Archive for December, 2011

6 Realizations made about Running in the Winter

So a few weeks ago, I committed myself to running in 5 races over the next 10  months.  Needless to say, I’ve been running.  And, since I have small children and a maxed-out income, I’ve also opted for the free version of race-day training: skipping the gym membership and choosing to get my miles in outside.  Exercising this way also helps me deal with my boredom issues.  If I feel un-challenged, un-alert, un-thinking, there’s no way in hell I’m going to make it through 6 miles.  I need the constant thought ramblings that come with suburban terrain:

“Jump over the goose poop”
“Don’t trip on that wonky mound of pavement, no need to look like a jackass right now”
“Why the hell is that car veering towards me?”
“Halfway home, just keep running and let’s wrap this sucker up”
“Ice patch – move over, dry pavement.  Ice patch – move over, dry pavement.  Ice patch…”

Our weather this year has been incredible for exercising outside.  I mean, it’s still Minnesota, so when the temp gets into the 30’s we all rejoice and break out the shorts.  But as of today, we still don’t have any long-term snowpack to speak of.  It’s certainly snowed a few times, but the temp always seems to creep back up there and melt it off within a few days.  Anyway, suffice it to say it’s cold, but not impassable.

After a couple of months of cold-weather sweating, here’s some things I’ve learned:

1.  If you screw up your layering, you are going to feel like shit after your run.  Really.  One day I made a poor jacket decision, the sweat never got wicked away from my other layers, and it took me half a day to warm up from that one.  My holy trifecta: long sleeve wicking shirt, long sleeve cotton shirt, long sleeve lightweight jacket/fleece.  I haven’t found an ideal jacket yet, I can get away with fleece when it’s not snowing or raining, but it still doesn’t get the sweat off me the way I need it to.  Still looking for a solution to this one…

2.  God help you if you forget to bring more than one Kleenex. 

3.  The public works department has bigger things to deal with than getting those sidewalks plowed right away for your run.  Do yourself a favor, pick a route made up of sidestreets with little or no traffic so you aren’t dodging sale-crazed drivers on a busy road.

4.  Eventually, your face and thighs will chill to a level that you can’t feel them.  Go with this.  There’s a really nice moment for me around mile 4 where I just give up on worrying about my legs and kind of separate my body into a head and then everything else under my head.  Having numb legs makes this happen a little faster, the legs keep moving, I get home sooner, and a hot shower ensues.

5.  When you start getting obsessed about every part of your body that doesn’t feel right and you want to just give up and walk, look up.  One day, I looked up and saw there was a huge flock of crows doing crazy group maneuvers.  Another day, I looked up and away from the long path ahead of me – it was starting to psych me out – and saw the way the dark jagged tree lines looked against the blue sky as I ran past them.  I don’t know what it is, maybe I just have ADHD, but taking my brain and focusing it on things that are up can put me in that good place we talked about in #4.  Just make sure you aren’t going to fall into a hole.

 6.  Don’t be a wimp.  Give it two miles, and if you aren’t warmed up by then, pack it in and move south.

I know it sounds like I don’t like being outside in the cold, but I actually really enjoy it.  And I know my family has been enjoying a wife and mother who isn’t ready to choke hold someone because she’s been cooped up for too long.


Strength Training, Activate!

I’ve been spending so much time thinking about, shopping for, and recovering from running lately (oh, and you know, actually getting out there and sweating) that all of my cross training efforts have gotten totally left behind.  I used to make it a habit to do yoga or Pilates a few times a week, and I followed the lifting program in the book The New Rules of Lifting for Women to build up muscle.  The last time I did any weight lifting was August, and I’m pretty sure I had finally finished Stage 1 and was in the middle of Stage 2 when I dropped the ball.

Well, there’s something really…unsatisfying about picking up where I left off, right in the middle of a stage, so I made the decision to jump ahead to Stage 3 when I go lift later on today.  Part of me knows this may not be the smartest thing to do, but the thought of beginning again and re-doing Stage 1 makes me want to scream.  So I’m going to take it nice and easy, go lighter on the weights than I normally would, and just ease into it like a super-hot bath.   I just know myself well enough to realize that if I don’t start with something new I’m going to get bored and non-committal, and nobody wants that.

Stage 3 should take me about 3 weeks to finish, and I’m doing all the lifting at home in my workout habitat (aka the basement).   Via the ever-useful craigslist, I have something like this for all my weight lifting needs:

Minus the guy.  And the gigantic weights.  Although large weights like that would be nice, since I’m dealing with tons of little 5 and 10 pounders to reach a deadlift weight of 85 pounds or so.  It gets tedious, especially when you’re swapping them on and off from the barbell to the dumbbells over and over again!

Anyway, in stage 3 there are different kinds of bent over rows, squats, swiss ball crunches, plank and cobra holds, bench presses and the like.  I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of result this will have on the running – I remember during the summer I could really tell a difference from doing squats and lunges – and hopefully this training will help me reach the 6.2 mile mark I need to be at for the Polar dash in a few weeks (without being totally wiped out!).

Today, these pictures are inspiring.

I really like this last one.  A lot.

I know what I’ll be doing for the next 10 months…

I had a realization of magnitude today at approximately 4:30 am.  In the dark early morning quiet of my bedroom, the cat sleeping by my head and the humidifier gently whirring, my eyes were thrown open and I was seized with a combination of panic and fear that only comes from reality slapping you directly across the face. 

I’m going to be running a 10k race in four weeks.

This morning was the morning that I lay in bed and made the connection that the race I had signed up for was no longer a floaty non-specific goal. Oh, it’s called a Polar Dash…isn’t that charming?  What a great thing to do sometime this winter!  It will get me some nice fresh air when I get bored of being inside, I had thought. 

But now the 10k was very present, very holy-shit-this-just-got-real.   I have four weeks to get it together for the race.  In January.  In Minnesota.  How had this all happened?  What was I thinking?  Had someone slipped me a drug at the exact moment that I was wandering around Facebook and saw my cousin’s announcement of  “Just signed up for the Monster Dash Series for 2012!”  and though Yeah!  That’s it!   Her posting had intrigued me, and I did some more digging on the  Team Ortho Monster Series website. I was blown away by the idea of signing up for a series of races that would take me through almost an entire year of goals to reach and training to keep me occupied.  I thought Whoa, what is this? A race series?  With tons of swag?  And medals

As a person who's never gotten any kind of sporting medals, these are my catnip.

I’m all over this, this is my wintertime thing.  Sign me up. 

And they did.  Or rather, I did, right after I gave them my credit card number. 

Now, before this whole thing starts to spiral out of control into a regret tailspin, let me just say:  I would have wanted to run in these races anyway when they came up on the calendar.  I would have seen the announcements in my email, and gone and registered for them at $35-$40 a pop like everyone else.  So it really didn’t cost me any more to sign up for all of them at once (and let’s not forget there are medals!  The lucite case only comes with the race series!  And the gear!  Don’t forget the gear!), it was just kind of a serious hit up front.

I’m not really sure what possessed me to do it.  It could be that it  happened right around Black Friday and I was itching to spend.  It could be because I had finished my second 5k with a slight improvement in time and I was feeling kind of like Yeah, things are just getting better and better…I should just keep giving myself big goals to reach, because obviously I can do anything I set my mind to.  Which, in theory, seems like a healthy thing to tell yourself – until you realize that your goals are fast approaching, the pay-up or shut-up phase has arrived, and you had better get your ass in gear. 

I mean, look at the swag they’re giving out!  Can you blame me?

So What do you Get? Well besides the bragging rights of finishing a fantastic race, Team Ortho Foundation prides itself on having great gear that we give to our participants. Some items you will receive early, but most you will get at the specific event (see Series SWAG Schedule below).2012 Event Gear for all race participants:
Polar Dash – polar fleece (unisex), medal, chip-timed for 10K and Half Marathon
Get Lucky — full zip hoodie (men’s & women’s sizing), medal, chip-timed
Minneapolis Marathon—performance shirt (men’s and women’s cut)
Minneapolis Duathlon — Bike Jersey
Monster Dash— Unisex Monster Dash shirt for 5K & medal ; Male/Female-cut 1/2 zip jacket for the Half Marathon and 10 MIle, plus a finisher’s medal.Plus Exclusive Series SWAG! People who sign up for the series get an added bonus:  the choice of a race series jacket or a Lucite display for your your 2012 medals.

I ended up signing up the next 10 months of my fitness life to:

10k Polar Dash, Jan 1st

7k Get Lucky!, March 17th

Minneapolis Half Marathon (Yep.  13.1 miles.), June 3rd

Minneapolis Duathlon, August 26th (run 5k, bike 18 miles, run 5k.  I’m looking for relay team members for this one…I haven’t quite reached this level of self-delusion yet)

10 mile Twin Cities Monster Dash, October 29th (The promo trailer for this one is pretty cool, it may have been one of those things that directed my mouse to the Register Here tab)

Alright, so I spent a little time in denial earlier today.  But now I’ve flown through the other phases and gotten right to Acceptance!  I have four weeks to get myself in decent condition to run 6.2 miles without hurting or embarrassing myself.  It’s not completely far-fetched, I have done a couple 5k’s, and I have done a handful of five mile runs around the neighborhood.  But I’ve been pretty negligent on the cross-training front, and the losing-weight-eating-healthy front. 


It’s time to get serious now.  No more Yep, I’m totally going to eat all that pizza on my plate, I’m running, it’s fine! 

No more  Hey. I’m running.  I don’t want to wear myself out by weight lifting, too!  And adding yoga?  What am I, a machine?

I spent money on this race series, more than I really should have (right before Christmas), and it would be a disgusting waste to half-ass my way through all of them just because it’s easier to sit, and eat, and let myself be happy with only achieving as much as I’ve already done.   I’m pretty sure I can do more, I can be stronger, I can run with fewer walk-breaks, I can finish these races in a way that I know I’ve done the best I can do at this point in my fitness life.

I think I might need to make a training calendar.

5 Miles in the Woods – My Run in Pictures

There is a place that is a five-minute drive from my home that makes me remember why I began to run.

Every once in a while, I get too caught up in going faster or farther, and I begin to lose the spark I had when I was first beginning to run.  It starts to feel like a job; and not only that, it starts to feel like a job I am not very well qualified for.

When those times come, and I begin to think about giving up the whole sport altogether, some little voice reminds me that it might be time to go somewhere…unpaved.  And I get in my car, and I head to Lebanon Hills Regional Park to get back to the center of things.

Today was one of the last days in Minnesota when I could run outside before the snow comes, and when I found myself with a couple of hours without children or errands, I changed into my gear and got myself ready for a nice long run in the woods.  The temps here are in the 30’s, so I wear a long-sleeved tech shirt with a cotton T over it (to wick away sweat and keep me drier), and a light windbreaker over it.  I don’t go out anymore without my hat, and usually I add an ear-covering headband for good measure.

One of the really fantastic things about this park is that it is full of trails (and maps), so you can decide how energetic you feel each time you come and modify your distance.  Feeling kind of worn-out?  One lap around Jensen lake is about 2 miles.  Don’t want to do laps?  There is a path out and back that winds through a series of small lakes that will run about 4 miles.  Feeling really intense?  You could find trails to run on without repeating your path for 15 or 20 miles.  I haven’t quite worked up to that level, but give me time!

I recently finished a 5k in White Bear Lake called Fast Before the Feast – an event that is put on by Tri-Fitness, and after donating my bag of groceries to the local food shelf I found out that I had won some super awesome K-Swiss Trail runners in a drawing!  I am generally not one of those people who wins things constantly, so I was pretty stoked about the whole thing 🙂  After I went in to the store to claim them, I found out that they are great for trails and for snow, so I’m looking forward to using them when the weather turns…challenging.  So today was the inaugural run with the trail shoes, and I’m happy to report that they fit amazingly.  No blisters, no weird rubbing pain, nothing but excellent grip on those gravelly paths.  If anyone out there likes to run on dirt, I can’t say enough good things about them!  I also can’t say enough good things about Tri-Fitness’s store.  Not only do they have great drawing prizes (thanks again, TF!), I didn’t feel like a total imposter walking in and looking at running gear.  My experiences thus far in the fitness store world haven’t been what I would call welcoming (to my 30 something non-buff self), so I was really grateful that the person who was helping me actually looked me in the eye and gave me genuine tips for improving my running rather than just writing me off as another jogging suburbanite housewife.  Even though I live 30 minutes from the store, I’ll probably get my running shoes from them for as long as I live here.  I’m not getting anything out of recommending them, I just know how disheartening it can be to have a salesperson treat you like you are a waste of the time they could be spending with “real athletes”.  So thumbs up, Tri-Fitness.

Look, here’s the shoes in field action!

Anyway, I knew that if I wanted to be able to enjoy the path before it gets itself covered in snow, today was the day.  I headed out, knowing that I wanted to cover about 5 miles and get around one of the larger lakes.  There are some serious hills out here, more of the constant up-and-down variety, and less of the gently rolling kind.  So my pace was slower than normal, but I looked at it as strength training 🙂  (and stopping to take pictures wasn’t really helping either).

I really love running on dirt trails more than anything else.  Treadmills remind me of that summer that I did temp work stuffing envelopes, and running on sidewalks near busy road puts stress knots in my shoulders.  To get outside, away from all the traffic and noise and crowds, that is the one place where I really feel alive and awake.

I love the patches of cattails by the water, the changes the trail makes as it goes from sand to gravel to dirt, and looking out for roots and holes to jump over.  I love that every person whose path I cross seems just as pleased as I am to be there, like we are all pretty happy with ourselves for finding this place and making the time just to be there at that moment.

I love that there are patches of path that have been made into bridges, as a safeguard against flooding lakes.  The curving lines of the paths against the jagged lines of the trees is something that I don’t think I will ever grow tired of seeing as I come around a bend.

Away from the housing developments and suburbs, you can actually see what nature looks like as the seasons change in a big-picture sort of way.  When I first began to run here in the summer, the lakes were full of ducks and zipping dragonflies, and now there are mounds of beaver dams all along the shoreline.

Even though the bright colors of fall are gone now, I still think it’s so beautiful out here.  Things never look in pictures the way they do in real life, and that is certainly true in this case.  I wish I had the stamina and the knees to be out here every day, but I guess I feel happy just knowing that I will be able to come here as long as I decide to keep exercising outdoors.

There is a bridge about 3 miles into this run, and the first time I ever crossed it I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the other side.  There are beams missing, and neither the beginning nor the end of the bridge actually touch the ground – it becomes a kind of stunted diving board that you jump over, hoping that today won’t be the day that the sucker finally snaps.  It’s bowed and uneven, and it creaks as I cross it.  Even though I am pretty sure that I will end up falling through one of these days, I still smile when I see it.  I’m not sure why.

I hope that there are places that you can go to feel happy and alive, especially when you are making the time to exercise.  It shouldn’t feel like a job, or a punishment, no matter what it is you like to do.

I can’t wait to get out here again, even after the snow comes.