Friday, September 28, 2012

The New Fall Lineup

Okay. I admit it. I have become obsessed with running. And now the season is changing and with that the weather. I went out for an early morning run on Monday, and quickly realized that summer running and fall running are not going to be the same thing. It was cold feeling temperature wise, in the low to mid 40s. Wearing dri-fit capris and a tank were not going to cut it anymore. Fortunately, I had one long sleeve running shirt and I have a couple of pair of long pants. I knew this would help me in fair weather with my fall running, but I needed to get some appropriate gear soon.

I did some research. I needed to get a list of things: warm running tights, a pair of shorts to go over the tights (since running tights are not super flattering), another warmer long sleeve shirt (since mine is light weight), a light weight jacket for running in the fall rain, a warmer moisture-wicking jacket for the cooler weather (in the 30s). I would also need some gloves and something to protect my ears.

Today I woke to rain. Sadness! I had the day off and had planned to go for an hour-long run this morning, but I had absolutely nothing to wear for rainy weather. While I could wait on some of the gear for the really cold temperatures, October is the rainiest month in Massachusetts, and I didn't want to have to give up my running outdoors. I needed at least something for running in the wet.

During the research phase, I had scoured and also visited a bricks and mortar store, Dick's Sporting Goods. I had found a number of things I liked, but after the vet bill earlier this month, I didn't want to spend a bundle.

At my mom's suggestion, I decided to check out T.J. Maxx. Let me be clear, I don't like shopping T.J. Maxx. The store is overwhelming and seems disorganized to me. I don't really like clothing shopping (athletic clothing shopping being the one exception), and I find T.J. Maxx and it's sister store Marshalls to be too much work. That being said, I know they can have amazing deals, so I decided to check them out.

Success (and I'm a little bit of a T.J. Maxx convert)! I ended up with one running shirt, one winter running jacket, and one rainy weather light weight jacket.

Left to right, the shirt is a Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm long sleeved shirt. It's fuzzy on the inside and can be my only layer if the weather isn't too cold. It can also serve as a base layer in really cold weather. The sleeves are long and go over the hands and have thumb holes, which will be nice for weather when the hands are a little cool but don't need gloves. This shirt was $50 at the Dicks, but only $24.99 at T.J. Maxx.

The second item I purchased is a Nike Beautitility Thermal. It's a thermal fit with the Nike Stay Warm technology. The fabric seems like it will moisture wick nicely. As as a bonus, there is a pocket for your iPhone (with a little hole to thread your ear buds through). I'm not 100% sure, but the jacket might also keep out light moisture, like dry snow. It wouldn't work for rain though. This jacket, paired with the Nike Pro Hyperwarm shirt should keep me plenty warm in weather down to around 30, I would imagine. This jacket retails normally at $150, and was on sale for $49.99. Here's a close-up from an image online (obviously in a different color).

The last item I got was the one that I will be able to use right away, a Nike Running Storm Fly jacket. It's a light weight rain jacket and very breathable. There are vents across and down the sides of the back. The jacket was marked down from $135.00 to $49.99. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, so I will use this right away. This jacket also contains a pocket for the iPhone, which is great because I would want to keep it dry in the wet weather.

I shopped around but was unable to find some tights and shorts for cheap. I've identified a pair of tights I really liked, Nike Pro Hyperwarm Fusion tights.

They were super warm with a fuzzy lining. At $60, I'm going to see if I can wait until the holiday season and get them as a gift. If it ends up getting cold early this year, I'll still have at least a month to save up if I get them myself.

I also found a pair of affordable running shorts that fit decently Nike Livestrong Pacer Shorts. I tried them on in extra small (instead of my normal size small, as the extra small were on clearance) and they were the first shorts I've tried on that didn't look absolutely ridiculous  and puffy on me. They would be perfect to wear over the tights in the winter, for more modesty, and could be worn by themselves in the warm weather.

They were on sale and about $20 or less, but I decided to hold off because I had spent a bit on clothing that day and would wait to get shorts and tights together. In the meantime, I can continue to wear some of the thinner long pants I have for when I run outside until the weather gets really cold.

While I did end up spending some money I didn't intend to today, I got some excellent deals and am now ready to continue my running in the fall and early winter. This is good because I have a few races I'm signed up for and need to continue my training. So far, I am signed up for the following:

ABC Fall Foliage 5K on October 20th. I am really excited about this 5K because it's in Amherst and the course looks awesome! The walk starts on the town commons, goes through Amherst College and along the bike path where I love to run, and then loops around to end at the town commons again.

Revolution Run Homecoming 5K at UMass on October 27. Seth and I are running this one together. It will be fun to be back on campus for homecoming and to do a race there. The route will be posted soon, and I'm eager to see the plan. The course is USTAF certified for the first time this year. As a bonus, we'll get t-shirts, and there is a celebration after the race. Should be a fun way to celebrate homecoming.

Cider Donut Run 10K on November 4. This is the only 10K I have scheduled for the fall, but I think this is the race that I am most looking forward to -- I really like the 10K distance (far but not too far). This race is also in Amherst and benefits the Amherst Survival Center, which is great. This course will start at the North Amherst commons and take us through the northern part of the UMass campus, which should be an entertaining route. And, of course, they will have post-race cider doughnuts!

Hot Chocolate Run on December 2. Yikes running in December! I know, I never would have thought it of myself, but this Northampton 5K race to benefit Safe Passage is a classic, and I really want to participate. The race starts in downtown Northampton and snakes through Smith College and along the bike path. The race is, from what I hear, the largest race in Western Massachusetts. They are limiting registration to 5,500 runners/walkers and expect to hit that total. There will be commemorative mugs and hot chocolate at the end of the race. Sounds fun!

I've felt much more confident about my running since my half marathon. (In fact, I feel for the first time like I can call myself a runner.) As a result, I have been running my 5K pace a bit faster at a 9:45 to 10:00 mile. I want to definitely improve my time as I do these 5Ks. This new pace is instead of the 10:15 to 10:30 mile I used to do for pretty much all my runs when training for my 10K and then during my run-walk-run method for the half marathon. I feel now that if I could make my body run 13.1 miles, I can be aware of my body enough to regulate my speed and know when I will get fatigued. I can kick it up a notch in the speed department.

I'm pretty excited for my fall lineup of races and am excited to have the gear I need to continue training outside regardless of the weather. Nothing is going to stop me from preparing for these races now!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hogsback Half Marathon

Today, Seth and I traveled to Colebrook, Connecticut for the Hartford Track Club's Hogsback Half Marathon. This was my first half marathon, so I was a bit nervous. I had trained using Hal Higdon's half marathon training plan for novices and using Jeff Galloway's run-walk-run method (with 4:1 intervals). I knew I was ready -- I just had to get there an do it.

After an hour and a half ride with some slightly crazy directions from the Hartford Track Club, we arrived at Goodwin Dam, the starting location for the race. It was absolutely gorgeous!

I checked in, as I had pre-registered. All the volunteers were super nice and helpful. We'd arrived at 8:00 a.m., an hour before the race was scheduled to start, so I had plenty of time to prepare.

After checking in, we headed up the hill to where the race started. I coordinated my race gear. I was running with my water bottle. I also had two honey sticks (which I use to fuel on the run) and my iPhone to track my pace (in Nike+) and intervals. I lined up at the back of the pack to give myself plenty of space for my run-walk-run method. At 9:00, we were off!

The run was a negative / flat course and was very lovely. The entire run took us through Riverton, Pleasant Valley, Hartland and Colebrook. The race took us along and across the Farmington River and past many state parks and camping grounds. Towards the end, we ran through Peoples State Forest.

In training, the longest run I had done was 11 miles. I decided to mentally prepare for the half marathon by dividing us the distance in my mind as I ran. I would run 5 miles. Okay, I can do that. Then I would run another 5 miles. Great, now I only have 5K left! It wasn't quite as easy as that, but things went well.

We started the race by running down hill for around two miles. We took a right turn, the only one of the race, and ran through a cute down town. After that, we began to run through state forest and along rivers. It was a lot of scenic woods. The weather was comfortably cool, in the mid-50s when we started and in the upper 60s when I ended. Running through many wooded areas kept the sun off me, and I felt pretty comfortable temperature-wise the whole way. After the woods, around mid-way through the race, we again reached a slightly populated area. It was nice to run along some country roads with houses. I passed some very nice houses and did my normal House Hunter-while-running thing. I went across a bridge that crossed over the Farmington River and was back again in state forest area. The balance of the run was again along the water and through state forests.

I had fuel and water with me, but there were water stops every two miles to keep me motivated and on track. There were markers every mile that helped me pace myself and feel like I was making good progress towards the finish line.

I found the first nine miles of the run went relatively easily. Around mile nine I started to get tired. I was able to mentally motivate myself and get from mile nine to ten where I was able to re-energize; after all, now I only had 5K left. I was excited and ready to go and finish this thing! I ran along with energy closely matching the middle sections of the race. I went along pretty successfully until mile twelve. The last mile was hard. I was exhausted. I could barely convince myself to run after my brief walk breaks, but I did it. The last half mile turned out to be a bit of a hill. In my normal runs, this hill would have been no problem, as it wasn't too different from what I might tackle in the somewhat hilly area around my house. After over two hours and 12.5 miles of running this was a different story. I struggled up that hill absolutely spent.

Finally, at the top of the hill I was greeted by a welcome sight -- a sign for the dam. Now all I had to do was run the last 300 meters or so, and I was done!

Rounding the bend to run across the dam I saw a second even more welcome sight, Seth waiting for me to cheer me on. I was exhausted, but seeing him made all the difference. Seth ran the last little bit of the race across the dam with me, pacing me and keeping me moving.

I crossed the finish line at 2:28, totally tired and totally excited that I had just finished my first half marathon! Cross that off the bucket list.

After the race, I relaxed and had some great snacks provided by the Hartford Track Club, which did an amazing job organizing the race. I was also able to see some excellent videos of the area where the race started and finished, Goodwin Dam. Seth took these videos while I was out running, and I think it gives a really good idea of what the area was like. This is a lovely part of Connecticut.

After the snacks, we hopped back into the car for the trip home. I am now relaxing enjoying the spoils of my first half marathon.

I had a great time doing my first half marathon. I'm not a competitive person (although I am very goal driven) and didn't care about my time at all. I run for fun and my only goal was to complete this race. I did it, I am still standing, and I would want to do this race again. You might see me again in Colebrook next fall for this race again.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two Weekends and that Week in Between

It's been a frantic week! Fortunately, I had two lovely weekends on either side. 

Last Saturday, I spent a wonderful day with my good friends celebrating one of my best friend, Melanie's, birthday. It was great to see her and my friend Sarah and spend the day with them. We had lunch at one of her favorite spots in Amherst and then went to the winery for a tasting. Fun day all around.

Sunday, looking for something to do, Seth and I decided to travel to local Deerfield and hit up some of the farm stands that dot Routes 5 and 10. We shopped at Ciesluk's, where we got golden raspberries, strawberries, apples, pumpkin bread, and tomatoes; and at M&M Green Valley Produce where we got basil, fresh mozzarella, cheese and herb ciabattas, and honey sticks (for my next long run). 

With our local produce, we did an all local dinner of caprese salad and bread. Very tasty!

I was glad to have such a nice weekend because this week was a doozy! On Tuesday, the day before the Phonathon began at work, Seth and I arrived home (late because Seth had some car trouble that morning) to find our poor baby kitty had been sick. 

Since anyone who had a cat knows that a cat throwing up is not cause of alarm, I cleaned it up, and we went about our business -- Seth was working that night and we needed to get some dinner. 

Unfortunately, Lily proceeded to keep acting unwell. She went in and out of her litter box, paced the house unable to lie down and get comfortable, threw up some more, and, most disturbing, began to "cry." Also, at times, she was respirating very rapidly, something I found concerning considering our previous cat William had passed away due to a respiratory condition.

Worried, I called the emergency vet in South Deerfield who advised us to bring in Lily. Easier said than done, as our cat becomes feral when exposed to adverse conditions, such as those required to get her into the cat carrier. 

After almost four hours, a lot of hissing on Lily's part and crying on my part, Seth and I were able to get Lily into her carrier and to the emergency vet. I was afraid that her problems were the result of some sort of blockage. Fortunately, this was not the case, an x-ray ruled this out. Instead, she had some intense constipation that was causing her problems and required medication.  

Since Lily is unable to go to the normal vet because she gets to agitated, while at the emergency vet, they did a blood work-up. (This was also to rule out concerns with her current problem.) It turns out that the x-rays and blood work turned up a few things. 

First, my cat has asthma. There is nothing to do about this other than to monitor her. This was probably the reason she was breathing so quickly earlier in the evening. If a cat has an asthma attack, they will make a coughing noise like they are trying to have a hairball but without anything happening. Knowing this, we can monitor Lily. We haven't seen her have an attack before, so there is little cause for concern here.

Second, Lily's blood work was a bit high for her liver and calcium levels. The oddity on the blood work for the liver could have been due to the stress, and is probably not too much to worry about. Her high calcium was less likely a stress factor. In cats, too much calcium in the blood can lead to crystallizing in the kidneys which causes damage. You can check your cat for problems by monitoring their drinking and urination -- in both cases too much is bad. 

Ideally, we'd bring Lily to our normal vet in a few months to have her blood work re-tested, but because of the stress involved with getting Lily to any vet, the doctor at the emergency vet advised that we just monitor her for signs of change as, to date, her behavior has been normal.

We finally got home from the vet at midnight. The house was trashed from getting the cat into the carrier, and we were exhausted. Lily had medicine at the vet, enough to get her through the night. In the morning, we had to go to the store and pick up MiraLax, which she'd take for three days for her constipation. We were also advised to get Laxatone, a hairball medication to give to Lily twice weekly. She's had a lot of problems with hairballs this summer and this product will help her hairballs and digestion overall.

I'm happy to report that late Wednesday, Lily had her food and some medicine and is proceeding to do much better. We'll keep an eye on her, of course, but, honestly, we always do. With me switching back to working more evenings, Lily will have more company at home, as I'll be home in the day and Seth will be here in the evenings. 

Needless to say, with all the goings-on with Lily, it was a bit of a stressful week. I was very excited that my mother was coming to visit this weekend.

Today, Mom and I had a wonderful visit and a fun day at the Deerfield Craft Fair. What an amazing craft fair. For anyone on in the area, I highly recommend it. The vendors are great -- a very eclectic group of crafts from very talented people!

Right away after arriving at the fair, Mom and I were drawn in by a milliner, Blue Moon Design Studio. There, I was able to get Mom and awesome early birthday present, a blue pillbox with a handspun yarn pin attached. Super cool!

I also ended up getting Lily a gift at the fair from Primitive House Farm. The item, a catnip sachet with bell. This gift was a big hit with our fuzzy lady of the house who was last seen with her arms wrapped around it in joy!

My final item of the day was a gift from my mother from The Arunshard Pottery, a beautiful aqua blue cup, the perfect size for steeping tea Asian style. The cup features a cute little thumb rest.

Mom also purchased some other very cool items at the fair including some earrings, a pendant, an ironwork sculpture for the garden, and a really neat chicken baker from the same place as my mug. 

We also saw an amazing vendor, Samgine Fine Art Photography, where the artist was creating pictures from patent submissions. I didn't purchase anything because it was out of my price point at the moment, but I will definitely keep an eye on his work.

It was perfect weather for the craft fair, and we spend many fun hours there. On our way out of Deerfield, we stopped off at Richardson's Candy Kitchen for some excellent handmade chocolates. This was later followed by a trip to Atkins for some of their famous cider doughnuts and dinner at Amherst Brewing Company, where we had a super gigantic pretzel and cocktails. It was lovely to have a fun, relaxing, stress-free day after the long week. 

Tomorrow, Sunday, I am back to running (after taking a break today from my long run because I was too tired from the week). This is my last long run before the Hogsback Half Marathon next Saturday. Yikes -- the last half mile of the race looks scary with a big climb. Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

On My Needles

The cooler weather is coming and with that comes knitting! 

Recently, Seth and I swapped our bedroom chair and a chair in our office. While I am enjoying having the new chair in the office, where I do more of my sitting, I am missing one thing -- one of my favorite blankets lives on the chair that's now in the office. 

Now I know a reasonable person would say that I could bring this blanket and put it on the chair in the bedroom so that I have it close at hand for evenings when I am cold, but why do that when I can just knit another one!

I decided to make the Talon Throw from Brooklyn Tweed.

The blanket calls for a standard worsted weight yarn and size eight needles. I decided to knit the blanket in some yarn I picked up at Webs during my vacation, Valley Yarns Amherst

I just cast on late last week. So far the blanket looks like this.

Basically, I've just done the rows to set up for the pattern. 

While my mom was visiting last weekend, we made another trip to Webs. They were having one of their great sales. I purchased two sets of yarns. 

The first was Cascade Pastaza in a lovely colonial blue heather.

I purchased twenty of these, enough to make a blanket. I am thinking of making one of two blankets.

Both of these beautiful cabled blankets are from the book Comfort Knitting and Crochet Afghans, which I received as a holiday gift from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Either one of these blankets blankets would be the blankets of a lifetime -- they are great heirloom pieces.

At the sale, I also got three skeins of Noro Kogarashi.

I got this yarn to make an entrelac scarf, which I got a free pattern for off Craftsy.

This would be my first entrelac scarf, so I am very excited! 

I might take a break in the blanket to make the scarf at some point. I'll also have to take a break from the blanket to do the final grafting and finishing on the cabled wrap I knit as a gift from my step mother.

Clearly, with all this yarn laying around, there is a lot of fall and winter knitting in my future.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hydration Solution

For a while now, I have been trying to find a hydration solution for my long runs. 

A few weeks ago, I purchased a Nathan Hydration Trail Mix belt

As I posted earlier, the hydration belt was  not a success. (You can read the post here.) Basically, the belt jostled a lot and didn't fit well at my waist. It pulled on my lower back. After a mile or so, I had to drop it off at my house and continue my run without it.

For my long runs of nine and ten miles over the last two weeks, I decided I would just try to pick up water along my run route. This worked pretty well the first week. I was able to stop at the local Cumberland Farms about half way through my run and get a quick drink in their rest room. I don't usually drink too much and the weather was mild. This seemed to be a good idea.

This weekend I tried the same thing, a stop at the Cumberland Farms, for my ten mile run. While I was able to get water there, the weather was a bit hotter. I ended up being very very thirsty towards the end of my run. Not good. I also found that I didn't like having to tailor my running route to go to the Cumberland Farms, which is located at an unpleasant and busy intersection. 

Clearly, I needed to rethink my options. Because I drink so little, I still thought that a hydration backpack wasn't really for me. I only needed maybe 10 or 15 ounces of water to be able to drink to thirst, my method for hydrating when I run. 

I did more research and scouting of the internet and came upon another Nathan product, the Nathan Quick Draw Plus Handheld Bottle Carrier. At $19.99, it was almost half the price of the $34.99 hydration belt. It carries 22 ounces of water -- more than I will need for my longest runs for my half marathon training.

Today, I went for a short 5K run to test out the bottle. This run was a lot of fun. Since I've been training for my half marathon, I've been doing longer runs. Over the last month, even my "shorter" runs have been 5 miles. It was great to do a shorter faster 5K run today and check out the new gear. There is a lovely loop near my house that is exactly 5K, an extra bonus for when I want to run this distance. 

I have to announce that the Nathan handheld bottle is going to be my solution -- here's the review.

The handheld bottle is comfortable in the hand and can conveniently be held many ways. For me, I found the best way was to just put my hand through the strap. The bottle stayed on my hand without me even having to hold onto it. The strap was comfortable and breathable. You can use the reflective strip to tighten the strap to your hand.

My hand did get a little sweaty against the plastic of the bottle. To combat this, I changed my hand positioning every mile or so and just grasped the strap.

I usually run with my iPhone in my left hand, so I didn't feel that running with the bottle changed my biomechanics. Everything felt comfortable. A great bonus about this particular bottle and holder is that the front pocket is large enough to hold my iPhone. This was a huge deciding factor for me. I was able to traded in holding my phone for holding the bottle strap. 

Another nice bonus is that the bottle holder has an ID tag. Here you can put your name, address, phone, and an emergency contact. That's comforting in case of a very unlikely running mishap.

All in all, I think this bottle will be a good solution for my longer runs. (For runs under an hour, I generally don't need water.) The bottle is easy to hold and has a great pouch for my cell. I didn't have any leaking problems with the water bottle; it's also easy to drink from while running. You can remove the bottle from the holder without too much hassle for cleaning and for chilling your water in the fridge.

I'm looking forward to using this product to bring water with me on my long runs. This solution will give me flexibility in my running route and allow me to drink whenever thirsty.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

3 County Fair

Today, Seth and I made an impromptu trip to Northampton fair grounds for the 195th Labor Day weekend 3 County Fair.

The fair is a moderate size fair, about the same size as the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield but much smaller than, say, New York State Sheep and Wool in Rhinebeck.

There were a number of exhibition halls that featured classical farming implements and lots of tractors. There were exhibits about crafts and displays with art and produce that won ribbons at the fair.

The fair featured a lovely assortment of barnyard animals. 

(Baby cows, one month old.)

(Young pigs. There was also a sow with a liter of around eight piglets.)

(Awesome looking rooster. There were also hens with so many feathers on their feet they reminded me of the cat's fuzzy paws!)

In addition, they had loads of rabbits of all varieties, most of which were for sale. This gentleman bunny had extra giant lop ears.

After seeing the animals and exhibition halls, which totaled a little over half a dozen, we headed towards the midway. There was some monster truck racing going on. We watched for a second, but you had to pay for seats (and it was hard to see from outside the arena), plus it was very loud. 

Seth loves carnival rides. He took a ride on his favorite, the Polar Express. I watched instead of risking motion sickness by participating.

After, we engaged in the fair tradition of eating super delicious, super terrible for you fried foods. 

Fairs only come once a year, so we indulged. I know that fried dough is basically the worst food for you, but it is so delicious. I enjoyed every bite!

 We had a great first time visiting the 3 County Fair. The fair was small but we had a lot of fun -- worth the price of admission.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Zip Lining at Zoar

Today was the big day -- we finally got to go zip lining at Zoar's Deerfield Valley Zip Line.


The trip was well worth the wait -- it was fabulous! Dad, Lisa, Adam, and I again arrived in Charlemont. We put on the zip lining gear, which weighs just under ten pounds. (I checked with the guide.) We did the practice zip once more and then we were up the mountain for our three hour adventure. 

During our three hour trip, we did eleven zips, three propels (where they belay you), and crossed two sky bridges. We were up fairly high, in the trees, surrounded by green. The views were beautiful.

As you can see from the video, the zipping was a ton of fun. I didn't find it scary at all. The two guides take care of all your gear, so all you have to do is jump off the platform and glide through the air. You get to self break but are instructed how to do so and when. 

I loved every minute of flying through the open air!