Friday, December 23, 2011

Race Report: Downtown Jingle 5K

Here we are, my final - and fittingly, 11th - 5K of 2011.

I gotta say, I was sad to see this day come. I love racing so much. I always say if I didn't run races, I wouldn't run at all. Training is boring, you need the payoff of a race.

Now I'm looking at weeks of half-marathon training before I toe my next starting line: March 3, 2012, not that I'm counting the days or anything. Ahem.

Anyway, before I get all nostalgic, let's recap the Downtown Jingle 5K, held in Providence, RI. I last ran in Providence in September and it was a huge, well-organized, fun race.

Per usual as of late, I was joined by my domestic running life partner, Sandy.

She is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and a person who overcame a chronic, debilitating illness to lose 50 lbs, get fit and get addicted to racing this year. You want an inspiration? Look her way, she's my hero.

We met at the registration area, which was in the Rhode Island Convention Center. This was great because it meant indoor toilets and heat. And a Merry Christmas to you, race organizers!

I love running with friends because they will take pictures of you. Goofy ones like at the top (in which I was trying to show off my bad-ass flexing muscle face, but it looks more like "I want to punch Sandy in the face" face - and I assure you I did not):

And hopeful before-the-race ones like this:

Amusingly, I was pretty much right on the money with my imagined starting position.

We got our bibs and then "warmed up" by toting our crap to and our gear from our cars. The weather was perfect: 50 and partly cloudy. A little chilly, but by Mile 2 that's a good thing.

Soon it was time to get lined up and take off. I really the like the Providence race series. It's very well organized, they have cool shirts and the courses are fun and interesting. Here I am looking toward the start line with the other 10-minute-milers.

Anyway, Santa let rip the starter's pistol and we were off. I had no idea what the course would be like, but I figured it would be pretty flat if earlier races in this area were any indication. After a half-mile I knew I had gone out fast, but I felt OK - good, even. At Mile 1, the gun clock was at 9-something, which means I put in a 10-minute mile. Wow.

I was also closely monitoring my lower back. I hurt it on Thanksgiving and had only run once (on a treadmill) since. That run went well, so I figured I was well enough to race. Before the race my back felt fine. And, so far during, it was good, too. It was a little stiffer than normal, but nothing that screamed "STOP AND WALK."

I was chugging along pretty well and by Mile 2, stiff back and all I was still running around a 10-minute mile. Maybe I could PR this. Maybe, just maybe, I could go sub-30.

Wow, what a way to end the racing year.

I knew if I wanted to finish in under 30 minutes, I had to hit the Mile 3 clock at 28-something. Anything 29 minutes and up would make it too close to call for the last tenth, even in a sprint. Soon it was Mile 3 and the clock read 29:15. Oh, well. If I sped it up, I could still PR.

So that's just what I did. I held a little back for the entire race to leave a little in the tank for the last tenth. I passed the Mile 3 clock and sped up as best I could, crossing at 30:42 and a 9:55 pace. 9:55!

What a great way to close my racing season. Sub-30 may have eluded me, but there's always next year.

Other notes:

  • It was neat when the National Anthem started and, like, 1,000 people solemly took off their Santa hats, reindeer headbands, etc., and placed them over their hearts.

  • The Tran-Siberian Orchestra's "Wizards in Winter" was the perfect pre-race, psych-up song for a holiday run. You hear that, Slattery's?

  • Jingle bells are not a good race giveaway. Why? Well, most people tied them to their sneakers. By Mile 2, most of the bells untied themselves, leaving a race course covered in loose, break-your-ankle bells.

    Sandy found a video of the finish line. I come across on the right at 2:06 right neat the end of Wham's "Last Christmas," which my BFF Ann would love.

    I have never seen myself run on a video. I always pictured myself as somewhat graceful when I run, not Kenyan by any means but, you know, smooth stride, efficient, compact.

    Rather, I look like a '70s-era Dodge stoner van about to lose all four wheels. Ugh.
  • Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Maintenance Weigh-In #4

    This one really, truly, pissed me off.

    Last month I made my personal goal and was hoping to drop just a few more pounds over November to get a little more wiggle room under that number.

    All fall I've been staying dead on plan with eating and exercise, yet seeing random gains for no reason or pattern I can discern.

    It's been very frustrating as I feel I've been doing everything "right" and yet gaining 1-2 lbs a week for no reason. I want to get closer to 155 than 160, so if I weigh-in and have some random, BS gain I'm still not over 160.

    I thought I had it licked by eating more to offset my high-intensity workouts. This past week I returned to bootcamp and running after tweaking my back on Thanksgiving. I thought the worst was behind me, which is why it was a giant kick in the ovaries to step on the scale at Weight Watchers yesterday and be rewarded with a +2 lb gain over my November official weight.

    2 lbs. For real? I have never, ever gained 2 lbs between weigh-ins - and certainly did nothing to earn that. I ate on plan and exercise my ass off and, for what? To gain 2 lbs? Argh.

    WW rolled out its Points Plus 2012 program changes this week, the biggest being the fewest number of Points a person can consume a day dropped from 29 to 26. I had been eating 29, plus my Activity Points and some Weeklies.

    This week I think I'll try sticking to 26 to see if that shakes anything up. Plus, since I reinjured my back on Monday and am off high-itensity workouts for the short term, I won't be earning any Activity Points for a while.

    I left the meeting frustrated, but not upset. I worked hard 4 weeks for a good number and got hosed. But I knew I did absolutely everything I could. I left nothing on the table and I gave it my best effort. It wasn't good enough today and that's OK. I don't like it, sure, but I'm not going to cry over it or anything.

    So, where to now?

    Well, December is a hell of a month to try and drop pounds, but I want to try. I am launching Operation 5 Freakin' Pounds, which if you sing it in the style of "Fiiiiiiiiiiive Goooooooooooooold Riiiiiiiiiiiings" from "The 12 Days of Christmas", is kinda fun.

    I'm going to keep trying. But in the back of my head there is a voice. And it says, "This may be it. Your body may just want to stay where it is, whether you like it or not."

    I may have to accept that, but I'm going to give it a little more time first.

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    In which I tweak my back

    Thanksgiving morning I was in a great mood.

    I had just returned home from a 5K, which I PR'd, thankyouverymuch.

    I was getting Thanksgiving dinner ready and excited to start the day. My son walked into the kitchen. He's so friggin cute, he came over and gave me a hug. So I picked up him, stayed standing straight and arms extended lifted his 40 lbs up and down a bit. He laughed, I put him down and went on my merry way.

    Then, about a half-hour later, I felt my lower back begin to protest. As the day went on, it got worse and I knew I absolutely tweaked it. Then it hit me, when I was lifting up my son, I didn't use or bend my legs. Guh, stupid.

    I first screwed up my lower back about 10-11 years ago. Nothing traumatic, but a combination of obesity and weak muscles led me to laying incapacitated on the living room couch in tears. Ever since, it's gone rogue 1-2 times a year, always after something embarrassingly innocuous, like getting off the couch, picking up a towel off the bathroom floor, etc.

    The last time I tweaked it was right before my birthday in September and I still have no idea what I did to cause that one.

    Ironically, in the dozens and dozens of hours of bootcamp and hundreds of miles of running I've done this year, I have never injured myself. And in bootcamp, there is some wacky shit going down. But our trainer is hyper-focused on form and always making sure we're doing things correctly.

    Which means, Paul, I basically need you to come move in and ensure I go about my daily life without physically being an idiot. Our couch is super-comfy, you'll love it.

    To recap, I don't get injured running, jumping, hopping or doing any number of crazy body-weight exercises, but I do hurt myself walking through a parking lot and picking up my son. Good to know.

    Anyway, once my lower back is tweaked, I'm screwed for 4-5 days. I iced it for 24 hours, then moved on to Icy Hot patches, hot showers, heating pads and 600 mg of Advil a day.

    I had to miss bootcamp the day after Thanksgiving and that pissed me off. But by Sunday, I felt things were progressing where I could work out a bit, so Sunday and Monday, I did 60 minutes each day on the elliptical. It felt OK, at least I knew I was doing any further damage.

    But I was still super stiff getting up in the morning and it hurt when I took a deep breath. Forget about sneezing or hiccuping - agony.

    It was still a bit balky on Tuesday, so my husband suggested I call the massage therapist, who worked me over that night and truly helped me out. She said I was all twisted up in my sacrum and the knots and trouble radiated all the way up my back, primarily on my right side.

    I woke up Wednesday morning feeling decent enough for bootcamp, so I went and did my best, modifying where I needed to. On Thursday, I felt good enough to run, so I went to the gym and did 30 minutes on the treadmill. My lower back was still a little stiff, but felt OK before, during and after running.

    Friday I went back to bootcamp again and had a good class, felt almost completely normal. Saturday was a rest day, thankfully, and Sunday I had my last 5K of the year.

    At this point, you may be wondering, "Why can't you just take the week off and not work out?" I'm at the point now where I honestly want to work out. If it's a workout day and I can work out, I want to. And if I don't, I am just not right all day.

    Being injured only makes me want to get healthy as soon as possible and get back to sweating. It's so weird. I used to hear people say things like, "If I don't work out, I'm off all day" and I'd think, Pffft, riiiight. But I get it now. I never, ever expected this, to suffer from this particular issue of loving exercise too much.

    The combination of feeling good after my Thursday treadmill run (which I know is not the same physically as running on pavement) and the general feeling of my back led me to the decision that yes, I could run that 5K Sunday. I made a deal with myself: If I feel poor during the race, I would walk.

    I got up Sunday morning and felt...normal. Normal! Yay! Race day!

    So I ran Sunday and ran fast. The course was flat, the weather was perfect. I was running fast and feeling excellent. No pain, all gain.

    I came home all happy and then...a few hours lower back was waving up at me with one finger. Aw, crap.

    I woke up this morning right back where I started from on Thanksgiving. Super stiff and in great discomfort. As in, can't lean or bend over to tie my toes discomfort.

    Complicating things is my official Weight Watchers Hey-This-One-Counts weigh-in is tomorrow. I worked 5 weeks to get that number and I'm not chucking it now by taking any ibuprofen, which causes me to retain water like a pool.

    Either you get this decision or you don't and I'm OK if you don't. You're either, like, "Yes, I would suffer for 24 hours, too" or "This woman should be committed."

    My husband, the voice of reason (and a person probably really sick of me smelling like a giant menthol cough drop) noted, "You really should go to the doctor."

    And he was right, while there's nothing to easily or really fix this issue, they can give me some awesome drugs that I can start enjoying after weigh-in tomorrow.

    I got an appointment with my nurse practitioner and she confirmed it is a back spasm, told me to lay-off high-intensity exercise until I felt better and wrote me a nifty prescription for Flexerol and big-ass Ibuprofen (the latter of which I will be bringing with me to my WW meeting and will pop as soon as I step off the scale).

    While talking to the NP, I noted the irony of getting hurt doing everyday junk yet not when working out very hard:

    "I thought being a healthy weight and greatly strengthening my body would prevent this sort of thing."

    "Not really," she said. "But you're strong and fit, so you'll recover faster."

    Strong and fit. A medical professional called me "strong and fit."

    I can assure you that has never happened, ever.

    This was a long, painful way to garnering a compliment, but I will take it and, after 10 am tomorrow, any drugs they give me.

    Race Report: The Stow Gobbler 5K

    Editor's Note: This post is a week overdue, but still worth posting.

    This was the most dangerous run I've ever encountered.

    Here I thought, What a fun way to spend Thanksgiving morning! and it became a Let's Just Not Get Hurt run.

    I always wanted to do a turkey trot, I thought it was amazing people got up on their day off, and came out in the cold to run a road race before starting their holiday.

    And crap, it was c-o-l-d. Thirty degrees at the start, a hat-and-gloves race for sure. I had running capris under my warm-up pants (which are now two sizes too big, attention, Santa...), but I was so cold I just decided to keep the pants on.

    I got a healthy dose of foreshadowing when I pulled into the parking lot, shut off the car and immediately watched a woman take a header. Black ice. Oh, frack.

    I am terrified of getting injured. Always have been and am even moreso once I did. Because hurt = no workouts.

    I got my stuff out of the car and gingerly headed to bib pickup, keeping an eye out for black ice. It had rained the night before and was literally freezing that morning, so the parking lot was slick.

    I soon spotted my domestic running life partner Sandy (pictured) who immediately said, "Did you see that woman fall?" We're on the same wavelength.

    As we made our way to the registration tent, the ice seemed contained to the parking lot, not the road, thank goodness.

    Feeling good coming off last week's race, I came into this one thinking perhaps I could PR it. I had no idea what the course was like, but when I hit 5K in last Sunday's 5-miler it was about 3 minutes faster than my previous 5K best. I figured it was a possibility.

    When it was time to line up, Sandy and I went mid-pack. It was a decent-sized field, about 800 runners, and we were jammed up on this little residential side street. Too many runners and not enough road. Never good.

    Then there was the makeup of the crowd: many families, which means lots of little kids. And that's great, don't get me wrong, but it's also dangerous because children run all over the place. Then we had strollers and walkers scattered intermittently through the crowd, too, also not awesome.

    I've tried to figure out how to write the next bit without sounding like a douche, but I feel it's impossible, so here goes:

    This race was full of people who don't race much, so their race etiquette was nonexistent. I'm not writing this because I'm a sip-your-tea-with-your-pinkie-up freak, but rather because it's dangerous. Race etiquette is really all about safety and knowing where the grown adults running quickly in front of and behind you are going to go/do so you don't trip, fall or injure them - or yourself - in any way.

    Race etiquette is pretty simple, it's just like driving: Slow/consistent-paced runners on the right in the travel lane, fast runners on the left in the passing lane. Walkers, strollers, etc. in the back. And, as always, look over both shoulders before you spit.

    So with a host of inexperienced racers, we had:

  • People in the wrong "lanes", running wherever. That's tough when you're used to being passed on the left and all of a sudden someone's jamming you up on the right. And, remember, most of us run with music, so we can't hear anyone coming up until they're right there. When you're not expecting someone on your right and all of a sudden, boom, here's an adult at your elbow, it's freaky and breaks your concentration, which was really at a premium in this race due to all the chaos.

  • Walkers where they didn't belong, namely front- and mid-pack. Walkers who quickly fell back and all of a sudden were strolling right in front of you, straddling both "lanes", like they were perusing the mall, forcing you to pull up and switch lanes quickly and hope there was a space to your left to get by.

  • Parents running with their children, getting several yards ahead of them and then just stopping dead in their tracks to look over their shoulder and find their kid. Here's my 2 cents: If you're going to run with your child (and it's something I hope to do someday) run with them. If you don't want to run that slow, don't race with them.

  • And, God bless them, kids darting here and there, running around wherever they felt like because, you know, they're kids.

    Between people running with no rhyme or reason, a course through narrow-streeted residential neighborhoods and a large crowd this race was freakin' scary.

    Then add in a patch or two of ice - which caused everyone to grind to a halt - and a random cut-through from one street to another via a wooded area, which featured wet leaves, exposed tree limbs and a decline and, shit, this thing was nuts.

    By the halfway point, I was transitioning from Let's PR this! to Let's cross the finish line uninjured.

    However, 2 miles in I knew I was still having a good race. The crowds had thinned out to different paces and the roads were a little wider, so I thought I could possibly still PR.

    By the time I hit Mile 3, I checked the Garmin and knew I would PR. Usually when I hit the Mile 3 marker I go into a sprint (or my version of it) for the last tenth to try and get over the line as quickly as I can.

    Even though I was relatively gassed and mentally taxed from all the thinking involved in not running into someone on this race, I decided to turn it up for the last tenth and see just how low I could make this new 5K time.

    I crossed the timing pad at the finish and hit Stop on my watch: 32:06. Not sub-30, but a big, fat 2 minutes faster than my previous 5K PR. Yay!

    And I didn't get injured. Double yay and something for which I should be thankful.
  • Saturday, December 3, 2011

    In which I get a cookie from Santa

    Last night we took the kids to ride the very-excellent Polar Express in nearby Rhode Island.

    While on the train, an equally-awesome Santa (seriously, the best I've ever seen) came around and gave each child a jingle bell from his sleigh and a cookie.

    Santa gave me a cookie, too. Well, I have been a very good girl this year.

    Normally, I don't eat cookies. I could, sure, but my Points are usually better spent on more substantial, healthy filling foods to keep me satisfied. And baked goods are traditionally a trigger food for me.

    However, one does not receive a cookie from Santa every day. And I love cookies. So I ate it.

    That's kinda the rule of thumb I use these days when it comes to a treat: Is this a special occasion? Could I have this at any other time?

    We took this trip last year, too, and I remember I did not eat the cookie Santa gave me. I was about 14 weeks into WW and I was adamant that I didn't not want to screw it up by having a cookie. One cookie. Ay yi yi.

    I still struggle with my Type-A perfectionism/all-or-nothing-ness when it comes to healthy eating. Years of failed "dieting" left me with the feeling of being "on" or "off" a diet. The thought: If you're trying to be healthy, you can't have a cookie.

    When, in actuality, you can have a cookie. Just don't have a dozen or add in a whole pizza and a weekend of poor eating, which is what I tended to do.

    But here's where I love Weight Watchers. It is so ridiculously flexible. Since I still had plenty of extra Weekly Points available, I certainly had enough for one - one - cookie.

    So I relaxed, took a deep breath and really enjoyed the cookie. It can be that simple if I just let it.

    Problem is, I have decades of bad mental conditioning behind me, but slowly I am working it out. I won't be able to shed it as efficiently as I have the extra weight, but I will overcome it. It will just take a while.

    I don't want to live a life in which I cannot enjoy one cookie from Santa.

    Digging through iPhoto, I found our pictures from our Polar Express trip last year and one of me and my son this year.

    December 2010

    December 2011