Saturday, December 28, 2013

Running Streak: Week Four

When we last left off, the running streak was over three weeks through and things were going well. The weekend of Saturday, December 21 and Sunday, December 22 proved a bit of an unsuccessful one.

Saturday: My legs were very very tired. All that running was starting to catch up with me and I was beginning to feel it. (I'm certain it's because I remarked on my blog on Friday about how happy I was at how my body was holding up that the unraveling started the day after.) For Saturday, I wanted to be able to keep up the streak, so I played it smart and did a short one mile run around my neighborhood, Echo Hill, and then did a half an hour stretch.

Sunday: After taking it easy on Saturday, I was hoping that I would feel ready to go on Sunday. However, I woke up Sunday wanting to do anything other than run. It was warm out, 55 degrees in December in New England, but I could barely get up the enthusiasm to run a mile. My legs were tired, running felt hard, and I was getting sick of the running streak. I focused instead on doing a half an hour resistance training workout and then ran the minimum of one mile.

As you can see the weekend was not a great one. Next up was the week of Christmas. I knew that I was going to have to balance my running with traveling to Connecticut for the holidays and family get-togethers. None of this was bad at all. I love seeing my family. Plus, I was thinking, decreasing my focus on the streak would be a help both for my body and my mind.

Monday: After a rough weekend I was dreading going for a run on Monday. When I got up, I noticed that it was raining. My legs felt tired, and the weather was junky. I decided once again to do a half an hour resistance training workout with a focus on my upper body. I then put on my running clothing with a sigh. And had a wonderful run!

That's right. Despite what I thought would happen I had a blast! The music was right, my legs warmed up right away, and I had a fun time running around in the wet. I felt like a kid. I ran a mile in 10:00, my average in general, but the fastest I had done all week since my legs had been fatigued. I felt revived!

Later in the day, Seth and I decided to take an advanture to Springfield, Massachusetts, around a forty minute drive south of Amherst where we live. Seth's parents had given us a gift card to the restaurant Plan B, a well-reviewed chain burgar restaurant. Seth loves a good hamburger to we headed to the Basketball Hall of Fame, where the restaurant was located.

I am, in general, not a huge lover of hamburgers; however, I decided to check one out since it was the main focus of Plan B. I ended up having a hamburger with avocado, an egg, and kalamata olive spread. It was quite good! It was also quite huge. I was glad I had done an extra mile run after weight training.

Tuesday: I got up fairly early on Tuesday to travel down to Connecticut for Christmas Eve. My mom and I were planning to celebrate together just the two of us since, unfortunately, my brother had to work Christmas Eve and also Christmas Day.

When I arrived at the house, we decided to do some decorating. Mom had already done some, but we wanted to add garland to the mantel. My mom said, "Very festive for two Jews!"

After decorating and before lunch, I decided to go for a run. I like running when I am home in Bethany. It's a quite town. The streets are tree-lined and, more or less, traffic-free. Like in Amherst, there are trails everywhere for small side adventures.

I set off for a nice three mile run along a mix of roads and trails. One highlight of the run was chasing a deer through the woods. I lost him when I had to jump a particularly high fallen tree.

As I've mentioned before, I've been having some problems with cramping in my left calf. I've been diligent about stretching and rolling it on the foam roller, but it still tends to tighten up in very cold weather or on hills. Where my house is in Bethany is very hilly. The word "hill" is even in the name of our street. I was a bit worried about this as I set off on a particularly hilly section. However, I ended up doing okay and not having too much of a problem. I tackled a hill that was decently steep and was able to run the entire way, albeit slowly. I took a very small break at the top and gently stretched out my calf, but found myself to be alright.

I got back from my run, took a quick shower, and then it was time for the holiday festivities to begin. Mom and I made steamed meat wontons and bread with pepperoni and cheese. We enjoyed our holiday treats with prosecco.

Wednesday: Christmas Day! My brother, Greg, didn't have to work until the afternoon, so we came over to enjoy breakfast with Mom and me. It was great to see him. As a bonus, he brough Demo who got to spend all day with us for Christmas.

When Greg left, I headed out for a run. It was a busy day, one which I wanted to spend with my family, so I decided to keep the run to just a mile. Plus, it was beyond cold out! It was around 19 degrees and running felt like a punishment. I started by running half a mile up hill and then returned running half a mle downhill. The calf was slightly tight towards the end of the uphill half mile, but that's to be expected in the extreme cold. I hastened back to the warm house as quickly as possible for a hot shower.

My aunt and uncle were going to be joining us to Christmas, so after I got cleaned up I set the table for the holiday meal.

My theme was "winter wonderland". I used a white brocade table cloth, silver chargers, and Duncan Miller Teardrop pattern plates, candlesticks, and glasses. I folded the napkins to look like Christmas trees and topped with ornaments. My aunt provided flowers from her store.

We had a fantastic holiday with lots of fun times with family!

Thursday: Thursday morning, I got up and left for a visit to my father in Glastonbury. We had plans to go for a morning run and then clean my Beetle.

When I got to the house, we exchanged holiday gifts. I got these awesome Injinji socks for running. I am oddly fascinated by things where your toes are separated and found these socks very exciting.

I got to check out the socks right away. My dad and I decided to go for a quick run around his neighborhood. Dad had done a hilly and cold 10:30 a.m. 5K race on Christmas Day. His quads were feeling it, so we opted for one loop around the "block", a fairly flat 1.2 mile course.

The quick run gave us plenty of time for project #2: Cleaning the Volkswagen (also known as Volkie). It was 27 degrees out, too cold for washing the car outside. We headed over to the car wash.

The car wash near Dad was a magical fun experience. I have never gotten to do to a do-it-yourself carwash. There isn't really one near my house. I was loved getting to got through the instructions, pressing the myriad of bottons for the different options -- we focused on the rinse and foaming brush -- and racing the clock

By the end, the Volkie was looking very fine! (Although, sadly, the car got dirty again later that day when I had to drive through some slush and rain back up to Amherst.)

I spent the afternoon with my dad and stepmom, visiting with Greg and his girlfriend at Greg's house. After three days of time spent with family, I then headed back to Amherst.

When I got home, an exciting package was waiting. It contained a t-shirt and membership card.

I had decided to join the local running club, Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club. This was a big deal for me. I have been running for a few years now and would really like to have the opportunity to run with others. I, in general, run by myself, and I want to broaden my horizons.

I have two things that I want to try this year. The first is doing more trail running. The second is doing running with a running group. I know from my experience with taking an aerobics class, that exercing with others is more fun and makes you push yourself. I want to push myself more with my running and start doing more challenging runs and speedwork. I think that joining a running club and spending time with other runners will help me reach my goals.

The Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club (SMAC) looks like a very active club. It's the big running club for Western Massachusetts. They sponsor a lot of the local runs that I have done, as they sponsor their own race series with around a dozen races that you can sign-up for at reasonable prices. Members get points for the races they complete in the series. SMAC also sponsors a track series at Smith College in January, a 10 mile race in February, speed workout sessions in South Deerfield in the spring through fall, and weekly 5K's in Northampton spring through fall. Members also have a chance to win a lottery entry into the Boston Marathon, plus get 10% off on apparel at a couple of local running stores. Membership is $15 for the year. For that price I decided to check it out.

SMAC is having their annual meeting a week from today at the Amherst Brewing Company. I'm planning to attend both the run before the meeting (three, five, and ten mile runs are offered as options) and the meeting itself. I think this will be a great way to get involved with the group and start to meet people. Maybe I will find someone who lives close to me in Amherst who might want to do some runs with me. I'm hoping that there are a few people who are slower runners like me.

Friday: I hadn't done any weight training in the few days that I was in Connecticut, so I opted for a half an hour of circuit training followed by a mile run for Friday. I had a cold but fun short run through the snowy woods over at Wentworth Farm. I could have done more, but kept it short because I had already done thirty minutes of exercise and wanted to do a three mile run on Saturday.

Saturday: Today's 5K run around Echo Hill was probably one of the most unsuccessful and unfun runs I can remember. I felt lethargic as I headed out, but was convinced I should do my planned run. The weather was fairly mild at around 34 degrees with no wind.

I started out my run fairly aggressively by running all the way up the hill from my house into upper Echo Hill South. It might have been better to walk this bit because I ended up having some problems with my calf throughout the run. The first mile and a half of the run was uninspired but not terrible.

Things started to unravel right around the two mile mark. My left calf was tight. My right foot ached. I slowed to a walk trying to pull myself together. After a minute, with the utmost stongwill, I started to run again. After a couple of minutes I slowed to a walk to stretch my foot. This continued for around half a mile. Realizing I only had half a mile or so left, I was able to rally and finish my run. Still the results were dismal -- a 5K run that took me 34 minutes. My body was tired. My legs were dead. I felt tired of this streaking business.

I came back and decided I was in need of a treat to get myself back on track. For Christmas, Seth's parents had gotten me the matcha sifter that I had been eyeing. It was time to check it out.

I began heating water and took out the sifter. I measured out a couple teaspoons of matcha and, using the paddle included with the sifter, began to run the paddle over the sifter and remove any clumps.
Success! The matcha tasted way better after going through the sifter. No clumps whatsoever.

I now have a full set of matcha tools: bowl, wisk, and sifter. All these lovely tools let me make matcha whenever I want. A very nice treat!

Back to talking about the running streak. I have now run continuously for 31 days. I have four days left in the streak because I plan to do my last run on January 1, New Year's Day. While running daily has been an interesting experience, I have to say that I'm not sure I would do a running streak again. I don't think that it's in the best interest of my running to run daily for a few reasons:
  • I feel like I ran lots of junk miles. There were many days when I just went out and ran one mile for the streak. While I think it was great to get an extra ten or so minutes of exercise during the holiday season, I think that this wasn't something that improved my running.
  • Running daily doesn't allow the muscles to rest. I know this goes without saying, but at this point I am seeing the impact of not taking a day to rest 100%. My runs over the course of the streak have on average been slower than the speed I normally run at. While weather is a factor, the main piece is that my legs are tired. Running has felt forced some days, and I have had less of a spring in my step.
  • Going for a run every day gets mentally boring. I did mix in other activity in my streak -- hence the large number of days when I ran one mile -- especially strength training. Still knowing that I had to go out every single day gets draining. Sometimes I didn't feel like running, but I felt I had to in order to keep the streak going. I know I will like running better when I go back to doing it around three times a week.

There are definitely a few things I did like about the streak, lots of which I have mentioned before:
  • It was nice to get supplimental exercise.
  • Running daily made me more inventive about my running routes. I got to run some trails I wouldn't have before. It was fun to experiement.
  • Getting outside to run was great. I am a bit of a shut-in during the winter. Having to go outside daily for a run allowed me to get more fresh air than I otherwise would have.

I'm still TBD about what I will do after the streak. I had been considering a 10K for New Year's Day, but I think I'm going to skip that. I'm not in good shape for a hilly 10K and am ready from some rest. My plan at this point is to take a few days off from running after January 1. I will do a run with the SMAC on January 5 at the annual meeting and then decide what's next. I'm considering signing up for the SMAC organized Jones 10-Miler, which takes place in Amherst on the last Sunday in February. The course is supposed to be fairly hilly and my participation is somewhat hinging on how I feel after a few days off after the streak. If the calf is feeling okay, I might go for it, even though spending just under two hours running in the cold February weather sounds somewhat crazy.

No matter what happens, when the streak is over, I will find a new challenge to take on.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Running Streak: Week Three

It's Friday and week three of the running streak is basically over. To be honest, this has gone rather uneventfully and has few exciting or harrowing stories. From my perspective this is rather a good thing, but it does not necessarily make for the most thrilling blog post.

Here's how the week went down.

Monday: Three miles on the treadmill at the Smith gym. Three miles in thirty minutes. 100% basic. My calf still felt a little bit tight from the previous days runs but was manageable.

Tuesday: Three and a half miles on the treadmill at the Smith gym. It took 34:52. Again, 100% basic.

Wednesday: I did 20 minutes of resistance training and then hoped on the treadmill for a two mile run. It took 19:57. Again, basic.

Thursday: Okay. Here things get a little exciting because I wasn't able to make it to the gym and didn't get to exercise until the very late afternoon. I got home around 4:30 p.m. and decided that before I went out for a run, I wanted to do another form of exercise to warm up. I did a T25 workout (Core Speed).

Warming up was a good move, but I think I warmed up too much because I got sweaty. When I headed out for my run, the sun was completely down -- it was 5:00 p.m. Immediately the sweat began to cool on my person making me quite a bit chilly.

The temperature was just below freezing and the roads and sidewalks were snowy from the half a foot of snow we got earlier in the week. Yuk! I poked my way along slowly trying not to slip and feeling chilled. I cranked out one mile and headed back to the warmth of the house.

Runs in the dark = lame!

Friday: Another trip to the Smith gym. I should mention the Smith fitness center is one of my favorite places on earth. I mean look at it!

And here's a strange fishbowl style picture of the inside. (All of these pictures are from the Smith website.)

I go to the Smith gym practically every weekday. They have a great selection of cardio and strength equipment. Today, I availed myself of one of their many treadmills and ran four miles for the streak. The run was okay. I had to stop twice and stretch my calf, but otherwise it was a basic run without incident. 

I am rather pleased at how my body is holding up to the running streak. I am making sure to use the foam roller liberally on my calf and hip, and and I think this is making a difference. 

As of today, I have run 23 days in a row. My streak is scheduled to end on January 1, so this means I have only 10 more runs until then. I am over two-thirds of the way there!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: P90X3 Initial Impressions

Tuesday, Seth and I arrived home from work to see a package in the mail room. We opened it to find our newest workout program, P90X3.

In the style of Focus T25, the goal of P90X3 is to get an awesome workout in a limited amount of time -- in this case in 30 minutes. The P90X3 workouts, lead by Tony Horton, are done in the style of the traditional P90X program, prioritizing strength training. This is in contract with T25, which, like Shaun T's other workouts is more cardio based. I consider T25 a modified Insanity workout. P90X3 is a shorter P90X. 

The P90X3 program comes with a lot of materials. P90X is Beachbody's most famous program (probably followed by Insanity), and it shows. They gave a lot of attention to the presentation and extras that came with P90X3. 

The box contained:

1. 16 P90X3 workouts

2. A bonus P90X On One Leg workout
3. The P90X3 nutrition and fitness guide
4. Workout calendar with multiple workout schedules: Classic, Lean, Mass, and Doubles

5. Stickers for your laptop, tablet, and cell

6. A hat (as a bonus for ordering early)

I flipped through the workout booklet first and found it contained the following workouts (Note: Descriptions taken from Beachbody.)

Resistance Workouts
1. Total Synergistics: A full-body resistance workout that triggers fast, powerful changes to your body's composition.
2. The Challenge: Strengthen your entire upper body by stacking push-ups and pull-ups in ways you've probably never seen.
3. Incinerator: Bring It 'til there's nothing left to bring. A full burnout session that pushes you past your limits.
4. The Warrior: When you need a one-size-fits-all workout that can be done anytime, anywhere, this is your drill.
5. Eccentric Upper: Time under tension is the key to creating lean-muscle growth fast. This upper-body blast will have you begging for mercy.
6. Eccentric Lower: You'll be slowing down the eccentric (or negative) half of each movement to carve a ripped lower body—faster.

Power Workouts
7. Agility X: This fusion of aerobic and anaerobic energy improves your precision, flexibility, balance, and strength.
8. Triometrics: Increase your speed and power in a fraction of the time with this explosive next-generation plyo workout.
9. Decelerator: Balance your ability to go up strong and come down safe with multi-angle deceleration training.

Cardio Workouts
10. CVX: Now resistance is combined with intervals to give you that full-body burn and power up your core.
11. MMX: Burn fat by taxing your strength, endurance, and flexibility with this martial arts–based cardio workout.
12. Accelerator: Increase your cardiovascular and muscular efficiency, resulting in more bang for your fat-burning buck.

Core, Flexibility & Balance Workouts
13. X3 Yoga: A flow-style practice that improves your musculoskeletal flexibility, balance, stamina, and core strength.
14. Pilates X: Power your core, gain muscle elasticity, and stabilize your joints, as Pilates fundamentals meet modern science.
15. Isometrix: Isometric contraction combined with instability—this workout gives you an unshakable platform to work from.
16. Dynamix: Increase your range of motion, flexibility, and stabilization to help maximize the results you get from every routine. 

There was also an extra DVD called, "How to Accelerate," designed to introduce you to the program. 

Seth and I decided to watch the "How to Accelerate" DVD to introduce us to the program. I've had other programs that came with welcome videos, for example TurboFire, but I never tend to watch them. In this regard, Seth was being a good example to me. 

The "How to Accelerate" video was actually somewhat helpful. Tony Horton (who I find to be cheesy and kind of annoying, but who I know other like), appeared on the screen and began to guide us through the next 90 days. Like all P90X programs, the schedule would be approximately three months and three phases. We could choose from a few different calendar options. Tony recommended starting with the Classic calendar, which is what Seth and I intend to do. 

There were a few small previews of the 16 workouts. Tony briefly mentioned that their would be a modifier for the program, though the modifications seemed to be a bit less than what we saw in T25. 

Tony reviewed the equipment needed for the program. As with anything, this can be as complicated as you want to make it. In general though, you'll need the same equipment as what the original P90X requires:

1. Weights or resistance bands
2. A pull-up bar or door attachment with resistance bands

A mat is highly recommended for yoga and as a soft surface for high impact activity. Tony also mentioned that you could use yoga blocks, a pull-up assistant tool, and push-up stands. There was then some discussion about shoes, which I ignored because I like to exercise barefoot at home. 

Tony then went on to review the nutrition and fitness guide, highlighting the importance of healthy eating and tracking your results. He also tried to sell us a bunch of Beachbody supplements. 

The "How to Accelerate" DVDs main purpose is to introduce and excite. I think it did a pretty good job. Seth and I are planning to start the program the week of December 29. I want to be mostly finished with my running streak and with holiday travel before committing to a six to seven day a week workout calendar. 

I'm looking forward to getting starting. My plan is to have P90X3 be a program that I do in addition to the workouts I do during the lunch-hour at work. Seth is planning to have the 30 minute workouts be his main workout of the day. 

More to come when we start working out with Tony Horton later this month!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Running Streak: Week Two

I am 18 days into my running streak. That's right; I have gone for a run 18 days in a row! This, pehaps ill-advised idea is all part of the Runner's World 2013 holiday running streak, which has me running at least one mile a day, every day between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

For those of you who have been following closely, I last posted a week ago on Sunday, where I squeezed in a quick one mile run right after volunteering at the Hot Chocolate Run. It's now seven runs later. The good news is that I've gotten over my cold. The bad news is that the weather has gotten crazy.

Here's a recap of the second full week of the running streak.

Monday: Honestly, I almost posted on Monday after this run because it was so crazy. Monday was truly a cursed day all around. I had meetings planned at work, so I had to get in my run in the morning before my workday (second shift hours on Monday) started. Anyone, seeing the weather outside would have made arrangements to go in early and use the very nice, dry, and warm Smith College gym. I am clearly not a reasonable person because I saw the weather -- temperatures in the twenties with freezing rain and a light wind -- and thought, "Too bad. But I guess I can go for a run anyway."

I realized, about a half a mile in that this was truly folly. The roads were slick with frozen rain. Icicles were handing off my hoodie. I had bundled up in warm tights, a thermal tech shirt and hoodie, gloves and a hat. This was perhaps the only smart thing I did all run. I was, surprisingly enough, actually comfortable in temperature. My hoodie did a great job keeping me dry and warm.

I had to move slowly, because of all the ice. I wasn't worried though because I had my cell with me. Unfortunately, however, my cell died about a mile and a half into the run. At this point I was running along the KC Trail towards the Bike Path and began to take very cautious steps -- if I fell and hurt myself I wouldn't encounter any runners or bikers with the terrible weather.

I ended up running probably around four miles at 11:00/mile pace because of the ice. I ran through Wentworth Farm to get home and had to stop and tiptoe along every bridge because they were completely frozen over. Luckily, I made it in one piece.

Tuesday: I did a one mile treadmill run at the gym before my aerobics class. Extra bonus exercise courtesy of wanting to keep up the steak!
Wednesday: I was again back at the gym and on the treadmill. I ran 3.5 miles without any difficulties (and a minute per mile faster than on Monday's cursed ice run). This was definitely my best run since being sick with a cold last week. I was back!

Thursday: Yikes! We had a lovely holiday lunch at my office on Thursday. I had a delightful grilled cheese with a glass of wine, which I enjoyed very much. That is, until my afternoon run. Lunch was a bit heavy and a bit late, but I did take an hour to walk around town between my lunch and my run. Clearly, with so heavy a meal (plus alcohol -- seriously a dumb move), an hour of digestion was not enough time. I ran three miles, but felt terrible. I felt nausious and had to take walk breaks so as not to be sick. Uggg!

Friday: By Friday I realized I had gone many days without doing any sort of resistant training. I went to to the gym where I did a 20 minute weights session focused on upper body and then did a two mile run. We had had another office lunch on Friday, but I kept it light this time (salad with salmon) and skipped the cheese cake they offered for dessert. This made all the difference!

Saturday: For anyone who isn't questioning my sanity after the story of Monday's run, you will after you hear this. Seven degrees! That's right. Saturday's run took place in seven degree weather.
Because I am sensative to the cold and think that anything having to do with weather in the single digits is madness, I was a bit smarter about this run than Mondays.

Smart Thing #1: I did 25 minutes of exercise indoors before my run. I was plenty warm as a result.
Smart Thing #2: I only ran a mile. My only goal was to keep up the streak.
Smart Thing #3: I wore "all the clothing," as I like to put it. In addition to the clothing I wore on Monday, I added my North Face coat, which in general is "good clothing" and not "exercise clothing", but I needed all the help I could get. By some miracle, I didn't feel like dying during the run; however my left calf, which bothered me so much during the Cider Donut Run this year cramped in the last tenth of a mile.

Sunday: Today was my recovery day. I spent 25 minutes stretching. We had a snow storm overnight, so things were a bit moist outside, but the weather wasn't terrible -- it was in the mid-20s. I really didn't want to go out, but did so for the sake of the streak. Any easy one mile run was all I had to do, and I did it.

Two and a half weeks down on the streak is going strong. All this winter running is starting to make me feel like a "real" runner. I am even thinking of doing a February race and joining the local running club. I am also starting to think I need a pair of trail shoes. I've been dying to get a pair, but running in the snow and slippery conditions that the winter in New Englan has to offer is really making the case for getting a pair sooner rather than later. We'll see what happens with the money situation.
Keep posted for next week!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Volunteering at the 10th Annual Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage

Last year, I ran the Hot Chocolate Run for Save Passage, a large community 5K that takes place in Northampton. This year, I decided it was time to give back after all the races I've participated in, and I signed up to volunteer as a marshall at the event.

I think that volunteers make a huge difference at running events. As a runner, I am always very grateful for volunteers who come to cheer, pass out water and gels, and assign bibs. When I've been flagging during a race, the cheers of volunteers are a definite factor in getting me to the finish line.

The race starts at 10:00 a.m. for runners, but, as a volunteer, I had to arrive at 8:45 a.m. to receive my assignment and get to my post. We were supposed to meet in the parking lot of The Felt Building on West Street, so I parked in the nearby Smith gym parking lot (with plans to go for a run at the gym later), and headed over.

There was a small crowd gathered. We received our assignments, a brightly colored vest, and a mug for helping.

I was handed a map and told that I would be overseeing the intersection of Lesell Avenue and South Street. This is fairly close to the beginning of the race -- I would be seeing runners come through between 10:02 a.m. and 10:18 a.m.

It was around 9:00 a.m. when I headed out. I didn't have to be at my post until 9:30 a.m., and, since I was on the running route instead of the walking route, I wouldn't see runners for at least thirty minutes after that. It was cold, through not brutally so, and I wandered trying to decide what to do.

Around this time, another volunteer who was marshalling in my area came upon me. She was thinking the same thing, "Should we spend extra time in the cold or go for a brief coffee?" I joined her for a quick trip to Woodstar Cafe to warm myself up.

At around 9:25 a.m., we headed back towards South Street to line up at our assigned positions. I put on my orange vest, and situated myself at the corner of Lesell.

I waited in the cold for the runners to come. Traffic was light. I was in a very easy area. Lesell is a side street and a dead end, so I expected little traffic.

At a little after 10:00 a.m., I started to see lights. The police car that was leading the runners was coming up the hill. Runners poured after the pace car. At first, there was a small number. These people were looking fast and were determined. The front of the pack runners were dominated by men. I saw at least a dozen men go by before I saw any women at all. These runners were focused and giving it there all. I clapped for them, though I doubt they noticed; they were so focused on running. I admired their skill.

Next, the pack started to get a bit fuller. These were middle of the pack runners. People like me, who were going to run the race in anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes. These runners seemed to be having the most fun. They were here to enjoy themselves. Some were determined and wanted to PR. Some were just dressed in costumed out to support a good cause. A few of these runners made eye contact with me as I clapped and cheered.

The number of runners started to thin again, as we got to the back of the pack. These runners didn't look to happy either. They were out here, and they were struggling to get through the race, even in this early part. I admired these runners too. They were out doing something new, trying hard, and giving it their all. They were focused in a different way than the lead runners.

Around this time, I got to help direct the one car that came my way. The very agreeable driver was happy to wait a couple of minutes until the last racers went by the make his turn. Soon, the last of the racers passed and the police car that was following the race made its way slowly down the street. The police car was followed by marshall volunteer coordinator's car. He collected my vest, and I was free to go.

It was only 10:20 a.m. I had expected to be marshalling until 11:00 a.m., when the Smith gym opened, so that I could warm up with a nice indoor run. A quandry. Then I remembered I was wearing my running shoes and my sports bra and a tech shirt under my coat. And my car was parked a mile away. I was chilly, and I wanted to run -- who needs the gym?

I ran the mile back to my car in around 10:50, which is pretty respectable considering I was wearing a heavy winter coat, jean, and carrying a mug. It was 10:30 a.m., and the runners were passing the Smith gym where I was parked. I waited briefly as they made their way past the gym and then headed out of town.

Now I am home in my comfortably warm house, having completed a T25 workout, and am relaxing drinking tea out of my mug.

I had a good time volunteering to help with the run. Maybe I will do it again next year. I might volunteer for something closer to the action at the start/finish line. Or maybe I'll marshall again with hopes of getting a busier area. Either way, I was glad to help this year and to get to cheer on some of my fellow runners. I hope my small bit of encouragement helped.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Running Streak: Week One

It's been around one week since I announced that I would be taking part in the Runner's World 2013 holiday running streak. The goal of the streak is to run at least a mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Those of you who read my post on November 30th know I started out with the 4.8 mile Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving, did a 2 mile run for my "rest day" on Friday, and then did a 1.5 mile run with strength training on Saturday. So what has this week looked like? Dismal.
I got a cold. I think it was all that waiting around in the freezing weather at Manchester. The good news is that I have not broken my streak dispite this setback. Here's what my schedule has looked like.
Sunday: 1 mile. I wasn't quite sick yet on Sunday, but it was pretty cold out. I did an hour of kickboxing and then did a short mile run out to Wenthworth Farm and back.
Monday: 1 mile. Ug, the cold had set in, so I did a mile run only to maintain my streak. I ran up in Echo Hill and made the profound mistake of trying to run up the moderate hill you have to tackle if you head from my condo to anywhere else in Echo Hill. So hard.
Tuesday: 1 mile. Still sick with the cold. This day I played it smart and ran back and forth along the stretch of flat street at the bottom of Echo Hill near my house. Back and forth. Back and forth. Until I reach a mile.
Wednesday: 1.25 miles. Wednesday I took the day off from work to deal with my persistent cold. I spent all day sitting, minus a short run over to Wentworth Farm and back.
Thursday 1 mile. Finally feeling a little bit better. I had a 40 minute weight training class at the gym, but arrived early and did a quick mile run on the treadmill. I managed this in 9:54, which was about 40 seconds per mile faster than the other days of the week.
Friday: 3 miles. So exciting -- my first "real". (Note: I think all runners have a length that they consider their minimum for a run to be "real". For me, that's three miles. Anything under that feels too short to be a real run. I like, in general, to workout for at least thirty minutes to feel that I've done my exercise for the day. A three mile run takes me thirty minutes, hence the marker of three miles being a real run.) I did this run at the gym on the treadmill, and, honestly, it was a bear. I felt super tired. I had done too much on Thursday and my cold was coming back. I went home and slept for 12 hours overnight.
Saturday (aka. today): 1 mile. Not feeling too good again today. I decided to just do a quick run out to Wentworth Farm and back. I ended up feeling okay, but it was very windy, and I didn't want to make my cold worse. I came back and did a half an hour of strength training in the afternoon.
I'm hoping to be all better from my cold soon. Then I can really start tackling the streak in earnest with some longer runs. There will definitely be days when I still do shorter runs because I want to focus on a non-running form of exercise but still maintain the streak.
Even though this week has kind of been a bust, I already have some initial thoughts and impressions:
  • I've redefined what cold means. I used to think anything below 50 degrees was cold. Now I think that going out to run in 30 degree weather feels fine (as long as there is no wind). Anything below 30 is now cold.
  • Keeping up the running streak has definitely made me spend more time outside in the late fall than I normally would. I am very cold-weather adverse. Being forced to go outside is good. I think the fresh air is helpful.
  • The streak also made me do some light exercise while I had a cold. I usually don't exercise when I have a cold. I think that running a mile during my cold was actually a big help. I know this sounds antithetical to common sense, but hear me out. Getting some fresh air in my lungs and running helped clear out my congestion a bit. I had a head cold -- I would never advise running through any chest cold. Also, the weather this week was relatively mild -- in the mid-30s, so it wasn't too chilly for running with a cold.
  • I thought that the streak would require a lot of discipline. What I didn't realize was that, for me, this piece would be easy. I'm very practiced at being disciplined about daily exercise. This feels no different. Knowing I just have to run one mile makes things easy.
  • Running just one mile feels shorter than I think.
  • Running just one mile feels longer than I think.
So the streak is on! I'm 10 days in and feeling good about the whole thing. In a way, I'm waiting for it to start because I've just been doing streak maintainance with short miles while I have my cold. As a result, things have been pretty easy on my muscles, with limited overall exercise-related stress on my body.

I'm eager to see how next week's runs go, with hopes I can do more now that I am starting to feel a little bit later. Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Manchester Road Race

Thanksgiving was this Thursday. I started out the day with some very exciting fitness. I've been wanting for ages to do a run with Dad and Lisa. They have both been getting into / back into running. Lisa had suggested the three of us do the famous Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving. No one had to ask me twice!
The race was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving. 15,000 people participate annually in the Manchester Road Race, making it, by far, the largest race I have ever done. Lisa, Dad, and I are the causious sort, so we headed out early to Manchester.
As luck would have it, my friend, Walter, who I met at Tough Mudder was not only interested in doing the Manchester Road Race with us, but had done it many many times in the past. He made some great suggestions for parking that helped make things go very smoothly. As a result, we arrived with around two hours to kill before the race. We decided to walk to the starting line and scope things out.
Because the race is large, they ask everyone to be in the starting corrals at least a half an hour before the race starts. If you are very motivated, you can submit time for seeding and get a pretty good spot. For everyone else, people like us who didn't submit times, you have to start in the back of the pack at the 40 or more minutes mark.
After figuring out where to go, we tailed it back to the car. The weather was brutal! It was just around 30 degrees Fahrenheit with a very significant wind chill. My brother girlfriend, Grace, who runs Manchester every year with her family, said that this was the second worst weather she remembers -- the other time it snowed.
I had dressed fairly warm for running -- lined tights, my Nike Pro Hyperwarm shirt (which is fuzzy inside), running gloves and hat, and my warmest ever Nike Sphere hoodie. I even wore warmer socks instead of my favorite Hyperlite ones. I like this outfit (or the same outfit but with my running jacket instead the hoodie) for my cold weather runs. It tends to work at least decently, though I have definite challenges running outside in the cold. However, I had road tested this outfit on Tuesday with a four mile run in thirty degree weather and, while there was a slight dusting of snow, still felt okay.

However, at Manchester I would have felt chilled in my warmest coat -- hanging outside in running clothing was terrible! The wind was the real killer and it would not let up.
As a result, was decided to wait in the car until the last possible minute. Every second we spent outside was agony from the cold. We were parked less than half a mile from the starting line, so we waited until around 9:20 a.m. to start making our way to the start line.
It was crazy packed! I began to realize what running with 15,000 people was like. This was very different from the 300 person runs I was used to taking part in back home in Western Massachusetts. Here's a picture from the race to give you an idea. See the people way back up towards the section where that hill starts? That's us.
After getting into the corral the long wait in the cold began. The fortunate thing was that being packed in with so many people definitely helped with the wind. The wait was, in a way, easier than the walking around we did before the race.
Things were so hectic, and we were so packed in, I began to dispair of ever locating Walter. We had been texting back and forth and making call and, by the way of some Thanksgiving miracle, Walter found us.
Shortly after we connected with Walter announcements began. The race, now in it's 77th year, was going to be televised on Fox. There were elite runners there. There were people in elaborate and festive costume -- everything from Captain America to a Thanksgiving dinner. This was a big deal!
Finally, after many freezing moments, the starting gun sounded and off we went. Except...not exactly. We were pretty far back and for a few minutes nothing happened, then some slight shuffling, then walking. Over five and a half minutes after the clock started we crossed the starting line and began our race.
I had dedicated myself to just having fun at Manchester and not worrying about my time. This was a decision mostly made because I had taken some time off from running because of my calf, which has been bothering me on and off since the race I did around Halloween. However, regardless of what my physical state, I could not have more than jogged at Manchester. The course was swamped! People everywhere! I now know that if you really want to run at Manchester you definitely need to submit for seeding and get to start ahead of the pack.
However, for the race I wanted to run -- one that was fun and just about having a great experience with friends and family -- the spot I was running in was perfect. This is the first race that I ever ran without music. There was just too much to do and see and hear. This was going to be a fun 4.748 miles!
I started off the race by catching up with Walter who I hadn't seen since Tough Mudder though we had been emailing a bunch. We ran up Main Street together, following Dad and Lisa and a pair of Ninja Turtles, and made the turn towards the first mile marker. People lined the street cheering and holding signs. Hemmed in with runners, we were running around a 11:30/mile, a very easy jog, which allowed us to talk easily.
We passed a flag announcing that we had passed mile one. The second mile was up hill along the aptly named Highland Street. A mile up hill is always a little bit of a challenge, but we were going so slowly that things didn't feel too difficult. The hill was also a gradual climb, not overly steep. Onlookers continued to line the course cheering us on and playing festive music out of large rented speakers. People had gathered the bands they were members of and performed along the race route. I had never had an experience anything like this.
Shortly after mile two, we made a turn onto Porter Street. Whew, the hill was over. At this point Walter jogged up to chat with Lisa and I caught up with my dad, who I would run the rest of the race with. The Manchester Road Race was the farthest my dad had ever run, however, because of the measured pace, he felt fine. He, like me, usually runs at around 10:00/mile, so this was a slow jog for him too, making the race easy and enjoyable.
Mile three and onward were definitely the most heavily spectated part of the race, probably because they were the most residential. People were on their lawns drinking beers, waving signs, and cheering. Again, lots of people played music out of rented speakers. The atmosphere was festive -- I couldn't believe how many people had come out to see other people run. I guess this is Manchester's version of a big Thanksgiving Day parade.
By around mile four, things had started to spread out a little, allowing Dad and me to pick up the pace ever so slightly. We were back into a more commercial area of town. We passed another band and then a group of people playing gongs.
We made the turn onto Main Street. From there, I was able to look down the hill towards the finish line and see a sea of people all running. What a sight. I wish I had been able to take a picture. Going as fast as we were able (still not very fast) we crossed the finish line one right after the other. Our times are posted right next to each other online! I finished in 9,010th place with a time of 54:27 (11:29/mile).
Dad and I had lost Lisa and Walter during the race. We looked around with a bit, but eventually decided to just head back to the car to meet Lisa so that we could make our way back to their house for some warm showers and then onward to Thanksgiving dinners.
The Manchester Road Race was a blast! The entire thing go me so excited that when, later that day, I saw that Runner's World magazine was having a holiday running streak, I decided to join in!
What is the Runner's World 2013 holiday running streak? It's a pledge to run at least one mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Of course, the streak started out in an awesome way with the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving. So what did days 2 and 3 of the streak look like?

The day after Thanksgiving, I had planned to take a rest day. However, in honor of the streak, I washed my running clothing Thanksgiving evening and made plans to head out for an easy two mile recovery run on Friday. The weather was a crisp 29 degrees, but there was no wind. I was saying at my mom's house, my childhood home. My legs were a little tight, but the two mile run went fine. I alternated between roads and some trails through conservation land. All in all a pleasnt run.

Today was day three of the streak. I had a strength training workout planned as my main workout of the day today, but decided a quick 15 minute run (1.5 miles) would work well for maintaining the streak. Plus adding some cardio into your day is never a bad move. I kept my strength workout to half an hour and then quickly changed into tights, a longsleeve tech shirt, my warmest Nike Sphere hoodie, gloves, and hat. My warmest running pants and shirt were in the wash from yesterday, but I was fairly hot from 30 minutes of working out already -- I felt like I was in good shape.

I stepped outside my house. It was f*&%ing freezing! 19 degrees. I began to run, albeit slowly so as not to pull a muscle. I started my run by tackling the hill that we live at the bottom of. If anything was going to warm me up this would.

No luck -- it was just too damn cold. My calves felt like blocks of ice. The air, when I breathed in, felt like sucking in shards of glass. The weather was miserable!

I wasn't tired. My legs and energy were fine, so the run, in a way, was easy. However, the conditions were less than ideal. Weather that cold couldn't be good for me, so, even though I felt fine, I decided to keep the run to a mile and a half. This wasn't a cardio day after all, and, in frigid weather I could save my mid-length to longer runs for the gym.

Still three days down and the streak is on. I think this will be a fun challenge. Lots of days, I plan to only do one mile. These are days when I want to focus on strength training or want to do a non-running form of cardio. I think that even running one mile a day will make me a better and more consistant runner. Plus, I am a bit of a hermit in the colder months and think that getting a little bit of fresh air (though not too much if it's super cold) will be good for me.

I'll keep you posted on how the streak goes. I have to admit, I'm a bit nervous. I have never done something like this before. The weather is definitely a primary concern as well as staying injury free. But I think it will be fun to experiment with something new. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

2013 Cider Donut Run 10K

This morning dawned cool, windy, and partly sunny. I know because first thing, Seth and I headed out to North Amherst so that I could participate in the 2nd Cider Donut Run 10K.

I had run this race last year and it was one of my favorites. I ran the race in 59:32, averaging a 9:35/mile. Probably my fastest race. This was made even better by the fact that the course is fairly hilly with an elevation gain and a significant hill at mile two.

To be honest, this year I was feeling less confident. I had a good race last weekend, but since then had been having some aches. My left calf had been tight at the race last Sunday and continued to bother me throughout the week when I ran. I ended up having to cut my most recent training run on Friday short as a result. I had also been having a nagging cough all week, though I otherwise felt fine. (I called it a bout of fall-related ennui.) All that being said, it probably would have been best to sit this run out, but I had pre-registered, and I loved this run -- I wanted to participate.

We arrived at the Mill Recreation Center where the run was to start at around 9:35 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. start. The place looked festive.

I had my way towards the rear of the main building to pick up my race number at the pavilion. There was a wait of around five or ten minutes for number pick-up. Raceday registration had no line, so that was good news. I picked up my number (10!) and my tote bag. 

Seth and I took a quick pre-race selfie, and I was off to line-up. It was pretty cold and a little bit windy, so I kept my warm-up jacket on until the last minute. It was, fortunately, starting to get sunny though, so I decided I would run without it.

There were brief announcements, and then, at around 10:05 a.m. we were off! The course, while similar to last year, ended up being slightly different in places. As with last year, we started by heading up Mill Road and then out along North Pleasant Street. The first mile was fairly flat, and I was feeling pretty decent. Right around the one mile marker we passed the local Lutheran church. Two of the ministers were out, in full vestment, cheering us on. It was amazing and totally my favorite part of the race.

As we continued along North Pleasant Street, my calf began to start bothering me. I told myself to take it easy. I had run the first mile in around 10:00, which is a pretty standard pace for me, but decided to dial it back for mile two. I was able to hold things together for a little while.

At mile two, we took a turn onto Eastman Lane right by the North and Northeast residential areas at UMass. The next half a mile or so was up a fairly significant hill. During the 2012 race, I took this hill at around a 10:00 to 10:15 mile, running the whole way. However, this was not to be the case today. About a quarter of the way up the hill my calf began to hurt fairly significantly.  I had to crawl to a walk. Mid-way up the hill I tried to run again at somewhat of a shuffling pace; immediately I was in more pain. I again slowed to a walk. At this point, I still had around 3.5 miles to go. I wanted to be able to finish the race. I tried to carefully stretch my calf and finished the hill at a walk. Big disappointment. I was now well behind my time from last year and feeling rough.

Finally, at a slow walk, I reached the top of the hill. I knew from last year that the next section, down East Pleasant Street would be slightly downhill and then mostly flat with a slight rise. I moved back into a slow jog, and, this time, on the downhill surface, my calve cooperated, allowing me to finish the rest of the 10K. Fortunately, I did not have to stop to walk again; however, I was forced to keep my run at a very slow pace, averaging around 10:43/mile for the run overall.

Mid-way down East Pleasant Street, at the three mile marker, came the first change in the route from last year. Instead of continuing straight down East Pleasant for the entire run, we took a left down Van Meter Drive into a quiet residential neighborhood. We ran mid-way up the street took a quick right and then another quick right onto Harlow Drive and then headed back to East Pleasant Street. Clearly, the race organizers were padding the route with additional distance. This meant that there would be a change in the second half of the course from last year.

I loped along down the rest of East Pleasant. My calf had changed to a dull ache, my nose was stuffy, but I was making it. I was feeling that, while this would not be my best race -- more likely it would be my most challenged -- I would definitely finish. I kept up my moderate pace as we made the turn onto Pine Street at the four mile marker. Only two miles to go! Never had I been so happy.

Miles four to five were slightly up hill. This was nothing as steep as the hill through UMass. I took it easy and was able to keep running. This is where the course began to differ from last year and ended up being a bit more uphill running.

Last year, the course had continued up Pine Street all the way. We had then continued onto Henry Street and Bridge Street, taking us right to the left turn onto State Street and through the Mills River and Puffers Pond Conservation Areas. We had then joined back up with Pine Street, taking it to Montague Road for a fast downhill finish! This had, by far, been my favorite section of the course.

This year, the course was changed so that we did not take Pine Street all the way to the top. Instead, we met up with Bridge Street farther down and then turned onto State Street. Here again, we got to run through the Mills River and Puffers Pond Conservation Areas, which again was the loveliest part of the run. However, instead of joining back up with Pine Street for the last 0.75 miles, we turned again, crossing the bridge that is below the waterfall coming down off Puffers Pond. This was quite lovely, however, it meant that we were on a slightly more hilly section of road.

With around a third of a mile left, we turned onto Montague Road. The change in directions, had us approaching the Mills Recreation Center and the finish line from the opposite direction from last year. This meant that instead of getting to run the last bit of the race downhill, we were running slightly uphill. At this point my muscles, compensating for my bad calf, were all in knots. I was beat. This is normally the point in the race when I would put on a final burst of speed at push to the finish. Not today. I did my best, but ran towards the finish line as fast as I could, but still probably under my average pace from last year.

Crossing the finish line I breathed a sigh of relief. I was just glad I had made it.

I took a look at my time, 1:06:33. This was seven minutes slower than my time last year. I averaged a 10:43/mile (versus a 9:35/mile in 2012). Definitely disappointing, but it had been a challenging day.

After some brief stretching, I met up with Seth and headed over to get a doughnut and cup of cider. Seth had brought my jacket to the car, and I was getting cold fast, so we headed out.

On the way, we spotted the most delightful cider doughnut and apple couple, cheering finishers on. I had to take their picture.

Getting home, I took a warm shower to recover and then did a comprehensive 25 minute stretch. I'm planning to take the next week off from running to recover myself. I don't have any other races scheduled until the Manchester Road Race, which I am doing with my dad and Lisa on Thanksgiving. I think a week off from running, with a focus on recovering and doing other activities for a while, should hopefully help my calf situation.

For the rest of the day, I have been relaxing. I've been doing some work on the new blanket I started on for Seth.

The pattern is called Aran and is from Comfort Knitting and Crochet: Afghans. At Seth's request, I am knitting it in his favorite yarn, Valley Yarns Colrain, a 50% merino/50% tencel blend.

So far, I think the blanket is coming along nicely. I love the elaborate cables. Hopefully this will entertain me as I rest up a bit from my race.