Thursday, February 28, 2008

Well, Kind of Counting Down...

The gun goes off for St. Malachi two weeks from Saturday, and I have little to report other than I’m recovering from the flu (believe it or not, I’ve found my way into sickland again!) and I’m pumped for thawing temperatures in the coming days.

In other news… shortly after I posted my Top 7 yesterday, Neil lamented that there just weren’t seven interesting things to write about him. I begged to differ.

So, in honor of my dreamboat, here are the Top 7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Neil….
  1. My boy’s wicked smaht.
    Neil can add, multiply, percentagify, derivate, double, triple, flip and find the limit of a gazillion numbers in a single bound, Will Hunting style. I sacrificed that part of my brain; I don’t know how he does it.

  2. In fact, Neil’s multilingual, in a way.
    Believe it: Neil could probably carry on an entire month’s worth of conversations in movie quotes alone. And while I often spend 5-10 minutes staring blankly at him mid-quote, he still loves me until I figure out what on earth he’s saying.

  3. Jerry and JoeBut he was supposed to be the next Joe Montana’s next Jerry Rice.
    Jackson Township legend has it that Neil and his friend Jon were stellar childhood football players. Jon could throw for miles; Neil could catch anything thrown in his zip code. Then puberty hit. Neil’s career, however, didn’t end before he had the opportunity to be laid out by Mike Doss, who has since won championships with Ohio State and the Indianapolis Colts.

  4. No one told his feet.
    The average American man wears a size 9-10 shoe; Neil wears sizes 13-14. That puts him in the ranks of LeBron James (size 15), Dwayne Wade (size 14.5) and Peyton Manning (size 14). While he’s not quite Shaq (size 22G), Neil is at least 2.5 sizes larger than Boomer the Blue Lion, the Indiana Pacers’ mascot.

  5. Neil is still a football champion.
    Fantasy football, that is. Neil didn’t make it to the big field, but he did hoist the big trophy at the end of last season when he won the MFFL Super Bowl. So, he’s still kind of like Jerry Rice. Instead of doing sprints uphill wearing 20-pound ankle weights on each leg, Neil spends the off-season making player-stat spreadsheets, completing mock fantasy drafts and advising the fantasy boards.

  6. Neil fends off a Central Park bear.A Vegas champ, he is not.
    Poker, craps, roulette, blackjack, nickel slots, coin toss… you name the gamble and Neil will lose it. In fact, he recently co-organized a poker tournament and opened with an all-in bet on three kings/two aces. Only to lose to three aces/two kings. Lucky for us, he knows his karma and values compounding interest.

  7. He fights bears instead.
    That’s right. They’re Central Park bears, too. His skills didn't help me on that one run through the park, but Neil makes me laugh until I cry. On a regular basis.

My favorite two sideliners: mom and NeoAnd all those laughs will have to help my cardio on that final hill at St. Malachi, where Neil and my mom will surely be waiting on March 15 with bratwurst from the West Side Market and the loudest cheers in the crowd.

Let's just say that this year, I'll need it! I'm pretty excited, however: I believe I have lured several runners who did not run with us (I ran St. Malachi with my step-father, Philip) last year. And if the spirit of races isn't the more, the merrier, then I don't know what it is.

While I don't think I've convinced Neil to race just yet, he should be using those destined-for-running feet of his to outrun me in a race one of these days. You can only stave off peer pressure and bribes for so long, sir...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Better Things Than Snow and Flu

I'll pretend the only reason I'm listing these things about myself is that TriGuyJT and Salty One made me do it. But I really just wanted a reason to link back to my squirrel photos and post photos of Ben Wallace's hair, now that he's a Cavalier. Is that so wrong?

Top 7 Things You Probably Didn't Know About GP...
  1. I have an intense fear of bridges.
    Perhaps it was the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that sparked my gephyrophobia, but lets just say I clock some of my best splits in Cleveland races when we’re crossing the Lorain Avenue Bridge or Detroit-Superior Bridge. I also clock my fastest driving times over bridges, but let’s just keep that hush-hush.

  2. And squirrels.
    Well, I know what caused that one: when I was a child, my brother and my cousin told me that squirrels were dangerous, rabies-riddled animals that could easily kill you with a bite or mere scratch. (Hence my need to dress up as my least-favorite mascot to confront my fear.) My brother also told me that killer wolfmen caused the erosion grooves off I-90 between Euclid and Mentor, that the Easter Bunny died from cancer, and that the tiny lunch lady at Memorial Park in 1987 was the tooth fairy.

  3. Amazingly, I’m still good friends with my brother.
    Nino happens to be a swell guy. We developed a pact when I was nine or ten, agreeing that we would always be the other’s advocate and have stuck to it for almost 20 years. I’m beyond lucky for having an incredible family (that includes you, Neil), and they just keep getting better.

  4. My only regret: never contending for the Heisman.
    OK, being a chica hurt my chances of standing up to college football’s best. If only I were my brother! In another life, I’m positive I would have made one stellar running back. Shucks. But I still have four years eligibility, and if I can consistently nail a 90-yard field goal, I think I stand a chance. Don’t you think?

  5. I’m not Italian.
    Believe it or not, not all girls named Gina (with brothers named Nino) are not Italian. No joke. While my family insists I was dropped off by gypsies, my family hails mostly from Croatia. My parents hopped off the boat… err, plane… and met in Cleveland. And I was named after my mom’s best friend at Jane Addams High School, who may or may not have been Italian.

  6. My dad is Chuck Norris.
    At least my dad looks enough like Chuck Norris for Japanese tourists to solicit him for autographs and photos at Disney World when I was a kid. On more than one occasion. Oddly enough, my friend JG could also make a living as a Chuck Norris look-alike and has posed as the Chuck to adoring fans at valet stations. We like to pit JG and my dad against each other in Battles of the Chuck at least once a year. Check your local listings.

  7. I’m glad the Cavaliers signed Ben Wallace because I admire his afro-ability.
    There’s something undeniably beautiful about a good afro... and I’m wholly jealous of my inability to even fake one. Ben Wallace, however, has one of the best afros of all time. And I’m glad that I can now love it without shame or treason.

  8. Bonus fact (because I was double-tagged): I use a Mac and a PC.
    Such a crazy, crazy world when the kids start going both ways, I know. Truth is I was a PC girl until early 2007 when I started using Mac for podcast- and video-editing at work. Then I started my new job last month and went all-Mac, baby. I still use my Dell laptop part-time at home because it's a good machine. But it took me almost two months to stop right-clicking on my Mac. I'm not going to lie and say I switched because one is better than the other. No, no, no. It's all in the marketing.

After reading Salty's top 7, I'm proud to co-admit that I failed maneuverability on my first test too. I cried for a whole day. No joke. I felt like the biggest failure (to that point I had never failed at ANYTHING... ahh, to be 16 again). And, looking back, I think that my mom should have given me up for adoption or just dumped me by the roadside for being such a doofus about it. It took me three months to emotionally recover from the failure and re-test. Twelve years later, I can maneuver away and parallel park like a champ!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yoga for your Aching Back

Whether it’s age, cold, driving, bad posture, back pain has been the biggest stunt to my running lately. It hasn’t stopped me from running; it’s just made warm-up a little “eek,” “ooh-ooh” and “oww.”

For a few pained runs, it took about a half-mile for my back to warm up and chill out. But what a price to pay! So, on Friday, it was time for something completely different.

I went back to my injury-treatment staple: yoga. What was I waiting for? The pain lived mainly in my low back—almost like a double sciatic pain, but not as painful. And it mostly occurs when I first start running. While I get some sitting pain (my back isn’t fond of sitting still, evidently), it’s the impact in running that really miffs my back.

So, it was time for cat series 3 and cat series 5. These vinyasa cat-pose flows make for stellar spinal warm-ups. I try to focus on my lower back, but if my mid-back feels achy, I lay my focus in those positions and interweave my breath. Works like a dream.

Cat Series 3: Begin in extended child’s pose with your hands and arms reaching, stretching out in front of you. Inhale and push up through cat pose (back arching) and then exhale, flowing into upward dog. Inhale at the top of upward dog and really feel the stretch in your back, keeping your core strong. Then exhale, lowering your forehead to the floor, and push through the back, raise your feet into half-locust. Inhale on your way up through upward dog, stretch your back, exhaling, into cat pose, and then push back into extended child’s pose.

I repeat this exercise five times, intensifying the breath with each flow.

This video of cat series 3 gives a good demo of the flow. I prefer to raise my legs into a low half-locust (as described above) for my lower-back warming, but modify the flow for your purposes.

Cat Series 5: From extended child’s pose, inhale, engage your spine and move onto your forearms in cat bow (back is bowed in cat stretch). Exhale and push through your legs into modified downward dog (downward dog with your forearms on the mat), reaching your heels toward the mat. If it’s too much for you, extend your arms into normal downward dog. Engage your lower back and back of your legs in this stretch. Then inhale, bring your knees back toward the mat through cat pose (onto your forearms with your back). Bow your back into cat bow (the first ‘bow’ has a long o; second as a short o sound), exhale, and then pose through cat pose into extended child’s pose.

I generally do this exercise five times as well, but I will repeat it until my back feels just skippy.

The following video demonstrates cat series 5, but does not extended into child’s pose between flows. Again, modify for your purposes.

So, after completing a couple of cat series flows (if you become a fan, more Kate Potter flow videos are available), I headed into the sludgefest known as Friday morning. It wasn’t too cold outside, and, while it was still snowing, it didn’t make for bad running weather at all.

Too bad the weather wasn’t the issue.

Running in 3-4 inches of thick slush just doesn’t make for a good run. It’s kind of like running through sand, but without the sun, warmth and wavy water. The only thing wavy here was my balance—maybe my confidence too—as I slipped and slid for a whole 25-minute run.

Twenty-five minutes? Well, it felt like an eternity.

I didn’t even have a concept of how far I ran because my normal, measurable routes were impossible to travel and I ended up circling the same set of three parking lots and two streets that were remotely traversable. Yick! And I realized after 20 minutes that my legs were hurting in my places they normally aren’t phased, so my stride must be all off. For another five minutes I tried to focus on running with a good stride, using the right parts of my legs and getting an actual workout. But alas, I failed. I just couldn’t get the footing, the traction, the non-sludge-covered ground to help me run.

Instead, I went inside and did some intense aerobics, which, with the awkward running style, made for some pretty sore legs on Saturday. It’s been really sunny the past two days, and I hope the coming week makes for some quality running days… I’m running out of time!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sometimes All You Need is a Vacation

Of sorts.

I spent Sunday night at my mom’s house because I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning. It was a lovely commute. So, I stayed another night. And between the improved travel, perfect run and doggy-ful environment, I’ve become totally spoiled and am refusing to go back.

Sort of.

Even though I left work a little later than usual yesterday, I made it to my mom’s house by 4:45 p.m. and hit the road running just before 5 p.m. I wound up and down eight blocks and meandered back the same route. It was a 45-minute run at about 10:00/mile pace, which has been my norm for a few weeks. Let’s just say the wind wasn’t going to let me pick it up anyway.

While the wind by Lake Erie this time of year can be vicious (it makes lakeside colder in late winter/spring, but warmer through fall and early winter), the roar of waves and gusts coming off the lake has an intimidating-yet-claming quality to it.

I miss taking late-evening walks in the neighborhood and being lulled by the whoosh of sounds. Sure, I didn’t really miss the bite of abusive winter air, but you get that everywhere. And boy did I.

Thankfully I was equipped with my Mizuno running tights, which hadn’t quite been test to this degree before yesterday. My legs took an initial cold beating, but it was my face that really came home chapped.

I’m very confused whether my cold-endurance has increased with my running experience or it’s actually gone in the opposite direction. Last winter I ran in some pretty inadvisable conditions (stupid is actually the word I use now), and this year I’m a little bit more wimpy. I don’t know whether I’ve just lost a taste for suffering or I just need an imminent race to nip at my heels.

Unfortunately, the only distance traveling I’ll likely do this evening is ride all the way home. I know it’s really not that bad, but I’ve been on vacation.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Leap Year = One More Day to Train

For St. Malachi, that is. This year’s race falls on Saturday, March 15, and if you haven’t already registered, do it now!

Neither my mind nor my body is ready for racing right now, but I still have a little less than one month to go. At least I have Feb. 29, my one extra day, to prepare for my first race of the season.

And that preparation officially started today: I ran for one hour at about 10:00/mile pace around my neighborhood. The run wasn't particularly fast or long, but it felt great just getting it done. What a good way to get my new schedule rolling...

It was super-sunny outside this afternoon, which made the bitter cold easier to bear. I was dressed in my typical fleece running jacket, thermal headband, and my new Mizuno running tights (I’ll obsess about these things another time), while most of the people I passed were going sans coats and one guy was wearing a sweatshirt while washing his car. promised in was 25 degrees; I believed it. You would think that being the person running that I would think it was warmer. You would think that.

Yet I was more taken aback by how creakedy my body felt as I warmed up. Sure, my running schedule has been pretty jumpy, but I haven’t had shin splints and calf cramps and general fatigue quite like I felt today.

I thought that the new running shoes I picked up this afternoon from Vertical Runner (they were a gift from my dad—thanks, pops!) would make me fly, fly, fly… but I just felt stiff and flat-footed.

My first inclination was to blame the shoes. Were they too big, too wide, too bulky? I tried different tying configurations, but I was just in denial. My new Mizuno Wave Inspire 4 (the same shoe I bought last year; new colors) are kickin’. Granted, they don’t have the magic fairy dust I needed today, but I don’t think those are race-legal anyway. Sigh.

Thirty-five minutes into the run, I hit the point at which I either a) wanted to stop and go take a nap ASAP; or b) keep running because my lactic threshold was just around the corner. For the sake of not being a wuss, I chose option b. And it worked. The latter half of the run was pretty smooth. My shoes felt like a reinvigorated version of my old Mizunos, and now my training plan in under way.

That plan: build distance every day at a healthy pace. Avoid injuries. Eye progress, but don’t force my hand (or foot). In other words, don’t be stupid (again). Perhaps I’ll follow that notion all year long.

Come Monday (or some other day next week), I should have a clue what’s wrong with me. That’s not an open invitation for speculation ;-) Following today’s run I felt fantastic for 1-2 hours; I ate dinner and I was fine; and then I ate some honeydew and wanted to cry.

Was it bad honeydew (it tasted great!)? Was it delayed digestion? Was it just runner’s stomach? Who knows.

Lucky for me, this thing seems to pass after whatever is miffing my stomach makes its way through. But I would prefer eating in peace, scarfing my cake and loving it too.

I’m fairly certain, however, that all the non-injury problems I’ve had over the past year have been the result of bad karma. For years I was one of those horrible people who bragged about how she never ever got sick. Ever. Look at me now! Have you known (and hated) a person like that? Well, now you know what happens to us. So, tell your children to brag about something else, like being tall. I’m curious about what happens to people like that.

Speaking of tall people, I hope you didn’t miss the All-Star Weekend Slam-Dunk Contest. It’s my favorite event of February. After my birthday, that is. I always like watching talented people being creative and reaching for the stars. And, in Dwight Howard’s case, pretty much touching the stars.

Sure, I’m horribly jealous of tall and incredibly able-bodied people. Some of that envy turns to inspiration. I won’t be dunking any basketballs soon, but I like when people reinforce the idea of aiming high. So, aim high, my blogger friend. Aim high.
Fly, Superman, fly!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Jim Asked; Blame Him

Why, Jim has asked, am I wearing a squirrel costume in my Flickr photo collection? Good question.

Most of you know I started a new job with a university in Cleveland last month (hence all the traffic-complaining). And when I left my last job, I pretty much enjoyed my last day.

Long story short: our office ran a viral marketing campaign that involved a squirrel-guised comedian, and they left the costume in the office on my last day.

At first I just put on the head and gloves, but it’s hard not to put on the full costume when you have the opportunity to dress like a squirrel on your last day. So, I put on the whole get-up and ran around the office, scaring people and knocking things off their desks with my big squirrelly tail. I figured that I had spent three years being as professional as I could muster, and it was time to… go nuts?

Thankfully, my photo-friend JG documented the occasion in true pop-star studio shoot fashion. People were watching; music was blaring; wind machines were blowing. If nothing else, I have newfound respect for mascots. My face wasn’t even covered, and the tasks of squirreling around, packing my office and posing for studio photos was exhausting. When BC unzipped the costume he said he could feel the heat whoosh out. Move over Paris; that’s hot.

There were plenty more photos, but JG seems to be withholding for some reason. I’d really like to see my emotional squirrel photos, which should include snaps of Angry Squirrel, Elated Squirrel and Vogue Squirrel. But you can enjoy these shots for now…

Showing off my glorious tailJazz hands squirrelTada! I made it through my last day!

Not much to report from the land of Valentine’s Day. I took the whole day off any real fitness activities and, while the non-religious pope granted me a cupcake dispensation for the cupcake-necessary holiday, took a swell nap after work.

For the past several weeks I’ve had some strange digestive disorder, which has made eating solid food a painful task. And now a whole slew of things seems to be going wrong. I went to the doctor on Monday and need more tests to get to the root. As if the weather, commute and laziness weren’t hampering enough. I guess weighing my butt down with cupcake weight didn’t help. Well, maybe it does. Somehow!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Happy 28th to... me!

What’s slower than me running up the final hill in the St. Malachi 5-miler? Rush-hour traffic on OH-8 South. No joke.

And that’s why I’ve been blogo-absent for the past month: traffic. When I wasn’t pulling out my hair and creating new expletives on Monday evening, I was laughing to myself that I could have run home faster than I was driving.

My speed: seven miles in two hours. That’s 3.5 mph; that’s sad. I ran 13.1 miles in 1:54:10. What gives?

Needless to say, I came home and thought about packing my boxes to move that very night. Thankfully my post-work/traffic malaise makes me too groggy to really execute any of my rash ideas. Besides, I didn’t have anywhere to move. Yet.

Worse still, the traffic-grog mixed with icy nights has made my running schedule a little less consistent than I prefer, which also gives me much less to write about. Ah, the double-edged sword.

But I’ve had plenty of motivation for hitting the road: St. Malachi is a little more than a month away and I ate seven Main Street Cupcakes for my birthday!

They were, in no particular order, canary creme (vanilla cake filled with vanilla creme); chocolate lava (chocolate cake filled with molten chocolate); MSC Fluff (chocolate cake filled with white fluff and topped with ganache); lavish lemon (vanilla cake filled with vanilla cream and frosted with vanilla buttercream); You Had me at Nutella (vanilla cake filled with nutella and frosted with milk chocolate buttercream); red velvet with vanilla buttercream; and wedding white (white almond cake frosted with vanilla buttercream).

At least I tried to counterbalance the excessive caloric intake: on Saturday I ran five miles at the Kent State rec at a steady 10:00/mile pace. My plan over the next several weeks is to build up my mileage again (not too quickly) and hope for the best at Malachi. I won’t be blowing away last year’s time, but I hope to just do better than my first race ever.

I have been quite good on the aerobic exercise and yoga fronts, so all is not lost on this wannabe triathlete. While I haven’t even seen a pool or touched a bike in way too long, I’m hopeful that I’ll learn to better deal with this schedule—and this weather—before I become obsessed with a new activity.

Eating cupcakes might be a formidable replacement, but I’ve given up all dessert foods as a non-religious Lenton sacrifice. And I thought the half-marathon was rough. Geez!

Finally: the new ‘do. Only a few photos exist from my 28th birthday, but here’s my new haircut. You can check out the rest on Flickr (OK, enough pictures of me on my site; I'm freaking myself out!). But as Kelsalynn pointed out, it's quite the pickle trying to figure out what this mop wants to do when I'm running. It certainly isn't intent on behaving.
Gina before the cut.
Gina with her new do.