Tuesday, July 31, 2007

And Onto the Next!

I gave myself a whole three hours to get over my Hall of Fame 5-Miler performance... and then I registered for the Greater Cleveland Triathlon and the Akron Women's Super Sprint Triathlon on Sunday night.

Registration for the Perfect 10-Miler and the Portage Lakes Triathlon will have to wait. I still need to experience how post-triathlon feels to me!

With those two events looming, I thought it was about time I start riding my bike already. So, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. (much to Neil's dismay) on Tuesday, had a healthy bowl of Flax Plus Raisin Bran with blueberries, packed my riding backpack and cycled to work.

I went through the usual self-cursing during the first four miles of uphill, more uphill and still uphill, and then took a different route to Kent State where I was actually afforded a bike path!

What I didn't get was too much peace of mind: I've had this sneaking suspicion that my back tire is flat. I tried to patch the whole, but found none. And while my tire always ends up low after a few days in the garage, it was just fine this morning. But I rode all day with the fear I'd be low-riding at any minute!

After I pushed through the uphill torture and meandered down the bike lane, I thought I was almost at work. But it was then that I realized that Tuesday would be the day of wishful thinking. First, I swore that I was farther down the road every time I turned a corner, and then I was repeatedly confident that I had just ridden over the "big hill on Fairchild" everyone had been talking about. Until I was at the foot of it.

It was a MONSTER hill! Granted, I'm remarkably awful at cycling right now and probably won't think the same way in a few months... but it was HUGE! By my uninformed and spatially challenged perceptions, it had to be a 30 percent grade. Ahh! I felt like I was in San Francisco.

It was about nine miles into my ride, my legs were pooped and the raisin bran had been burned by mile six. I switched into one of my lowest gears and took the first eighth of the hill pedal-by-pedal. I huffed, I puffed and I nearly blew myself down.

Then I gave in: I hopped off my bike and power-walked my bike up the hill. And even the walk was difficult. It made me realize, however, how my legs will feel when they're exhausted from the bike ride. (Please: no photos of me next Sunday when I kick off into that final 5K!)

It also made my appreciate (read: love) the downhill that followed. Unfortunately, I was riding on the sidewalk where the would-be crosswalks didn't have ramped or smooth edges to them. Just curbs. And that just doesn't feel great when you're flying downhill at 20-25 mph.

With all of the uphills, downhills, flat lands, lights and stops, the ~10-mile ride took me an hour into work and then 58 minutes back. I was aiming for 50 minutes on the way home, but it didn't happen.

I don't have a handle yet whether I'm just a bloody slow cyclist, my route is excessively hilly or the stops/lights stall my progress more than I realized. If it's not one of the latter two, I'm going to be dead last in the triathlon... aren't I? I know people who can run faster than that. Sigh. At least I don't have to worry that riding a hybrid bike (instead of a tri-bike) will hurt my success too much. From the looks of it, I might just need to pick up a Vespa.

Other than the bike commute, I also pedaled to the rec. center, where I swam a quick 1,800-yard workout, including:
  • 300 yards free warm-up
  • 1,300 yards free
  • 200 yards IM cool down

A rather speedy girl was swimming at the pool today (she was one of those major leg-slapping flip-turners), and on any other day, I would have loved the push. Finally, a formidable competitor! Only I was less than formidable today. I was already a bit creaky and exhausted before the morning ride, and I could feel my tiredness and weakness throughout my arms and legs in the pool. Perhaps it was just the tiring past week, Monday's weight training or power yoga... it's just a rare occurrence. So, I'll use it as an exercise in my own control and ability to swim for myself.

I might not be as successful next time ;-)

Neil's running tip of the day: if you want to increase your pace, just run faster.

When Neil and I were discussing my pace before Sunday's 5-miler, I admitted that I had a pacing problem and have had difficulty reaching my pacing goals. So, Neil gave me some key advice: if I'm behind pace, just run faster;-) I guess I should have followed his advice! But I'll keep it in my for the future.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Another Race and a New Pair of Shorts

Well, in the words of Jim Carrey in “Liar, Liar”: I’ve had better.

But first, the important stuff—running shorts. After last week’s running-short catastrophe, I made my way to Dick’s in Canton on Saturday evening to find something more suitable for racing.

The current selection of shorts I wear are good for 2-3 miles before they creep up in all the wrong places. Plus, the material and flow of the fabric just isn’t conducive to fast, undistracted running (as it turns out, I’m not really suited for fast, undistracted running either, but that’s a different story), and the pants I had been wearing are semi-lethal on 90-degree summer days. So, Neil took me shopping.

It was great to see the vast selection of running shorts at Dick’s. While the help at the store is never stellar (what do you mean which shoes are good for running?), running shorts pretty much explain themselves. I checked out the shape, fit and material on about 15 pairs of shorts, and walked into the dressing room with six.

As I tried on each pair, I ran in place, ran with high knees, jogged with big kick-back, bent, stretched, and tried to reenact any movements I might actually attempt in my shorts. Don’t ask what the people outside the room thought. After my extensive and scientific testing, only one pair passed: New Balance Sequel running shorts.

The shorts are a good length, have inner lining and use the “Lightning Dry” material that is New Balance forte. And not only did they move with me and stay put when/where needed, they also happened to be totally on sale. Original price: $25; Gina price: $9.97. I was pumped, so I bought three pairs! (I won’t lie, I would have bought more, but they only had three smalls left. But I wonder what my local Dick’s might have left?).

Neil navigated the fireworks/FoodFest traffic back to his parents’ house in Jackson Township. We had pasta for dinner with his family and then played poker until 11 p.m. I slept all right and woke up at 6:30 a.m. with a little bit of neck pain, an icky stomach, minimal energy and even more minimal desire to run. At least Neil took the 6:30 a.m. wake up time well!

It was such a bummer to wake up in that manner because I was ready to run a 40-minute 5-miler the night before! Bummer. But I put on my new shorts, tied up my shoes and got ready to head out to the Hall of Fame.

We arrived at the HOF at 7:30 a.m., picked up my packet, made a bathroom stop and wondered around, trying to get pumped to the tune of NFL Films music. The kids race was fun to watch—one kid blew the rest of the pack away by about 30 seconds—but that was where I saw the race finish line. It was at the top of a long, winding hill. And I spent the rest of the morning trying not to psych myself out for the race.

Neil and I headed back up the hill toward the 5-miler start, but had to make another bathroom stop. This is where it gets fun: according to the Web site, there were around 1400 people… and two bathrooms. Two. We were so lucky when we arrived early and four people were in line… but this time we waited about 20 minutes! And with about 5 minutes until start-time, there were still another 50 people waiting.

So, I approached the start and, for once, tried to get a little closer to the line—this race was using chip-timing for the finish… but not the start. I found a semi-decent spot, collected myself, tried to up my energy and ignore my stomach. Next thing I knew, we were off!

Twenty-seven seconds behind the gun, I crossed the start line and started my watch. The usual rush of people went past me, and I tried to run my own race. I spent most of the first mile trying to fight my mental and physical fatigue. And thanks to the HOF race route planners, the first mile was pretty low key and simple. But as Gina’s first miles go, I came in around 8:41. Same as the last race.

But I didn’t want to finish the same as last race! I picked up my pace a little and tried to stretch out my legs, breathe easy and traverse the variable hills in mile two. It helped that my shorts stayed in place and were almost negligible (and that’s what I want in a pair of shorts—I want them to be something I don’t even have to think about during a race!) the whole five miles. I checked my watch as I crossed mile two at 17:00 (mile-two split: 8:19).

And I was back on track to reach my 8:30/mile goal. We hit a water stand right after the marker. I oversipped a half-mouthful of water and ran for a bit trying to swallow bit-by-bit. By the time the water was down, I was admittedly out of breath! I slowed down and tried to catch my breath and get back on track just as we ran into a collection of hills through the park.

The park run was nice—scenic, tree-shaded and lined with some people support. What wasn’t nice was the cut-off menace who plagued miles 2-4 of my run. By the middle of mile two, there was plenty of room for everyone to run. Sure, there’s some navigating around runners, but some people don’t quite grasp the concept of general courtesy.

We were just winding through the park where jockeying for position wasn’t really necessary. But five times this guy ran up, cut me off and slowed down. I almost tripped on his feet every time, and it took my back to that ROTC guy who was messing with me at the rec. track. So, I just moved away and passed the guy. Then he would do it again. My only consolation is that he didn’t slam me into a car mirror, and it made me think that I must have a “please take out your race-day angst here” written on me somewhere. Oh well. I’ll just bring my brass knuckles next time.

Next we climbed up a few hills to the McKinley Monument, the mile-three marker and another water stop. First, I have to say that I was really impressed with the water, EMS and other support at this run. I didn’t care much for some of the people and the hills, but the support was awesome. Come on: there were three water spots, ambulances galore and annoying kids squirting you with SuperSoakers (OK, I didn’t dig that last part). What more could you ask for in a 5-miler?

I crossed the mile-three marker around 25:58 (mile-three split: 8:58) and carefully sipped my water with moderate disappointment at my slowed-down pace. It was this same spot in the last race that I started feeling energy-sapped and wheezy, so I had to get myself out of my mental slump to push past what has now become my mile-three malaise.

Mile four was mostly straight with some hills and all sun… and it was all I could do to keep myself chugging along. Perhaps next time I’ll bring some GU to suck down at 2.5 miles until I get out of my funk. As I did last time, I tried to mentally remind myself that I had plenty of energy and calories to go on, but I couldn’t change my mind.

Unfortunately, my exhausted mile-four in this week’s race wasn’t the 8:08 I clocked at the Winking Lizard. I crossed mile four around 35:12 for a disappointing 9:14 split.

But there was only a mile to go! I looked at my watch and figured that I could chug along with anything I had left and still make it close to my goal. If I wanted to meet 8:30/mile, I would have to run a 42:30, which wasn’t going to happen at that point. Yet I could still try.

Little by little, I picked up my pace and tried to focus on the strength of my stride, just moving forward and ignoring how dizzy I was beginning to feel. I was passing people left and right, and could start to hear the finish-line crowds cheering and the finishers’ names being announced. As we were taking one the final turns, I was running next to a guy who was huffing and puffing and on the verge of stopping. I turned to him and said, “Come on, dude, we can do it!” He smiled and just booked it to the finish!

His leaving me in his dust was almost enough to energize me to an all-out sprint to the finish, but then we hit that stupid hill I dreaded at the beginning of the race. It was brutal.

I tried with each step to pick it up and sprint to the finish, but gravity just wasn’t my friend today. Nor were my legs and energy level. But as I emerged from the tunnel, I could see the finish. The official clock read 43:44 and I had to kick it into a higher gear. I pushed up the rest of that hill and crossed the finish with an official-clock time of 43:58—that’s 43:31 adjusted for the gun-start difference, one minute over my time goal, ~8:42/mile pace and 12 seconds over my goal pace... but it was 8:19 final-mile split.

So, like I said, I’ve had better. Not a better 5-miler (about 1:35 faster than St. Malachi in March)... but better races. It did, however, make me think about a couple things:

  1. Am I ready for a race a week? It was a difficult week because of last Saturday’s race, the late Tuesday night, no sleep all week and super-stress at work. I need to figure out if I am ready yet for so many races or if I just let external factors slow me down. I’d like to figure that out in the next couple of weeks—I’m under the impression that I can do the GC Tri and the Perfect 10-Miler one week apart.
  2. How can I improve my diet? Aside from the mild cupcake addiction, I’ve been a lifelong healthy eater. I know all about what’s healthy, what to eat, how, when and why. No myth-following or trend-loving here. But I obviously need to learn how to eat for race day. I’m a high-energy person every other day of the week… now how about race day!

I don’t feel that I’m back to my pre-sciatic shape (last Thursday’s seven-mile run was much rougher than it should have been), so I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. But it didn’t seem to harm me last week. Ah well.

My goal is to finish this 5-miler in 40:00 next year. And Neil has said that he will run it in 40:00 next year too. We’ll see about that. But he really did run the 5:00/mile for boyfriend support. And that’s more than enough for me. Although running the race next year might be worth the early morning, bathroom lines and long wait. What do you think, Neil?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Since Last Saturday

Well, I cannot take credit for the race the Winking Lizard has given me: I’m listed as finishing in 30:06 at 7:32/mile. I wish that were true, but it can’t possibly be true! I’ve sent them another message (wow, they’re going to hate me and ban me from all Hermes races) to explain their, umm, re-mistake… but we’ll see how that turns out.

My biggest quip is that at this point I don’t know where I finished! I don’t really have an idea how far behind the gun I started—but I know it wasn’t more than 4:00. And I think that the people who did run some really great times should have their due credit.

I may never know what my real time was for this race. And it figures that the one race in which I went tech-free (no iPod, no HRM, no watch; I wore my armband to carry my ID), the coordinators dorked up the times.

For the sake of my own progress, however, I’m going to stick to my originally assumed time of 34:06, 8:31/mile. Or something like that.

And I would like to improve that pace this Sunday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame 5-mile Race. I'm still getting a grip of my racing capabilities, so suffice it to say that my goal for this run is simple improvement. So, even 8:30/mile will do. Once I get a few more races under my belt, I'll understand how to up my own... ante.

In preparation for Sunday, I've had the following physical week:
  • Monday: 1-mile walk, 3-mile neighborhood run at 9:16/mile
  • Tuesday: super yoga (right side)
  • Wednesday: swam 2,200 yards; super yoga (left side)
  • Thursday: 7.11-mile Stow-area run at 9:25/mile
After my one-month back rehab, I felt like weekend races were cutting into my long runs. But then I realized it was just an excuse. So, I headed out after work today and took a longish run: 7.11 miles around Stow.

It's been over a month since I've trolled the streets of Stow. Ever since my back injury in June, I've walked/run pretty short distances around my own neighborhood. But my route boredom finally overtook my fear of something bad happening today.

While it was nice to get back to "distance" running, I was exhausted by miles 5-6! Granted, I took off at 5:30 p.m. after another draining workday and a few days of bad-sleep exhaustion, but I just felt like I was sputtering out in ways I didn't a couple months ago. At least I didn't stop.

My first four miles were semi-strong (9:00, 9:17, 9:17, 9:06) and more than semi-hilly. Somewhere between miles two and three, I was crawling up one of those endless grades and reminding myself that pushing myself here would help me in the next Cleveland race covered in other endless grades. Remind me I said that when I'm crawling up and down the near west side of Cleveland again!

Once I crossed mile four, however, I appeared to have lost my calories from the Greens+ chocolate energy bar I ate before my run, the Greek salad pita I had for lunch, the apple I had for an afternoon snack, the flax and oats I ate for breakfast. My energy was sapped. So, I closed the run with 9:35, 9:39 and 9:28 miles. It was a difficult hike up the final hill to my car, but (while I'm talking food) it was worth it to make my way home to orange roughy with piquant peppers and garlicky potatoes. Mmmm...

The only downside to the longish post-work run is that my lower back is a little sore now. At least it's a generalize lower back pain, and nothing particularly sciatica. Whew! And I'm hoping that it gives me a good night's sleep because it's been a rough week in that area. Neil and I went to a concert on Tuesday night... and we're still recovering. We tried to get to bed by 10 p.m. last night, but the sleep was still crap. You know, they say you can't catch up on your sleep in one night. Why is it, then, that you can dork it up all in one night? Oh well...

So, what do I mean by "super yoga"? It's Pablo Domene Lee yoga. As you know, I've been into yoga for a few years and have gotten more yogified since my June back injury. Nevertheless, Pablo always kicks my butt. This week was no different.

I've been plugging away at the same vinyasa yoga podcast for over a year, and I'm still not able to complete the entire workout! In fact, I finished sun salutations and flow for my right side on Tuesday, but I was so exhausted at that point that I had to wait until Wednesday to repeat the sun salutations and continue the flow for my left side.

So, I was sore on my right side Tuesday and then evened out the soreness on Wednesday. Today, I was pretty whipped on both sides. No wonder it was a difficult run! But one of these days, I will complete the entire workout. If you'd like a challenge, check out this yoga podcast.

In light of that soreness, I took to the pool on Wednesday (and I have my sights set on Friday swimming so I can finally get in two swims a week!) for 2,200 yards, including:

  • 1,000 yards free
  • 500 yards one-arm butterfly
  • 500 yards free
  • 200 yards IM

I've only been swimming once each week, but I'm still feeling strong in the pool. Strong, but not too fast. There were a few faster swimmers in the pool on Wednesday, however. And I happily outswam them. In fact, I kept ahead of an above-average swimmer over my first 1,000 yards as she did a set of ten 50-yard sprints. Not bad.

Now, if only I could get the Kent State rec. center to turn the lap pool into a sometimes-wave pool to simulate open-water swimming, that would be great. It's been a while since I've done any kind of group swimming or open-water... but I'll have to figure it out by Aug. 12!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Finally, Better Than Expected: 34:06

Oh boy, did I forget how challenging, addictive, exhausting, fun, body-wrenching and educational races are! Where have I been all summer long?

It’s 11:35 p.m. and I’m still reeling from the Winking Lizard 'Shot in the Dark' 4-Miler in Cleveland this evening. The race kicked off at 5:30 p.m. and I was cotton-mouthed from the anxiety of racing again by 5:31!

This race started in the same area around Jacobs Field et al as the Cleveland 10-Miler. But for the first race in my short running life, it wasn’t raining! In fact, it was a pleasant evening and just a bit too sunny for once. I had come to the race in my too-large Paris-Hiltonesque sunglasses and actually ran with them (good thing for me they’re inexpensive glasses, so they’re almost weightless)… and I don’t know what I would have done without them.

We started out on Huron and ran out to Ontario and around Quicken Loans Arena before crossing the big old Lorain-Carnegie Hope Memorial Bridge for what was a ¾ mile uphill climb. Everyone seemed to start this race fast, but I picked a pacer early on and just stuck with her even stride. But the temptation to sprint early with the rest was great… but it paid off later. I hit the mile-one marker mid-bridge at 8:41. Not bad!

In light of my recent back and just plain Gina-inflicted issues, I had aimed to a) finish, as usual; and b) average 9:00/mile. So, I assumed that my first mile would be the fastest (because I haven’t had much in the tank lately) and just focused on getting to mile-two by 18:00. And it wasn’t an easy ride. I was wholly parched, as I mentioned, by the end of the first mile—whether it was from nerves or heat, it wasn’t a good feeling. I reminded myself, however, that I generally stay almost too-hydrated every single day. There was no way my body was dehydrated at this point. It helped me temporarily get past the mental hurdle and I pushed on…

Right when I got pushed! As we were running down Lorain Avenue, I was running on the outside of the group alongside the cars parked on the street. Another girl was running a little behind and beside me, and there was plenty of space on the other side. No one seemed to have trouble passing with courtesy and ease, except for the guy who shoved me into a car. My shoulder smacked a rearview mirror and for a few delirious seconds I didn’t quite understand what had happened.

I continued running (now that I think of it, I hope the car wasn’t damaged) despite being a little lost for my senses. And it was only after a couple minutes that I started thinking about all the nasty things I wanted to say to that guy. Instead, I sought him out in the crowd and passed him, crossing mile two at 17:20 (8:39 split). No, I didn't slug the guy.

We ran down Fulton Road, where I sad to see that the creperie Le Oui Oui CafĂ© was no longer around (Johnny Mango, however, was still OK!), and then turned into a stretch of running directly into the sun. Up to this point I had been able to catch some shade here and there, but it wasn’t an option as we headed down Franklin and West 29th. Thankfully, there was a water stop on Franklin, where I managed to rinse out the dry mouth and pretty much pour water down the entire front of my body. The water that made it to my mouth (one swing for rinsing and a small swing for drinking) helped clear the mental block of dehydration, and I was free to run the forever uphill that was the Detroit Avenue Bridge.

I should mention that shortly after mile-two, my seemingly even and reliable pacer fell off. I slowed down a couple times to make her stay in front of me, but then I realized that it didn’t really make sense. So, I picked a new pacer. She was pretty far ahead of me and seemed to have a good pace going. Until we reached the bridge.

From the moment we turned onto Detroit Avenue, I could see and feel the not-so-subtle grade. I kept spying the middle of the bridge knowing it had to end there… but that never comes soon enough. And it didn’t come soon enough for the larger-than-expected collection of people who had to stop and walk when we were ¾ up the hill! It would be my lazy tendency to just slow way down on an uphill, but I kept my eyes on my pacer and stayed with it.

It was one of those wearying hills that tests your hammies and your general will to live. Granted, it was an anthill compared to the final stretch of St. Malachi—but it was way long and positioned at the stress point of a short race.

I remained focused and was proud of my ability to maintain a steady pace and not let the pain, exhaustion or sun glare throw me off. And I had my pacer to thank for much of my pacing success… until she dropped off as well. Then I crossed mile three at 25:56 (8:36 mile-three spilt) and kept on trucking.

The mile-three marker was just a little past the middle point of the bridge, so it was then that I took the downhill to recover and try to ramp myself up for about nine minutes more of hard running. It wasn’t difficult to calculate that I had about 10:00 to finish my last mile in goal time. While that was comforting, I was really beginning to run out of steam.

I felt like I had the endurance to finish the race strong, but I don’t think I ate remotely enough today to keep up with the energy (between mental and physical prep, anxiety, excitement and, oh yeah, the actual running) required to run a great race. Once I started thinking about my downed energy, I started counting calories that I had to have stored somewhere in my body for that last mile. Where, for instance, had all those cupcakes gone? They had to be somewhere on me to fuel that last stretch, right?

After I cruised down the hill and saw a race photographer, I tried to lengthen my stride and run pretty for the picture. This race, however, was my first shorts-wearing race, and it just wasn’t a good shorts-wearing experience… so, I’m not excited, per se, to see that photo. But my stride should look killer... well, at least for me.

I was excited to feel that my legs weren’t remotely as tired as my mind (boy, was I thanking my lucky stars that this wasn’t a 10-miler—whew!) and my general energy level.

As I trotted up Ontario (it was uphill all the way to the finish line!), I began assessing my vital stats: legs were fine, back was a little weak, my brain was shot and my breathing was a little wheezy from the warm city mug. The wheeze threw me off for about ¼ mile as I was arrested by the fear of an asthma attack, knowing that my stubbornness would never let my body actually stop running to deal with a breathing problem. So, I slowed down and tried to get my breathing in check.

The hardest thing was that I wasn’t winded, just wheezy. Slowing down didn’t really help because I wasn't really tired. Yet the more I wheezed, the more I panicked. The more I panicked, the more I wheezed. I tried to put myself mentally somewhere else and focus on some yogie breathing. It probably would have helped in a longer run, but I started nearing the finish stretch and just turned my focus to listening to people cheering and minutes ticking, not my lungs wheezing.

Besides, I figured they’d be able to help me better if I collapsed at the finish than in the middle of downtown Cleveland. And the faster I got to that finish line, the better.

The crowd noise started getting louder and I could hear the times being read, “33:02…. 33:05…. 33:10...” and I started running fast! As we turned onto Huron and ran past Quicken Loans Arena, I started into a dead sprint toward the finish.

I was neck-and-neck with a girl who had passed me on the bridge and whom I passed on the final stretch. We were both sprinting for the finish, where there were lines of people and a man reading off the times, and I thought I had crossed it first. I slowed down just when I noticed that she was still kicking it. I heard my mom yell, “Go, G! Go!” and I realized that I had another 25 yards to go to the finish line! I’m such a doof!

So, I sprinted the rest of the way (obviously, the other girl beat me), finishing at 34:06 (that’s an 8:08 mile-four split, 8:31/mile average!), a PR and a proud moment… despite the sheepish grin I had as I crossed the timing mats, which I should have looked for in the first place!

Whew! It’s exhilarating just recounting the race!

It was also quite neat to have several pals running the race, including Jeff, who finished his first-ever race in 33:18, and my step-father Philip who ran it in 36:16. It was particularly fun going with Jeff to the race because it made me feel like the seasoned professional—all three races under my belt now! But it's even more awesome that he and Philip had some fantastic races!

Lessons learned: 1) buy a pair of running shorts—enough said; 2) I can run without music, and run relatively well; 3) who knew I had a crumb of focus?; 4) injury? what injury?; and 5) run all the way to the finish, not where you think the finish should be.

Things to work on: 1) drinking on the run—bright side: no stitches for the first time, but it would be nice to get more in my mouth, less down my leg; 2) running in the sun—the heat was a killer; 3) building my distance again—this would not have been a happy blog posting if I had attempted a 10-miler; and 4) starting a little faster—I obviously have some endurance and finishing speed, and I should spread that speed a little more evenly across a race.

The only bummer: Hermes appears to have mixed up some results! My heart sunk this evening when I checked the 4-mile results and couldn’t find my name or Jeff’s in the listing. So, I checked the 2-mile results, and there they were. There’s a whole host of runners whose gun-chip difference is 4-5 minutes, which probably means that we’re all listed under the wrong races. Grrr.

I sent Hermes an email about the mix-up, as high-maintenance as that sounds, and I hope they care! It was my best race yet, and I would prefer to have the correct results posted. There's nothing quite like a personal record!

Now I can’t wait to race again!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

One Month Later...

After a couple weeks of “will-I-or-won’t-I?” I’ve decided that Saturday’s four-miler is, in fact, for me!

(I'm officially one month into my recover from my dumb sciatic problem process: two weeks yoga-and-rest, two weeks yoga-and-run-lite. And now I'm back to... normal?)

I headed out around 7:30 p.m. (after a vicious fight with my will and fatigue) to run around my neighborhood. I was halfway through my 1-mile walking warm-up when I ran into Anya, our former grad assistant who now works in Hudson. What’s funny is that I was just wondering during a music-free run the other day how many people I know live in our apartments without me knowing. Well, there’s one!

It’s a handy little neighborhood: our apartment buildings are on the right side of the street, a hilly condo community is on the left. After I talked to Anya, I passed a number of people walking, cycling, running and strolling with dogs. Aside from the devilishly ominous clouds looming overhead, it was a pleasant evening to be out… and not remotely as mugging as my excuse-making self claimed it would be.

One of my biggest obstacles with running recently (yes, aside from the nagging sciatic thing) has been route boredom. I’ve run every square inch of the Stow and Kent areas, and won’t be hitting the trails on foot or alone for obvious reasons. And sticking around my 1-mile roundtrip street has been less than thrilling.

It has, however, been several months since I incorporated the condo development across the street into my run. As it turns out, it has some better-than-remembered hills. Granted, these aren’t Kent hills, or even some Stow hills, and definitely not the last-stretch-at-St.-Malachi hills. But good enough.

So, weaving in and out of the development, I had intended on running four “laps” of my neighborhood. Without the development swoops, it’s about one mile per lap; my goal was to run four miles. Adding the extra swoops, as it turns out, packs on some extra distance. And by the end of my run, I had completed a total of 7.10 miles, which included 1 mile walking and 6.10 miles running. Not too bad for a girl just getting back into it.

What surprised me most was the relative evenness with which I ran the miles: 16:00 for the first walking mile and then 9:01, 9:08, 9:06, 9:14, 8:59, 9:09 for each additional mile. It matched my target pace, and I was happy to be so “even” on my first run back.

I could definitely tell, though, that my body wasn’t used to the impact of 6+ miles. Physically, I felt strong running the distance—in fact, I hit my full stride and second wind right around mile five—but felt some serious stomach sourness from the jostling and had even more acid reflux. The last couple of miles was a fight between mind, stomach and [the rest of my] body that luckily turned out not so bad!

My only problem was that I felt generally s-l-o-w, as I have felt for the past month. While I was glad I maintained an even pace and a time that I had targeted for my distance training, I don’t know that I could have run much faster—even if it wasn’t a high-intensity run for me. On the other hand, it could just be my how-will-I-run-on-Saturday fears arresting my mind. We’ll see.

Saturday is just a measly run in the grand scheme of things: Jen C. will be completing her first Ironman at Lake Placid, and I’m really eager to hear about the big race. All the best to Jen C. and her husband on Saturday!

Previous days' notes: I ran a smidge on Monday at the track and then walked a while with Melissa. We were engrossed in a conversation about medical procedures; you really should only do that while walking. And Tuesday was swim, swim, swim: 1,800 yards free. It was a super strong swim that added well to my up-the-yardage plan in the pool. I'm trying to add some yards each time I swim. With no excuses. Until, of course, I run out of lunchtime minutes in which to swim.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Swimming Hard and the Wii Tournament

By the end of last week I was pretty whipped. Between the energy-draining office heat, computer-toting treks to the coffeehouse and long nights working on personal and academic projects, I pretty spent no matter how many Greens Plus chocolate energy bars I ate.

Thursday, however, was a pleasant day for a swim. I’ve mentioned before that I’m in the world’s top three biggest wimps when it comes to jumping in the pool. I go through a painful process of toe-dabbling, self-splashing and slow-lowering to get into the pool when I know very well that it’s far less painful to jump just right in. In fact, when I swim with Melissa, I’m so jealous of her ability to just hop in with abandon as it takes me five minutes to get settled.

And it doesn’t help that the water was perfectly freezing for the pretty hot Thursday. As per usual, I went into the water thinking I would only swim 500 yards before sputtering out. Lucky for me, however, I start to really like swimming again (I tend to sway between like and dislike with most things that require a warm-up period) after about 200 yards.

Thursday’s swim was 1,400 yards, including:
  • 500 yards free
  • 300 yards one-arm butterfly
  • 600 yards IM

The IM was by far most challenging because my left knee doesn’t dig breaststroke kick anymore. So, I’ve taken to swimming breaststroke with aggressive arms and a butterfly kick. The motion doesn’t really lend itself to butterfly kick, so it’s an intense arm and shoulder workout that I can still feel a bit when I roll my shoulders. I’ll have to work that into my regiment a little more—without hurting myself, of course.

By Friday I was pretty whipped. I skipped lunch to work on my personal Web site and read for my thesis work at Susan’s, and then came home with the intent to run after Neil and I hit Mariachi’s for some Mexican food. We walked to Rico Latte, where I had one of the better chilled chai drinks yet and we settled in to hang out for a bit. But before long, we became victims of the Wii.

Have you played with a Wii? I hadn’t even seen a Wii before Friday, but it was fascinating. Our Super Nintendo-grade gaming knowledge made for a struggle to get things rolling, but as genuine computer geeks, Neil and I were able to get the Rico Latte Wii tournament rolling.

Neil kicked my butt in a fairly intense game of tennis (I only smacked a nearby table 3-4 times with the controller); let’s just say I rocked the golf course and the bowling alley (I think my golf score was +4 and his was +24); but then we really beat me up in the boxing ring. Apparently I’m not so good with my fists despite all my claims to the contrary.

We must have played for over an hour, and were pretty winded by the time more people filtered into the coffeehouse. It’s good to know that kids are finally being encourages to get up and play games.

It ended up being a late night, so I got off to a bit of a late start on Saturday. I walked my brisk 2-mile warm up and then ran at a healthy 9:00/mile pace for a measly 2.75 miles for a total of 4.75 miles and a 12:00/mile overall pace. It had started getting muggy, and I had promised myself I would go for a longer run in the evening. Which I didn’t.

Sunday was kind of a bust on the running front as well (if it’s any consolation to my guilt, it was a rather yoga-full weekend). I have a 4-mile race on Saturday, so I have to get back on track this week and hope that my sciatic doesn’t have the nerve to bug me again (insert courteous laugh here).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The More I Learn About Running

The more I enjoy doing it. When I ran with Melissa on Monday afternoon, I only took a 2.74-mile run around the track at the rec. center before rapidly walking another mile with Melissa as we talked about my stride.

I told Melissa, who is a famed and fantastic runner, that when I shadow-check my stride, my arms seem to be right and my kick-back isn’t bad, but I didn’t think my knees were moving much at all. And she agreed. It turns out that I’ve been running pretty much flat-fronted, and not in the way that I would prefer. While I’m not sure whether it’s been a long-term problem or emphasized by my most-recent injury (of the many), I’ll have to start working on it.

On the bright side, Melissa reassured me that the rest of my stride was actually quite good despite all of the misaligned, pulled, tweaked and ached things going on with my bones and such these days. All I have to do is continue to maximize the productivity of my stride… and then I can start thinking about other things like cadence.

But before I even start thinking about cadence, I’m focusing on building my distance again. I have felt great on all of my recent runs (the sciatic pain is very slight and warms away about a mile into my run), but have shied away from too long of runs for fear that I’ll end up in the woods with a bear and a sciatic nerve biting my butt. I am, however, trying to add a little bit of distance each time.

So, on Wednesday night I headed out after work on what turned out to be a cool and pleasant evening. I walked my 2-mile brisk warm-up and then started on my run. After about 300 meters, my lower back was stinging and all of my worst fears rushed at me. But it wasn’t that bad. I started walking quickly again, stretching my arms, legs and back as I strode along. After another 250 meters, I kicked the walk into a slow jog and picked it up from there.

Everything felt all right after the first half-mile, so I started looking at my stride again. One of these days, I promise myself, I will get this running thing right!

For the first half-mile, I ran with over-emphasized knees, which felt really goofy at first. And for the next half-mile, I tried to run my stride with a little more knee. It felt far closer to natural on the back half, but I could still see in my shadow that I was a little flat-fronted (yes, I shadow run from time to time; it’s very safe). Unfortunately, it wasn’t just a bad shadow angle.

Have you ever heard of someone with such difficulty with putting one foot in front of the other? I don’t know what my deal is, but I tried to run the remainder of my 4.26 miles with varying degrees of knee success. It will be yet another thing to work on…

But for now (my office air conditioning broke and it’s just not pleasant Web designing in an 86-degree office), I’m going swimming. I can do that!

[NEWS ALERT: Magnolia bakery has been temporarily shut down for health code violations. Gina is recovering from the shock and will seek treatment at the still-stellar Main Street Cupcakes in NEOhio.]

Monday, July 9, 2007

Holy hot weekend, Batman!

I have somehow managed to become as good a holiday-eater as I am a cupcake-talker.

On Friday and Saturday, Neil and I made our way to friends' houses (Nate and Kate on Friday; Stef and Dane on Saturday) where we stuffed our faces with grilled eggplant and fresh mozzarella on fresh baguettes; tomatillo salsa sandwiches with tomatoes, swiss and lettuce; cream-filled chocolate cupcakes; chocolate-caramel torte; Nilla wafer-banana cream pie; and, mmm, cherries.

So, sitting down to my breakfast of a chai tea Luna bar and apple was a little less exciting than usual.

The exciting part of it, however, is that I bought the chai tea Luna bar at Whole Foods in University Heights, which conveniently opened shortly after I left the area. While I haven’t become dependent on bar-form meals, they’re a handy way of maintaining my nutrition when I could just as quickly sink my teeth into a quick donut or two. And as you can see from the above list, I can probably stand a few days away from any serious binging, eh?

But the weekend wasn’t all face-stuffing and naps: I kicked a little bit of running butt on what turned out to be a rather disgusting Saturday morning/early afternoon walk-and-run around the neighborhood. I started with a very fast 2.10-mile walk and then picked up into a 3.83-mile run.

I had intended on greater distances when I started the workout, but as the heat washed over me (I also started later than intended—I generally get running by 8 a.m., but didn’t get out the door until after 10:30), I felt like I was trying to breathe underwater. The trouble was primarily at the end of the run, so it didn’t seem to signal any grand deterioration of my shape.

It did, however, mark a new “accomplishment” in my world of running: it was my first workout in the present era without music. I had my iPod along to track the workout, but I had no music playing. Sure, it doesn’t sound like much, but I’ve had some serious attachment problems with running music—as if some form of audio distraction were absolutely necessary.

Ever since I became a more-frequent cyclist though, I’ve gotten used to the non-distraction workout. It’s obviously too dangerous to listen to music when I’m riding my bike (and, come on, when I do something it’s about 35 times more dangerous than the average participant), and I’ve kind of settled into that quiet space.

So, when I headed out on Saturday morning, I thought I would give it a try. It seemed a little strange at first because I like to use music rhythms to get me moving, but I found my inner motivation to push me instead. It took some digging…. And it will take some getting used to. Maybe I can just start singing to myself.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Holding Off and then Being Held Back

Well, I’m going to have to agree with Jen C. about waiting for a fully recovery before I race (Jen, by the way, will be kicking butt in her first Ironman in two weeks from Saturday—good luck, girl!). I think I’m finally realizing the value of good advice.

The next race on my schedule is the Winking Lizard “A Shot in the Dark” 4-Mile Race, which is a strange race to me because it starts at 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday. My hope, however, is that most of the other people in the race will have spent the better half of the day inside Winking Lizard and at the bar. Not because I’m desperate to win the race, but because it seems like it would be entertaining to watch how someone might travel rapidly four miles on foot when they shouldn’t even be driving. Maybe I’m just a goof.

So, on my road to recovery, I’m taking to running every other day or so to give myself proper rest. While Wednesday’s run went really well, I was definitely running with the looming fear of the sciatic pain returning. It didn’t… but the fear was enough to scare me into good-advice submission.

And as part of the resting regiment, I did my morning and evening yoga (should I even mention that anymore if I don’t want to be labeled too fiercely?) and swam 1,800 yards (~1 mile) free straight at lunch.

It was an interesting swim: the back of my cap tore right before I jumped in the water and then the front ripped open as I turned into 1,000 yards. And it was right around 1,200 yards that I was severely regretting those side-swept bangs I cut in spring 2004—and have never quite been able to get rid of—because they were the perfect length to cover both my eyes.

While I found a rhythm of bubble-blowing that would pushing my hair out of my face when I would either take a breath or spot the wall, I still had what was left of my cap fastened to my head with a goggle strap, and the cap shard was filling with water. I had kept it on to contain what it could of my hair (my hair is long… and it wouldn’t be a healthy sight if it were free to float as I swam—in fact, one strand did get lose and wrapped around my left arm twice. Ouch!), but it started tugging at my goggles.

For my last 200 yards, I swam with one goggle lens on my cheek and the other half filled with water, both eyes covered with bangs and my left arm tangle in hair. Pretty gross. Sure, I could have stopped, pulled my hair back, fixed my goggles. But as I was swimming, I realized that conditions in Lake Erie or Portage Lakes probably would be ideal with flailing arms, aggressive attitudes and not a few waves. Besides, do I seem like someone who would let a few strands of hair get in her way? Well, maybe if the hairs are on the back of a black bear.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Happy Eat-the-Fourth-of-July!

In case you were concerned, I did make it home safe and sound on Monday evening. The bike ride was quite pleasant—short of a few extra-long waits on some traffic lights—and incredibly downhill as I had suspected. I’m keeping an eye on the weather forecast to see when the next ride-to-work bonanza can happen again.

That's just wrong...I didn’t have anything to report on Tuesday because the only real training (other than some morning yoga, par usual) I did was for a great eating contest. And chances are Joey Chestnut would beat me anyway. Unless, of course, it was cupcake eating.

Life as I’ve known it pretty much resumed on Wednesday, I woke up early and did a couple hours of yoga, meditation and apartment cleaning. And by mid-afternoon, I was feeling pretty healthy on the sciatica front (about bleepin’ time!). So, I headed out for a run. A real run.

But trying to be smart, I started with a brisk walk again for 2.5 miles at 14-15:30/mile pace around my neighborhood. I was keeping my strides long, arms swinging and my left foot firmly planting with each step. The difference from Sunday’s outing was that I didn’t feel any pressure during the walk. And that was nice!

My goal was to cover four miles, and after walking the first two-and-a-half, the next one-and-a-half would be cake. They were. So I kept running.

It was only around the last half mile that I started feeling a little pressure in my lower back and thought it might be a good idea to slow down, cool down and head home. But that was only after I ran 4.05 miles, for a total of 6.55 miles (2.5 miles walking + 4.05 miles running).

The saddest part was plugging in my iPod and seeing that I had fallen to a distant fourth in one of my challenges. I’m 150 miles behind the leader and 50 behind the second-place runner whom I had totally beat three weeks ago. Such is the way of the injury.

But as Landon told me not long ago: the miles I sacrifice now during recovery will only be a fraction of the miles I would lose in the long run if I didn’t let myself heal.

Needless to say (which is, in itself, a funny thing to say), I didn’t run in the July 4 race in North Canton. And I’m still up in the air about Saturday’s 10K in Kent. Only Thursday and Friday will tell.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Not a Bad Way to Start Off the Week

But first, the weekend: Neil played some stellar bocce in a tournament on Friday and Saturday, continuing his reign as the best non-Italian bocce player this side of Murray Hill.

Congrats to Neil and his bocce boys! He and his teammates are neophytes to the hard-surface circuit, but were able to kick the bocce butts of guys with names like Dino, Lillo and Vince. They fell in a later round, however, to guys like Giuseppe, Paulo and Bruno. High five, Neil & co.!

So, while the man was bocceing, I was plugging away at the thesis-related readings that will rule my summer (but it’s good stuff!). On Saturday, I took my reading on the road for a 20-mile roundtrip to and from Starbucks in Kent. And the ride is fully satisfying in roundtrip: It’s pretty much all up hill on the way into Kent, which means it’s mostly downhill on the way home. But that also means it’s one of those rides in which you start swearing at yourself about what a bad idea it was to take a “relaxing ride” to Kent with all of these hills in the way!

I followed up the ride with about 2-3 hours of yoga and another several hours of meditation, which I’ve taken to doing for the past couple months (and much more in the past two weeks). I’ve recently been in touch with a college friend who is a zahzen meditation practitioner. When I told him about my sciatic pain, he recommended some serious meditation to unthink the pain away (apparently that’s much easier when it’s a nerve pain rather than an actual injury).

And, oddly enough, I think the relaxation, concentration and breathing (between the yoga and meditation) have finally helped. Granted, my more “conservative” friends might not believe me, but it really wasn’t any sort of miracle. Meditation has been known to help your brain handle pain. In fact, when I was more practiced in meditation I was much less a wuss than I am now (but not remotely in as good of shape)!

So, what did I do on Sunday morning? I tried running, as planned. It started off with a very brisk walk—about 14-15 minutes a mile for a little over 2 miles. While it wasn’t quite power-walking, I was quite on the move. I focused on stretching my legs for long, healthy strides that used my entire foot to push along; took deep, cleansing breaths; moved my arms with an aggressive from-the-shoulders running swing. And I was fine.

Once I felt warmed, I thought I would give myself a jog. On the first several strides, I felt a little discomfort from my sciatic nerve, but nothing that would make me cry in the future. My s-l-o-w jog started with strides that were minuscule and arms held tightly into my body before I relaxed and ran a slow, stretched stride with, again, focus on my foot placement. Heel, ball, toe; heel ball, toe (which was difficult to enforce in the mind of someone who took ballet).

After 1.3 miles I was passing my apartment and decided to stop for the day. The good thing was that I didn’t hurt at all—the first time in two whole weeks—and I wasn’t tired from the walk-jog. So, I may not have lost all of my fitness after all.

Again, I went inside and did more yoga before relaxing for most of the day and eating every kind of summertime fruit that ever existed. In fact, watermelon and rainier cherries may now be extinct because I ate them ALL!

All that fruit, however, was not for naught: I used the leftover energy (and an extra chocolate energy bar) to pedal my way into work this morning. And it was awesome!

Downhill cycling sounds good...I work a little more than 10 miles from home and have long wished I could bike to work (I complain too often that I don’t live/work in a place where I can either take public transportation or ride my bike, so I’ve decided to stop being an obstacle to myself and at least make one thing happen!). After yoga this morning, I just packed up my work clothes into a backpack and just rushed out the door before I could change my mind.

What a beautiful morning! It was even a little chilly for the first half of the ride, but the constant uphills for the first six miles warmed me up a bit. This ride is pretty much the same as the route to Starbucks, so I’m really looking forward to the easier ride home. But I cannot explain how satisfying it was to get into working knowing that I had a) started my week/day off with a great bike ride; b) saved about a half gallon of gas; c) will save another half on the way home; and d) earned myself some serious cupcake action for the Fourth of July!

It wasn’t the easiest ride (I was cursing myself half way through), but I figure it will get easier as I get into better cycling shape. Just think how far I came with running! And let’s just say I’m relieved the ride home is easier than the ride here. Downhill sounds so nice right now!