Friday, June 29, 2012

In which these pictures are worth those 1,000 words

A few times on this experience (you know how I dislike "journey"), I've come across a picture of myself that's stopped me cold.

As in, "Wow", can't stop staring at it. They are the times when my brain literally can't process what it sees.

There was this photo.

Famously, this one. And, most recently, this one.

It doesn't happen often. Sure, I like a lot of photos of myself these days, but rarely do I get stunned by one. It happened again recently.

Once a year, my children get their portraits taken. This year and last, I've hopped in for an impromptu family shot (my husband is camera-shy).

Anyway, we got the digital proofs back a day later and this shot, this shot, blew me away. I've been looking at it for days now and I still am mezmerized.

I cannot believe that is me.

I've touched on it before and I'll say it again: I know I suffer from a touch of body dysmorphia. When I see myself in the mirror, most times I see everything still "wrong" with me. But in the rare photo, like this one, I like what I see.

Especially when you compare it to those below:

March 2010

June 2011

The kids got older-looking and I got younger-looking. Allrighty!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

In which I am scared on a run

Gorgeous morning for a run, little did I suspect it would end with me almost having a coronary.

Blue sky, clear, warm - but not too warm. No humidity, birds chirping, you name it.

I'm almost done with my run, happily chugging along the country roads near my house and feeling quite satisfied with myself, as I am want to do in such situations.

I'm listening to my music, thinking about everything but running, and a *@&#^!$ DEER runs out in front of me, about 15 feet away, bounding out of the woods, across the road and into the woods on the other side. For the record, that is way too close.

Holy Mother of God, I almost had a heart attack.

I instinctively yelped something like, "GAAAAAH!, but amazingly did not fall out of stride, trip or pull something from the shock. I wish I was wearing a heart rate monitor at the time as the read-out would have been hysterical.

I've seen rabbits and turkeys on a run, but nothing as big, quick or fast as a deer.

I don't know if it's because I've watched too much Law & Order, but I always run a little on guard, half expecting a pervert, serial killer or coyote to bound out after me. So to have an actual large mammal come flying out of the woods was too close to realizing that than I ever wanted.

I only had about a half-mile left in the run and I swear my heart rate didn't get back to normal for a good half-hour.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Race Report: Worcester Firefighters 6K

Well, I'm never running this one again.

I don't recall smoking crack last night, but I did post the following on this blog's Facebook page:

Good News: Crafted a kick-ass playlist for the race tomorrow. Bad News: It's 50-something minutes' worth of music. Aiming to need only about 35 mins for 6K, which would be my fastest race ever (9:30 avg mile). Time for ruthless editing.

So, even though I don't remember a crack pipe, hallucinogens must have been involved somehow if I thought I could PR this race in this heat.

I read this a while ago from Gibson's Daily Running Post, and I should have heeded it the moment I thought about PRing this race:

"Nobody can tell you how to set a personal best. But here’s how NOT to: run with the idea of setting one. You cannot order up a personal best as if it were a turkey on rye. It's not a conscious act. A personal best is a kind of gift bestowed upon you. You’re not sure where it came from or how. It's very hard to achieve a personal best after you've run for a while and brought your times down. It takes training and hard work. But remarkably, those who achieve personal bests all say the same thing: how easy it felt. They weren't straining, they weren't pushing; it just seemed to come to them. If you run with the idea that you're just going to enjoy yourself, that you're going to relax and have a good time, that whatever happens, happens - well, those are the days when personal bests occur." -Kevin Nelson

After my experience today, I would say this is very true.

So, what the hell happened?

Well, I was all keyed up to run fast today because it was my shortest race since the Celtic 5K in March. At that race, I was coming off a significant back injury, so it was a case of Run To Finish. My next race was the half-marathon in May. Also, now coming off a foot injury, Run To Finish. Although, since it was my first half-marathon, it was technically a PR for that distance.

My last race was a 5-miler in Boston, the week after the half. Since I was just coming off the half, I deliberately took it easy. Run To Finish.

I was really looking forward to the Worcester Firefighters Memorial because it was short (6K). I was in good running shape and uninjured. I felt I was set up for success.

My one concern about this race was the fact it had a 1 pm start time. In June. No idea why so late, I wish I knew, but it always starts at 1 pm. I should have heeded that concern. Most races start early, 8 or 9 am, because it's cooler and you don't impact traffic as much early in the morning.

Anyway, got to the race about an hour beforehand and met up with Sandy, my domestic running life partner. We ran into other friends who were also running, took some pics and then headed off to Sandy's favorite part of any race staging area, the Port A Potties.

The Port A Potty line was long, so by the time our business was concluded, we had to hustle to the start. I grabbed a water on the way and downed about 12 oz before I chucked it and headed mid-pack to get ready.

After releasing memorial balloons into the clear, blue, blazing sky, the National Anthem and Amazing Grace courtesy of a bagpiper, we were off.

About a half-mile in I realized two things: It was crazy hot and I should have worn my compression shorts under my running skirt.

We soon passed a bank clock/thermometer and it read 80 degrees. I believed it. There was barely a cloud in the sky and the sun was blinding, hammering off the asphalt. There was zero shade and no breeze. Hot Child In The City, indeed.

I started the race hoping to pace around a 10-minute mile for the first 1-2 miles, then pick it up for the last 1.6. Pfft. By the 1-mile mark, I abandoned that plan and decided to switch to Run To Finish. It was just too hot with no relief.

To make matters worse, my allergies were kicking up something fierce. My head and throat were congested, making deep breathing more difficult. I was having breathing problems, something I've never experienced before when racing.

I took this rather seriously, and actually stopped to walk for 30-60 seconds a few times. By the time I passed the 3-mile mark, I saw ambulances taking off. Apparently, some runners actually needed medical transport. Yikes.

I was psyched when I hit 3 miles because it meant this cursed race was almost over. I was pissed at this race. It was short, I should have been faster and it should have been easier. In the half-marathon, I didn't feel half as crappy at Mile 13 as I did right now. I was pissed at this weather. Too damn hot. I was pissed at the organizers for a 1 pm start.

But, hey, at least it's almost over. There are the chutes. There's the finish line, not 300 yards straight ahead. Thank God.

Wait, why are all the runners taking a right? Why is everyone turning right? The finish line is straight ahead! And then I saw the pylon. And the race official pointing right. Crap, we needed to do a short out and back before heading toward the finish. Guh. I hate this race.

On the out-and-back I spied my friend, Rebecca (she's #357 in the pink, group photo). It was her first 5K and I was psyched to see her. I caught up, tapped her on the shoulder and said, Let's finish this thing.

While I felt like dump, she was spry and was actually fiddling with her iPhone to choose a good song to finish to. Atta girl.

We finished the out and back and took a right to head - finally - toward the finish. Over the timing pads and, thank the Lord, it was over.

I grabbed two waters and headed toward my predetermined meeting spot with Sandy. I spotted her on the way, grabbed two more waters, and we parked it in the merciful shade to talk shop.

So, as frustrating as this race was (45:22 finish/12:24 pace), there were a few bright spots:

  • Always fun to run with friends - before, during or after.
  • Given this was a race to remember six Worcester firefighters who died in a 1999 fire, it was sobering to watch several firefighters run or walk the race in full firefighter gear. I was hot. They were hotter.
  • About 2.5 miles in, the shark mascot for the local AHL hockey team roller-bladed by me in full furry getup. Gotta say, I wanted to trip him.
  • I was about 2 minutes into the race when another runner tapped me on the shoulder: "I have that skirt! I bought it for a July 4 race! It looks great!" Note: This is the second time a runner stopped me during a race to talk about the skirt. I will get on a whole post about this magnetic running apparel soon.
  • Just after the 1 mile mark, we ran by one Worcester firehouse. The firefighters were roadside with hoses, arching water into the air and down onto very grateful runners.
So, this one's in the rear view mirror. Thank you, Lord. Next up: The Harvard Pilgrim Finish At The 50, which ends on the field at Gillette Stadium. Yeehaw.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In which you need to put yourself first

I hear many people say they desperately want to lose weight, but feel they don't have the time because of family commitments, work, etc.

"____________ needs me. I have to ___________."

Completely valid and true.

Most of us are wonderful, responsible adults who put everyone else first: our families, our coworkers, our jobs, our friends.

We take care of everyone else and on the off-chance we have any time or energy left over, then we attend to ourselves.

Hell, just this morning I realized I was completely out of clean drawers because I've been doing everyone else's laundry for two days and ignoring mine. Sure, my kids have hampers full of clean clothes, but I'm currently wearing compression shorts under my jeans. Where did my good intentions get me? Tight undergarments.

Our instincts are good and beautiful, they are not fair to us.

I give you permission to be selfish. You are no good to others if you're not good to yourself.

If you feel like you can't put yourself first without someone saying it's OK, there you go.

We can't help others, we can't be beneficial to others, if we are broken ourselves. And by "broken" I mean, unhappily overweight, hungry, tired or in need of clean underpants. It's whatever you currently don't have that you need. You get the idea.

Here's a real-world example: Almost always, when at home I feed myself before my children. They don't eat what I eat, so before I make their meal, I make and eat mine.

Why? Well, when I am hungry, I need to eat. And I need to eat healthy well-balanced meals that keep me on program. I can't just grab a handful of Goldfish to tide me over. If I do not take the time to prep and eat, I will make a bad decision that will bug me for the rest of the day, most likely.

My children can wait another 30 minutes for dinner. They will not starve, they are ridiculously hardy beings.

In this department, I need to put myself first. The kids don't suffer, they get a satisfied, calm parent and a nice, happy meal, instead of a starving, bitchy adult who's about to gnaw off her own arm.

This is just one little way I take of myself that supports my weight maintenance. You obviously see I'm still coming around on the laundry bit, but you get the picture. It takes a while to get used to this. You may feel weird or selfish until you realize the benefits to you and others.

If you're putting yourself last, move yourself up the ladder, in at least one way. Give yourself a break and help yourself out. Taking care of yourself will make you a better you - for yourself and others.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Race Report: Boston's Run To Remember

Oh, hell, yes.

Boston's Run To Remember was one magical race, for many reasons. No. 1 being I actually liked a race picture enough to buy it. That has never happened before.

As you know, I have a history of collecting race proofs in which I look like I am being assassinated. But this one, dare I say, I love it. Why?

I look strong and swift. I am wearing knee socks and an American flag running skirt. I look like I know what I am doing. I look like a runner. I told you: magic.

But so much more was extraordinary aside from the race photo. Which, to review, was hot stuff.

So, let's get into this because this post is tragically overdue.

I had signed up for this race in December. I was born in Boston and spent the first 18 years of my life growing up 7 miles south of the Athens of America. I spent a goodly part of my life in and around the city, so I could not pass up the opportunity to run through some of its most famous neighborhoods without the danger of getting flattened by a vehicle.

I remember seeing the ads for this race last year, thinking, "I'm not ready to run 5 miles. Not yet." I had just conquered my first 5K and running 5 miles seemed so far away, so arduous. I distinctly remember thinking, Maybe next year.

Cut to December, when I was setting my sights on a half-marathon in 2012. Five miles? I got that. On the race calendar it went.

Last weekend's half-marathon cropped up within the past month. Normally, I would not race two big races (mileage-wise) in back to back weeks. But I'm a believer in things happen for a reason, so I figured I'd see how the half went and worry about the 5-miler later.

The half went fine. I took three days off from running, ran an easy 25 minutes on Thursday, and after that figured I would be fine for the 5-miler three days later.

I decided to give it a go, but take it easy. I would forget about pace, forget about running, essentially, and taking a page from Sheryl's book, race and take a lot of fun pictures on a very picturesque course.

See, in the past - and sometimes today - when faced with a challenge or roadblock. I still automatically think, "I can't."

"I can't race that distance."

"I can't race back to back."

Well, really, screw "I can't." My days of "I can't" are over. If I take a few minutes and think it through, I realize more often than not, "I can." Sure, if my legs or foot were bothering me, I would sit out.

After initially thinking, "I can't," I thought it through, took a health inventory, assessed my Thursday run and decided not only "I can" but also "I will."

I was so excited for this race for several reasons, primarily because I would get to race in town. Funny, growing up just outside the city, that's what I - and everyone I knew - called Boston, "town." Force of habit, I still do.

Talking with my Dad before the race, the conversation went like this:

"Where's your race this weekend?"

"In town."

As a public service aside, two requests from a native: Don't ever call it "Beantown." Only tourists call it that. Two, don't ask us where we pahked ah cahs. Don't try the accent, you can't do it (see Costner, Kevin, et. al.) unless you were born with it (see Affleck & Damon). But, by all means, feel free to walk around wearing a tri-cornered hat. They really are fun.

Anyway, I was thrilled to race in town, and two friends were going to be there, too, so I'd get to meet up with them for at least a little bit.

When I sign up for races, I pretty much look at three things:

  • Distance.

  • Date.

  • Shirt/medal/goodies.

  • That's all I basically concern myself with when it comes to deciding to register. I need to add "start time" to that list.

    About a week before any race, you get an email from the organizers, basically saying, "Hey, remember the race you registered for? Here are the details again, if you didn't pay attention when you registered, Melissa, and everyone else."

    When I get the email, then I start to concern myself with commuting, parking, bib pickup, logistics, etc. I got the Run To Remember email Monday and spied the start time. 7:15 am. Start time. Oh, crap.

    I live an hour west of Boston and I usually like to get to a race an hour before the start. That means getting to the race by 6:15 am, leaving my house at, good God, 5:15 am. Which means getting up around - help me Jesus - 4:15 am to eat breakfast, wake up, get dressed, regain consciousness, etc.

    This better be one damn fine race.

    So, Saturday night I got all my junk together and set my alarm, which promptly went off at 4 am Sunday. I was surprisingly spry, ate breakfast and headed to Cambridge to pick up my dear friend and running idol, Jeremy, who was also entered.

    At any point up until now, did I think I would be driving east, in the dark, at 4:45 am wearing an American flag running skirt and knee socks? I did not. But I got a pretty sunrise around Framingham.

    Sometimes, I actually stop and think, Who is this person? (This recap is very long anyway, but I owe and will give that skirt an entire post of its own, believe me.)

    I picked Jeremy up at 5:45 am and we headed over to the World Trade Center area in South Boston. We parked on Summer Street and took about a 10-minute walk over to the WTC, which was a good warmup.

    I knew this was a big race, and I like big races. They're exciting, fun and (usually) well-organized. However, this race was b-i-g. Previously, the largest race I've ever run was the Caremark 5K in Providence, about 5,000 runners, last September.

    Just before the race, we heard this one had topped 9,000 runners - 6,500 running the half-marathon course and 2,500 doing the 5-miler. I believe it, because the minute we hit the expo center, I felt like we were completely swallowed up. Bodies everywhere.

    We found bag check, then split up. Jeremy had friends he wanted to check in with and I needed a port-a-potty. I wish I got a shot of the line of port-a-potties because there had to be 50. A line as long as you could see (Sandy, I thought of you fondly). I concluded business and set off to find my friend, Dani.

    There's a lot of silly crap when it comes to social media, but there's a lot of awesome stuff, too, and one of those things is finding wonderful new friends.

    I met Dani through Twitter. She's a Weight Watchers Lifetime member, leader and runner. Hmmmm, sounds familiar. Check out her blog, it's ridiculously inspirational, she's totally wonderful and super fast.

    She also lives in Boston, so the opportunity to meet up with her at a race was awesome when I found out we were both doing the Run To Remember.

    Dani is one of the #wwmafia who all check in with each other daily via Twitter. We're based all around the country, but we've all got each other's backs in 140 characters or less.

    The crowd was so thick with people we had to text and finally call to find one another, but we did. Our time together was all too short, but we demanded photos (don't we look peppy for 6:50 am?) and made plans to get together and share a meal soon.

    Dani headed off to the jack rabbit runners and I went to the back. Since I was just going to run and have fun, I decided to run holding my point-and-shoot for the whole race. I would waste too much time otherwise digging it out of my belt or the super-cool pocket on my skirt every 200 yards.

    The half-marathoners went off about 20 minutes before we 5-milers, then we lined up and watched a State Police helicopter make the rounds against the skyline and over our heads.

    Seriously, it was a gorgeous day.

    And we're off!

    The arch of the Boston Harbor Hotel at Rowe's Wharf.

    I realized something about a half-mile in: It's hard to run and take pictures. If I saw something I wanted to shoot, I had to run off to the side of the road, ensure I wasn't in anyone's way (either on the way to the side of the road or at the side of the road), get a shot I liked and then take off again. Easier said than done.

    Running atop what used to be the Central Artery, which is now the Rose Kennedy Greenway, with the Custom House in the distance.

    I gotta say running on the Greenway was very cool. As a person who traveled the artery hundreds of times in a car, it was amazing to run through what now is a park.

    Funny story: After the race, Jeremy and I were walking near the finish as the half-marathoners were coming in. The announcer, as is the norm at races, was announcing finishers, by looking at their bibs and matching it with their names. We're walking by and we hear, "And here's another finisher, Rose Kennedy!" I yell, "WOW!" and we both start laughing because not only has old Rose has been dead for a decade or so, but also when she was alive she was the frailest-looking person on Earth.

    More Greenway.

    Running through the Financial District, toward the Old State House.

    Hanging a right on Congress Street, Fanueil Hall on the right (out of frame), The World's Ugliest City Hall on the upper left.

    Entrance to Faneuil Hall, bordering Congress Street.

    La-de-da, running through Beacon Hill (Charles Street).

    Even the Post Office is pretty.

    You go, girl. No significance to this picture, other than I am juvenile and I thought it was funny.

    Your typical Beacon Hill side street. Not so much in most other parts of the city.

    Where everybody knows your name.

    Pretty brownstones neighboring the Public Garden, of which I did not get a good picture.

    Outskirts of the Theatre District. I love how they renovated the Paramount facade. The Opera House is next door.

    RIP, Filene's.

    Downtown Crossing, decked out for Memorial Day.

    Old South Meeting House.

    My life in a nutshell.

    So, at this point, we're heading toward South Station and I realize, the race is almost over. If there was a 4-Mile marker, and I'm sure there was, I missed it amidst all my Ansel Adamsing.

    The funny thing is, this race seemed to go very fast, even though I was lolly-gagging my way through it.

    I looked at my watch and saw we had about a half-mile to go. I was surprised. It's over already? I suppose if you race for 2:45 the previous week, an hour seems like a brief interlude. I put my camera away and thought, "I want to really run." Enough picture-taking and touristing, jam this last half.

    So, I did. But, first, I actually fixed my hair, readjusted my Sweaty Band, which was very sweaty at this point. Hey, there be photographers and spectators ahead. I was wearing an American flag skirt. I had to look like I knew what I was doing.

    "Shipping Up To Boston" came up on my playlist, which was the perfect tune to launch me at race pace toward the end.

    We hung a right onto Seaport Blvd., with the Boston Children's Museum and the Hood Milk Bottle across Fort Point Channel to the right.

    Almost near the finish I spied Jeremy off to my left, cheering me on to the finish. And I was happy to finish. I felt great, but it was hot and I was toasty.

    After crossing the finish and reclaiming our bags, Jeremy and I compared notes, hung out for a bit and then headed back to the car. As I walked over Seaport Blvd. I got some nice shots of the half-marathon finishers coming in (the finish line was out of frame, below and behind me).

    Overall, this was one of my favorite races. My pace was crap, but I had a lot of fun. I got to run safely through a city I love and, I realized, I ran a 5-mile race and it seemed like a walk (or run) in the park. Wow.