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I’m back in training mode — yippee!

Gosh, it’s been too long since I last posted here! After my big push to complete 1,000 running miles in 2013, it’s been nice to dial down the intensity just a bit, so there really hasn’t been much running activity to write about.

So far this year I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to simply run — as much or as often as I feel like — with no particular goals in mind. It’s a good time of year to be relatively fallow. January and the first half of February were unusually dry, but very cold. Then in mid-February the rain started, and it essentially hasn’t stopped raining since then. Think I’m exaggerating? In the 37 days since February 10, we’ve had over  8.50 inches of rain (about a third of our annual average), and we’ve had measurable rain on all but 7 of those days.

On a rainy, windy day with the temperature in the mid 40s, I have to talk myself into going out to run. Once I finally get out there, however, it’s usually easier to keep going. Therefore, most of my “casual” runs lately have ended up as 8 to 11 milers. An enduring benefit of my marathon training last year is that I still think of a 9 mile run as sort of a fitness baseline. I can knock it out in an hour and a half, no big deal.

Knowing that, I’ve allowed myself to be casual about training for upcoming spring races. I have no real concerns about my ability to run 13.1 miles on any given day. I’ve racked up over 200 running miles so far this year in this no-stress way.

But suddenly it’s mid-March and my trail half marathon is less than six weeks away! While I know I can go the distance, I have done very little trail running over the past year. I’d like to go out and run the trail on which the race will be held, but due to the stormy weather it has been plagued with downed trees (recently as many as 160 down at one time), to say nothing of mud. I confess… I haven’t run that trail even once this year.

I took this photo during a hike (not a run) on a different trail, but the same principle applies — when a landslide obliterates the trail, it’s a good idea to turn around. It’s hard to tell the scale from the image, but this slide was over 20 feet across.

Until conditions improve on my race trail, I’m improvising a training plan. I’m focusing on running hills, and throwing in bits and piece of local off-pavement trails whenever I can. Fortunately my immediate neighborhood is very hilly, so I don’t have to go far to do that sort of training. The other day I ran almost three miles straight up the road from my house, climbing over 850 feet, and then dove into the forest to return via a trail that was not TOO muddy. Now my plan is to adopt that route as one of my regular weekly runs, adding to the mileage and incorporating more of the trail as I go. Eventually I’ll get out there on that race trail — for sure I’ll get out there on race day!

So I’m optimistic about my upcoming race, and not stressing out about it — much. It’s my first trail half marathon, so it’s a guaranteed PR, right? I know I’ll be a couple of minutes per mile slower on dirt/mud/rocks/roots than I am on pavement. So I expect to amble in somewhere around the 2:45 mark, stuffed chock-full of wonderful endorphins. Then I’ll hoist my post-race beer with heartiness and glee.

What could possibly go wrong?

One step at a time!

So I’m not THAT tough

Almost immediately after I hit the “publish” button on yesterday’s post, in which I patted myself on the back for being a tough Pacific Northwesterner and running/biking/hiking in the rain, the skies opened and it began to pour. Undaunted, I reminded myself that I would too go downtown for the weekly beer run.

I decided that staying as dry as possible was a higher priority than ease of movement or maintaining a comfortable body temperature. I therefore dressed in multiple layers on the theory that this would give me more time before getting soaked all the way through to the skin. Walking from my car to the brewpub, I could already tell that my theory was going to be sorely tested. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that no other runners were there. Surely I was not going to be the only one crazy enough to run in this downpour!

Sure enough, after a few minutes one runner arrived. This is a woman whom I admire for her speed and toughness — she is a local role model for me. She looked straight at me and said, “No way am I running in this! I hate running in the rain!” I laughed and suggested that we just skip the running part and go straight to the beer. So we each had a pint, we swapped a couple of running stories, and then we both headed off to do other things.

So I’m not that tough. I had the most noble of intentions — but there was no point in my being the only person in town nutty enough to go out and run under those conditions. Maybe part of being tough is knowing that it’s okay sometimes to cut yourself some slack?

This morning was partly cloudy and beautiful, although a bit windy. I drove out to my favorite starting place and ran 4.5 quick miles along the waterfront. I noticed that the alders are leafing out at last. The whole world suddenly seemed to be a shimmering riot of green and blue.

Driving back home, completely wrung out but feeling strong and… tough… I found myself looking at people, buildings, birds, mountains, water, and sky — and simply loving my wonderful little town.

Everything looks more beautiful when you are in the midst of a runner’s high, don’t you think?

It’s spring! The cruise ships are arriving!

Every year about this time the cruise lines start moving their ships from their winter ports to their summer ports. This is the season of Panama Canal cruises and coastal cruises, as there is no point in moving empty ships from the Caribbean to Seattle! For those of us overlooking the waters of western Washington, the first sight of a cruise ship moving through the strait is a sure sign that spring has finally arrived.

My small town has a beautiful deep harbor. Every year or so one or more of these transitional cruises will include a stop here. Passengers have the opportunity to disembark, stroll through downtown, and enjoy the shops and restaurants. For the more adventurous, there is the option of taking an excursion tour to our mountains, rain forests, and rocky beaches.

Yesterday Holland America’s ms Oosterdam came to town. As it happens, this is an identical sister ship to the Westerdam, on which I’ll be cruising to Alaska at the end of July as a participant in the Great Alaskan Marathon. This is a staged marathon, meaning that we’ll run four races adding up to 26.2 miles during the week of the cruise. I’m excited about the opportunity to see Alaska, run on spectactular trails and through quaint (and steep) downtown streets, and mingle with a bunch of other runners for a whole week.

Yesterday, actually seeing a ship just like the one I’ll be on really ramped up my enthusiasm! I headed downtown for as close a look as possible. Security was rather tight at the dock, so I drove out to the hook (the natural sand spit that frames the harbor) for a panoramic view of the ship and the downtown area. It dwarfed my downtown!

The smaller ship you see on the far left is the ferry that takes cars and people from here to Victoria BC. That ferry is 341 feet long and carries 110 vehicles plus 1,000 passengers. The Oosterdam is 936 feet long and carries 1,916 passengers, 817 crew members, and all the restaurants, theatres, casinos, sport courts, swimming pools, and other assorted accoutrements that make up the cruising experience.

The large tan building just to the right of the Oosterdam belongs to a company that builds “super-yachts.” The largest model, built here in my town, is 163 feet and generally includes a heliport. Picture a 163-foot yacht emerging from that building — it’s huge! But it would look like a dingy next to the Oosterdam.

Back at my house later I could just see the Oosterdam from my bedroom window, but I had a panoramic view of it when it departed at 11:00 PM and glided out of the harbor, all lit up like a multi-layer birthday cake. Cruising season has begun! Later this summer, finally, I won’t be one of those watching from shore when my ship moves through the strait en route to Alaska.

Meanwhile, I continue to keep moving, adding bike rides and hikes to my 3-day-a-week running schedule. I’m getting some form of real-world exercise just about every day, which is why I’m blogging less even though I theoretically have more time in my post-corporate day. I’m still wobbly on the bicycle, but on my hikes (encouraged and accompanied by new friends) I’ve successfully met the challenges of steep hills and small stream crossings. I’m going to have to invest in rain gear, however, as I don’t much enjoy getting wet and cold.

In past years I would have retreated to my treadmill on anything less than a “perfect” sunny day, but I’m finally learning that life is too short to wait for a “perfect” day. So tonight is beer running night, and whatever the weather, I’ll meet running friends for a short run along the waterfront followed by wonderful locally-brewed beer.

Rain? Wind? Mud? Bring it on! I am a Pacific Northwesterner by choice, and this is my home.

Finally! The elusive sub-30 minute 5K

Way back on January 20 I wrote about my big hairy audacious lifetime-probably-impossible running goals for 5K, 10K, and half marathon. Of the three, a sub-30 minute 5K seemed the most doable, and I’ve been actively chasing that goal for a few months now. I’d gotten tantalizingly close with a 30:13 on April 4. I think I may have done it on April 6, but I forgot to check my watch at 3.1 miles so I can’t count it.

Today I did it, fair and square.

Although I’ve been home for two weeks, I somehow haven’t made it downtown for a Thursday evening beer run until tonight. The first week I was still too tired from four days of driving plus packing and unpacking, and I didn’t go. Last Thursday I didn’t go but I can’t recall why… perhaps it was raining.

This morning, even though it was raining, I woke up already looking forward to a brisk waterfront run followed by a wonderful locally-brewed beer.

I figured I’d run 3-4 miles tonight. The rain had stopped and it was a bit breezy but not too cold. Only three other people showed up,  but it was nice to be welcomed by running acquaintances whom I hadn’t seen in four months. The usual discussion of pace and distance ensued. They all said they ran “slowly,” in the 9 to 10 minute per mile range, and that they planned to run 3-4 miles. I shrugged and said that I’d be well behind them, while thinking to myself, “I can do that, and I can let them set the pace for me.”

They took off running, and I stayed with them. We were running along at about a 9:45 pace. Approaching the end of the first mile, they sped up. I did too, but I couldn’t keep up with them and had to let them go. I kept them in sight, however, and I kept pushing. I did the second mile (which included my turnaround point) in about 9:40. Then I did the third mile in 9:04. The last tenth of a mile was a waltz! I hit the stop button on my Garmin at 29:30 and walked the rest of the way back to the brewpub.

Mission accomplished! Big hairy audacious lifetime-probably-impossible goal smashed! I know, it was unoffical but I get to count it!

I celebrated with a lovely local porter — dark, sweet, and creamy.

Now I’ll have to set myself a new lifetime-probably-impossible 5K goal. Or maybe I’ll focus on the most doable of my remaining two original goals. Perhaps not on the hilly course of my hometown half marathon… but I think maybe, just maybe, a sub-2:30 half marathon is realistically attainable. Maybe at the lovely, flat Victoria race in October???

One step at a time.

Palm Springs half marathon — another PR

I ran my fifth half marathon this morning in Palm Springs, and although they still haven’t posted the official results online, I know what my watch said: I ran 13.25 miles in 2:37:44, beating my previous personal record by just over three minutes. I managed to do that despite a few problems along the way.

Why did I run 13.25 miles, you ask? Isn’t a half marathon supposed to be 13.1 miles? Well, yes, but race organizers always seem to add in a bit of extra distance just to make sure the course is official. At the “10 mile” sign this morning my watch said 10.09 miles, so I was anticipating a finish at about 13.20 miles. Then at about 11.5 miles I encountered an incompetent course worker who directed me to turn off the course. I was not close behind other runners at that moment, so it took me several yards to realize that after I made the turn, there was no one ahead of or behind me. I stopped, looked around, and saw runners going straight where I’d turned. I gently chided the course worker as I returned to where I should have been, but I was not at all pleased at that moment. All I can figure is that he failed to see me coming and was trying to direct a car on the street behind me to turn right. Fortunately the driver of that car was more aware than the course worker and did not run into me. So I ran a bit further than others today, and it probably cost me the better part of a minute to fully undo that mistake.

There had been strong winds here yesterday afternoon, and when I went to bed last night the forecast was for those winds to continue through today. Fortunately this morning everything was calm. It was 52 degrees when I left my condo to walk to the park, and I was feeling reasonably calm and confident. My first 8 miles went great. I kept telling myself to slow down but I was powering through the hilly sections and ticking off miles at a steady 20-30 seconds faster than my planned pace. I sort of knew it wasn’t sustainable, but I figured I could back off a bit in the later miles and still be fine, maybe even be able to run the entire distance without a walk break. However, at about 8.5 miles I realized I was very tired, it was getting warm, and I needed to walk for a while. From that point on, I needed walk breaks about every half a mile or less, and when I did run, I was slow. I’d missed those two planned long runs during this past month, which apparently set me up to hit the wall. I decided not to worry and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because I was still so far ahead of my planned pace that a PR was almost in the bag. And that’s exactly what happened, even with the off-course excursion.

I was running and smiling at the finish and even managed to raise my hands in the air and sort of skip over the line — or that’s what it felt like to me. We’ll see what the photographer actually captured.

I was surprised by the lack of support services at the finish line. We got water bottles and were directed to a tank to fill them ourselves. There was no visible food. Later I did see some food tents, so I walked over to them and found that they were charging for things like fruit juice that would have been given away at every other race I’ve done. They must have lost a major sponsor this year.

I was also surprised by the lack of spectators along the course. I think I saw one goofy hand-lettered sign the whole way. The volunteers at the water stations were unenthusiastic, and the workers who were directing traffic… well, you know what I thought of them. It gets tough, especially in those late, warm miles, when no one is out there smiling and shouting encouraging words.

After I stretched a bit and dealt with some unexpected leg cramps, I decided I might as well walk back home. Halfway home the wind came up and has been gusting ever since. The timing on the weather was perfect this morning, anyway!

So how did I do relative to those goals that I didn’t want to tell you about? I had three goals:

  • Personal record — done!
  • Run the whole way — not done
  • Finish at less than a 12:00 minute per mile pace — well, it depends.
    My official time is probably going to put me at about 12:04. My watch said I ran at an 11:55 pace for 13.25 miles. Had I not made the wrong turn, I think I would have shaved off 45 seconds and finished at just under 2:37, which would have given me an official pace of 11:59. So that’s two data points in my favor, and I’m gonna give myself credit for this one!

I’m very tired tonight, but I’m a slow HAPPY runner. I didn’t have a perfect trip yet managed another PR anyway. That tells me I still have room to get better at this.

This is me before the race start:

This is me after the finish. Yes, I’m sitting, leaning back against that tree, which is probably why I got the leg cramps:

And, in the great tradition of beer running, this is the “breakfast of champions” that I ate when I got home:

Overall, I’d have to rate this as a fairly awesome day.

Beer Run #3

Now that we’re back on standard time, it’s really dark by 5:30 in this part of the world. Even with a full moon, it’s dark. Even with a headlight, it’s possible to step into potholes and break your ankle in the dark. Even with a highly-reflective vest, it’s hard not to feel a little vulnerable.

I didn’t break any ankles or get hit by any cars, but I did slow down quite a bit. I slowed down not only because it was dark, but also because I dared to try running without knee braces for the first time in almost two years. Kurt had bought me those things way back, before my first half marathon, because my knees were bothering me a lot. I now know that these knees are probably going to be touchy forever, so I’ve continued wearing the braces even though they are now so worn out they probably aren’t doing me any good at all anymore. The reason I dared to try running without them tonight was because I finally bought myself some compression running tights, and the pair that I got are SUPER-optimized for knee support. I felt fine while I was running, but I won’t really know how well they worked until I get up tomorrow morning and try walking down the stairs!

The beer and socializing afterwards was great again. Then I repeated last week’s social whirl by turning up, tights and all, for the downtown art gathering. Everyone else in the room is actually artistic; I was goofing around on my iPad and now I’m blogging. Now, if I can get this app to do it, I’m going to be very brave and share my amazing artistic creation. Washingtonians may recognize this as my interpretation of the 14 Hands wine label that happened to be sitting in front of me.

Writing this, I can’t help but notice that it sounds like a perfectly chatty account of a perfectly normal life. Oh no, I’m almost boring! It’s rather good to relax and just have fun for a few hours when I can. Those moments are happening more often. It’s getting better.

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Beer runs and art

I approached my second beer run tonight determined not to try to keep up but just have fun running at a comfortable pace and then enjoy my post-beer run. We had a good crowd and I managed not to get left behind right at the start. It was COLD but at least it was calm and not raining.

I set myself a very modest goal of 4 miles at an 11:15 pace with no walk breaks. With no obsessive watch-monitoring, I ran 4.01 miles at an 11:15 pace. That’s almost scary — like maybe I’m starting to get a feel for this?

Afterwards I thoroughly enjoyed my beer and pizza, and then went just down the street to meet up with some friends who hang out and do art together on Thursday nights. We’re all here at a local gallery called Studio Bob. Others are sketching and painting; I’m blogging. But if I should dare to try this again next week, I think I’ll bring my iPad and create a masterpiece with Art Studio.

This is all silly stuff, and just about exactly what I need right now. Thanks for hanging in with me through the rough spots (past and future). Right now, in THIS moment, I am OK.

Will run for beer

OK. So we’ve established that beer is a powerful motivator for me. Anyone who knows me well knows that I do enjoy my beer, but the combination of running and beer always seemed a little odd — until I tried it. I guess my first run+beer experience was my race in June, but then I started following this guy who calls himself The Beer Runner. I found him first on Twitter and then I started reading his blog for Draft magazine. I’m not sure I mentioned it, but at the Victoria half marathon they were actually handing out beer at about 9.3 miles (I passed, but I made up for it at lunch afterwards).

It seems that beer running is becoming quite the thing — and when you think about it, it makes sense. At least when it comes to afternoon runs, nothing else quite quenches a post-run thirst like a good beer — carbs plus hydration equals all good stuff, right???

So tonight the North Olympic Running Club held its first of what I hope will be many beer runs, meeting at a local brewpub called Barhop. Maybe ten people showed up. It was cold, and darkness was already not far away at 5:30. I figured I’d take it easy, run 3-4 miles, and come back for a beer. I parked my car about a block away, and while everyone was milling around trying to decide what to do, I went to my car to put my jacket away (knowing that even though it was in the mid-40s, I’d be way too warm running with a jacket). As I was walking away from my car, I saw the whole group crossing the street in front of me — and then the signal turned and I stood there waiting while a bazillion cars went by. By the time I was able to cross, the pack was 1-2 blocks ahead and only three people were in sight.

Stupidly, I decided to catch up. Incredibly, I did catch up with and pass two people. I was running at an unsustainable (for me) pace of just under 10:30. It was starting to get quite dark, and I turned on my headlight and turned myself around at 1.75 miles. I took a shortcut back to my car to retrieve my jacket, finishing at 3.46 miles in just over 36 minutes, which is a 10:34 pace, which is faster than I’ve ever run even one mile in my slow happy running career. I didn’t catch my time at 5k, but it would have been a PR for me. I have never run three sub-11-minute miles back to back in my life before.

And then there was beer. It wasn’t free beer, but it was locally brewed and wonderful. The pizza was meatless, free, and good. I am a most definitely a slow happy runner tonight.

We want to make it a weekly thing, and it helps that the Barhop’s owners are runners. I had a great run and got to spend some time relaxing with fun people.

By the way, I saw my doctor this afternoon, who told me to stop worrying, take off the heart monitor, and enjoy running because I’m absurdly healthy. Those charts that say “NEVER exceed xxx beats per minute” based on an age formula are AVERAGES, and apparently I have a high-revving heart — which is something I actually first noticed way back in high school.

Oh — one more thing. I’ve been honored with another blogging award — thanks Conchsaladesque! But I can’t claim it until I’ve found five more new blogs to recommend. I think this is a plot by WordPress to make people read other people’s blogs — and it’s working! But it will take me some time to pass along this award. Stay tuned!