bed after another sleepless night and getting cozy enough to fall asleep just as the light sounds of rain can be heard pawing at your window, lulling you to sleep. Not that that’s what happened this morning.

Nevertheless, I have taken to supplementing my hill-climbing ways with flat-land exercises, like skipping to my lou. Perhaps it sounds a little too much like something J.Lo. would do to get that J.Lo. butt, but skipping, I have discovered, is an awesome way to break myself into hills. That is, of course, when I don’t actually have any substantial hills to run.

It was just another embarrassing thing I did to someone who dared to walk with me in public. I have had a bad habit in the past of running in a gawky fashion or run-dancing to funky late-90s hip-hop songs that blast at the rec. center. But poor, Neil: we took a walk on one of these lovely past couple of days and I insisted on skipping or lunging half way down the street. It left my fairly sore through the earlier part of yesterday, but helped me kick up hill after hill during my afternoon run.

So, if you’re in NEOhio and you see a chick skipping down the street with a very determined (and, likely, very exhausted) look on her face, it could be me. Please wave!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Hills are Alive in Kent

I said I wanted hills. And, oh, Kent gave me hills!

Because I have recently become obsessed with running, I skipped another swimming day to take to the notorious hills of Kent, Ohio. Well, maybe it had more to do with the sunny 72-degree afternoon we’re having, but I ran about 5 miles during lunch and ran over every single big hill on and around the Kent State campus. Some I took twice.

The last time I ran the hills of Kent was last summer when I first started running outdoors (quick lowdown: I started running last March and built up to 5 miles by August, when I lamed out during a vacation in Boston. For the next four months I maxed out at 2 miles on the track every couple days, but that was it. Then I started training on Jan. 1 this year… and here I am today!). It was a muggy, o-zone action day complete with rushing buses and construction on North Campus. I ran le tour de campus with Jeff, but teetered on the edge of an asthma attack for most of the trip. And now I’m certain it was half the air, half the me.

My fingers are crossed that when summer and muggy weather return this year I will be in good enough physical shape to build up some lung strength as well.

Breathing today was all right. I’ve noticed — between St. Malachi and today — that I’ve definitely surpassed the point at which stopping to walk is NOT an option. Sure, if I were on the brink of collapsing or in any type of danger, I would consider it. But when I hit that painful “ooh, if only I could stop” point now: Psshaw! I keep going.

In fact today, I was about 35 minutes into my run when I was summiting the sledding hills on North Campus. My breathing was quick and a little wheezy, and I slowed quite a bit from a flat-ground pace. I can only imagine how sweaty, gross and tired I looked (only because people were looking at me funny), but the pain made me feel like I was getting somewhere. Other than up a steep hill.

A few months ago I would have stopped to walk for 10 minutes, but I ran for another 20 minutes. And then I only stopped because I had arrived at the rec. center front door.

Then shortly after I arrived at the front door of my office, Jeff was offering up the cranberry-apricot amaretto pie that was featured in the latest issue of Feast! Magazine. Ahh, nothing like making a run totally worth it.

A group of pie-eaters had planned on taking our pie and eating it too on the picnic bench outside of our building, but it still has a mound of dirty snow surrounding it. At least I had my run to take advantage of this lovely day. I think it might snow on Friday.

So, what’s next? Landon has proposed the Cleveland half marathon on May 20, which he will be running as well. I’m not confident in my ability to run a half marathon yet, but I’ll have to see what a difference two months could make. It’s either the half marathon or 10K. What should I do?

Monday, March 12, 2007


By now you must have heard that I finished my first five-mile race at St. Malachi on Saturday. The gun went off at 9:45 a.m. on the corner of West 25th and Main Ave. in Cleveland, and I crossed the finish line on Washington Ave. about 45 minutes and 3 seconds later (actually I was 17 seconds behind the gun, but you can check out the exact results).

The final stretch: I don't actually run like a raptor; I was just caught at a bad time.I’m not going to lie to you: it was a great time. My step-father and I made it to St. Malachi by 9:30 to pick up our chips. We stretched a bit inside; I thought long and hard about eating a free banana (but I didn’t); and then we hung out on a hill until the gun suddenly went off and we started running.

The interesting thing about the race is that it starts and ends on a hill. The unfortunate thing is that it starts downhill and it ends uphill.

Before the race began I drilled it into my head that I had to watch my pace. Anyone who knows me (or has read about me) is aware of my problem with pacing… and racing. Especially when faster people are around. So, my goal in this race was twofold: 1) finish; 2) run at a consistent pace. I managed to accomplish both.

Around 8 minutes, I rounded the first mile marker and figured I should slow myself down if I ever intended to make it up that final hill. But I definitely got ahead of myself there: when I turned the corner I smacked right into the first big hill of the race (OK, big for me; I’ve been running on the track for the past month!).

I ran in the middle of the pack, so at least half of the people around me were taking that hill and, well, the rest were being taken. It reminded me of that scene in Titanic in which the bow of the ship turns perpendicular to the water and all of the people start sliding down the deck. Granted, there was no sliding, but people were stopping, walking and dropping like flies. The peer pressure almost got to me (I thought: “oh, how nice—and easy too—would it be to take a walking break right now?”), but I continued to run.

That's THE hill. My step-father can be seen on the right heading up.I did, however, make a very strong mental note that I must, must, must run more hills for next time. And I might want to jam with my iPod to take the focus off my pain when possible (I didn’t listen to it during the race). Just a thought.

By the time my muscles warmed up (about mile two), the front of the pack was running back toward us on the other side of the road. These people were marked most distinctly by their good running clothes. It was easy to discern the progression of great runners to good and good runners to decent by the looks of their clothes.

The two guys at the front of the race, for instance, were wearing small running shorts and tank tops. And as more people followed, you saw the running shorts get longer, the tank tops become T-shirts. Eventually, you would get to someone like me in my long pants, double T-shirt and water-repellant pullover. In fact, as we passed the back end of the race, there were people dressed in St. Patrick’s Day costumes and fairly large headdresses. Only some of them were walkers.

I didn’t pass these people, however, until after I passed my doomed water pick-up.

It turns out that I’m not so good at drinking water on the go. Maybe I just need practice or that special talent, but I’ll definitely need to work on that as well. (Can you see Neil standing on the side of the road holding out Dixie cups of water for me? It’s like a movie montage in my forthcoming feature film Rockiette.)

After I grabbed the water and threw it in my mouth (good thing I had the water-repellant pullover!), I had the worst stitch ever. I didn’t stop, but I tried to do all of the breathing, poking and stretching exercises I normally do when I get a stitch. Nothing worked. I continued to run with it until it faded away around 500 yards from the finish. Figures.

Nevertheless, I was able to maintain my 9-minute per mile pace. The back roads of inner Cleveland were keeping me well occupied (there are some really neat modern-arch buildings back there!) until the dog came along. I’ll have to sort through the thousands of St. Malachi photos when they come out to show you a photo of the dog. That is, the dog that beat me.

In the last 1-2 miles of the race, this tall dog and his owner came strutting up the side of the pack. It almost moved me to run faster, but I was determined to not let others influence my pace in this race. But I was getting outrun in a 5-mile race by a dog! I didn’t actually see him finish, but that pooch must have been throwing down some sub-8-minute miles. What could I do?

So, I let the dog pass and I tucked away my pride. But as I crossed the last grated bridge, I could hear a man with a megaphone calling out, “Only 300 yards to go. Up the hill and you’re done! Three hundred yards to beer!” Or at least that’s what I thought he said. I knew, however, what lay around that corner. It was the hill.

Last year, when I was just a spectator, I remember watching people trudge up that hill in all of their huffing and wheezing. I thought to myself, “Wow, that must suck to have to run up this hill after you’ve already done the five miles.” And, you know, it wasn’t pretty.

Philip and Gina: we made it! Now may I have my bratwurst and a shower?But it wasn’t really that bad after all. Although I had my own strength and will power working for me, two of my biggest motivators for running were my mom and Neil: they had been standing out in the drizzle (after going to the West Side Market, of course) at the finish for most of the race. I couldn’t possible make them stick it out just to see my walk up a hill.

And when I passed them, they made it worth it. Neil threw his arms in the air, one with a brown paper bag in it, and said, “I’ve got biscuits for you, baby! Whew!” Since we all know how much I love my Russian tea biscuits, I turned on the jets for the last 100 yards and sprinted to the finish.

Not only did I get my biscuits (and bratwurst and cinnamon-sugar crepe) from the market, but I gave the incredible dog a high-five too.

Thanks again to everyone for your support. And big props to the Salty One for her stellar racing (and great racing story). It’s a great feeling to have this first race under my belt, as well as a better understanding of how a race works… and how I work in one too.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Gosh, do I love being wrong about myself? I finished my first race!

More post-race coverage from St. Malachi to follow, including times, photos, recaps and details about those godforsaken hills.

Oh, yeah: plus, the dog that beat me.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Where Will You Be on Saturday Morning?

In case you find yourself on the near west side of Cleveland on Saturday morning around 10 a.m., wander down to Washington Ave. and West 25th, where the St. Malachi race finishes at the top of an impressive (and, I anticipate, painful) hill.

When I received my reminder email for the run on Saturday, I checked out the route map for the 5-mile race and thought, “what am I getting myself into?”

Looking at the route on a map makes it seem so much longer than five miles anywhere else has felt. Perhaps it's because I know the area too well. At least the scenery won’t be bad.

But I'll just file this fear with all the other irrational fears and objections I've fabricated over the past two weeks. I'll charge my iPod battery, put together an awesome playlist and tie my shoes well. I'm also still crossing my fingers for that decent weather. Have you been doing your part to slow the rain clouds? Help a girl out!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

And the resting day begins…

In fact, I came home, ate dinner, thought about doing some work and then took a nap. A semi-lovely nap. My fingers are crossed that it won’t interfere with my sleep tonight.

It’s been a rough week (couple of weeks) for sleeping, so I have been examining my daily routines, nutrition, thoughts, words, karma. But the only issue I can really pinpoint is work—that godforsaken thing they make us do every single day. Well, it’s really the work-spawned stress that is robbing me of my precious hours. I don’t know that I’m not handling work well or that I’m consciously thinking about it, but my sleeping problems have coincided with recent workload shifts. It’s not good.

What complicates matters worse: I’m one of those “never let work stress you out” types. So, even if it were stressing me out, I would never know or admit it to myself. At least this race has given me a positive focus for my anxiety!

Today was my last running day before St. Malachi on Saturday. I ran for 30 minutes at the rec. center, focusing on a steady pace and maximizing my stride. Not only did I run at my own steady, consistent pace for the whole 30 minutes, I ignored all the one-lappers, show-offs and cross-country runners who can’t help but show me up.

What’s more impressive is that I was able to ignore Jeff (who was also running at the rec. center this afternoon as well) as he ran past me, calling me a slow loser. Sure, I thought about tripping him, but I can’t risk injury before Saturday. Maybe next week.

Thanks again and again for all of your encouragement. I’m looking forward to having this race under my belt and understanding again how to race at anything. If I don’t get some good sleep tonight, I’m going to do some major self-research to improve the situation.

For some firsthand experience and tips about sleep trouble and solutions, check out Jim’s blog, which includes a great piece called “Read it and Sleep.” He’s a knowledgeable reporter and a guy who knows his sleep!

Tomorrow I will either swim or take my latest Tin House to the local ‘Bucks. And, perhaps, think about that awesome Cavaliers win!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Kicking Butt, Taking Names

On Saturday, I’m going to run St. Malachi like Coach Mike Brown took off of the Pistons court after LeBron’s unbelievable three-point flip (that didn’t count). Talk about an incredible game; sorry to the many Pistons fans I know. Well, maybe not.

So, running: I began my tapering today with a 30-minute post-work run at the rec. center. Even though I said I wouldn’t be working too much on my stride this week (mostly out of fear of messing it up—leading up to the race and all), I focused on kicking my feet back for better turnover in my stride. I also said that I would begin weening myself off indoor running again, but that hasn't happened either.

My biggest problem, however, has always been maintaining my stride. How many times have I discussed this issue? How many times does it recur?

Lately I have noticed that my stride slumps far more from mental laziness than physical. So, I focused on kicking out the back of my stride for three-minute intervals today. It was incredible to feel that floating stride I see others achieve. I was almost jealous of myself.

And the most surprising part was how not exhausting it was for me. It has always been my impression that a wide or more-open stride with extended and kicking legs would tire the bejesus out of me. Yet in practice it was easier to do. When I remembered to do it.

Don’t look for me kicking butt and taking names with this stride at St. Malachi on Saturday. But maybe sometime this summer. Maybe.

I haven’t yet decided whether I will rest tomorrow, swim or do another short run. Friday will remain unchanged as a swimming/resting day. And I’m still waiting on that weather slow-down around here. It’s bloody cold outside and I don’t think I’ll have a fan club at all if it’s too blah outside on Saturday!

Sacrificial Tuesday

Oh, what a sacrifice: I gave up swimming for today and went running for an hour. It wasn’t too bad outside, but I stuck to the warm indoors of the Kent State rec. center.

Some people might not think that skipping... exchanging a day of swimming for running is a sacrifice, but swimming is the best part for me!

The run was solid, but I’ve been having tight shins and ankles lately that have made the first 1-2 miles a little rough. More than the typical need-to-warm-up burn, it just started on Monday and I’m afraid it’s all part of my nerves.

Reassurances have been abound this week: I’m very grateful to everyone who have sent me their kind words of encouragement. And one of the best comments I have received came from the Salty One (whose blogs about running are actually quite swell). She said:

Racing is like any other performance and even people who have done it many times get nervous, just like stage performers and accomplished singers. It's normal.

So, right now I’m just searching for some perspective and maybe just a few depressants.

It’s supposed to snow all night tonight and throughout Wednesday. Didn’t anybody hear my pleas for better weather? Still a few days remaining, I guess.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Confidence: Renewed

Don’t let it be true! Oh, please don’t let it be true: reports that it will be 44 degrees on Saturday with wind and showers. Granted, my first race is 4 days from Tuesday, and a distant forecast means next to nothing in NEOhio.

But if everyone in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois could please turn to the west right now and blow really hard, maybe we can slow the weather down. Apparently Friday is supposed to be partly sunny and 45. So, if we could go ahead and put Friday’s weather on Saturday, that would be great.

Today was a little bitter, so I ran inside at the rec. center. Again. I can’t say that I’m losing my taste for outside running, but I am getting a little impatient with winter. I know that winter really only began 1.5 months ago (we’re accustomed to six long months of cold weather), but I could go for a few sunny days of outdoor running when my fingers don’t want to fall off. Maybe just cut back on that wind.

I ran for one hour during lunch this afternoon and was jealous of a girl with a really great stride. No, I didn’t try to race her; I would have been shamed. But it made me wonder what part of running was natural and what could be taught. Whenever I see someone with that effortless stride, I try to lift myself out of my slumping stance and float like they do. But will I ever have that stride? My stride has improved (especially in recent weeks), but plenty of work remains.

Four days before my first race, however, is not the time to start changing things.

Continuing the discussion from Runners World: Rob from work reassured me today that I would finish the 5-mile race on Saturday and I wouldn’t finish last. What made me believe him? He reminded me that there are always people who walk. My confidence is renewed!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Swimming in My Living Room

The rumors are true: Neil and I are looking for a house. Unfortunately, it's not in New York.

We’re both pretty practical about what we look for in a home (a roof, garbage disposal, two-car garage, front door, etc.), but I’m totally in it for the neighborhood. I was eyeing the neighborhoods we visited today, assessing their runability—sidewalks, streetlights, no noticeable sink holes—and think we have some likable candidates. It will be nice to have a neighborhood in which I can wind through streets, get lost and find my way back with little anxiety.

I also dug the speed of the roads, which will help me ease into riding my bike on the street! In fact, I even saw a couple of kids riding their bikes on the street. My faith was sealed!

Not exactly air swimming, but just as cooky.By the time we arrived home, however, I had run out of time to go swimming at the rec. center. So, I did some air-swimming: a not-so-complex maneuver involving 7.5-pound weights, a stability ball and my toes tucked under the edge of the couch. I typically go 13-16 freestyle strokes each lap in the pool, and “swam” about 20 laps in my living room this evening.

The most difficult part, aside from the balancing act, was keeping my mind occupied. Staring at the bottom of a pool can be less than exciting (even when you’re focusing on your stroke or swimming one-arm butterfly!), but staring at your living room carpet can be dizzyingly boring. At least I threw a few butterfly “laps” into the workout.

It wasn’t really swimming, but it was better than sitting on the couch and moping about it. One of these days (I swear), I will get that third day of swimming in each week. But air-swimming is better than no swimming.

But I must stick to my schedule for running this week: run on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; swim on Tuesday and Friday. The big race is on Saturday, so I would like to have a relatively rested day on Friday.

All I need is to find a way to get some sleep the night before the race. I have always had anxiety the day before any type of competition—swim meets, the fifth-grade math contest, first dates. But this month’s Runners World tells me there’s nothing to worry about: “While most first-time racers experience ‘last place phobia,’ the reality is that you almost certainly won’t finish last.” Sure, someone will finish last, but odds are that it won’t be me.

And while that concept is remotely comforting, I have that nagging fear that I just won’t be able to finish the race. I could run 10 miles day-in and day-out for a year before a race, and my anxiety will run wild the night before with irrational fears about falling short, getting a stitch or just tiring out. It's my tragic downfall. Needless to say, I cannot wait to get this first race out of the way. Then there will be the first sprint triathlon to finish in August. And on up from there.

One step at time.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

First Signs of Spring

No worries, no worries. The ankle (and knee) is fine now and Matt (the on-again smoker) will not have to pay with his life. Lucky him.

I ran for one smooth hour at the rec. center track today. I was actually this [--] close to running outside this morning, but I didn’t get the most comforting sleep last night (too much tossing and turning about work — on a Friday night, no less! — which is one of the things I try most in life to avoid) and just didn’t want to deal with the misery.

But the sunshine was so deceptive! This is the second week in a row I’ve allowed the sun to fool me into thinking it might be on the verge of Springing outside.

Last Saturday and today I’ve turned on my computer and, as loads, I say to myself, “If it’s 35 degrees or higher, I’m running outside.” I haven’t been so lucky. This morning wasn’t as bad as last weekend when it was ten degrees outside. Yuck.

I was thinking, however, that perhaps if I were to get a dog I could buck up and get outside even when I'm feeling blah. But I just tacked that onto the 7,149 other reasons I've compiled for getting a dog that still don't mean I'd be a good dog owner. Knowing my luck and rearing abilities, the pooch would be as wimpy as his ma and we'd just stay in bed all day long.

Back to the run: it’s different, for me, to just run for a time period. In fact, it’s kind of nice.
Rather than staying focused on counting my laps or making sure my iPod chip is tracking my miles correctly, I just started running and then stopped 60 minutes later.

After the initial warm up, my run was pretty even and, because I wasn’t counting distance, my body didn’t feel those landmark aches and pains like ankles at 4 miles, knees around 5 and thighs around 8. I may be onto something with my goal this month!

On my way home, however, I saw something incredible: a cyclist riding his bike down OH-59 in Kent. We don’t typically get any of those until around May — even then it’s a rare sight to behold.

The roads are still crusty with gray shoulder snow, so I won’t be as adventurous just yet. Although I took a peak at the local bike path, which appeared somewhat cleared, so I might hit the trails in the coming weeks if the temps break 50 degrees (I’m just not hardcore enough yet to go riding in anything cooler). Running on the trails for now might be a good back-up option and a nice change of scenery.

In less than one week, the St. Malachi race in Cleveland will be a beautiful change of pace and scenery for me. After today’s run I felt pretty secure with my ability to finish a 5-mile race (yes, I have severe confidence issues with my running abilities). But I will be happy to accept bad dreams about the hills near the Cuyahoga River, where the St. Malachi race is run, over the nightmares about work. Does anyone have some sort of holistic cure for work dreams?

Friday, March 2, 2007

Bump in the Five-Mile Road

I tweaked my ankle last night while applying the silent treatment to someone who had unquit smoking. It's not a long story, but a silly story that isn't worth telling, but I felt something pull in all the wrong ways. And when I went running today, it hurt in all the wrong ways too.

I had made it a good 1.5 miles before my ankle started hurting a little. Then there was that magical step that made my ankle feel like it had torn, which made me twist my knees. One tragedy after another, I spent most of my lunch hour doing core training and walking laps. I'm taking the evening off my ankle, aside from some weight training, with the hope that I will be able to run on Saturday.

I would like to finally get a weekend swimming day on Sunday (seriously this time!) and then start a healthy balance of workouts throughout the upcoming week in preparation for the big race on March 10. Right around Tuesday or Wednesday, I should begin doubting my ability to run five miles in a race. But hopefully by late Saturday I will have gotten over that fear.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

March Aliens and the One-Armed Butterfly

Have you ever had that work-inflicted stress that causes a very localized headache pain to throb in the middle of your forehead? Like one of those slimy creatures from "Alien" could burst through your skin at any moment? I had one of those today, right around lunch time. And just as I could feel my skin parting for the alien to fly out, I went swimming and everything was all right.

I've been skimping a little on the swimming lately, so I tried to start building back up with this 1,800-yard workout:

500 yards free
500 yards one-arm fly
100 yards butterfly + 150 yards one-arm fly + 250 yards free
300 yards free

Yeah, yeah, I'm currently obsessing over the one-arm fly thing -- it's always been my favorite pseudostroke. But I rarely push myself to do so much of it. And I think it's wholly appropriate right now to emphasize the fact that I swam 100 yards full butterfly smack dab in the middle of the workout. It was rough and hurt a little bit, but I'm always looking for ways to challenge myself in the pool. Sometimes it's nice to hit that wall and need to huff and puff for a brief second before turning into the next 50 yards. Of course it's great to reach that grand swimming plateau in which you start swimming and don't ever have to stop. But it's better (for me) to find a new way to make it a real challenge. Because if Flipper isn't there, I really don't have anything or anybody pushing me, now do I?

I do, however, need something to push me in my running throughout the month of March (perhaps if someone could just run around all day chasing me with something gross, like a jar of pickles or something). For now I've started the countdown to my first run, which is one week from Saturday.

Until further notice, my target for the month of March will be three 1-hour runs each week. I don't think asking three hours of running out of myself is too much at all. Plus, it gives me a definite timeframe for running and no excuse to say, "but I probably don't have time to run x miles today!"

Perhaps I'll prorate the hours for this week: run an hour tomorrow or Saturday, and then start fresh on Sunday. That will still give me four solid weeks to run, for a total of 12 running hours in March. My non-training goal is to stop letting unimportant factors like work cause alien creatures to be rumored to be crawling out of my forehead. I have far more important things to use my energy for than fight off those guys!

Sounds inspired and doable at the same time. Unless anyone has a better idea?