Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oh Snap, a Cold Snap

This morning I was greeted by the first flurries of the season, the type the alternate between an icy drizzle and a flake. It was barely enough snow to be noticeable, but it did provide notice that winter is on its way. As a summer loving type of gal this is the exact opposite of spotting a robin, seeing that first green bud on the tree. Soon I will need to batten down the hatches, spend more time in the warmth and artificial light of the gym.

I have not been running at all this week, mostly due to pet-sitting duties and recovery from a heavily activitied weekend. Yesterday I suited up in my warmest running clothes and headed out to the Highland Park reservoir, with the intention of doing laps. After one in the cold and dark I decided to call it quits, I could feel the tired in my spirit and the area was mostly deserted, which left me feeling fairly unsafe. I trusted my instinct and headed off to get pizza instead.

Cold weather running can be exhilarating, a triumph over the elements, acclimating and warming up despite all the bitterness mother nature doles out. It also takes more energy and fortitude, cups of coffee afterward and cozy hibernating naps. Making peace with the winter is not easy task, but the rewards are more than worth it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stomp the Grapes

This past weekend I sojourned to Ohio for a half marathon along with three friends, all of whom were running their first race of this distance. I knew little about the area, save that the event originated at a winery and the course wound through a towpath.

We arrived in Massillon Friday night and headed out to find the all important pre-race food. We settled on an American-style place (though I suppose if it's in America, technically that is the style). I enjoyed my usual pasta and bread sticks that appeared to have spent some time in a deep fryer. The sauerkraut balls caught my eye, but I figured the night before a race is not the best time to experiment with exotic foods, especially deep fried balls of sauerkraut.

After we were sufficiently fueled for the mornings festivities we headed back to the house and relaxed. I made sure my number was pinned and my D tag affixed before retiring.

Saturday we all awoke and dressed for the morning's chill. After a quick drive over to the race start we picked up our shirts (and I dare say that that extra small was more like a large) and bounced around to keep warm until things got underway.

I like small races where there's no bobbing and weaving to reach a comfortable pace. The course started out in the vineyard and passed by several fields with animals. A group of horses started running alongside our group, almost as if they wanted to join in the fun. A less enthusiastic group of cows sat in a group and just watched us go by. I began running with Emily, but managed to separate from her after the first mile -- after the initial shot of adrenaline my body began the task of warming up in earnest. After a few miles my arch started to hurt and I worried that I would be in for a long race -- but it dissipated by the time I got to the tow path.

The course wound through the town of Navarre and into the tow path, adjacent to the Erie Canal. Running the mid part of the race was serene, at times I felt like I was the only one running, blanketed on both sides by trees holding on to half their golden leaves. My energy re surged as took in the cool air and the beauty around me.

The last part of the race re-traced the road back to the vineyard. With the aid of trusty Gu I rallied and vowed to run strong. I stripped off my long sleeve shirt for the last mile or so as I was working hard with what energy I had left. A field of sheep greeted me as I rounded the corner at the home stretch with a cacophony of tiny bells reminiscent of wind chimes. As I approached the clock I saw the time approaching 1:50 and gave it the last bit of what I had to come in just under at 1:49:54, my best half marathon time to date.

A bit dazed, I headed off to stretch and eat and wait for my fellow runners. Emily came in then Nat, both with excellent times. Cooling down fast, we put on our warm clothes and helped ourselves to some warming wine, which tasted even more delicious after two hours of running. We positioned ourselves at the finished and cheered, waiting for Rose, who bounded towards the finish singing Justin Timberlake. Re-united we shared our road stories and waited for the awards, and to my delight I place third in my age group. After all that excitement (and a few more glasses of wine), we piled in the car, headed towards a warm shower then home.

I can't wait for next year, this was one of the most enjoyable races I've ever run. Getting out of the city on a crisp fall day and running through the beauty, what could be better?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Carry Me Ohio

Stomp the Grapes is fast approaching, and I have to say that I am feeling good mentally and physically about the race. This will be my fourth half marathon and I'm looking forward to getting out of town, discovering a new place, and running through a vineyard, something I have never had the pleasure of doing.

I ran the Golden Triangle Loop this morning with my running buddy, we skirted along the glossy dark rivers of Pittsburgh. The leaves have begun to fall in earnest creating red and gold coatings on the trail and the surface of the water. Running in the morning has a different tone than the evening -- the mind wakes up instead of powering down, it warms up the body for the day ahead. Running in the morning makes me feel like I lay claim to some time otherwise lost in sleep.

I will report back on the race upon my return. I plan to shift my focus to overall strength training (though I will not stop running of course) in this upcoming interim time. I want to start marathon training as healthy and strong as possible.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Urban Adventure

Variety is the spice of life. Cliche, cliche, I know but most everything is better with a touch of seasoning. In running, there are those paths that I go to time and time again. Routes that offer predictable mileage, scenery, and a reasonable expectation of safety. Sometimes it's all I want to just go on auto pilot, to use my energy to work something out instead of working to forge ahead. As I have upped by ante and started to run more each week -- I find myself seeking out the new in an effort to keep things fresh, to challenge myself, to combat staleness.

Last night I met up with my running buddy and we headed out on just such a run -- I had to make a stop in Highland Park, which took both of us out of our normal zones. I have run around the reservoir a few times but have never done anything more significant. The darkness fell early on, as it seems to do these days which added another layer of mystery. We headed down the road next to the zoo, hoping to catch a glimpse of some exotic animals, which were not able to do but we did catch quite a few whiffs. At the bottom of the hill we decided to snake around to Washington Blvd so as not to backtrack -- the only problem was getting to Washington Blvd on a pedestrian unfriendly stretch. We managed with some strategic darting and weaving through the weeds. Relatively unscathed we continued, running through grassy fields, dodging tree branches until we made to some semblance of a sidewalk and ran back into civilization.

As adults we so rarely get or make time for play, and when we do it's usually the more structured type, a softball league, Pilate's class, a circuit at the gym. Rarely do we gather our friends for a game of 'it' tag or strap on roller skates and skate up and down the street just for the sheer joy of it. Sure, there is still joy to be found in structured activities, but the fun that comes from following a whim, heading out without a destination connects to a deeper place. Playing every once in a while keeps things fresh and in the depths of training - 'it' tag anyone?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Catching Up

I don't always get to blogging as much as I'd like to but I try to write as often as I'm able. Sometimes it's not even a matter of having the time to write but a matter of inspiration. Sometimes I write a post and can't figure out a good way to end it, so it ends up languishing until I decide to delete it. Focusing on running can be monotonous, especially when I am in training and actually running quite a bit.

I value the process of reflection and the passive sharing that happens with the blog, so I will write on!

These past few weeks have been all about training for my next half marathon which is only a week and a half away. The cool breezes of autumn make for perfect training weather and I am trying to run outside as much as possible until the early darkness guides me into the gym. Last night I decided to head to the South Side with my running buddy and mix things up a bit -- or doing what I like to term an Urban Adventure run. We headed down the trail for the first half, and then back down through the thick of East Carson street, the back allies of the South Side, and over the 10th Street bridge into downtown. There's something to be said for the distractions of the city scape, all the activity, lights, smells, and sounds, as much as I enjoy the peacefulness of the trail.

I have been able to run enough to allay my race panic, the feeling I get that I won't be able to finish a race or that if I do it will be exceedingly difficult. I feel strong and well prepared. The shift in seasons has caused me draw on my internal strength and in turn pour that into my training. As much as I loathe the cold and dark, I know that it is well within my power to make things better for myself, to use my discomfort as a motivator instead of a minimizer - and that makes all the difference.