Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Muscle Memory

I was thinking about this picture recently.

Weird, right, since it was taken back in 1999? That's right, 16 years ago and still on my mind. That's Brandi Chastain, by the way, after kicking the game winning shootout kick to win the 1999 Women's World Cup.

At the time, my Aunt Jean cut the photo from the newspaper and pinned it to her fridge with a caption, something to the effect of: are you making a healthy choice?

No, seriously. How badass is Brandi Chastain in this picture?

Strong, healthy, sexy.

Fit, authentic, passionate.

Also real, in-the-moment, and whatever is the opposite of contrived. Yes. That. The opposite of contrived. REAL.

Recently, Kim Kardashian tried to "break the Internet" covering the magazine Paper with a NSFW shot that people talked about for a minute. Her body is constantly on display, and lots of actresses and models and athletes are, but still, this one from 1999 inspires me more and feels more achievable too. Imagine that?

Who are your role models? Which images, or moments, or athletes, friends and neighbors inspire you to be your strongest, most badass self?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Miles With My Running Bud

Did you have a nice Memorial Day Weekend? Here in Boston there's a beautiful tradition that 37,000 American flags are planted on the Boston Common to memorialize each of the service members from Massachusetts who have been killed in action from the Revolutionary War until today. It's a powerful visual and important reminder of what the day is really about. A day off, yes, but in remembrance of those whose lives have been lost, not just a BBQ-heavy, unofficial kick-off to summer.

So, for that reason, I felt both patriotic and silly when I pulled on my USA dry-fit to mark the occasion on my morning run.

Did that make you cringe? I cringed a little. But I still wore my hat.

I've been running with H in the stroller more often than I really thought I would, which is awesome because I argued early on that I would really use the jogger and that has proven true, but it can also be a little tough. I blew off my long run last weekend and fully anticipated 8.5 on my own this weekend, but before I knew it, it was Monday morning, Nik was finishing boatloads of yard work, and Henry was... you guessed it... decidedly not napping. I debated pushing my run to the evening, but I had already done that each of the prior days and that yielded all of zero miles.

The idea of running the same neighborhood route was something I honestly couldn't face (by now we have run so. many. loops.) and getting in the car to go run Southfield felt like an awful lot of work. After thinking through it in my head a couple of times, I decided we were going out on the open road, which would provide a little bit extra mileage and a slight change of scenery, even if the route was the same one I've run hundreds of times on my own.

For the most part, H is game for these outings. He rarely cries, typically naps, and is generally a really good sport, thank goodness. Even though I didn't get to push myself, I tried to re-position my plans for a hard, long run, counting my blessings in honor of the Memorial Day holiday that I am lucky enough to push H, to run at all, to have somewhere safe and easy and convenient to run whenever I like.

The "new" route was once again stressful -- the unfamiliar is uncomfortable -- with the tougher to navigate stroller instead of simply two feet. The hills felt steeper and longer. The traffic lights felt much faster to flip, refusing to allow me the quick break I sometimes enjoy.

Then again, tough is good. Slow is sometimes better (remember when Bart Yasso told me most people run too many of their runs too fast?). Uncomfortable now means slightly less uncomfortable later, with any luck. It means at mile 18 of the marathon, when I'm tired and hurting and still a long way from the finish, I'll have had to push -- literally and figuratively -- time and time again.

Let's hear about your weekend. Who got dolled up and patriotic for their workout?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sub-8:00 Miles // Where'd that come from?!

Crickets chirping? YUP. Chirping away all by their lonesome. I had company arrive Thursday and leave yesterday, and between lapping up every moment possible with them, a bridal shower, Paint Nite, a clingy baby cutting five teeth, a doctor's appointment, and utterly beautiful weather, sitting down and writing just didn't happen. I missed you though. I did!

I had a couple of good runs last week and this weekend that I didn't get around to recapping, but the most consistent thought I keep having as splits click in and I submit my workouts on Daily Mile is when (and how) did I get faster? All of a sudden I'm running far more workouts between 8:00 and 8:30 instead of 8:30 and 9:00, and last night at my run club's fun run 5K, I knocked out a 7:34 average pace, slowing up a bit in the homestretch, but running pretty consistent splits.

Last night's 5K was the first time I've run the route without either being 5+ months pregnant or with the stroller out in front. I wasn't sure what to expect from myself, but know the course well now and hoped to keep it under 8:00.

After the informal start -- a ready, set, go kind -- I took off with the front pack, committed to running my own rate, but not holding back either. I stayed a few strides back for the first half mile until the start of a climb and then tucked in to run on my own. Mile one registered 7:22. Woah. Mile two is completely downhill, but I also didn't want to actually pass out on the way back up from two to three, so I tried to maintain my pace while easing up on effort. One runner passed me, which was fine, but I hung in there and let gravity do its thing. All the while, my allergies felt pretty crummy. Breathing was a little labored and my throat felt a little constricted, in addition to the terribly itchy eyes that have bugged me the last few days. I was plenty distracted and I hit mile two with a 7:25 split. I headed uphill.

There had been a guy in a red shirt close to my shoulder for part of the second mile and the other dude who passed me was maybe five or ten seconds ahead of me, so on the way back to the finish, I wanted to stay close to the one in front and hold off the one in back, though I knew all I could control was myself. It was a bit of a strain, but not terrible and I plugged along, turning back towards the school where we meet right at mile three, with a split pace of 7:57.

With a third of a mile left to the finish, I pushed myself without overdoing it (no one looks good finishing a fun run at mega-max effort, right?), bringing it in at 7:27, for an overall pace of 7:34. It's only a fun run, of course, but I was the second female finisher behind a 3:39 marathoner. Works for me.

So seriously, what the heck happened that I've picked up the pace? Really, I'm not sure, but I have a few guesses. First, I exercised (safely) throughout most of my pregnancy and until going into labor. I ran until 34 weeks and then continued to walk -- a half mile, two miles, four miles -- until Henry arrived. Between exercise and a clean diet, I think I not only didn't completely lose fitness, but actually got in better shape, even as my belly grew. But running (and then walking) shorter, easier distances for fun, I enjoyed it more and kept it up better. While pregnant, I exercised more often than before, at least in the warm weather months.

Immediately after having the baby, I was eager to start exercising as soon as possible and took Henry for his first walk in the stroller -- only a mile and a half -- at four days old. It turns out that was too much, too soon and my body rebelled. For the next two weeks I didn't walk farther than the end of my block (though sometimes twice a day -- slowly) and then eased back into exercise. I wasn't fully cleared for exercise because of a few recovery hurdles until almost ten weeks post-partum, but I kept walking and then incorporated some nice, slow runs back into the mix. At my club's New Year's Day fun run and brunch, I ran 3.1 miles in 27:19, for 8:48 pace.

Then the winter from hell happened. I fell down a flight of stairs, landing at the bottom with a concussion and hairline fractures in my ribs: out of commission for 6-8 weeks. It snowed nine feet. We were sick constantly, passing colds and sinus infections back and forth. I exercised like... once. I did some yoga at home, taking part in the Yoga International Core-Strength Challenge, and continued to eat pretty well (while allowing slip ups for doughnuts and whatnot). When the weather broke, I got back outside.

In the couple of weeks I "trained" for the New Jersey Half Marathon, I ran with Henry in the stroller a couple nights a week, and aimed for two or three solo runs, though I'm not sure I ever hit those targets. After PR'ing at New Jersey, I've been taking it easy in the gap before starting to train for New York, but am still getting out on the road at least four days a week. Pushing the stroller is hard, but it helps me to control my pace a bit, too. I've gotten faster with my wheels, but am not finishing each workout or each week totally spent.

Finally, the weight "issue". All of the above (plus genes, maybe), contributed to my losing the weight I gained during pregnancy, plus another 10 or 12 pounds. When it comes down to looking at my running numbers and the number on the scale, all I can really come up with is that I've been pretty well balanced, active, and am carrying less weight than before. If I strapped some big ole ankle weights on and headed out to run, I have to imagine I'd be facing 9:00s instead of staring down 8:00s. All of which is totally fine. This is certainly not a tutorial or soap box on post-baby weight loss, just a matter of trying to figure out where this progress came from.

Yowza. I'm not actually sure where I got all those words. It definitely wasn't on my agenda for today, and was only skittering about at the periphery of my thoughts to begin with. So there's that. Are you even still here? In summary: I had a really nice run last night. Counting down the minutes, in fact, until we can head back out tonight.

The end.

No, really. It's over.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Throwing Back

I totally forgot to tell you guys about the end of my week last week. Friday morning was actually so much fun that I'm diving back in almost a week later to bring you up to speed.

Much to the confusion and consternation to pretty much everyone I know, I volunteered to work the 3 AM - 8 AM shift at the Ragnar Relay last week. Ragnar Relays are long-distance running events where teams of 6 or 12 partner up and run the distance. There are big-ass vans involved, long stretches with mediocre sleep, and usually 3 legs to run, per person (except 6-runner teams, who run twice as much). It sounds crazy, I know, but it is SO much fun and volunteering was the next best thing to actually running.

The request had come through my running club and my mindset was this: not a weekend, can still get to work on time, and missing next to no time with the baby, all while getting to help out the club. If those were the pros, the only con was the call time: three o'clock in the morning down at Nantasket Beach. I was pretty sure I could swing it, even though it didn't dawn on me until later that arriving by 3:00 meant waking by 2:00. Alas.

There was nothing much happening around town when I rolled in at 3:00, and to be honest, I didn't take any pictures most of the morning. First we popped some tents in the parking lot to create the start area -- it was surprisingly cold and windy, despite summer-like weather last weekend. I was glad to have a pretty warm coat stashed in the trunk of my truck. I would have been real cold in my denim jacket.

Somehow, I managed to get assigned to the check-in table -- a major score. I worked with a couple of other women from my run club. I had met each of them before and volunteered with two of them on other occasions, at the South Shore Half Marathon and the Paddy Kelly Five Miler. As always, it was a friendly group.

I have to say: I think it's a Ragnar Relay/Reach The Beach requirement for teams to have hilarious, witty, and clever names, sometimes bordering on edgy. Check-in began before 5:00, and I laughed -- a lot -- each team I asked a group for their name upon check in. I especially loved the runners who were sort of embarrassed by whatever their teammates had agreed upon.

By the time the sky started to grow bright, it felt much later than it really was. The shift went quickly, to be honest, and I didn't mind being up so early, especially given the gorgeous sunrise we were treated to as the shift progressed.

I saw a couple of people I knew from Team In Training and other running adventures. I was definitely jealous that they were about to spend the next 24-hours having such a blast running from Hull to P-town. Running Reach the Beach a couple of springs ago is one of my favorite running memories.

If anyone is thinking about a team for the fall relay in New Hampshire, or has a team who needs an extra set of sneaks/feet/legs/lungs -- let me know! I'll bring copious amounts of Twizzlers, camp wipes, and play lists. Who's down?

I mean really.

Volunteering at races used to make me kind of nervous. For being a chatterbox, I'm shockingly nervous making small talk and I almost always rather be running the actual race myself. That said, over the past year, I've really learned to embrace it. Runners are so grateful to volunteers for their help -- and usually speak up about it -- and it's a great way to give back -- to your club, your favorite race, and your community. So, my personal PSA would be to sign up! Introduce yourself! And slap a smile on your darn face while you're at it.

Real life, people. No filter. Can you imagine anything more beautiful?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DNF and a Parenting Fail

I was thinking about it this morning and aside from a 5-miler that I was registered for before swapping to the 5K option mid-race, I've never DNF'ed (did-not-finish) a race before. See where this is going?

I DNF'ed the club fun run last night and even though it was for good reason and yadda-yadda-yadda, I'm feeling a little down on myself about it, which took me by surprise!

As you know, run club fun runs are my favorite Tuesday night ritual and bringing Henry along in his stroller is something I looked forward to all winter, after he "ran" with me all last summer. Last week we went out for our first go and did pretty well. With no idea what to expect for our first time running with the stroller in a crowd, 8:33s were pretty darn satisfying. Of course, that meant I wanted to beat 8:33s the next time around.

We arrived to the fun run pretty early and chatted and hung out until race time at 7:00. Of course, right at 7:00 the skies looked pretty terrible and I debated whether or not we should start. I had heard there might be passing storms in the evening, but our route looked like it was on the outer edge of the nasty stuff and the radar wasn't showing rain at all. The whole group went off while I still stood and debated, finally getting going just a little bit behind.

The first stretch is flat before climbing uphill to the one mile mark. I ran with the stroller out in the road, marking my territory for passing cars and working to stay out of other runners' way. I went out fairly quick, wanting to catch the group. We charged up the first hill and I was shocked to hear the first mile clock in at 7:57. Holy hell! I didn't realize I was capable of a sub-8:00 mile with the stroller, especially since I only just started clocking sub-8:00 training runs on my own!

The next mile was downhill, but I stuck to the sidewalk and took it a little easier, chatting with my friend Gina and other runners, and unwilling to be a jerk pushing anyone aside for Henry's chariot, especially knowing the next mile was all uphill where we'd likely be eclipsed anyhow.

All night the sky looked pretty eerie and on the cusp of a storm, but as we made the turn near the two mile mark, I was pretty sure we were in for it. Big, fat drops started falling first, but we kept at it. A really thoughtful volunteer drove past a little while later, shouting you guys okay? out the window and asking if we wanted a ride. Henry was still happy, kicking his chubby feet and pushing his blanket off, so I waved him on. Our second mile registered at 8:00 pace exactly. Whew.

Almost as soon as the volunteer's car had passed, it. came. down. Bad mother. Bad mother. Bad mother. I kept thinking to myself, seeing cars and trucks drive by and imagining their thoughts. I stopped to check on Henry and tuck him in, but he was smiling and kicking away, maybe even enjoying the rain and at least partially shielded by the visor. I started to run again and he immediately kicked off the blanket, wiggling his toes in the rain.

The wind and rain persisted, as did my negative thoughts, feeling badass for me, but also a little bit reckless for him. Henry babbled away, kicking at his blanket and shaking his rattle. At the very top of the hill, just before making the break for the finish, he started fussing. Even though I knew he was probably bored, and not uncomfortable, I knew I couldn't finish. Running in the rain was one thing, but running in the rain with a wailing infant was another and I couldn't do it, for perception as much as for his tears.

I took H out of the stroller and perched him on my hip, which immediately stopped his tears. He plopped his head on my shoulder and stuck his finger and thumb is his mouth, content. I thought about turning back out of the shortcut and walking it in, but know better than silly heroics and reminded myself its a fun run, not a race. Even as it was, Al, the race planner, teased me when we arrived back. The police are on their way, he told me. You're being cited for child abuse! Knowing his humor and personality, I knew he didn't mean it, but it stung a little. I'm a good mom, I thought to myself, trying to reassure myself that the happy kid on my hip didn't mind a little rain. He was warm, he was comfortable. He giggled through it until he recognized he was bored and up past bedtime.

We didn't hang out after, heading right home to warm up and get to bed. Upon arriving home, I filled the bathtub with good, hot water and a giant squeeze of bubbles. I pulled on my swim suit and hopped in next to H, splashing and blowing bubbles together until I felt better myself and we were both warm and sleepy.

It wasn't the run I'd planned on, but it was good enough. 2.98 miles, 25:00, 8:23 pace.