2016 Resolution Reckoning

I only managed one quarterly check-in this year. Let’s see how I did with the rest:

1. More letters. I’m aiming for a letter each week.

I finished the year averaging just over one/week. Many of those were thank you notes, but they were hand written and went out on nice stationery with a stamp, so there.

2. More books. 16 sounds like a nice round number.

Not so much. I finished 5.

3. More miles. Barring injury, I’m aiming for 750 running and 2000 biking. I also really want this to be my marathon year, but I’ve said that before…

I didn’t come close to my biking goal, but I blew my running goal out of the water: 1000 miles for the year and my first marathon.

4. More movies. We saw a grand total of 6 last year. 12 seems possible.

Hilarious. I finished 3, maybe 4 movies the entire year.

5. Less meat. I’m not ready (or interested, really) in going back to being vegetarian, but I am interested in expanding my repertoire of meat-free meals, particularly since Nicolas has been pescatarian for nearly a year.

This definitely happened. Nicolas still eats fish but generally avoids all other animal products these days, so our diet is dramatically different than it used to be. In November, I fell in love with the My New Roots cookbook, which has been a game changer. I’m looking forward to more vegan-mostly cooking adventures in the new year.

6. Less debt. We’re on track to pay off all of my debt by the end of the year. I really want to make that happen.

Oh ho ho. Instead of eliminating debt, we bought a new car! My student loans are gone, so that’s something.

7. Less complaining.

8. Less guilt and regret.

A work in progress. For the rest of my life.

I want to talk about this first.

I ran my first marathon yesterday. And I want to tell you about it, but I want to talk about this first.

I took this photo because I liked my pre-race layers – the Divvy shirt was going to be tossed before the race started – but when I looked at the photo on my phone, I wasn’t happy with it because I didn’t like how my belly looked.

Let that sink in for a minute. I was an hour away from the start of my first marathon, an accomplishment preceded by months of training and hundreds of miles logged on calloused feet and strong legs, all of which was done while working full time and with a toddler who still nurses nearly as much as he did at 9 months. And in that moment, I was upset at the shape of my belly.

I don’t remember when I first internalized that I was bigger, or that my weight was something I needed to be concerned about. Certainly by the time I was 12-13, I believed it to be true. I don’t know when I started understanding that my body had value, or that the value of my body to some might exceed the value of the heart and mind that it contained. But there were certainly long years where that felt true, and unlearning that truth was costly.

Whenever I run a race and see little girls watching and cheering, I think about how important it is for girls in particular to see women of all shapes and sizes doing hard and amazing things that aren’t limited to the traditional confines of gender. Every time I accept a high five from a little girl on the course, I hope that it’s a meaningful moment for her, that my imperfect body will be added to the many many messages she’ll receive about who and what she can be, that she’ll understand that she doesn’t have to have a perfect body to be amazing.

Race Recap: Presence Health Illinois 5K

Fortified by a late lunch at Za’s and a nice day wandering around Allerton Park and other favorite spots*, I felt reasonably ready for the 7:30 start time of the 5K. The weather had been iffy for most of the day – overcast, breezy, a little drizzle – but nothing terrible. I grabbed two cookies on my way out of the hotel, leaving at 6:40 for the 10 minute drive to the race.

That was my first mistake. I got to campus just as they were starting to close the roads. With literally every turn, I was hitting newly closed roads, and being redirected away from the starting line and back into the terrible traffic that had caused me to try to detour through campus in the first place. I ended up driving several miles out of my way, then doubling back and finding parking just in time to hustle to the starting line. At least I got a warm-up?

My second mistake was low-balling my pace when I registered. Of course, I registered back in September, so I had no idea what my pace would actually look like, but I could have given myself more credit! I was in the second wave, and I blame my missed PR on that entirely, because by the time I got to the starting line, people from the first pace group had already slowed to a walk.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me briefly explain: when you register for races, you’re often asked to estimate your pace/finish time so that the race organizers can group you with people of similar abilities. This should prevent traffic jams at the starting line by putting the walkers with the walkers, the elite runners with the elite runners, etc.

My estimated finish time put me in the 27:00-30:00 group – roughly a 9 minute mile. So everyone up ahead of me would’ve been running less than a 9 minute mile. Now, a 9 minute mile isn’t all that fast (the top 15 finishers ran a sub-6 minute mile), but it is fast enough that you should be able to assume that the people running at that pace are runners, not walkers.

All of this is to say that when I crossed the starting line with the 9-10 minute pace group, I should not have hit a wall of walkers. But that’s exactly what happened. It took me the first half mile to get around all of the walkers in order to get up to pace – a significant setback when you’re only running a little over three miles! So that was maddening, but there was nothing to be done except focus on the rest of the race.

I almost never intend to race this race, given that I will have another race to race in the morning, but it always ends up happening. Running through campus, often in gorgeous weather right at sunset, gives me such a high that I just can’t help myself. The course was reversed this year – I assume to fix an annoying hairpin turn – so we went past the rows of undergrad housing earlier in the race – always an energizing point. We sailed down Green Street, up 6th, and back towards the stadium.

I had set a pace alert, but didn’t feel it after that first frustrating half mile, so I assume I was doing well, though I didn’t think a PR was possible. I was mostly focused on beating last year’s time, though I’d written both – my time from 2015, and my PR from 2013 – on my arm next to my watch.

I crossed the finish line at 24:59, easily beating the previous year’s finish time of 25:56, but coming in four seconds over my 24:55 PR from 2013. How frustrating to have done SO WELL and then come up just barely short of a PR!

Tired, hungry, and grumpy, I grabbed a little post-race food and hobbled on my newly sore hip back to my car. On the way home, I picked up more Za’s, and returned to the hotel aghast at my missed PR.

Presence Health Illinois 5K by the numbers
Finish time: 24:59
Placing: #508 overall, #103 out of all women, #12 out of all women aged 35-39.
Average pace: 8:01
Splits: 8:18, 8:04, 7:44, .51

*It’s impossible for me to talk about these races without also talking about the places that bring me back to Champaign. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll keep that to another post.

Race(s) Recap Precap: Illinois Marathon Weekend

I’m attempting (again) to throw myself back into blogging. We’ll see how long this lasts.

This was my fifth year running races during the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend. The race weekend includes everything from a 1K youth fun run up to marathon challenge (5K + full marathon). I did the half I-Challenge for the fourth time – 5K at 7:30am Friday night followed by the half marathon at 7am Saturday morning.

These races are my favorites, hands down. The races are just great – great course, great communication, great gear, great people – and it’s always wonderful to have an excuse to go back to C-U for a weekend. I get such a rush running through all of these places that are so familiar and so special to me. It’s no wonder that I’ve broken my own records in nearly every race nearly every year.

Despite running a ton of halfs, I’ve never really had a “race plan” or a race strategy. I generally plan to do what I’ve done before, and roll with what comes my way during the race. This was easier when I was racing more often – now I have to try to remember what it was that I did 6-12 months ago? and did that thing work? etc. These blog posts are part of my strategy for remembering.

The last two weeks of training

I faithfully followed a training program for the last few months – for the first time ever. I did the technical runs. I used pace alerts and my heart rate strap. I trained in all kinds of disgusting weather. I went in hoping to break 2 hours in the half – not a PR, but pretty dang good considering that I’m still not getting much sleep, still breastfeeding, and only really training during my lunch breaks plus a long run on the weekends.

I didn’t run much for the two weeks leading up to the races. This wasn’t on purpose – I had an unexpected trip come up about 10 days out, and running just didn’t fit in the agenda while I was there. I got in a 12 mile run the weekend before the races, but very little the week of. My last training run was a lousy 2.5 miles on the indoor track due to bad weather.

I’ve had persistent groin issues since my toddler was born (via c-section) in 2014. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise considering that they cut through all the layers of my abdominal muscles – those enormous sheets of tissue that connect to many other major muscle groups. Anyway, that started acting up around the time I went out of town, and had me hobbling after every run for the two weeks leading up to the races. So that was a source of anxiety going into the weekend.

Nutrition

I feel like the clean-eating part leading up to races is actually harder than the tapering part. I’m terrible at following a specific diet. It bores me to death. My general plan is to cut dairy, fat, fried things, and fiber in the 2-3 days before a big race. Anything that might be hard to digest is out. In a vegetarian-mostly household, that tends to result in a lot of garbage carbs. This is something I need to change for future races!

My go-to pre-race meal place in Champaign has become Za’s. In fact, I’ve eaten there twice over the race weekend the last two years – dinner/dinner last year, and lunch/dinner this year. Their combo meal is an easy way to get exactly the veggies, protein, and carbs that I want, and nothing more. My pre-5K lunch was a salad with chicken, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. My post-5K, pre-half dinner was pizza with veggies and no cheese, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. Next time I’ll skip the pizza – it was too heavy on my stomach, and I regretted it all night.

Oh, and water. About 3-4 days out, I start hydrating like it’s my job. I don’t know exactly how much water I tend to drink, but I fill up two water bottles at a time, multiple times throughout the day. It’s a good idea, even if it means lots of pit stops in the days leading up to the race.

Travel

Our strategy the last two years has been to drive down to Champaign Thursday afternoon, giving us all of Friday to hit the race expo and do things around town. We made this decision last year due to rain in the forecast, but in general, I think it’s a much better idea than rushing down Friday and then trying to do things Saturday on race-trashed legs.

We stayed at a different hotel this year, which I hope we’ll be able to do in the future as well. For the price of a regular room at our normal spot, we got a suite at Country Inn and Suites – totally worth it with a toddler who goes to bed at 7. Other bonuses: better and more extensive breakfast options, and coffee and snacks (including fresh cookies) available around the clock. Don’t underestimate the importance of around the clock snacks when you’re running two races in 12ish hours.

In my next post, I’ll actually talk about the races. I promise.

2016 Resolutions

1. More letters. I’m aiming for a letter each week.

2. More books. 16 sounds like a nice round number. I’m on track to finish my first this weekend.

3. More miles. Barring injury, I’m aiming for 750 running and 2000 biking. I also really want this to be my marathon year, but I’ve said that before…

4. More movies. We saw a grand total of 6 last year. 12 seems possible.

5. Less meat. I’m not ready (or interested, really) in going back to being vegetarian, but I am interested in expanding my repertoire of meat-free meals, particularly since Nicolas has been pescatarian for nearly a year.

6. Less debt. We’re on track to pay off all of my debt by the end of the year. I really want to make that happen.

7. Less complaining. This might be the hardest resolution on this list.

8. Less guilt and regret. This one is hardest to quantify, but I’m pretty over beating myself up about things I can’t control, or things that aren’t mine to begin with.

2015 Chicago Half Marathon recap

Starting line

I haven’t written much about running here lately for two reasons: I haven’t been writing much here lately, and I haven’t been running much lately.

Gone is the time when I could run five days/week on a reliable training schedule. Gone are the days when I would get home from work, drop my stuff, and go out for five or six miles before figuring out my evening. These days I get in three runs/week when I’m lucky: two lunchtime workouts during the week, and a long run on the weekend. Once in awhile, I’ll get a bonus short run on the weekends.

Life is busy. I’m tired. The baby is still up a LOT at night. I’ve biked seven (or more!) miles to work every day for two months which has made up for the fact that I have had very little time to get to the gym. All of my excuses are legitimate.

So much about running is mental. I’ve known this for a long time, and yet it always surprises me how easy it is to psych myself out, to decide I can’t do something that I really can. Up until Saturday night when I laid out my stuff, I wasn’t fully convinced I should actually even run the race. We’d had several very bad nights of minimal sleep. I’ve been dealing with mild numbness in one foot. And I’ve just felt blue for awhile, the sort of blue that makes digging into your reserves difficult.

And then the baby surprised me with a good night of sleep. I woke a little before 5, well rested and reluctant to wiggle out from under the softest, snuggliest kiddo in order to eat some peanut butter toast and leave the house by 6. At 6:30, I was walking to the starting line with half a cup of coffee and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude – for the overcast but lovely morning, for the privilege of being able to do events like this, for the strong body that has muscled through a hard year, for my sleeping family who have compromised and coordinated so that I could get the miles that I need to feel sane and healthy.

Waiting for the start//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

You can imagine my surprise when I went on to run the steadiest, strongest, and possibly the best race I’ve ever done. I’ve had faster races, but I don’t think I’ve had stronger races. I felt great. I listened to Tensnake. I accepted all offered high-fives. I took my gels at 4 and 8, and Gatorade at every other mile. I dug in and pushed hard. I felt a blister forming at 6 miles – no problem. My guts started to feel wiggly around 8 miles – no problem. I had some cramping in my chest around 10 miles – no problem. I passed 10.5 miles – which is where I almost always bonk – no problem. The only moment when my energy flagged was when my watch said 13 miles but the finish line was obviously still a quarter mile away – and then I just swore and kicked into overdrive, and crossed at seconds over the 2 hour mark, very close to my personal best.

Medal as big as my face

I was pleased. I was floored. I was exhausted, starving, and unimaginably gross. I collected a medal the size of my head and sat down to eat a tiny square of pizza. I found that I’d run negative splits for literally the entire race except one mile. I don’t know how this is possible.

As I walked slooooooowly back to the car, I shared a long post on Instagram which I’ll distill here: these days, running feels like a gift.

Five Minute Reviews: FitBit Surge

For at least a year, I’ve been looking to replace my not all that trustworthy Garmin Forerunner 305. I kept putting off the purchase because I couldn’t find a watch in my price range that had the features I wanted: specifically, multisport capacity that included cycling.

Enter the FitBit Surge, the new high-end fitness tracker from FitBit. It promised multisport capacity in addition to the step and sleep tracker features available in the previous generation of FitBits. Lots of my friends have FitBits, so I was excited about the ability to compete for steps in addition to the training features. I set aside my Christmas money and waited for the release announcement.

My FitBit Surge came in the mail last Friday, and I happily strapped it to my wrist and started obsessively checking my steps. Here are the things I liked:

  • The watch is slick. It’s not a giant clunky thing, like my Garmin. However, it is on the big side, particularly if you’re not used to wearing a watch.
  • The interfaces for the watch, the mobile app, and the website are clean and easy to use.
  • The silent alarm is great, particularly if you don’t want to wake a sleeping baby.
  • The fitness tracker is easy to operate, even with giant lobster gloves on.
  • The GPS seemed to pick up more quickly than my Garmin, even in Hyde Park.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Multisport does NOT include cycling! !!
  • The heart rate monitor portion poked into my arm uncomfortably.
  • The sleep tracker is not granular enough to give really useful data.
  • I thought the step tracker would update automatically as I walked around; instead, I seemed to have to have my phone on me as well.
  • After 2ish days of wear, I started having small muscle spasms in my wrist in proximity to where the watch sat. NOT GOOD.

So unfortunately, my FitBit Surge is going back! Sorry, FitBit!