Monday, March 3, 2014

Happy Feet

I really wish I could dance.

I was just watching the news today and saw a couple demonstrating the tango. Oh my gosh, watching them move...I only wish I was that sure footed.

I can run, pretty quick at that, but my feet only move in one direction--forward.

It is funny how much coordination I lack. Becky, my trainer, has been teaching me a variety of crossfit moves. Several of them involve a hip thrust forward as you lift the weight up your body. Then a jump, or a burst of power, as you hoist the weight to your shoulders. One of them we've been working is the "clean" technique. I've just been using a bar without weights because I can't seem to get it right. Every time I see her, she has to re-demonstrate the entire sequence for me. She breaks it down. I feel stupid and uncoordinated. Becky is very encouraging and doesn't laugh at me. At least not where I can see it.

Full disclamer: This is NOT me. But this is a great picture of that hip thrust I was talking about! She's got some momentum going...that baby is going up!

But I bet if I was a good dancer, I would feel more comfortable in my body and be able to move through that sequence much more easily. Like that woman in the picture above.

I'd probably be able to navigate a lot of things more easily! Like hopping the curb from the parking lot into Target. Face meet bike rack...but that's a story for another blog post...

I've never been great at dancing. In kindergarden, I took dance class, and my mom took me out after I just couldn't seem to get it. An awkward, gawky preteen, my mom enrolled me in dance class again, not sure why--maybe to help me with my utter lack of coordination. After several lessons, the instructor took my mom aside and told her that perhaps dancing wasn't my thing. Funny thing, I was fine with quitting.

Even at our wedding, my husband and I did our slow dance rocking from side to side.

As I got older and more comfortable in my skin, I found that I could "move" to the beat and so dancing in large groups became more fun for me. But throw in a floor dance like the electric slide and I was in trouble. After my friends reviewed the steps with me, I still couldn't get it. They'd be going one way and me the other. After a couple of drinks, nobody cared and it was pretty funny. But still.

Thank goodness I can run. Forward, one step in front of the other.

Are you a good dancer? Do you think good coordination is essential to being a good runner?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Does size matter?

Have you seen this medal?

This is this year's medal for the Little Rock Marathon. I wrote this blog post before the race actually took place. I'm sorry to hear that it was cancelled half way through because of the weather. This post is NOT about that race. Or that particular medal. I'm writing about medals in general. Please don't flame me!

Maybe I'm a party pooper, but what the hell? That thing is ridiculous! It's bigger than my head! You could eat dinner off it! And yet people are going crazy for the bling these days. 

Don't get me wrong, I love a good race medal. I have a few myself. 

My favorite medal? This one, from the Madison (Wisconsin) Mini-Marathon:

Attractive, yet practical, with the bottle opener. But nothing extreme.

My least favorite medal? This one, from the North Shore Half Marathon:
This was the cheapest, crappiest medal I've gotten.  I'm really not in it for the bling, but if you are advertising as "the best goody bag ever", you better bring it. Plus this was one of the more expensive races I've ever run. I expected a little more for my money. Don't even get me started on the ugly man shirt that I got. Which went right into the Goodwill bag.

Run Disney has really upped the ante with bling. There is the medal for the marathon and the half marathon. It used to be if you ran both, you were considered "Goofy" and got a 3rd medal. Now there are medals for the 5K and the 10K. And if you run all 4, you've done the Dopey challenge and get a medal for that. 6 medals in all.

Ok, this is going to sound curmudgeonly but COME ON! My email is filled with messages from race directors beckoning: "best bling" "biggest medal" and so forth. While I'm not above being rewarded for my effort with a medal around my neck, I don't pick a race just because of the medal.

After seeing the Epic medal, I had to say something. My fellow blogger Marcia, at Marcia's Healthy Slice wrote about this a few weeks ago. You can read that post here. The comments were mixed. Some people LOVE the bling. And others, old school runners like me, would run for no bling or small bling.

I'd not discounting rewarding people for their accomplishments. Long distance racing is hard, requiring dedication and training. If the lure of earning a medal gets more people moving, that isn't a bad thing. I like when the volunteers put the medal around my neck and congratulate me at the finish line. But what do you do with the medals when you're finished showing them off? Where do you store all your medals? Are they on display? Or do they go in a drawer, like mine?

And think about this: the cost of the medal is included in your race fee. These medals aren't cheap. And race fees are going up, up, up! Those Run Disney Races? Start saving your cash now...

Last year's Chicago Marathon medal was small. I heard that people complained about it.
I don't know. Finishing a marathon is a pretty big deal in itself. And now Chicago is so popular, there is a lottery for entry if you don't qualify. So maybe the race promoters don't have to try so hard and sell the race with "bling". 

That's my kind of race.

I've seen the question come up before, and I want to bring it up here. Would you run a race if there were no medals? Do you choose a race because of the bling? Is bigger really better?

I'm linking up with MCMmamaruns, NoGuiltLife, and Run the Great Wide Somewhere for this one!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Waiting for spring...

Last week at yoga, I stopped to chat with one of the women in the class, whom I hadn't seen for a while. She is a runner too, and last time we talked, was suffering from a hip injury. I asked her how she was feeling, and she told me much better, that she had started running again. I asked her what she was training for.

She told me she's running March Madness, which is a half marathon in Cary, Illinois. This race is kind of the unofficial kick-off for the long distance running season in the Chicago area. Wildly popular, registration opens up on December 31, and usually fills within 30 minutes. I hear the course is quite hilly...the weather unpredictable...the runners FAST!

And then she told me she's running Boston.

I love this ad for the Boston Marathon.

Ah. Boston.

How many long distance runners would love to be training for Boston? And why is that? Is it because you have to qualify for an entry? One of my friends, who has run it in the past, met the qualifying time for this years' race, but because of the large number of entries, was denied, deemed to be 30 seconds too slow.

30 seconds? Aye!

I've always been a middle of the pack runner, not too fast, not too slow. Normally I finish in the top 25% of my age group, and I've always been pretty happy with that. I'm not saying I wouldn't love to qualify for Boston, but I know that I will never run that fast. Right now, my qualifying time would be 4:00:00. I'm a 2:00 half marathoner on a good day...when I ran my one and only marathon, it was on an 80 degree day and let's just say that at 4:00:00, I was nowhere near 26.2.

Besides having a slower BQ time, another benefit to being older, and we all joke about it, is moving into a new age group. I am now in the 50-54 year old women's group, and the ranks are starting to thin out. When I realized this, I had 2 thoughts. One was Yay! Podium! And the other was Oh crap! These old ladies are fast!

I love this graphic because you can see the spread in age groups at the big 3 marathons: MCM, Chicago, and NYCM. You youngsters have a lot of competition!

Anyways, I'm half marathon kind of gal. The half marathon is my favorite distance. Tough enough to have to train for, yet the training doesn't take over your life. I work almost full time, and yes, I did train for my marathon even with my job and my family, but it was a challenge.

I like to do 2-3 half marathons per year. This year I'm considering 4. I had considered the March Madness Half, but after the winter we've had, I began looking for a race in Florida that I could do while on our family spring break trip. As far as the rest of my races go, I can only hope that Mother Nature will have mercy on us poor midwesterners and let spring come.

For now here is my race calendar for 2014:

So tell me! What races do you have planned for 2014? What is your favorite distance? Do you have any goal races/distances that you would love to do?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Polar vortex? Black hole?

This polar vortex version 3.0 has really gotten me down. I'm trying to keep a positive attitude, my wacky sense of humor, trying to keep moving forward, telling myself that I have no control over the weather and life, but I can control how I feel. I'm trying. I really am.

But I've been hit hard with some really stressful situations the last couple of weeks. Over the past weekend, I felt myself sliding into what I can only describe as a "black hole". My mood was dark and I couldn't shake it off. A long run in the cold, bitter wind on Saturday did nothing to improve my attitude. As a matter of fact, I felt worse when I finished, which is a rare, unheard of event following a run. It probably didn't help that I was frustrated by the failure of my mile tracker (this time I used Endomondo) and had to keep stopping my run to restart it. Later, I went to dinner with my family to celebrate my parents birthday. I couldn't get into the conversation. Later, my mom and my sister asked me if something was wrong and I just said I was feeling really grumpy. I shared with them some of the events of the past couple of weeks and they were shocked, telling me I should call them to talk about it.

They're right, of course, but I hate to bother people with that stuff. I'm the fixer, the one who helps people and it's hard to switch roles. I hate feeling like this. I'm the "suck it up" kind of person.  I've been trying really hard to push myself, to keep on keeping on. In my mind, I see myself clawing at the walls of this black hole to climb out. So far I've been doing ok. I've been talking more about how I'm feeling with my family and friends, which is helping. I always tell my patients who are experiencing anxiety to talk about it, that we know talking about it helps. I need to take my own advice!

I continue to run and cross train. Truly, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't run. I take it outside as much as has been possible this horrible winter. I'm trying to stay positive. Laughing a lot at the absurdities of life.

This morning I heard birds singing, even though it is bitterly cold. The sun is shining. It has to get better right?

Oh...and I bought a Garmin. One less thing for me to stress about on my long runs.

I'll be ok. I will. Thanks for letting me whine here.

Anyone else feeling the winter blues? What do you do to stay positive when you feel blue?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Who's old?!

Not me. Nope. Even though I color my hair to cover my gray every 4 weeks. Pull out my reading glasses to read small text. Go to bed at 9 pm. Lament those wrinkles on my forehead. 

Heck, I ran a 1:58 half marathon just 3 months ago! I can deadlift 150#! I can still get up on one waterski! Under pressure from my teenage sons, I wakeboarded for the first time last summer! I sure don't feel old!

Smiling or grimacing? You be the judge!

Yesterday at work, one of the younger nurses started talking with me about working out. 

"You look great, so fit," she said. Then the bomb dropped: "For someone your age."

I thanked her (and died a little, inside).

Then she went on. "I mean, you're older than my mom, I mean she's in her 40s and she doesn't work out at all, and you're in such good shape.."

Please, I silently prayed. Stop talking. I don't know how to respond to what you're saying. Stop. Luckily at that point, we were interrupted.

I know she meant to compliment me. Truly, I do. And truth be told, I could outrun her and most of the younger women I work with.

But what the heck? Just because I'm over 50 makes me that person, the one who is in good shape "for her age"? How about just being in good shape?

And what is the bigger picture? Are older women (and men) perceived as out-of-shape? Fragile?

Part of my reason for starting this blog and my Facebook page was to change that perception of the "older athlete" (and I cringe again). I don't feel old! But that young nurse sure made me feel that way, however well-meaning her intentions were.

Joe Friel writes a blog for endurance athletes. As a 70 year old triathlete himself, he also addresses issues facing older endurance athletes. Joe was recently featured in the Washington Post. His basic tenet: Athletes shouldn’t slow down as they age; keeping up the pace gives them the best chance of staving off decline. He also talks about the importance of weight lifting and high intensity training (HIT) as a way to slow decline and maintain or even improve aerobic capacity. An article in Runners World addresses the science of aging and endurance running. Basically: quality over quantity; flexibility and strength are key; recovery is more important than ever. And contrary to popular belief, running does NOT increase arthritis, in fact, runners have been shown to have less arthritis than non-runners. So there's that!

I get it. I don't deny that I feel different than I did when I was younger. My knees sound like Rice Krispies when I descend a staircase. If I skip a yoga class or don't stretch after I run, I pay the price with prolonged soreness and sluggish legs on my next run. I've incorporated HIT into my weekly regimen--crossfit--and it has enhanced my running dramatically. I run a lot of half marathons and I ran one marathon, but it took such a toll on my body that I've decided just to stick with half marathons. I haven't written off the marathon distance, but if I decide to do another, I sure would train a lot differently for it than I did for Chicago. Respect the distance. Lesson learned.

None of my friends run anymore. Most of them walk, in groups, carrying coffee drinks. Last summer, I invited one of my friends to go standup paddleboarding (SUP) with me on Lake Michigan. Always one to jump at working out with me (although she drew the line at running), after a short time on the board, she sat down and began paddling in a seated position. "It's too hard," she told me. My heart broke. 


Does aging mean you have to slow down? Why am I the weird one, who's pushing her limits? The one who looks good "for her age"? Am I destined to bingo nights, early bird specials at the local restaurants, short curly perms? 

Not if I can help it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

#throwbackthursday ramblings

Each Thursday, I've been posting pictures and race bibs from past races on my Facebook page. A little self-indulgent, maybe, but these trips down memory lane have been fun for me. I've been running for 20+ years, but haven't given much thought to the miles I piled up and races I ran back in the beginning of my running years. I started running to chase away some personal demons, but found that running was actually something I enjoyed and was fairly good at. I've always been a middle of the pack runner. Even back in the 1990s, in spite of some pretty fast running times, there weren't as many people running. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal lamented the trend of slower race times among runners, but this may be because of more people taking up running. Regardless, even though I've slowed down over the years, I remain in the middle of the pack. Alrightly then!

The Y-Me race for breast cancer was started in 1991 to support a Chicago based breast cancer hotline. Women who were diagnosed with breast cancer could call the hotline and talk to a volunteer who would provide emotional support and information. This race ran through 2012, until the organization declared bankruptcy. The race grew from a small Chicago based race to a national race that took place in multiple cities, raising millions for the Y-Me organization. Every year on Mother's Day, runners and walkers gathered to raise money to support this organization. The 3 years I ran the race, it took place in Montrose Harbor and we ran along the lakefront. The race grew in popularity, and moved to Grant Park the following year. I stopped participating because in 1997 I was 6 months pregnant and wasn't running during my pregnancy. And then time passed as I became absorbed with my growing family. While I kept running, I didn't run races for about 10 years.

When I returned to road races, I was amazed at the changes. First of all, races were huge! When I picked up my first race packet, there was a D-tag on the back of my bib. I felt like a newbie attaching it to my shoelaces and stressed about doing it right. At my races in the 1990s, there were no timing chips! You tore the strip off the bottom of your bib and handed it to a volunteer at the finish line, who slid it on a spindle. Someone called out your time and another person recorded it. Super lo-tech. My race time was never recorded in one of the Y-Me races that I ran. And of course, that was my PR race. That was the chance you took back then. When I posted this on facebook, I realized I had no pictures from any of these races. There weren't photographers at the finish line to capture your victorious finish (and sell you a photo or 2). Race shirts were cotton t-shirts (which I did run in!)--tech shirts? What was that?

I chose this race for 2 people dear to me: my aunt Dottie, who was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and fought for 10 years before she died from the disease; and my colleague and friend Lenore, who was diagnosed and died within 2 years of a very aggressive form of the disease. I thought about some of the women with advanced breast cancer that I had cared for as a home health nurse.

Funny how 3 race bibs could provide so much thought and memories!

Have you run any races for charity? Run in memory of someone? How long have you been running?

Oooh! My favorite popchips can be yours for 6 months! Follow the link to the giveaway....The Happy Runner

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Slip slidin' away

Today was a planned yoga day. But then I saw this: 

And this: 

The forecast for the rest of the week does not look good at all. We are supposed to get torrential rains tomorrow, and on top of all the snow we have on the ground, it looks like we are in for a mess. Then the cold returns. Once it freezes, the region will become one big ice rink. And while 37 degrees may not seem warm to some people, to us midwesterners who have been in the deep freeze for 2 months, it is a heat wave. So I decided to bag the yoga for today, even though my legs protested, and hit the road. I almost wore capris, but my legs need a little deforesting....

The beautiful blue sky and sunshine felt warm. 
Still lots of snow on the ground behind me!

In spite of the warm temperatures, my run wasn't exactly perfect. I had to stop a quite a few times to navigate hazards. 

Like this:
Chunked up snow that melted and froze into ice balls. Agility is a skill that comes in handy here, jumping from one open spot to another.

And this:

This is what I like to call "take a chance on me". It looks like frozen ice, doesn't it? Solid, I'll just shuffle along to keep my balance. Oops, nope, it isn't as thick as it seems...and down to the bottom of the puddle I go. Cold water in my running shoe. Thank god for my SmartWool socks. They really do wick the moisture away!

And this:

There is no way I'm walking through this slushie. So along the side of the path is some chunked up ice. A test of balance, as I walked along the narrow icy stuff, arms out to the side.

And this.

Looks clear, right? Nope. Black ice. The absolute worst road hazard--a heart stopping experience. Just running along, enjoying the day, and woooosh! you're sliding, out of control, trying not to fall. 

Running in the winter and early spring is always a challenge. You might not get into a groove. But you take it for what it is. Fresh air. Sunshine. And the promise of spring.

I can't complain. We need days like this to lift our spirits, give us a taste of spring. Birds were singing. I know spring will come. 

Just be careful out there!

When is your favorite time of year to run?