Monday, September 30, 2013

Focus T25: Rip't Up

Today, I got to watch Seth do the second workout in the Gamma Cycle, Rip't Up. I was actually able to do this workout myself last week, and it is no joke. This 25 minute stength workout will leave your arms burning. For the workout, you should have one heavy set of weights and one really light set, think 2 or 3 pounds.
The warm-up is exactly like Beta Cycle's Upper Focus. First up is Split Lunge Agility. Next up is the switch kick series: Low Switch Kick, Double Switch Kick, and High Switch Kick. Then it's Static Uppercut followed by Jack Uppercut.
Time to pick up weights for the first round of weights with Wide Row. Scott did an advanced version with a pull-up bar. Next was Single Arm Row, left then right.
Shaun T then moved to the floor for Straight Arm Fly (basically swimming from Asylum with weights). This is where you might use the 2 or 3 pound weights. Band guy, Andy, and Tanya don't use weights. Next is Lat Pulldowns, done lying on the floor chest down.
Back up for Reciprocating Hammer Curls for biceps. This is followed by Tricep Kickbacks Palms Up, then Tricep Kickbacks Palms Down. I found this trickier than doing a traditional tricep kickback with the hands facing your body and not rotating. It's back to biceps for Reciprocating Wide Curls.
Shaun T moved to a balance shoulder move, Silnge Ledge Shoulder Press, left then right. You raise the arm on the leg that's in the air.
Push-ups on the floor are next, 4-Count Push-Ups. I did the first few in full plank, but eventually dropped to my knees with Tanya. This immediately transitioned back to standing for Upright Row for shoulder. Back to the floor for 2-Count Push-Ups. Back up again for 90 Degree Shimmy Up. I found this move quite challenging. You have you arms at a L-shape to the body and move them up and down. This moved into a dual 90 Degree Shoulder Shrug, again very challenging. I had to take a brief break. Next up was Basic Shoulder Shrug, which honestly felt good after the 90 Degree moves. Shaun T continued the standing work with Standing Rocketman.
Finally it was time for back (and to give the shoulders a rest) with Reciprocating Lawnmower. Scott does this on the pull-up bar. This is followed by Deadlift + Knee Raise, left then right. Shaun T had you do the deadlift holding on leg back to make it a balance move. This leg then comes up for the knee raise. Deadlift + Shoulder Shrug is the following move. Here you do a more traditional deadlift with both feet on the floor.
It's back to the ground for Reciprocating Push Press. Shaun T has you do this with your head up to engage your abs. This transitions to Dual Push Press + Knees 90 Degrees, followed by Reciprocating Push Press + 90 Degree Hold, then Dual Push Press + Scissor Legs.This entire set of moves was quite hard. I had not done push presses before. This move sort of reminded me of the 90 Degree standing moves. Both were new to me and a good set of challenges.
Up next was Down Dog + Plank. Shaun T intensified this into Down Dog + Alternating Leg Plank, then Down Dog + Alternating Leg Push-up. The Down Dog + Alternating Leg Push-up was super challenging and modified by Tanya. Down Dog + Oblque Push-up was next; again Tanya modified just doing oblique push-ups on her knees.
Time to stand up (thank goodness!) for High Hook and then Low Hook + Squat Hold. This bit of cardio recovery was very welcome after the difficult plank sequence. Low Jack Uppercut was the next cardio move, followed by Crossdown Punch Jack.
Back to more strength moves. Superman Pulse on the floor. Again, this could be done with very light weights or no weights at all. Rocketman Pulse completed the set. I was fairly fatigued at this point and was very happy to do these moved without weights.
Stand up for Single Leg Dual Curl on the left then right. I like using balance moves with weights because it really works your core. This move is a favorite from my twice-weekly class at the Smith College gym. Next up was Single Leg Tricep Press, left then right.
The next move was basically impossible for me: Arm Push-up Jack. Woah! I can jack my feet and do a push-up, but this was too much. Arm Jack + Knee In was next. I had to modify both these moves to standard push-ups with Tanya.
Next was 4-Count Curl Press on the left then right (standing leg). Both arms did a bicep curl into a shoulder press. My arms were shaking at this point. Just one minute to go! Shaun T then moved more quickly through this set with 2-Count Curl Press on the left then right leg. Almost there! And finally...TIME!
Rip't Up is definitely a difficult upper body set. I felt like I got my 25 minutes worth for sure. Seth really went for it during the day I watched him and reports that his arms have never felt tired like this! He echos what I said about the Jack Push-ups being the most challenging move of the program.
It's a fun workout, but by the end you are super fatigued. The 4-Count Curl Press feels so much more challenging than one would think. Seth also likes the strength moves combined with the balance moves. It helps focus the energy on the resistance training because you really need to focus on form.
This workout is an excellent extension of Upper Focus into something more difficult. Like The Pyramid, the weights stay in your hand almost the entire time.
To sum it up, if you're short on time, this is an amazing stength workout. I think it will take a while to master this one. I can definitely see the change in difficultly from Beta to Gamma. As someone who has done Insanity and Asylum, I can say that the Gamma Cycle workout have lots of moves that are just as difficult as those other programs. Pick it up!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hydration Pack Review: EMS Squito

After months of searching and online research, I finially found and purchased a hydration pack for my long runs. I've been doing a lot of running (for me) lately, and was growing tired to having to always have my hands busy with the hand-held bottle that I own. I'd been wanting for a while to purchase a hydration pack -- a belt had already been ruled out last time I searched for a hyrdation system.
I ran into a number of problems in my search for a hydration pack for running:
1. Most hydration packs seem designed for biking and didn't have the straps to make them secure enough for running.
2. Many hydration packs were too big for me, since I am very petite. Also, I only need a small amount of water because my longest runs are only in the 10 to 11 mile range.
3. The straps for securring many hydration packs cut right across my bosom. Judging by this feature and the number of large packs I saw, it seemed most hydration packs were designed with a man's body in mind.
Last weekend, however, after an unsuccessful trip to the local running store, we ended up at Eastern Mountain Sports. There they had a pack that seemed to meet all my needs. It was small , 2 liters, and designed for multisport use, including running. And a steal at $60 (plus I got 15% off by signing up to be an EMS member). The pack: Squito.

The pack has the following features:
  • Two nifty storage areas, one inside and one outside the pack.
  • A chest strap that can be moved up and down (to above or below bosom level, in my case).
  • A waist strap.
  • 2 liter bladder. This, unfortunately, does not have a detatching/adjustable hose. However, on the plus side, the bladder does feature a fold-over closure which opens wide on top making airing out and adding water a snap.

I took the pack out for a quick 3 mile run to test it out today. I spent some time in the house adjusting it before hand. Here are a couple of "selfies" so that you can see how the small the pack is.

The short run with the pack went quite well. I loved having my hands free!
  • The pack was very lightweight. It was easy to forget about it.
  • There was very minimal jostling of the pack on my back. All the straps made it stay put.
  • The small size was great. It didn't get in the way.
  • It was fairly easy to drink out of the pack. Water flow seemed smooth.
  • Not having to hold anything in my hands!!!
  • The stop of the straps where they meet near the neck chaffled against me a little bit. This might be resolved as the straps get broken in. Otherwise I'll have to figure out a solution. The chaffing wasn't terrible, but it was annoying.
  • The pockets are great, but hard to access while running since they are on your back. It would be basically impossible to get anything in or out once the pack is strapped on.
It was hard to get my cell situated in the pack after activating the GPS for the running app. Also, I would have loved a small pocket to put gels on the the front of the straps. It seems silly to put them in my shorts when I'm wearing a pack, but I might have to for easy access.

Overall, I'm very excited about the EMS Squito hydration pack. I think that it's just what I've been looking for: a small hydration pack that fits a petite woman. The 2 liter capacity is more water than I'm likely to need. Afterall, it's not like I am running marathons.

I'm also very happy with the color of the pack: black. I'd seen one or two packs online for women, but they were all a bright pink, a color I dislike. (And, seriously, why are all sports things designed for women just a smaller version of the men's colored pink? Not all women like pink. And we're mostly not shaped like men.) The black is great if I decide to take this pack on any of my obstacle course races because it will hide the mud stains.
I just have to work out the bit with the straps bothering the back of my neck, and I think all my hydration needs will be met. I'm excited to take it out on more runs this fall.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Focus T25: The Pyramid

Today, Seth did workout four from Gamma, The Pyramid, a (naturally) pyramid style workout. Again, weights or bands were needed for this workout. Andy had bands, Tanya had some lighter weights, and Scott had heavier weights.
Shaun T sharted with Slow Control Jog. This was followed by Jack Feet, then Double Jack Feet, then Front Raise Jacks, which got everyone warmed up. Next up were Push Jump Off Knees, similar to half tuck jumps, to warm up the triceps and get the heart rate up. After three minutes, the "warm up" section was over.
Now it was time to pick up the weights for Hammer Curl + Squat. Shaun T had you increasing the number of hammer curls before each squat for the pyramid on this move. The move increased up to eight curls. Next up was Dead Lift + Upright Row. Here the both the number of dead lifts and the number of upright rows increased up to six reps.
Drop weights. The next move was Front Kick + Side Lunge; again both the number of kicks and the number of lunges increased with each set up to six reps. Shaun T had everyone do this move on the left side and then the right. This exercise had you moving quite quickly and definitely got the heart rate up -- it was a cardio move. The cardio continued with Up + Over, a move familiar from the Speed workouts. This seemed to be a recovery move. At this point, Seth was about 10 minutes into the workout.
Again, it was time to get back into another pyramid. Down Dog + Pike-up. There was one Down Dog each time through, and just the number of Pike-ups increased up to eleven reps. Tanya modified this move with knee taps in plank. This was definitely the most challenging move of the workout. Seth struggles with pike-ups and had some difficulties with this move the first time through the workout. This is definitely something he wants to work on outside of when he's doing T25.
Clean Press + Walk Up + Back was the next move. This was more of a bicep curl with a shoulder press in my mind and only the Clean Press increased pyramid style up to seven reps.
After that it was back to cardio. Left Arm Hook + Squat. The squats were hop/jack squats (modified by Tanya) and both the number of squats and number of hooks increased up to seven of each. Naturally, this was followed by Right Arm Hook + Squat. The next move was more cardio, Jack + Speed + Agility, which was not done as a pyramid.
Back to strength moves. Child's Pose + Push-up, with the push-ups increasing in number to nine. They did the push-ups fairly quickly. "Oh, shiznizzy!" said Shaun T at some point. Seriously, that was a ton of push-ups. I would say this was the second hardest move of the workout. Following this was Same Arm + Same Leg on the right then left. This move looked like it works the abs very nicely, making it up to eight reps on each side.
Back to the dumbbells. Tricep Press + Release to 90 Degrees, which worked the triceps and biceps. Shaun T had everyone doing seven presses. Only the number of presses increased.
Cardio time with Shuffle + Knee Heisman, familiar from other workouts in Beta and Gamma. The cardio "rest" was short lived, but at this point there was less than a minute left. Shaun T ended with 5-count Butterfly to work the abs. He began to cound more and more slowly, having people extend the ab work on each side. Time!
The Pyramid is a great total body workout with a good blend of cardio and strength training, incorporating both body-weight moves and hand weights. Pyramid workouts are always killer, and Shaun T does a great job putting together a dynamic, challenging, engaging pyramid-style program. While the focus, as it is through all of Gamma Cycle, is more on strength-building here, there is definitely enough cardio to mix things up and make you feel "cross trained".
At certain times during the workout, Shaun T had everyone moving more quickly through the moves with the dumbells. Since this was his first time through, Seth said he was worries that he wasn't maintaining form as he tried to keep up with the workout. This is definitely something I think that he will feel more comfortable with as he gets more accustomed to the moves, but it's something to keep in mind your first few times through the DVD.
Overall, Seth felt the workout was fun because it was the only one of the kind in the program. It felt more like "traditional weight lifting" to him because you're trying hard to do more reps. He liked the uniqueness and feels when he gets more familiar with the moves he'll have even more fun with it. He wants to focus the most on getting better with push-ups and pike-ups.
This is the last Gamma workout Seth had to try, so for the next few weeks, he'll be moving through these four workouts. I'll catch-up with him doing Rip'T Up early next week, and let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Focus T25: Extreme Circuit

Today, Seth did the third workout on the T25 Gamma calendar, Extreme Circuit. (Note: I missed seeing Seth do the second workout, Rip't Up, because I was at work. Review will follow next week when he does it again while I'm home.)
The workout started with weights in the hands and their barely left throughout the 25 minutes. The first move was Alternating Heel Taps. Next it was right into strength training with Upright Row. This was followed by a Dual Shoulder Press. The people on the DVD were using anywhere from what looked like 5 to 12 pound weights. Andy used resistance bands, maybe a 20 lb. band. Next up was Alternating Knee Crunch. Shaun T had you holding your weights at 90 degrees while alternating the knees.
Then it was time for the Burn Out: Heel Taps, Upright Row, Dual Shoulder Press, and Alternating Knee Crunch. This was the first Burn Out that we'd seen in some time.
After the Burn Out, we were about 5 minutes into the workout. The next move was Alternativing Front Kick 90 Degree Hold. Scott, Shaun T's husband, showed this move using a pull-up bar; it looked killer hard. After that, it was Dual Hammer Curl which transitioned into Hammer Curl + Squat. Next was 90 Degree Straight Leg Hold on the left and then right. At this point, Seth looked over at me and said, "This is intense!"
Time for Burn Out #2: Alternativing Front Kick 90 Degree Hold, Dual Hammer Curl, Hammer Curl + Squat, and 90 Degree Straight Leg Hold. Ten minutes down; fifteen to go.
Up next were Weighted Burpees. Scott did pull-up burpees and earned my undying respect. Seth's burpees looked great, which is especially excellent since this is a move that he struggled with in the past. After that it was Tricep Push-ups. Shaun T kept the weights in hand for this move and used them to get a broader range of motion. The next move was Weighted Squat. A basic move, but one that is a classic for a reason -- it works. Following that was Plank Crunch, where you were in plank and did knee taps. Again, Shaun T had everyone keep their weights in their hands for this.
Burn Out #3: Weighted Burpee, Tricep Push-up, Weighted Squat, and Plank Crunch.
With ten minutes left, Shaun T had everyone drop the weights and start to do Elbow Mountain Climbers. Instead of doing floor sprints in full plank, this move had everyone doing floor sprints in low plank on your elbows. After that it was Burpee + Front Kick, a move that we had seen in Core Speed and Speed 3.0. Following that it was Reciprocating Bicep Curls in a lunge position, first with the left leg forward, then the right. Next was Plank Walk + Spider Lunge on the floor. It was just one plank walk in each direction and then one spider lunge on that side. One left, one right, one left, one right. So on and so forth. For this round, the only move that used the weights was the Reciprocating Bicep Curls.
Burn Out #4: Elbow Mountain Climbers, Burpee + Front Kick, Reciprocating Bicep Curls, and Plank Walk + Spider Lunge.
Five minutes left. It was time for Wide Fly + Hip Thrust. Then it was Shoulder Press Twist. Shaun T had everyone in a lunge rotating side to front to side and doing a shoulder press each time you rotated. Following that it was Walking Ski Abs. Instead of jumping the Ski Abs side to side, like you do in Insanity, you had to take little steps side to side and slowly move from side to back to side. Next was Deadlift + Hammer Curl. For the Deadlift, Shaun T had you bend over and lift one leg to the back (side to side) to make this a balance move in addition to a strength move.
Burn Out #5: Wide Fly + Hip Thrust, Shoulder Press Twist, Walking Ski Abs, and Deadlift + Hammer Curl.
Overall, I liked how this workout mixed work with hand weights along with floor work that used your body weight as resistance. There was a good blend, which kept things interesting and challenging. Definitely a solid bit of strength training with excellent variety. I can't see getting bored with this workout.
Seth reports that the toughest moves were the Walking Ski Abs, which just felt kind of odd. He also thinks that he needs to work on the Tricep Push-ups. Other than that, he said it was really fun...but hard. The static holds you had to do with the weights while doing dynamic moves were definitely a challenge and fatigued the muscles.
This is the hardest strength workout he's done for T25, but he says the strength workouts are some of his favorite. I'm excited to hear how Seth will like The Pyramid workout tomorrow!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Focus T25: Speed 3.0

Gamma is in the house! Based on his love of T25, Seth ordered the bonus Gamma Cycle, which consists of four new workouts: Speed 3.0, Rip'd Up, Extreme Circult, and The Pyramid, all of which focus more on strength building than the other rounds of T25. (We purchased the DVDs only, but there is an option where you can also get a mini mat and bands with the Gamma DVDs.) Gamma Cycle includes a calendar for a month of Gamma. There is also a hybrid calendar for doing a Focus T25 workout that focuses on strength and uses workouts from all three Cycles of T25.
Today, since he completed the standard T25 program last week, Seth did the first Gamma Cycle workout, Speed 3.0. Like the Alpha and Beta Speed workouts, this workout it was designed in rounds. One interesting aspect of this workout is that Tanya does not do any modifications. She does modifications in some of the other Gamma workouts, just not for the Speed 3.0 workout.
The workout started Round One with Out + Out Turn followed by 180 degree Quick Feet Up + Back, adding some directionality to the normal Up + Back move. Next was 1-2-3 "T", which seems to basically be the Crossword move from early Speed workouts. Next up was Moving Quick Jabs, again a familiar move from past speed workout. After that it was Hop Hop Turn.
Next things started getting intense with a Push-up with In + Out Abs, a burpee style move. Then it was Jab + Power Lunge. I could see that Shaun T was mixing moves together in a much more complex way in Gamma.
Up next was a move I remembered from Core Speed, Squat Hop + Crisscross. After that was another burpee move, Burpee + Plank Walk. This was followed by Plie Jab, where you do jabs in a plie squat position.
After this, Shaun T had everyone start again at the top of Round 1 with the Out + Out Turn and go through all of the moves for the second time and third through Round 1. Again, as with other Speed workouts, each round had you transitioning through moves more quickly than the time before. After three times through the first set of moves, it was time for Round 2.
Round 2 started with "T" Drop + Alt. Knee in, where you do two plie squats with your arms out in a "T" shape and then do a couple of alterating knee raises. This was followed by a Burpee + Spider Lunge and then Jab + Squat Thrust. Next up was more burpees, Burpee + Push-up Jack. Yikes -- push-up jacks are seriously hard. Seth found this to be the hardest move in the workout. I would recommend modifying this to a normal push-up for people new to this move and then working to add in the push-up jacks as you gain strength and familiarity with the move.
After the burpee craziness it was Speed Knee Up + Over, a familiar move from Speed 1.0. Then back to more burpees -- woah! -- Burpee + Ski Abs, which those of you who have done Insanity will remember. Seth loves Ski Abs and really enjoyed this move. Up next was followed by 2 + 2 Power Knee.
It was then back down to the floor for a Burpee + Pike-up, where you did a burpee into two pike-ups on the floor and then back-up. Next was Power Squat + Jog back. It seemed at this point that Round 2 was going to alternate standing moves with burpees.
This was proved true when the next move was Burpee + Front Kick, a move from the bonus Core Cardio workout. The last burpee move finished out Round 2, and it was back to the top for two more times through with quicker transitions before moves.
Round 2 seemed killer to me, and I was just watching Seth. I would say it definitely rivaled the Insanity workouts for difficulty and seemed even more difficult than the very challenging Core Speed workout. Gamma is definitely for those of you who have made it through T25 Alpha and Beta. Seth did great with the challenge and had to do very few modifications, basically only substituting standard push-ups for the jack push-ups, and kept moving strong throughout.
After going through Round 2 twice, there were just under six minutes left to the workout. Shaun T gave everyone a quick Jog Recovery for everyone to "Focus." Then it was time to take it from the top!
Shaun T took it from the Out + Out Turn all the way through all the moves in Round 1 and Round 2 until that last Burpee + Front Kick. The workout moved through all the moves "From Top" two times, moving through the moves more and more quickly.
The burpee is a very challenging move and this workout had it in spades. Crazy! This is definitely excellent cardio that incorperates strength training moves using your body as resistance, in the style of Insanity. I would say you would want to be very familiar with the burpee and be able to do it with good form before attempting this workout. There are no modifications offered, so you should be really for a challenge. Doing T25 Alpha and Beta will prepare you, especially if you feel you're doing those workout very successfully.
For the first time (or more) through Speed 3.0, it might be a good idea to take things slightly slower than the participants in the workout. If you can't do burpees quite as fast, it would work fine to do the moves slightly more slowly as you build familiarity with the workout and also to maintain good form.
Seth's take on Speed 3.0: It's hard! He did the first workout from Insanity, Plyometric Cardio Circuit, last last week and found this workout to be even harder. While Insanity: Plyometric Cardio Circuit has some floor work, Speed 3.0 is all up and down, up and down with the burpees every other move. As the intervals get shorter, it's very hard to keep with the participants in the DVD as they quickly transition from burpee to a standing move to another burpee. You have to move very quickly through the burpee to make it to the standing move. You really need to focus on being strong, maintaining good form, and moving fast.
Speed 3.0 is a great cardio workout that will need to be attempted many times for mastery. I think it's the most challenging of the T25 workouts that I've seen. It makes me excited to see the rest of what Gamma Cycle has to offer!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gulf Beach Half Marathon

Saturday, Seth and I got up bright and early to travel to the Gulf Beach Half Marathon, along the shoreline, in Milford, Connecticut. We had driven down to my mother's house in Bethany Friday after work, so we only had a twenty-five minute drive to the race start.

We arrived at the Gulf Beach recreation area at around 7:15 a.m., 45 minutes before the race start. Registration was a breeze. I got a t-shirt and bag with some Clif Bar samples and ads for other races. Before the race was scheduled to start, I decided to join the line for the restroom. This part of the race was not well organized. They had very few restrooms and portable restrooms provided for the 800 person race. Lines were massive. I didn't have a problem, but I am sure others did. (They ended up delaying the race start by ten minutes because of the long lines for the bathroom.)

At around five minutes to the 8:00 a.m. race start, I lined up on the road in front of the rec area.

There were quite a few people. The weather was cool, in the mid-50s, but sunny and pleasant. A good day weather-wise for a run.

After brief announcements, we were off! The 13.1 mile course was an out and back along the Milford shore line. 

 Seth put together a nice video talking about the out and back course while he waited.

The course took us out of the Gulf Beach area and along Gulf Street past some amazing houses. We then wound our way through a few Milford neighborhoods along the shoreline. We headed towards what I believe to be the downtown area and over a bridge that crossed what seemed to be a popular fishing area.

We passed a marina and were once again running through some residential neighborhoods along the coast. The next part of the course was my favorite: a run along the Silver Sands State Park boardwalk. This was the most lovely mile or so of the run.

The race then transitioned back into a residential area along the coast. This neighborhood was dotted with local businesses. This was probably the most dull part of the run. You couldn't really see the beaches, and these houses were less exciting than the ones close to Gulf Beach. The half-way point of the race was located at the Audubon Society, where we were able to fill up on water and GU energy gels before heading back the way we came.

The race brought us all the way back to Gulf Beach, duplicating the route outward. The last 0.1 miles however were run on the sand of the beach. This might have been fun as a concept (finish a beach run on the actual beach), but after running for 13 miles, it was a bit rough on the legs and made a fast finish difficult. 

While I definitely enjoyed myself on this race, I did not have as strong of a performance as I had hoped. During training, I had the most amazing time and great performance on my long runs. I was hoping to PR this course with a time of 2:23, which would have beaten my time at Hogsback by 5 minutes. This seemed a reasonable goal. I consistently ran 10:59 miles during training and felt mentally strong. I also had given up the 4:1 run/walk strategy I used when training for Hogsback in favor of running straight through with breaks only to drink or take a gel.

I ended up finishing the Gulf Beach Half Marathon in 2:29, slightly over a minute slower than my time at Hogsback. Not terrible, but not the improvement I anticipated either.

The interesting truth about races is how you feel on race day can make or break a race. This is one of the reasons that, in some ways, I prefer training to racing. Success during training can take many shapes and you have many opportunities to get it right; there is only one race day. In a way, I race because I love to train. Even more so, I like to train with focus and preparing for a race gives me that focus.

I went into Saturday well prepared from my training, however, things didn't really come together on race day. I think there were a lot of factors here. One major factor was that Gulf Beach came on the heels of a very hectic and stressful week at work where I was working long and erratic hours. This definitely had an impact on my sleep schedule and my ability to focus.

I talked a lot in my previous post about how I had been mentally training for this half marathon. Keeping mentally focused during a long run of two plus hours is a lot of work -- it requires great effort. On Saturday, I was not able to stay as focused as I wanted. I kept disassociating in a way that wasn't helpful to hitting my goals. I wasn't able to make it to a place where I was really focused on breaking down my mileage to small chunks (not thinking about the whole 13 miles in one large bunch) and really enjoy running the mile I was in. As a result, I felt slightly more tired than I even think I was physically.

I think that the experience of doing some looping in training was a good preparation for the out and back course -- I was used to seeing the same scenery a couple of times during a run.  More of interest psychologically was something I didn't consider when running by myself -- the effect of seeing people returning from the mid-point of the run when you had not yet reached that point. At first it was inspiring to see the most elite running streaking past, but once the runners started to be more familiar -- people "like me" -- it was challenging to not wish you were where they were.

Another challenge during this run was how windy it was. The course was very very flat. I'm used to training on rolling hills, so I thought that I would have an advantage, however, running into the wind was almost as tiring as running up hill. It's hard to simulate blustery beach wind when you're training inland, like I do. In a way I would have preferred a slightly rolling course with less wind. The rolling hills would have served to break up the monotony of running on flat land, and have been more of what I was used to. This is definitely something I have to consider more for training. I know that in training you want to simulate race day as much as possible. I did do some flat running on the bike path, which was definitely a help, but wonder if there is someway I could have prepared myself for the breeze. Maybe just reminding myself that I will face windy conditions on a beach run will be good enough to prepare myself for next time. I definitely think that the wind had an impact on my speed.

All this said, I made it to the half way point, 6.55 miles, feeling more or less fine. I got some extra water and GU and began to head back. I wasn't going as fast as I had hoped, but I was still keeping up with my plan of running straight through (albeit at a pace closer to 11:20 than 10:59).

I have best luck taking my GU if I split them up. When I take an entire one all at once, it upsets my stomach; perhaps because I am so small. I had taken half a GU at mile 4 and finished it at mile 5, just like in training. I took another GU at mile 8 and then took the second half at mile 9. I must have not split up the GU too evenly because it made me feel a little overloaded and slightly nauseous. Mile 9 was a tough one.

Mile 10 went fine, but after that fatigue took over. I wasn't mentally as strong as I had hoped. I tried to focus my mind, saying, "Just three more miles," but had some difficulty. I brief chat with a fellow runner helped on mile 11, but mile 12 was the longest mile I could have imagined. I knew there was just one mile left, but somehow my mind couldn't make my body feel as motivated as I needed to be. I ended up taking a couple of unplanned walk breaks.

I pulled myself together for the last half mile. I could see the end was in sight and knew that Seth and my mom were waiting for me at the finish line. I pulled myself together and said, "Come on -- you can do this!" I pulled myself towards the end of the race. When I hit the sand, I knew I could make it. I heard my mom and Seth yelling encouragement. I pulled to the finish line closing out my race in just a minute over my last half marathon time.

After getting my finishers medal, I met up with Seth and Mom and thanked them for their congratulations. It was here, post-race, that I think the success of my training showed. (A bit late maybe, but at least it's something.) I felt completely wrecked after Hogsback -- tired, dizzy, and achy. In contrast, I felt okay after Gulf Beach. I walked around a bit, did some stretching, and ate a tiny bit. (I don't eat too much immediately after a race because it bothers my stomach -- I usually wait a half hour or so.) Both Saturday and today, I don't feel overly tired or sore, which goes to show what another season of regular running can do for preparing the muscles for the rigors of running 13.1 miles.

I definitely enjoyed the Gulf Beach Half Marathon. It was a beautiful day, the course had some really lovely sections -- especially Silver Sands State Park boardwalk -- and it was great to have Seth and my mom cheering me on at the finish line. 

Because the race didn't go exactly to plan, I'm considering a second half marathon for this fall. I want to continue to train with a goal in mind and have a chance at a really great race day. My fall schedule, mostly because of work, is very hectic, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to make this plan happen. Still I'm looking for something in the time frame of mid-October to mid-November. I only have one race scheduled for the fall at this point, the Cider Donut Run 10K in Amherst, on Sunday, November 3, a must-do because I loved last year's race so much. This leaves me a lot of free space on my race calendar; I'll have to see if my personal and work schedules can accommodate. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Picnic at Mount Pollux and Thoughts on Half Marathon Training

This evening, Seth and I had our long-awaited picnic at Mount Pollux, a conservation area in Amherst.

You can access Mount Pollux from South East Street (if you head south past the South Amherst Commons.) There is a small parking area from which we were able to walk up a short path to where we decided to picnic.

The weather was perfect, sunny and in the mid-sixties. The air was slightly crisp -- it's getting to be fall time. In fact, this is my last weekend before my evening and weekend hours start at work. The picnic was a great way to celebrate.

We were able to situate ourselves in the shade of a big tree and took out our picnic items, purchased at Whole Foods with wine from Hardwick Winery, which we picked up on our adventure last weekend.

Seth picked out rosemary crackers and goat cheese. I got some wine biscuits, brie, and a cheddar with caramelized onion. We also got some Genoa salami and a cranberry pomegranate pepper jelly. We spontaneously added two beef sticks to our order at checkout.

We shared all the items and enjoyed sipping on our Yankee Girl blush wine with the cheese, crackers, and meats. (The rosemary cracker with cheddar and pepper jelly was my favorite combo.) We also enjoyed the beautiful views. I definitely want to come back up here when the fall foliage is at its height.

As a bonus, Seth wore his UMass hoodie, which he wore on one of our first dates in college almost eight years ago. Memories!

This was a great way to "end the summer." I know there are formally a couple more weeks left, but now that my evening hours are starting, it feels like summer is pretty much over. 

Our picnic was also a really nice way to end a very relaxing weekend. Other than our picnic we spent the entire weekend at home, which was great. This allowed me time for my last big run before my half marathon on Saturday. 

I did ten miles this Saturday and felt great. For my last half marathon in fall 2012, I did 4:1 run/walk intervals. However, this time I've been running straight through! This is a big deal for me. I am only stopping to walk to take some quick sips of water or eat a gel. (I find it hard to eat and run.) I've been making myself start out slow and keep to 11:00 miles, which is around 75 seconds slower than my 5K pace. (I can finish a 5K in 29 minutes, change and a 10K in 59 minutes, change.)

I'm feeling really good about this strategy. My ten mile run this weekend felt amazing. I think one of the reasons I've been having success running straight through, when I couldn't last year, has to do with a few things in addition to careful pacing. 

1. When I go out to run ten miles I don't think in my mind, "Oh, wow. I have to run ten miles," like I used to. I break out the distance in my mind. I stay mentally in the mile that I am in. This sounds simple, but it's really very hard. 

Running is so much more mental than any other physical activity I have ever done. It's relentless. The best runs are better than any other fitness I have every done. The worst runs are the wost thing ever. Running has such extremes, and it's easy to go from one to another. 

The mental piece and staying mentally motivated and engaged is a huge piece. I've been doing a lot of practice to this end for this half marathon, and I think it's paying off. I am enjoying my runs more and feeling more successful. I might not be that much faster, but I don't care. I am having a blast on most of my runs. Way more than I used to. 

2. I am employing a strategy called looping. This is where you do multiple lapse of the same route. In my case, I am doing lapse of Echo Hill. The lap is around four to five miles (depending on how many side streets I explore.) I do two laps of whatever distance I need for my long run of eight, nine, or ten miles. 

The strategy of looping is doing a lot for helping me stay mentally focused. The looping does a great job of breaking the run up into manageable chunks. I don't focus on having to run ten miles. I have to do five miles. Twice. The loop I run for my long runs is a loop I run very very often, so it's always easy to tell where I am and how close I am to my goal.

In the past, I had always gone exploring on my long runs. This is definitely fun, but doing an out-and-back route always seems so long. When I'm close to home, doing the Echo Hill loop everything seems "easy" because I am close to home and running in familiar surroundings. Doing exploratory runs is fun, but sometimes it's helpful to stick to what you know!

After feeling good through training, I'm feeling good for next Saturday. 

All in all, this was a nice relaxing weekend with lots of time for running, relaxing at home, and the long-awaited picnic at Mount Pollux!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hardwick Winery

Let's go on an adventure! That's what Seth and I decided to do yesterday after junky weather spoiled our plans for a picnic at Mount Pollux in Amherst.

Our choice of adventure: a trip to Hardwick Winery in Hardwick, about a thirty minute drive away. Seth and I love the Amherst Farm Winery a couple of miles down the street from our house, and the Hardwick Winery is owned by a family member of the couple that owns the Amherst Farm Winery.

When we arrived at the Hardwick Winery the place was hopping. There were dozen of cars in the parking lot. This was way busier than any of the other wineries we had visited where there were usually only one or two other people. Hardwick Winery appeared to be a major operation!

The winery was housed in a lovely old bar and featured two floors and a patio. One could enjoy a glass or bottle of wine with snacks on the patio or on the main floor of the barn. The top floor featured a bar where the tasting took place. There were also a number of chairs all around the outside of the winery where you could sit and enjoy beautiful views of the grounds.

They even had acres of grapes. A large percentage of the grapes in their wine are grown by the winery and the rest are sourced very locally. 

The wine tasting was held at the bar upstairs. We were given six one ounce pours, which allowed up to sample all six wines that Hardwick Winery produces.

 We had the following wines:
  • Giles E Warner: This was billed as their dry white wine and was said to be "clean, clear, and crisp." It was a lovely white, but definitely not as dry as I expected. I found it to be fairly sweet for a "dry" wine. It was light and pleasing though. 
  •  Yankee Boy White: This was their sweet white, and it was definitely sweeter than the first. You could taste the fruit in this, but it wasn't overly cloying. 
  • Yankee Girl Blush: I am not usually a fan of sweeter wines, but this wine was amazing. It was very very fruity with peach and melon. You could taste the peach flavors so strongly. It would be a wonderful wine for a warm summer day. I could imagine sitting on our patio and enjoying a glass of this. Seth loved it as well, and we ended up getting a bottle. 
  • Massetts. Cranberry: The wine was 90% grapes and 10% Massachusetts cranberries. Amherst Farm Winery has a cranberry wine, and this one was much tarter. I actually think I prefer it -- I loved how you could really taste the tartness of the cranberries coming through the wine. The label recommends this wine as a compliment to a Thanksgiving dinner, and I could imagine that would be an excellent pairing. 
  • Hardwick Red:  The Hardwick Red was the dry red wine that Hardwick produces. It reminded me a lot of the Barn Board Red that Amherst Farm Winery produces. It was nicely dry and had peppery tones. I really enjoyed it, and think it would be delightful with red sauce or meat in the winter.
  • Quabbin Native: The last wine we sampled, Quabbin Native was a sweet dessert wine "perfect for holiday fare." This wine wasn't that memorable for me. It was a sweet wine, but not an exciting sweet wine. I would rather have it been more fruity or more... something. For my dessert wine, I'll stick the the Raspberry Chocolate Diva from Amherst Farm Winery.

 After our tasting, we decided that we would head home instead of staying to have a glass of wine. It was kind of crowded and loud, plus we didn't want to have too much to drink with a drive ahead of us. We liked a fair number of the wines. Luckily, they carry them at Atkins, so we have easy access for getting a bottle whenever we feel like it.

When we got home, it was still too humid and soggy for an outdoor picnic, so we improvised. Indoor picnic!

Seth set everything up and I made dinner -- caprese salad and whole grain bread with dipping oil. All of the herbs we used -- the basil in the caprese salad and the flavorful herbs in the dipping oil -- were all taken from our herb garden.

We had loads of fun at our indoor picnic. A great way to cap off our Labor Day weekend and the end of an enjoyable summer!