Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Product review: Lily Trotters Compression socks

About a month ago, I was contacted by Susan of Lily Trotters, a start-up company, asking me if I would be interested in trying a prototype of their new compression socks. Previously, I had read a review of them on Salt's blog, and not only did they sound awesome, they looked super cute. And little did Susan know, but I have a bit of an obsession with running socks. So, of course, I said yes, and a few weeks later, this pair came in the mail.

I couldn't wait to try them out. The timing was perfect. Prior to my most recent half marathon, I had been struggling with tight calf muscles and the dreaded shin splints. I had been stretching and foam rolling like crazy, and decided to throw the Lily Trotters into the mix for my training runs.

I'm no stranger to compression socks, but I have been a bit skeptical at the claims I've heard. As a nurse, I know all about the benefits of compression socks for circulation, but are they any good for tight muscles? The research has been mixed, but most studies show benefits for recovery more than performance. But improved recovery should translate into better performance, right? If you believe they're helping your running, then you should wear them. That's the conclusion of all the studies I could find.

I've worn compression sleeves made for plantar fasciitis with very impressive results. When I feel a flare up of that dreaded condition, on go the sleeves. I also have a pair of compression calf sleeves that I've trialled for recovery. While they seemed to really help with muscle cramping, I read some very scary stuff about DVTs and calf sleeves, and have been a little reluctant to wear those again. The bottom line seems that it is better to wear compression socks, not sleeves.

So with all that background, I headed out the door with my Lily Trotters. Compared to other compression socks I've tried, they were fairly easy to put on. I found that if I started by putting my foot in and rolling the calf portion up slowly, they went on without a problem. The foot portion of the sock is fairly thin and there isn't any compression. I'd love some compression at the arch, having suffered from PF in the past! I have a pair of low compression socks from another manufacturer which has this feature, and I like the support that I feel from that little extra elastic.

On the first run, I still felt a little calf tightness and had to stop to stretch once to loosen up my calves. But I kept them on after my run and did my usual stretching routine. Two days later, I took to the road again, wearing the socks. No tightness. That was pretty exciting for me! I've worn them a couple times since, and my runs have been nice and easy. No calf tightness.

The days I wore them, the weather was pretty cool, and I wore them over my long tights. My feet didn't get cold, even though the foot part is pretty thin. I didn't wear my Lily Trotters in Florida, because I was worried I'd be too warm in them. Still, my legs feel good. I considered bringing them for recovery, but neglected to pack them. Mom brain.

I've washed them with my running gear in the washer and hung them to dry. The socks have maintained their compressive elasticity. They are still as cute as the day they came in the mail.  Lily Trotters is coming out with several really cute designs and I think that is going to be a big selling point for them. The pair that I was sent were black with pink and green dots on the calf portion. My favorite feature is the frilly trim at the top. At my job, I spend all day on my feet, and I'd buy some of the more fashionable designs to wear under pants. Between the Lily Trotters and my Danskos, I'd be all set!

Lily Trotters aren't available yet for purchase, but you can sign up for their mailing list to be notified of the launch!

Disclosure: I was kindly given one pair of Lily Trotters compression socks to trial and review. The opinions and pictures are all my own. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The 5 R's of vacation

Seen on the run...this sign was at the entrance to someone's driveway!
Being the goal oriented person that I am, I approached this vacation no differently than I do anything else in my life. I've made no secret of the struggles my family has endured the past couple of months, and I wanted more than anything to make this vacation a great trip for all of us. This was the first time that I was nervous about a family vacation. I had high hopes that all this family time would help us reconnect. There were 4 other things I wanted to accomplish with this time away: rest, relaxation, recharging, and of course, running. While initially we were all really tense, as a few days passed, it looked that the goals would be met. The trip ended on a really, really pleasant tone, and I think as family vacations go, this one was a success.

Stay with me here.  I know what you're thinking. "Oh geez, here goes Wendy sharing her vacation photos with us". This post isn't really a recap of my vacation. Because who wants to read about that, right? Being a running blogger and all, I wanted to share how it is possible and actually beneficial to stay active on a vacation even when you are away with your family. The benefits aren't just physical. The old saying, "the family that plays together, stays together" became an internal mantra for me this week. Staying active can be a challenge for some of us whose spouses are more--umm--sedentary. But find something that everyone likes to do and you can make it work.

Ok...one sunset photo
Rest: We didn't make many plans for this week. Time passed by the pool, catching some rays. My oldest son and my husband spent time fishing off the pier behind the house. Early to bed, early to rise. Walks to the beach, a short 2 blocks away, at sunset to watch Mother Nature perform her nightly ritual. When the boys were little, they used to complain: "not another sunset!" Now they know it's just something we do. And on the way home, there's an awesome ice cream shop. We stopped there twice. One night I had a scoop a couple scoops of salted caramel ice cream with hot fudge on top. When I ordered it, the guy behind the counter said, "oh yeah....!" Yep, those were my words too.

Relaxation: That goes without saying... the setting of an island vacation just begs relaxation.  My oldest son really gave me a tough time the first couple of days we were here. I guess I was being punished for making him go on vacation. He was sarcastic and indifferent, no matter what I said. As the week wore on, he began to thaw. After getting bit by the kayak bug last summer, I rented 2 kayaks for 3 of the days we stayed here. The house we stayed at is on a canal, and I thought it might be fun to explore the canals. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done. Not only did kayaking keep us active, it was a great way to spend time with my family. Between the fishing and the kayaking, my son started to relax, exchanging the attitude for laughter at my dad's bad jokes, and finally going shell seeking with me the last couple of days we were there. I also kayaked with my mom and my husband. We explored the canals and took the kayaks out to the intercoastal waterway. I wasn't brave enough to head out to Tampa Bay, but maybe next year?

Getting him to smile for a picture would have been pushing it....
Recharging: I also was off work the week before we came to Florida, and that helped put work out of my mind. I didn't realize how burnt out I was before having the time off, and I feel much better and ready to return to my responsibilities. I don't blog much about food, but I really ate well this week. Maybe a little too well! One reason I like to travel to Florida is the opportunity for fresh fish and produce. I wanted to have fresh fish every day and I was able to do that. Sometimes we go to the fish market and buy fish to prepare at the house, other times we eat out. I made Key Lime Pie a few times too. Had a beer with lunch every day and wine with dinner every night. It felt great to eat light foods after all the heavy foods we eat during winter. Even though we really indulged, we did so much kayaking and walking that I didn't feel guilty at all.

Feeling inspired by the great studio class I took that day..
Every year, I take at least one class at the yoga studio on the island, and this year was no exception. This instructor is really amazing, and her class is a treat. This was a gentle flow class, and after all the running I did this week, I felt great after we finished.

Running: We runners always joke about how much more we have to pack since we bring our running gear on vacation! My shoes saw 26 miles this week. Last year I struggled with the famous Florida humidity, but it was a non-factor for me this year. I really enjoyed my runs. I strive not to let my runs interfere with family time, and so I get up with the sun, drink some coffee, and head out. By the time I return, everyone is just waking up. Since I've come here before, I already have running routes plotted out. I know where the bathrooms and the drinking fountains are located. Running in a tropical paradise is an amazing experience. There's so much to see and look at. I am always amazed at all the beautiful homes lining the beach roads on this island. The lovely tropical birds flying overhead. Tourists riding in those bicycle calliopes built for 4. Trying to pick out who are the real runners and the ones who were inspired to try running for the first time because it seems like a good idea in a beautiful place. The clown that tried to run me off the road. Oh and that post run cool off...

Felt great!
I don't run along the beach, though. I tried that in the past, and between all the people you have to weave around and the uneven surfaces, I really hurt myself one year. I save the beach for relaxing. And snapping running selfies.

Doesn't it look like I just finished a great run on the beach?

Reconnect: To me, this was the most important goal of the entire week. Keeping active was the key for all of us to reconnect with each other. My youngest son spent the entire time in the pool, and my husband and I played football and volleyball with him. I really think the key to engaging with teenagers is to distract them with activities. I had the best conversations with both my boys while we were doing other things. I'm really grateful that I had this week away with them. I hope the momentum continues forward. I really do.

Until next year...

How do you stay active on family vacations?

I'm linking up with Tara at ReadingNRunning for her Weekend Update! Be sure to head on over to her blog and see what everyone else has been up to!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dreaming, running, and fish

I'm on vacation this week, and I've been taking a break from blogging. I won't lie--my fingers have been itching to get on the keyboard. But it's been a really busy, fun filled week and it was good to take the break. It's raining right now, and seems like a good time for a blog post.

Especially because last night, or rather early this morning, I had the strangest dream.

I'm a pretty deep sleeper and I don't normally remember my dreams, but I woke up to rain in the middle of the night, and when I fell back asleep, I had some vivid dreams. Worlds were colliding--running, Florida, and real life.

In this dream, I was shopping at the mall for a pair of running shoes. This mall wasn't one I'd ever been to in real life, but I've been there before in my dreams. Whenever I dream about shopping, I'm shopping at this mall. Weird, I know. I was shopping with a friend--I think it was Sara aka Cheesy Runner Mom-- and we went to a futuristic store where running shoes were sold.  Have you ever been to Niketown? That's what this store reminded me of. While the amount of products are pretty sparse, the store has some pretty elaborate displays hyping the merchandise. The store in my dream had a shoe program similar to the Shoe Dog application that Road Runner Sports uses to help runners choose the right shoes. I provided the clerk with all my information and he entered it into the program.

I assumed that the program would choose my beloved Asics Gel Nimbus, because I've had such great success in those shoes and had been wearing them for years without problems. But no, the program found another shoe for me. The store clerk took me over to the shoes that I should be wearing.

I looked at the shoes, stunned. Yes, they were Asics. But these shoes were the newest model, the clerk told me. Apparently I had been wearing the wrong shoes all this time. The uppers were clear purple, made of some type of synthetic clear plastic material. The sole was hot pink. There was nothing to them, really. There were no other colors to choose from, but next to them on the display was a similar pair with high heels. I showed them to Sara and we laughed. The clerk told us that the high heel model was in high demand with those "in the know".

The closest thing I could find to the shoes in my dream. Not Asics, these are Nikes. Would you run in these?

The ones that he showed me were called the Fishity Fish. I kid you not.

While the shoe clerk went to get a pair in my size--he told me they run "long"--, I noticed a big sign next to the display. There, on the sign was a picture of Dimity McDowell, of Another Mother Runner fame, along with her endorsement of the Fishity Fish shoe. I kid you not. Well, I thought to myself, if Dimity is endorsing these shoes, I have to try them.

Dimity, triumphant at her Ironman. I don't think she ran in the Fishity Fish shoes of my dream. I believe she's a Saucony girl, tho.
I was trying the shoes on, and I noticed that they were really light. The new minimalist shoe, perhaps? While I was trying the shoes on, we heard the overhead speakers calling a code blue. Sara and I saw paramedics wheeling a gurney with a hairy guy laying on it. "Did you see him laying on the floor?" she asked me. I shook my head. More randomness.

Weird, indeed. I slowly woke up at this point. I laid in bed for a while, thinking about this dream. This dream was so bizarre that I tried really hard to remember the details. I got up, made coffee, and grabbed my laptop, to record some of the details. Even now, as I flesh out the text of this blog post, I barely remember much of the dream.

Did I buy the shoes? I don't recall. I think I woke up before I paid for them.

What prompted this dream? Although I have been running on vacation, I've been busy with other activities too. I actually don't dream much about running. My oldest son has spent most of his time this week fishing off the pier. We've been sunning, swimming, and kayaking. We've been eating a lot of fresh fish, particularly grouper and shrimp. And I haven't given work a thought, so the guy needing CPR was pretty random. My running route here on the island does take me past the fire station. I've seen the paramedics heading out a couple of times. Maybe it was that? Who knows. Funny what your subconscious will do.

And just to keep the bizarreness coming, on my run this morning, I did a double take when I saw a clown driving a minivan. Florida is full of characters. Apparently I'm one of them.

Have you ever had a dream so strange that you write the details down, just to remember what happened? Do you have recurring themes in your dreams, like I do with the shopping mall? Do you dream about running? Anyone care to share their weird dreams with me, so I don't feel alone here... !

Linking up with Tuesdays on the Run...Marcia, Ericka, and Patti! Check out everyone else's dreams...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Recovery is a many splendored thing...

"Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” ~Hermann Hesse
This past week was all about recovery, both physically and mentally. How often do we get a chance to take a break from responsibility and come back to ourselves? To refocus and recharge? I had the week off from work and hoped to get some cleaning done and maybe organize my closet and drawers. I wanted to run, of course. Catch up on some sleep. Other than that, I had no big plans.

Running-wise, I tried to take it easy. The day after the race, I went out to do an "easy" 3, to shake out the legs. The weather was gorgeous and I hated to pass up a perfect day for a run. The legs were stiff and sore from pushing it so hard the day before. The rest of the week, for my runs, I ran my usual 6. And that 6 8 on Saturday. Oops. It was nice to run without worrying about slipping on the ice. The weather was pretty decent all week, and I liked being unencumbered by layers of clothing. Less laundry too. That was a huge plus.

I also was able to take out my bike. I'm a fair weather cyclist, and at 55 degrees, I was at the edge of my comfort zone. The air feels a lot colder when you're zipping along at 14 miles/hour! Initially, I forgot how to unclip my shoes and almost fell over the first time I tried to stop. But you know what they say about riding a bike...I took this one to my bike path and the forest preserve. I had a loose goal of 20 miles, because the 17 miles that this route takes me isn't an even number. I'm OCD like that. Part of the forest preserve path is a 3 mile loop and I had planned to repeat that, to get my 20 miles, but the workers were doing a "controlled burn". In other words, they were burning the grass in the center of the loop. I had to ride through thick smoke, and that wasn't pleasant at all. In lieu of doing an extra loop, I headed back home, past the guys backed into the parking spots looking for dates, and looped around my neighborhood to get my extra 3 miles in. Dare I say that I love riding my bike almost, yes, almost as much as I love to run?

For the first time in weeks, I went back to the yoga studio for a class. About 6 weeks ago, I had severe vertigo during a yoga class, and I was a little nervous to return. Once the vertigo passed, I was close to race day, and decided to postpone a studio class until after the race. I was so happy to be back in class. This instructor is creative and has an amazing positive aura about her. I always leave her class feeling happy. This class was no exception. She had us put our mats up against the wall, and we did all our poses against the wall. This is a great way to properly align yourself into the poses. Do you think you're getting deeply into a pose? Try it against the wall. Humbling. There were a lot of deep stretches and it was as if she knew what I needed.

Being able to focus on my workouts and not rush to get them in before work was really helpful with bringing me back to center. What does it mean, to come back to center? To me, being able to step out of my everyday life, where I feel so overwhelmed, to be able to step back, refocus and gain perspective...that is coming back to center, and to myself. We don't often get a chance to do this in our daily life, do we?

I also spent more time than I should have on the great time waster, the internet. I did a lot of reading and research. I also did a lot of writing, publishing a blog post every day. Writing is a great outlet for me, and I had fun writing some humorous blog posts. I connected with some new bloggers, and worked on some new opportunities to help grow my blog.

Not everything this week was about fitness, though. I had lunch with an old friend. And by old, I don't mean elderly. She's my age. She's not a runner but we've known each other for years. As I get older, I really value these long standing friendships. I love these friends, who accept me for who I am, without judgment. And vice versa. Maintaining these friendships is tough, time-wise, and I was so happy we were able to make it happen.

And even though I didn't have to think about work at all this week, I drove to the city, to UIC, to accept an award. In my life outside of running, my real life, I am a pediatric nurse practitioner. Besides taking care of kids, I train nurse practitioner students in my clinic, and was given this award in recognition for my efforts. I love teaching and mentoring student. I keep in touch with almost every student I've worked with over the years. It's fun to see what they're doing with their lives both in the profession and outside of it too. The award was a surprise, and I was honored to be chosen. After this ceremony, I was also able to reconnect with some colleagues that I've known for years.

Cleo is not impressed!

Finally, and most importantly, I was around to focus on my family. Since I normally work most of the week, my husband does the cooking. This week was my turn. I planned some new meals for the week. One of them, Southwestern Pork and Sweet Potatoes, was a win. Another, Moroccan Chicken Stew, not so much. Win some, lose some, I guess! I was sad about that, because I hate throwing out food. Plus I felt bad for picking such a turd of a recipe. It sounded good on paper! We celebrated my youngest son's achievements at his gymnastics meet this week. As for my oldest son, we had a little drama again towards the end of the week, and life with him continues to be a challenge. 

We're heading off for a family vacation in Florida now--yes, I have another week off--and I'm hoping this week to really reconnect with my boys and my husband. My youngest son told me that he doesn't want to go. He wants to go to gymnastics and work on his skills. He also wants to be with his friends. I get that. I don't think he realizes that this may be the last time we go on a family vacation like this. Next year, the coaches of whatever sport he participates in will fully expect him to be at practice over spring break. Topic for another blog post. And I have no idea what my oldest son will be doing in a year. Will he be in college? Will he be working? It feels a little disconcerting to me, that after all these years of raising kids, that this chapter in our lives is coming to an end.

But for now, I'm going to spend this time with them, enjoying their company, and yes, coming back to center. And then, I can move forward.

I never did get that closet organized....

What do you do to come back to center? Do you take time off for yourself, to regroup?

I'm linking this post with Tara at RunningNReading for her Weekend Update! Be sure to head over to her page and see what everyone else is up to!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Runfessions for March

Marcia is hosting Runfessions a week early. Does this mean we have a Get Out of Jail Free card for spring break? I get to leave for Florida with a clean conscience. And that's a good thing.

I was worried that I wouldn't have anything to come up with for this month's edition, but of course, I have plenty....I live on the edge. Thank goodness she hosts this link up or else I'd have to go see the priest. Welcome to the Classic Rock version of Runfessions--see if you can guess the song and the artist. Tell me you aren't singing along. And give me a penance--for my wrongs or for putting these songs in your head. It's ok.


Is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy? 

Oh my gosh, I was so excited after Saturday's half marathon! I'm getting a little obnoxious about it, aren't I? That's because it's done and now it's back to reality, and everyone expects me to act normal, like nothing huge happened to me. I know it's selfish and unrealistic, but is it wrong to want everyone to be as excited as me? Or at least, can't I just ride the wave of happiness a little while longer? Does this happen to you after you've accomplished something big? After I ran the Chicago marathon and had that amazing race, I had to go back to work the next morning. Everyone at work was so excited and I was flying high, telling my race story. Then BOOM! I walked into my first patients' room--3 sick kids with colds, and the mom put me back in my place. "I heard you talking about your marathon out there, and I'm sure you're really excited but you know what, I'm here because my kids are sick and you need to do something about it." She put that pin right in my big ole' balloon. Popped that thing. Coming back to reality isn't always easy.


It's my party and I'll cry if I want to...

Ok, I have to admit to a hint of regret. Even though I had a great race, and even though I know I wouldn't have had this race in the heat and humidity of Florida, I still felt a tug and a twinge when I saw pictures of the Sarasota half marathon and the medal. That beautiful big dolphin medal. I don't normally run a race for the bling but Sarasota was a dream race for me, one I've wanted to run for the last 3 years. My husband, who I think feels really badly for me, already told me to submit my deferral so that I can go next year. He said I'm going, no matter what. So that's something. Actually, that's huge and somewhat shocking, coming from him. He's always been a little ambivalent about my running. I'm still a little sad though. But at least I have next year...

Ok, sure!

Why don't you all just f-fade away...

I still want to run away. Is it wrong to admit that I've had it up to here with my son? Yes, my son, who, after returning to school last week, promptly got sick and stayed home 2 days. Ok, that's fine, can't be helped. But then Monday, he announced that he wasn't going to school because they were taking the PARC test. "It's not required and I'm not going", was his response. Ever the enabler, I called him off because I don't want him to have an unexcused absence after missing so much school already. Meanwhile, the heavy metal was blaring from his room all day, every day. Who listens to heavy metal when they're sick? My son, apparently. Hey, mister, it's my day off. I made him turn it off. I'm so mean. When I signed up for this parenting thing, no one told me about teenagers...I mean I was a teenager once, but who knew I'd get it back like this? Tree, meet apple...


No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no....

I'm in the midst of a two week vacation from work. I was supposed to be in Florida for two weeks, but obviously had to change those plans. By the way, we are still going to Florida for a week with the whole family. But work knew about my change in plans and that I was going to be home this week, and they were hoping I'd give them some hours, since they're short staffed--spring break and all. I said no. I really needed this time away, after pushing through all my personal stress the last couple of weeks. And when do you ever get 2 weeks off work?


Just call me Lucifer, 'cause I'm in need of some restraint...

I photobombed someone's pictures at the race on Saturday. Sara and I were just standing there by the heater before the race, trying to stay warm. A group of women in plaid kilts, standing behind us, were posing for pictures. I got behind them and smiled. The guy taking the picture totally knew I was there and was trying not to laugh. He took a couple of shots. Sara couldn't believe it. Sometimes that devil on my shoulder tells me what to do and I listen. Even though its wrong. Just because I can. Sigh.


Got anything to confess? Come on, you know you do. You'll feel better, I promise! And be sure to head over to Marcia's Healthy Slice to see what everyone else is confessing. You know, misery loves company!

And since I have 5 things, I'm going to link up with the DC Trifecta aka EatPrayRun, You Signed up for What?, and Mar on the Run for their Friday Five!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Catching up...

I'm off work this week, and I'm trying to get caught up on household things. Since I'm the queen of procrastination, I haven't gotten much done, but yesterday I decided to plow through the pile of Runners' World and Running Times that have accumulated on my nightstand. I don't know about you, but I just don't read magazines anymore. I get a free subscription to Runners' World with my Chicago Area Runners' Association membership, and I subscribed to Running Times because my niece was selling magazine subscriptions for her school. Needless to say, they come in the mail, they look interesting, and I set them aside to be read later. With the internet, I look up what I need to know and read it that way. Plus, after all these years of reading Runners' World, I'm starting to feel a sense of deja vu. How many articles can you read on picking the right shoe? Injury proofing your body? Power foods? And don't get me started on all those subscription cards that fall out of every issue. I already subscribe, people! I like to read in bed and those cards just keep falling out. Sometimes, I wake up with print on my face because I fell asleep on one of them.

I actually like the more technical articles in Running Times. But the editors have cut publication of that magazine to 6 issues per year.

Anyways, I read all the issues I had, back to November, and found some articles that interested me. Today I'm linking up with Amanda at Running with Spoons for Thinking Out Loud Thursday, and I figured I'd share some of what I read.

November 2014 had an article on muscle cramping. Where was this when I needed it in October? Remember that fabulous finish at the Chicago Marathon? Where I reached up to grab a snack and my legs froze up? I nearly fell to the ground but someone caught me, put me in a wheelchair, and whisked me off to the medical tent, where they offered me bananas. That was weird. I was well hydrated with my Tailwind Nutrition and to this day, I have no idea what happened. According to this article, it most likely was muscle fatigue. The author makes a good point when he says that if dehydration alone could cause a muscle cramp, then people could just cramp up in saunas, hot tubs, or even on hot days. I had this image of people seizing up at a Cubs game in the middle of July. At least, they can't blame the heat if that happens. Maybe just the Cubs...but I digress...So what works for muscle cramps? Pickle juice (yep, Mish, you were right!) and stretching, which is what I did to get myself out of that medical tent. What doesn't? Bananas, mustard, and quinine. I'm allergic to bananas, so I can feel good about turning down the bananas in the medical tent.

December 2014 had an article titled The Writer Runner, about Jamie Quatro, a runner, who writes stories, and now a book. She recently published a short story collection titled I Want to Show You More, which has been a critical sensation. Reviews by readers on amazon.com have been a little less generous. The article in Runners' World made the book sound like it was all about running but the amazon.com review describes it as "dark, bizarre, and sexual". Hmmm. Quatro seems so normal, and the best quote from this article is: "Keep a clean life so you can be messy on the page. I believe in that motto." Not so sure this book is one for the book club.

Naturally, the January/February 2015 issue had an article on resolutions. This article was interesting to me because it was more about motivation and goal setting than actual resolution making. I'm not a believer in resolutions, since it can be a recipe for failure, but setting goals is a whole different thing. I'm all about goals. I've actually written quite a bit about that on the blog, and at the end of every month, I check in with my goals for the year. There was also an article on Liz Ferro, founder of Girls with Sole, which is an organization to bring running to at risk girls. The goal of her organization is to build self esteem and fitness. Ferro, who was a former foster child, is a runner. She's written a book about her life story as well. Maybe her story will be one for the book club?

David Willey, editor in chief, writes in the March 2015 issue about the National Runners' Health Study, which is set to shut down this year due to lack of funding. This study of over 113,000 runners, has been ongoing for 19 years, has generated a lot of data, all of it showing the health benefits of running, and lots of scientific papers. There's a National Nurses Study too, looking at the lifestyle and health habits of nurses. I wonder what other groups are being studied? I had no idea there was a study of runners, and wouldn't it be a shame if it stopped? You can write to the Secretary of Energy, Dr Ernest Moniz (secretary@hq.doe.gov) to show your support for continuation of this important study.

I found 2 articles that inspired me in the April 2015 issue. One was a picture of an inspirational runner, Toni Carey, co-founder of Black Girls Run in Atlanta. Besides all the great information about her on this page, I was distracted by the cute running top that she was wearing, a Brooks Run Happy shirt. Could I pull this one off? I guess we'll see since I ordered it! On sale! Score! Just what I need. More running clothes!

The other article that inspired me was about Kathy Martin, age 63, who is breaking all kinds of Master's records for running. She recently ran a 3:10:27 marathon, setting an American record for the 60-64 age group. If that isn't inspiring to this later bloomer, I don't know what is.

And I've finished them! All right, now I'm all caught up! Maybe now I should clean out my closet and dresser....

What have you been reading lately? Do you still read magazines? What's got you Thinking Out Loud? Be sure to head over to Running with Spoons to see what everyone is thinking about.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Just breathe

Today in yoga, my instructor was demonstrating dolphin pose. The key to this pose, she said, was to melt your heart towards the mat. Yoga instructors say the funniest things, don't they? I asked her what that meant, and she demonstrated by literally melting her chest towards the mat. She also told us that the key to doing this correctly was the breath.

"Come back to the breath". "Move with the breath". We hear this a lot in yoga. We practice breathing techniques, which in yoga we call pranayama. Today, during savasana (when I was supposed to be relaxing), I thought about breathing and running. We as runners focus so much on technique, on training, on our times, our fuel...but how often do we focus on breathing?

Breathing is pretty important. In fact, I joke with parents of asthmatic children in the clinic about this. Often reluctant to give their wheezing child a breathing treatment, I tell them that breathing should be their number one priority. Put it like that, and even though it sounds corny, it really makes them think twice. You can't do anything else if you're not breathing, right? When being trained to do CPR, we learn the ABCs of rescue: A=airway, B=breathing, and C=circulation. Breathing comes first. Breathing comes naturally to most of us, right? But how often do you think about your breathing when you're on the run? When you're getting tired? Running too fast? Running next to someone who sounds like Darth Vader? Would using breathing techniques, similar to what we do in yoga, help us while we are running?

and proper breathing techniques...
Running is simple, right? We put on our shoes and go. But by using better breathing techniques, we can supply more oxygen to our muscles. More oxygen equals more endurance. Have you ever been on a tough run where you noticed that your breathing was ragged? Ever get a side stitch? I had one at my race last Saturday. Oh, I hate getting side stitches. Luckily, I was able to chase it away by focusing on my breathing, taking deep, slow abdominal breaths, working my diaphragm, and exhaling on the opposite side of the stitch.

Just like everything else we do as runners, we need to learn how to breathe properly. Most runners at least use a basic breathing pattern of exhaling every 4th step. An article published in Runners World  talks a lot about rhythmic breathing. Not only does this technique help with endurance but Bud Coates, the author of Running on Air: The Revolutionary Way to Run Better by Breathing Smarter, says it can help you stay injury free. He theorizes that exhaling puts the greatest stress on the side of the body you land on. So if you continually exhale on the same side of the body, you are putting a ton of stress on those joints and muscles. He suggests an odd/even pattern, so that you land alternately on your right and left foot. Coates uses a five step pattern for easy runs and a 3 step pattern for racing. Rhythmic breathing also helps give runners a feeling of centeredness--just like we feel in yoga--and keeps you relaxed and calm. In yoga we learn to exhale stress and worry. These same principles can be brought to our runs. A relaxed runner runs better. If you are feeling a twinge or pain on the run, try exhaling deeply. It takes practice but it really works! If you want to read more about Coates' techniques, chase the link above.

Incentive to become a nose breather...
Are you a nose breather or a mouth breather? I'm a mouth breather, and my biggest incentive for trying nose breathing is to avoid inhaling insects on the run. Seriously. In June, we get those clouds of gnats that fly around, and ick! I've usually inhaled a few of them every summer. Protein, right? A few years ago, while on the run, I was stung in the eyelid by a yellow jacket. Yeah, it hurt, and my eye swelled shut. But all I could think about is what if I inhaled that bugger into my gaping mouth? I could die!  Experts say that nose breathing is more efficient, keeps your heart rate and your blood pressure lower, and helps relax you. Scott Jurek, ultramarathoner and author of Eat and Run, is a nose breather. Makes sense. He recommends breathing in through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.

I have tried nose breathing and it is hard! But I do occasionally breath through my nose when forced to, like if there's a bad smell, car exhaust, roadkill, or something like that. When I do breathe through my nose, my nose starts to run and that's a problem too. Back to the mouth breathing. I'm not a snot rocketeer and don't want to start.

I wonder if Jurek uses this app I found? The Breathe Strong app (available for download on the iPhone) was developed by Alison McConnell, breathing training expert and author of the book Breathe Strong, Perform Better. The app can be used for breathing training as well as during workouts. There's an app for everything, isn't there?


Or if you don't want to use an app or get a breathing coach, you can do what I do, and go to yoga. Besides all the physical benefits of yoga, and I've written about that, yoga teaches you to move on the breath, to become more conscious of your breathing, and to breath more deeply. There's a great article on basic breathing techniques here. But like anything else, there's no shortcuts. Breathing requires practice. Who would have thought that something so natural, so basic, would require so much thought?

Just breathe.

Do you focus on breathing when you're running? Are you a mouth breather or a nose breather? Any helpful hints to improve our breathing efficiency?

I'm linking up with the ladies at Workout Wednesday! Be sure to head over to their blogs and see what everyone else is talking about!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

That voodoo that you do...

I've written before about my running superstitions...actually it was about a year ago at this time. You know, picking up pennies, not stepping on a crack, shirts that have bad juju...stuff like that. But MCM mama, Run the Great Wide Somewhere, and My No Guilt Life have a link up today with the topic of race day rituals. A little different twist on superstitions, what are some of the things that I do to get my head in the game for a race? Besides the usual race prep, like training, that is...

Tops on my list is minimizing any...um...accidents. I've talked a lot about my GI issues. This really stresses me out, more than any other part of racing. So I really watch what I eat the week before a race. That means no beef. Minimal roughage. Low fiber diet. For this week, I'm not so concerned with nutrition as much as preventing any race day problems. I'm always trying to minimize those portapotty stops and avoiding any incidents. Especially when there are no portapotties on the race course, like at my last race. I'm really glad I didn't know that in advance! You've seen that picture of the guy with diarrhea running down his legs, right? I don't want to be a meme. And I don't want to be the person at the finish line whom everyone is trying to avoid, saying "who smells?"

It would be hard to run with these on...
But speaking of food, it doesn't really seem to matter much what I eat the night before the race. I don't carb load anymore. That never did it for me. My last race, that epic half marathon I ran last Saturday, I had cheese pizza and 2 glasses of red wine for dinner. Slept like a baby too.

Race day breakfast is always the same. Coffee with chocolate soy milk, orange juice, vitamins, and cheerios. Why mess with success, I say....and it's all easy to digest.

My race outfit is planned the night before the race. This is after religiously checking at least 3-4 weather sites for the race day forecast. I go with the majority opinion of what the weather will be like. And sometimes it's still wrong. Anyways, I lay out my clothes and pin my bib to my shirt. And never, ever wear anything new to a race. Except for my last race. That green top was new. Oops! It was all about the green...

New top, black bottoms
You can't go wrong with black, and that's what I wear on the bottom. Always. My black bottoms are like a security blanket. Yep. I see women wearing pink, yellow, and (gasp!) white shorts, and I feel a tug of envy. I could never trust myself with light colored bottoms. Last year at my Florida sweatfest half marathon, I got stuck running behind a guy wearing white shorts. And no underwear. Did I mention sweat? I know what you're thinking. I only saw his behind. But it was like the sun. You know you're not supposed to stare at it, but you can't help it, right? Let's just say that clothing did not make the man...attractive to me at all. Ick. Hairy butt. Ok, I said it. Moving on.

Now, if he looked like this...there'd be no complaining.
For a few days before the race, I listen to my playlist in the car. Hearing the songs that are going to carry me down the course for 2-4+hours really seems to get me in the racing frame of mind. Sometimes I find myself driving as if I'm racing, weaving around cars and getting annoyed when people stop suddenly in front of me. Even though it's not intentional, it's all part of my race prep, I guess. Oh and that music on race day? It's like putting gas in the tank. I listen and I fly.

Of course, she's sitting on the wrong side of the car...
Ever since last year's Chicago marathon, I've carried this good luck charm in my pocket. My coach Becky gave this to me, and it seems to have magical powers. I've carried it to 3 races, and all 3 races were PRs for me. Coincidence? I think not. I don't know what she put into this rock. But don't let me ever leave it at home. I'm afraid of what could happen.

What race day rituals do you stick with time and time again? Do you have a good luck charm?Are you superstitious?

Be sure to head over to the link up blogs to see what everyone else has to say! Sharing is caring...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Get Lucky 21K Race Report: The backup plan

This was my backup plan race. Remember, I was supposed to be in Florida this weekend, getting ready to run a half in Sarasota on Sunday. I spent most of January and part of February running on the treadmill in fleece clothing to try to simulate running in the heat. Becky did her part at CrossFit with weights and intervals. I did get to do my long runs outdoors. And then my son decided to turn our lives upside down. Once the dust settled, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to travel to Florida for that race, although we will be going later this month for a family vacation. Besides missing the race, I hated to throw all that training away, and I looked for a local race. I found the Get Lucky Chicago 21k scheduled for the same weekend, and without hesitation, signed up. I learned that my friends Sara and Karen were also planning on running it, and that made my decision all the less painful.

Meanwhile, because there was no point doing them, I stopped doing those heat runs on the treadmill and took it outside. Yes, it was cold, but those outdoor runs were therapeutic. They were also surprisingly fast. Maybe those heat runs did something for my endurance? I started to think that maybe I could PR this half. Who PRs at 52? I was quiet about my plans, because my original goal was a sub-2 half, and I didn't want to jinx myself. I'm a little quirky like that. I did tell Becky and she reassured me that a PR would be no problem for me.

Sara and I made plans to drive down together, and she purchased a parking pass to give us one less thing to worry about. After she did that, we heard rumors that the race director changed the location of the race to Soldier Field. There was no notification, and even the race's Facebook page did not give many details. Until 2 days before the race, we still had no idea about parking. Finally, they posted a link to prepay for a parking pass. But because of all this, I was really stressed about the details. The race was to be run on the lakefront path, which is a public path and shared by all. I was worried it would be crowded. That we'd be weaving around people. I kept thinking about what a disaster this race was going to be.

I slept really well the night before the race, which is pretty unusual for me. I took that as a good sign. Sara met me at my house and we headed into the city. Even though it was early, there was a good amount of traffic, and people were driving like maniacs. At one point, a jerk in a white SUV with 70.3 and 13.1 stickers on his car cut me off. I don't know how I didn't hit him or the semi next to me. Sara just about jumped out of her skin. That got my heart pumping! I laid on the horn for a good minute. There was a car next to me and that driver gave me the thumbs up. We were a little shaken after that experience, but the rest of our drive was uneventful, if not a little scary.

Karen, me, Sara
Parking was a breeze and we had an hour and a half to kill. Sara wanted to visit the portapotties, and we headed over to the staging area. We marveled at all the portapotties. There were tons of them. It was a runner's dream come true! This was a good omen! The wind was blowing fairly strong over the lake and it was cold. We went back to the car to warm up. Karen texted us a little while later, and we headed back to the staging area where there were warming tents to meet up with her. She was with her running group, and we got to meet all of them. As it got closer to race time, we decided to make one more trip to the portapotties. There was a short line, and it moved really fast. I stood in line next to 2 girls puffing on an e-cig box. Really? Before a race? We finished up our business and I took one last swig of my Tailwind as we headed to line up for the race.

There were no minute/mile markers, just pace leaders with balloons with times written on them in marker. Feeling optimistic, I lined up with the 1:50 pace group. The song Get Lucky by Daft Punk started blaring and we took off. I wasn't planning on pacing with a group, I just wanted to be with people running about that pace, to avoid the weaving I was so worried about. We headed south on the lakefront path, and had the wind at our back. My legs felt good, and at mile 1, I looked down at my Garmin. I saw 8:24 mins/mile and thought I should pull back a little bit. I still had 12.2 miles to go and that was pretty fast for me. I felt really good, though, and I didn't feel like I was working hard. The weaving that I was worried about never materialized, and I settled into a nice groove.

By mile 4, I was sweating a ton. I rolled up my sleeves and unzipped my top. I hadn't planned on starting my second bottle of Tailwind until mile 5, but I decided to take a sip. Good idea. I felt a lot better after a while, and kept sipping it every half mile or so. The reason I know this is that there were mile markers every half mile at this race. I don't know about you, but that made the race feel longer to me. It did help me fuel though, and I looked at it as a plus.

The race course was mostly flat with a few inclines up over some roads. The course was out and back, and I knew those hills would be tougher on the way back. My pace continued at that 8:24 min/mi pace. I was really happy with that, but worried that it might bite me in the butt in the back half of the race. I still felt good, so I continued on. I saw Sara a little before the turn around (mile 6.6),  and got a high five from her. We headed back north into the wind. Oooh, it was cold, but it actually felt pretty good, considering all the sweating I was doing. I continued to sip my Tailwind. I saw Karen a little while after that, and gave her a high five.

On the way back, I found myself running with a couple of men. I was behind this one guy who would not let me pass him no matter what. When we headed up those hills, I kept my steady pace while he slowed down. I would pass him but after the hill he'd speed up to get ahead of me. I kept laughing about it to myself. Was it the being "chicked" thing? Was it being passed by an old lady? Anyways, I decided to draft behind him, and he has no idea how much he helped me out by blocking the wind. I'm sure if he knew, he would have rethought his whole plan to stay ahead of me. And the guy next to me wouldn't look over at me. He just kept pace with me. I ran with these 2 gems men for a few miles, and lost them both at an aid station. See ya! I never stopped once. It was really nice having my fuel with me.

At mile 10, I started to think that I was going to get my PR. My legs still felt really good. I was slowing down a little bit this second half, with mile splits in the 8:30s but still really fast for me. Then my GI tract started talking to me. Oh no. I realized then that I had not seen one portapotty on the entire course, except at mile 2. Seriously. What would I do if disaster struck? Well, I thought, THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. This became my new mantra for the final 3 miles. I thought about the spare clothes I had in the car. The wipes I had tucked into my spibelt. NOT GOING TO NEED THEM. I chugged along.

Mile 12, I knew I could do it. I started pushing my pace again, but I was getting tired. I ignored that protesting from my abdomen. Sorry, I thought, not stopping now! I finished up my Tailwind and turned it up to 11. I flew across the finish line--saw that race clock with 1:52 on it!  Once I caught my breath I smiled from ear to ear. I knew I had PR'd!

I headed back to the heated tent to find Sara, who had gotten a PR of her own. We celebrated our victories, and I looked up my official time. I was shocked to see the AG placement:

My smile got bigger! It sure helps to be in the old age group, right? There was also a fun statistic on the results page, the age graded results, which gave me an age-graded finish time of 1:33:52, and put me in 49/770 finishers. I'd never seen that before, but I kind of liked it! I'm starting to embrace this whole aging thing, really. Soon I'll get senior discounts and that will be good as well. Especially if they have them on race entry fees...

Anyways, at the finish line, there was the usual water and snacks. We never did make it to the beer tent because we started to get really cold. We couldn't find Karen, and decided to head home. Later we found out she finished, but ended up in the medical tent with dehydration. She's fine now, and I'm sure had a great rest of the day celebrating her birthday! 

Sara and me
So the race turned out great after all. There were no glitches, as far as I could see. A few comments and observations, not really complaints: No national anthem was sung prior to the race, which was a first for me. There were no photographers along the race course. I hear that Get Lucky does post pictures on their FB page, but other than that you're on your own. I think that's ok, but I do like a finish line photo. What can I say? I'll keep checking the FB page and see what comes up. And no portapotties along the course? That was a little disconcerting. I don't know where runners were supposed to relieve themselves. Thank goodness my tummy behaved controlled itself, but it was touch and go at the end of the race! The half mile markers were a little much. But the weather was beautiful, perfect really, and the scenery along the course was spectacular. For this Chicago girl, there's no better view than that Chicago skyline, set along the panorama of Lake Michigan and blue skies. I fueled perfectly with my Tailwind Nutrition, and my training from Becky was spot on.

Would I do it again? I don't know, but it's always fun to race with friends! And a PR? AG placement? I doubt that I would have had this race in the heat and humidity of Florida. Silver linings everywhere. And that makes this one a win for me!

Did you race this weekend? How'd you do? Ever have a backup plan race?

I'm linking this post with Tara at RunningNReading for her Weekend Update! Be sure to head over and see what the other bloggers have to say!