Friday, October 29, 2010

The Gear I Run With

Yesterday: 7.8 miles over hills, 8:28 pace
Today: 7.2 miles, 8:42 pace

This morning I had a very excellent run!  One of the reasons it was so excellent is because the temperatures were in the 50s.  This is the first time this season I needed a top layer, so I ran in shorts, tank bra and a long-sleeved cotton shirt.  For those of you who read my entry about the clothes I run in, you may remember this is my absolute favorite running outfit.  Long-sleeved cotton shirts feel so comfy to me.  Also, when I feel cool, I can pull the sleeves down over my hands, but when I'm warm I roll the sleeves up.  Here's hoping for many more days of similar weather.

Today I'd like to talk about running gear.  In the past decade, many companies have started producing a wide range of products for runners outside of the usual clothing and shoes.  I am amazed at how much variety there is!  From watches to GPS to heart rate monitors to fuel belts to bottles to road ids, there are lots of running related items you can carry with you out the door.

Nike women's sports watch and HRM
The digital watch.  I almost never leave for a run without a digital watch.  In fact, I am almost never without a watch period.  I like knowing what time it is.  I have a few nicer watches, but 90% of the time, I wear my Nike Imara sports watch.  Let's face it, changing watches takes foresight, which I don't always have.  I time nearly all my runs (the exception being big races, where knowing my time psychs me out) to determine my average pace.  Because I don't have GPS, I use google maps to plot my running routes.  This might seem old school, but it works for me.  I've considered a Garmin watch, but the price is a bit of a deterrent, especially when my current system works well. This watch was a Christmas gift and it came with a chest HRM (see the picture).  I have used the HRM occassionally, but I didn't like it very much.  First, I found it somewhat uncomfortable and experienced chafing.  More importantly, I found it inaccurate.  This is probably because as a female runner, the strap has to sit low on my chest, making it more difficult to get a reading.  However, this particular model was specially designed for women, so that isn't much of an excuse.  Anyways, the reading would jump around like crazy (above 220) when there was no perceived change in effort, so I gave up on the heart rate monitor.  I still use the watch though, and it has been going strong for 4 or 5 years now.
iPod Nano

The iPod Nano.  I take an iPod Nano and earbud headphones along with me on the majority of my runs.  I listen to a combination of podcasts (mostly running related) and music on training runs.  I find the content enjoyable and it helps pass the time.  Especially on long runs, it can be a welcome distraction.  When I first started running, I recall using a walkman that takes tapes.  The iPod is certainly an improvement in size and convenience.  This baby is ultra light.  I keep it in a case with a clip for my shorts, but which also protects it from the elements.  While I use it for the majority of my training, I usually ditch the iPod in races.  I think it would prevent me from getting the full experience and detract from the sights and sounds of a race.

And that concludes the gear I run with.  I know the list is short, but I don't like carrying things with me when I run.  Sometimes I need to bring a house key or energy gel, but otherwise I keep it light and simple.  That's just what works for me :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Leafy greens: a new favorite food

Yesterday: 4.1 miles with boyfriend (8:46 pace)
Today: 7.7 miles over hills (planned for this evening)

There are many foods that I love.  Today I would like to talk about some leafy greens, which I have (surprisingly) found myself recently enamored with.  A few months ago, I made a concerted effort to incorporate more vegetables and fruit into my diet and to cut down on my consumption of animal products.  While I have always loved fruit, my relationship with vegetables was rather lukewarm, and I was certainly not getting the recommended five servings a day.  I have switched my eating habits and now consume a large salad for lunch about 6 days a week.  This meal alone helps me incorporate lots of veggies into my diet.  But, when you eat a salad every day, you need some variety and so I have been trying out lots of foods that were previously ignored by me.  Some I really haven't enjoyed (beets, turnips), while others have delighted me.  Today I want to honor some leafy greens because they are delicious, nutritious and my new found friends!

I have tried the following greens: arugula, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and swiss chard.  I have not yet tried, but would like to try: beet greens, collard greens, dandelion greens, and turnip greens.

Arugula is delicious!  I have been eating it raw in my salads all week and it has a lot more flavor and zing than romaine lettuce.  It has a peppery, spicy taste and is very fragrant.  Of all the greens I have tried, this is my favorite to eat raw.

My favorite way to eat kale is sautéed.  First, I heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan.  I chop 10-12 white mushrooms and sauté them in the pan until golden brown and fragrant.  While they are cooking, I wash the kale and break the leaves into smaller pieces.  I then add the kale to the pan and cook.  The leaves will shrink a lot and their green color will intensify.  As a final step, I add 1/4 cup of pine nuts and some kosher salt.  The pine nuts need just a few minutes to warm and toast (3 minutes) and then this side dish is done!  For me, this is two servings and it is my favorite way to eat cooked greens (so far).  I have also tried kale in salads and raw in smoothies.  In both cases it was okay, but not great.  I definitely prefer the flavor of cooked kale.

I have eaten mustard greens once, as a substitute for kale in the above dish.  Mustard greens look very similar to kale but have a lighter green colored leaf (almost lime).  These greens had a wonderful spicy flavor when cooked.  However, when I reheated the dish the next day, the greens did not taste very good.  I think the kale holds up better to storage.

After arugula, spinach is a good choice for salads.  I think arugula has a lot more flavor than spinach, but both leaves are nice raw and go well with other veggies.  Spinach is also a great choice for a sweeter salad with things like citrus, berries and nuts.  I haven't ventured into the cooked spinach zone just yet, but I think it would be good with pasta.

Rainbow swiss chard
Lastly, is swiss chard.  I have eaten swiss chard both in soups and sautéed.  I think this green is okay, but I much prefer kale.  I found that the chard wilted rather quickly in my fridge.  Unfortunately, I can usually only go to the grocery store once a week, so I can't always eat vegetables 2 days after I buy them.  Swiss chard is a very pretty green though.  The stems come in a variety of colors including white, yellow, red, purple and pink.  I think I should give this green another try though, and perhaps use it right after I purchase it.

Some final thoughts on leafy greens.  First, if you have some recipes that utilize these greens, or the greens I still have to try, please share them!  I am always looking for new ideas.  Second, if these plants seem foreign to you, give them a shot!  You may be pleasantly surprised.

On a completely different note, last night I participated in the Runner's Round Table podcast.  The episode was about endurance relays and can be found here.  This episode was led by Dr. Dave with fellow co-hosts Mark, Colin and Chris.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

And the Humidity Returns...

Yesterday: 5.8 miles at 8:32/mile pace
Today: 14.2 miles at 8:29/mile pace

The weather forecast for tomorrow predicts a high of 92F.  It's the last week of October and we are back in the 90s!!!  Seriously?  What happened to those nice 50 degree mornings we had a few weeks ago?  Austin is experiencing something of an indian summer, and with it is a lot more humidity.

My runs this weekend were sticky, sweaty and unpleasant.  Yesterday it was supposed to be an "easy" 5 or 6 miles that turned into hot hot misery.  First, I didn't start the run until 10am (because I wanted to sleep late) so I was both dehydrated and hungry on the run.  Second, the temperature had crept into the 80s, with high humidity.  The sun was high in the sky and felt like it was beating down on me.  I ended up taking several walk breaks before struggling home to 3 glasses of water and a nice cold shower.  At the very least, I got plenty of vitamin D.
Longhorn Dam, Austin TX
This morning I had to get through a 14 mile long run.  I used a similar route to a previous 13 miler, with a hilly four mile loop on Stratford road and 10 miles along Town Lake between the Longhorn Dam and Mopac Bridge.  Despite being just 1.1 miles longer than before, this run was infinitely more difficult.  I felt tired after 4 miles and exhausted after 10.  My thirst seemed unquenchable, especially with limited water fountains along the route.  My clothes were sweat soaked after a half hour.  I struggled through the last three miles and ended up taking two walk breaks.

In retrospect, I am happy to have gotten through these runs.  However, I really really hope I have seen the last of the humidity for a while.  This weekend's running is a strong indication to me of how much better I perform and feel in cool, dry weather.  Here's hoping for 50s before the next long run!

As a final note, I wanted to thank Mark and Cris for their insightful comments about Boston Marathon Registration filling quickly.  If you haven't gotten a chance yet, I hope you will read the post and let me (and other bloggers!) know what you think about this issue.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Boston Marathon Registration Fills in One Day

On October 18th, 9am EST, registration of qualified runners for the 115th Boston Marathon opened.  At 5:03 pm that same day, registration had filled and closed.  This is by far the fastest filling of a Boston Marathon in the race's history.

In February of 2009, about six months after moving to Texas, I ran the Austin marathon.  I had trained hard and had my eyes on a new PR.  My previous PR was set in 2005 at the Baystate marathon (my first) where I was luck enough to qualify for the Boston marathon, which I ran in 2006 and 2007.  In 2009, I was focused on getting faster.  Of course, a new PR would also mean another Boston qualification.  I was secretly hoping for an excuse to fly back in April 2010 to visit my parents and run my hometown marathon.

Starting line of the Baystate marathon,
October 2005
The Austin marathon came and went and I had a great day and a new PR of 3:35:09.  The 2009 Boston marathon came and went, with some great showings by US athletes.  When the fall arrived and the blazing heat of Texas subsided, I got my butt in gear and increased my mileage.  I started thinking about registering.  Rumors had it that registration would fill earlier than usual.  Previously it had closed out in about February, so I decided to register in November.  Around the middle of November in 2009, I went onto the BAA website, ready to shell out the over $100 and commit to this race...but registration was full!  I had missed out.  In just over two months, the entire field of qualified runners was saturated and my qualifying time wouldn't carry me over for another year.  I was out of luck.

Kenmore square, Boston marathon 2006
Initially, I was pretty disappointed.  I felt somewhat cheated by the whole thing.  But then I reminded myself that I had run that race twice before.  I also reminded myself that flying to Boston was somewhat expensive and grad students are raking in the dough.  Finally I pointed out that if what I love is running long distances (which I do), that there are plenty of marathons in Texas and surrounding areas and there are other types of races I can do.  I signed up for the 3M Half marathon in Austin and got over it.

I told this lengthy, three paragraph personal anecdote to illustrate my own experience of being shut out of Boston registration and to explain why this personally is okay for me.  I started running marathons because I think 26.2 miles is an extraordinary challenge and I feel really great knowing that I can complete the training for that distance and execute on race day.  There are plenty of 26.2 mile courses out there, and I want to try all of them.  Nonetheless, in a larger sense, I am concerned that Boston registration is filling up so fast.  If I had not already had the experience of running this historic and awesome race, I know I would have been devastated to not get in.  Additionally, many qualified runners were completely blind sided by this sudden increase in popularity.  I think the BAA has a serious problem on there hands and I hope they fix it.

People have suggested a variety of things.  The most common suggestions are the following; 1) Increase field size, 2) Do away with charity runners, 3) Tighten qualification standards, 4) Use a lottery system, 5) Delay registration until closer to April.  I want to talk about each of these suggestions and my opinion regarding their ability to solve this problem.

A logical suggestion is to allow more runners in the Boston Marathon.  The field size is typically 20,000-25,000 official runners.  Races like NYC, London, Berlin and Chicago are accommodating ten to twenty thousand more runners.  While I advocate increasing the size of the Boston field, this particular course is simply unable to support as many runners as NYC or even Chicago.  The majority of the Boston race is run through small New England towns on narrow, winding two lane roads.  Furthermore, the cities that are part of the course are consistently reluctant to an increase in participants because of the burden it places on medical and safety staff, volunteers and road closures.  I would like to see Boston bump their registration numbers up a little bit, but I think it is unrealistic to assume this will fix the problem completely.

Many have suggested Boston do away with charity runners, who can make up as much as 20% of the total field.  I think this is a good idea, because I would prefer to see Boston remain prestigious and sought after, but I don't think it is very realistic.  Boston has a long tradition of supporting organizations through charity runners, and these runners bring in thousands of dollars each year to worthy causes.  I think it would be some really bad PR to pull the plug on this program, and I can't see the BAA or John Hancock running that risk.  One option would be to decrease the total number of charity runners from 20 to 10%, but double their expected monetary contribution.  This would free up some more spots for qualified runners without disturbing the charities.

Another thought is that the BAA should tighten the qualifying standards.  To me, this is really the best option.  Historically, Boston qualifying standards have fluctuated a lot and used to be much more stringent than they are now.  Second, stricter qualifying standards would keep with the spirit of a prestigious, world class event worth striving for.  Additionally, a small change in qualifying standards could easily create a lot more availability in the race.  

Many popular races (NYC, London, Houston) are using a lottery system for registration.  I would be really disappointed if Boston adopted this approach. First, I don't want Boston to be like those other marathons, it should continue to set a standard, not follow in the footsteps of other races.  Second, a lot of lottery events are becoming very difficult to get into and appear to be biased based on where you live.  While many may disagree, I think Boston is best as a marathon experienced by those who have achieved a certain time goal rather than achieved a time goal AND got lucky.

The final common suggestion is that the BAA delay their registration process until closer to the event in April.  In previous years, registration has opened in September.  This year it was moved back to mid October to accommodate more fall races and give those runners a fair shot at entering the race.  I think this was a responsible move on the part of the BAA, although it clearly wasn't enough.  Furthermore, there are plenty of fall races run in late October, November and even December.  In the southern part of the country (like Texas), major marathons are in the winter months.  Moving the registration date around might help to include more qualifying races, but there will always be some that are left out, so this is more of a short term, band-aid solution.

Regardless of which approach you think is best (and I would love to hear your thoughts!), clearly the BAA needs to hit this problem head on and come up with a new solution.  It is ridiculous for a qualifying marathon like Boston to sell out in 8 hours and it is unfair to hundreds of runners who met those standards but were unable to register in time or even knew this would be an issue.  If registration for the race takes place in the span of 8 hours, runners are subject to all kinds of ridiculous biases like internet speed, time zones, the site crashing, and slow credit card verification.  Obviously you wouldn't be able to mail in an entry blank, which would impact those runners without an internet connection at home or access at work.  My hope is that the BAA reviews its qualifying standards and revamps them across the board, testing the impact of a modest (<5min) decrease in the requirement.  Additionally, I think they should push the registration back to December and consolidate the charity running spots.  In the meantime, I'll be content with my 2006 and 2007 experiences and work on getting faster by running in other races.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Post-workout soreness

Yesterday: 7.25 mile tempo run (3.75 miles at 7:04 pace), average 7:50 pace
Today: 7.45 mile recovery run, 8:39 pace

Yesterday I was VERY sore.  All over.  You may be surprised that running isn't the culprit.  Sometimes running makes me sore, although after about 13 years of it, my body is pretty accustomed to long runs so running soreness only occurs in isolated places.  This particular bout of soreness can only be attributed to flag football.

I play on a women's intramural flag football team at the University of Texas.  It is composed entirely of female graduate students, the majority of whom are chemical engineers, and we call ourselves the CHEetahs.  I talked a little bit about flag football in a previous post.  On Sunday, we had a regularly scheduled game, followed by a make-up game on Monday night.  For any given game, the total amount of active time is around 90 minutes.  We warm up for about 45 minutes before the game and then play for 45-55 minutes.  For someone accustomed to long runs, this is not a lot of time, but it is deceptively tiring!  The morning after a football game (or sometimes practice) I am often reminded of all the muscles I have in my body that do not get a workout when I run.  These were the muscles that were very achy yesterday; including but not limited to: my lower back, my shoulders, my neck, my butt, my outer thighs.  Additionally, on Monday night, we were down a player and I had to step into the role of rusher, a position I almost never play because...I am not fast.  I can run for a really, really long time, but my sprint leaves much to be desired.  Anyways, I gave it my best effort, and found myself repeatedly running at the quarterback, hand outstretched, grasping for her flag belt,  and slamming my thumb into something hard. I jammed my thumb pretty badly at least twice during the game such that on Tuesday morning I could not grip anything.  This made pipetting, an integral part of my research oriented days, quite difficult.
The action of pipetting, used to accurately
aliquot small volumes of liquid.  Notice the
 importance of the thumb.

On the upside, my body feels much better today!  My thumb has returned to a normal size and the majority of the pain has subsided.  The aforementioned sore muscles are hardly noticeable now.  Time really does heal all wounds.  So, this experience begs the question, how do we handle post-workout soreness*?  I have some rules of thumb that I apply to my own running lifestyle that have served me well over the years.  First, you can almost always push through muscles soreness and do not need to be concerned.  Muscle soreness is caused by micro-tears in the muscle fibers, which the body repairs using amino acids found in nutrients (or synthesized).  Additionally, a build-up of by-products, including lactic acid, can contribute to muscle soreness.  Muscles soreness often occurs after a hard effort, and its generally good to follow any hard effort with a leisurely recovery run, cross training or a rest day, giving the muscles time to repair.  Second, pay attention to all joint/bone pain.  While muscle soreness is a normal side effect of exertion, joint or bone pain is not and could indicate something more serious.  If you are unable to keep a normal stride, stop running.  If the pain does not alter your stride, back off and monitor how it affects you.  Is it pronounced on the uphills? downhills? hard efforts? when not running? when walking downstairs? when applying pressure?  This can help you identify what the source of the pain is and will be useful if it escalates to the point that need to see a doctor.  Third, light aerobic activity can alleviate soreness.  After two days of flag football, I was feeling pretty sore and the idea of a hard tempo run seemed awfully painful.  However, getting out for that run definitely sped up my recovery by improving my circulation, flushing by-products from my muscles, and stretching out my leg muscles.  I often find that a recovery workout is more useful than a complete rest day.  Swimming has the same effect for me.  Finally, embrace the ice bath.  It's not just folklore people, an ice bath after a hard workout really speeds up recovery.  Soaking the muscles in cold water reduces swelling and increases circulation of the blood to extremities (to keep you warm).  This means freshly oxygenated and nutrient rich blood is sent throughout your muscles, flushing the oxygen and nutrient poor blood back towards the core, where by-products can be removed. While it might be uncomfortable sitting in a tub of ice, I like to think of it as a badge of honor.  For example, you can brag to your friends about how tough you are.  Not only did you run 20 miles before 10am, but you sat in a tub of ice for 10 min naked!

So I'm hoping to be back to my limber self for tomorrow's anticipated hill workout.  I have a little break from flag football until Sunday's practice.  We are now in the post-season because we made it to the playoffs!  In case you were wondering, we lost on Sunday night but came back strong for a 34-0 win on Monday.

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a physical therapist.  I have no expertise in this area, only personal experience.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Put Your Egos Aside and an Ike Update

Yesterday: 7 miles recovery at 8:46 pace
Today: Rest day, maybe 3.5 miles this evening

Thursday morning I did a track workout.  Like most distance runners, I never look forward to track workouts, because it isn't very fun and it requires effort.  While a leisurely hour long run is relaxing and never leaves me too winded, a track workout (done correctly) is exhausting and uncomfortable.  Also, it has been so long since I did any regular track work that I had to guess what pace would be good for me.  I decided on a ladder starting with a 1600 (7:19), followed by a 1200 (5:23), two 800s (3:27, 3:29) and a fast 400 (1:36) to finish for a total of 3 paced miles.  As the distance decreased, I aimed to increase my pace, which I was (happily) able to do.  This part of the workout was a success.  However, I am not sure I pushed myself enough and next time I will have to aim for a faster pace.  I guess I at least have a starting point now.

So a funny thing happened to me on the track.  I was running on UT's recreational track (i.e. not for the varsity...) and the ROTC groups were doing a morning workout.  A bunch of marines were running paced laps on the track.  I know they were marines because of their shirts.  I start my workout with a 1600 and in a few laps I find myself right behind one of the marines.  We were running almost the same pace, but his was a little slower than my goal pace, so I move to the outside and try to go around him.  He speeds up.  I stay on the outside for a while, in lockstep with him, and then fall back behind.  He slows down.  I try to go around again and he speeds up.  When I go to do my 1200m, the same thing happens!  I end up behind this guy (now running with his buddy), their pace is slower than my goal pace, I speed up to go around, and they both speed up boxing me out!  This same thing starts to happen on the 800m, but by now my pace is more than 20 sec faster per mile than in the 1600m, and I am able to pass the guy without any yo-yoing, although he attempted it.

Its one thing to try and pass someone in a race, but a track workout?  We weren't even doing the same workout!  I think that this guy was embarrassed by the possibility of being passed by a female runner.  I've had similar experiences in small races, and some guys will even come up to me after a race and ask me in a confrontational manner questions about my training and race preparation.  Now don't get me wrong, I realize that most runners, male or female, would never fall into this category.  But for those of you out there like my Thursday morning track buddy, here is my message: Put your ego aside.

The truth is that on any given day, there are plenty of people who are slower than you and also people who are faster than you.  We all need to accept that.  It doesn't mean we can't push ourselves to reach a certain time or place goal in a race, because we should all do that.  However, it does mean we should be courteous to other runners, in races and training.  Don't underestimate someone simply because of their gender, age or physical build.  People are faster than you (and me!) and that's okay.  Runners on average are one of the friendliest and most open groups of people, so I know this doesn't apply to everyone.  Don't let yourself get overly competitive with someone because they are "supposed to be slower" than you.  We can't all be the fastest, Usain Bolt has that one covered.  That is, until someone beats him. Oh wait, didn't Tyson Gaye already do that?

Amanda, walking on the rocks at Bull Creek
Ike swimming in the water
Ok so now I think we all need an Ike update.  The weather this past Sunday was very pleasant and I convinced my boyfriend that we should take our very best doggy buddy, Ike, for a hike.  We picked him up from his Dad's house and drove to the Bull Creek Trail near Old Spicewood Springs road.  This is a very pretty, wooded trail of about 3.5 miles that runs between a ridge and a creek.  There is lots of tree cover, the sun was shining, the creek was running and Ike was delighted!  We walked for about 15 minutes before coming to a rock ledge along the creek with a waterfall.  Here it was deep enough for Ike to swim, so we hung out for a while and let him play in the water.  It was very pretty, as you can see!
Ike focusing on a target rock for his "fishing"

After a very short time, Ike realized that he could pursue one of his favorite activities here - fishing for rocks.  He began finding target rocks, big and small, in the shallow area of the pool.  He uses his paws to dig them up and then carries them in his mouth to safety.  I captured this with pictures, but feel free to check out a video I posted earlier of him doing this at Walnut Creek.
Ike digging for a rock
Ike moving the target rock to its new home

That's all for now!  I'm planning a long run for tomorrow morning and I'm thinking 12 miles.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Clothes I Run In

Yesterday: Rest day
Today: 7 miles at 8:36 pace

I had a great run this morning.  Almost didn't get up to do it, because I was feeling very sleepy at 6am.  But, I told myself I would be disappointed taking two rest days in a row and pushed myself out the door.  I'm glad I did!  Weather was great, nice and cool.  I ran east over the I-35 overpass and got on the dirt trails near the new Mueller Development.  About two years ago, a big chunk of land east of I-35 was purchased and converted into upscale apartments, condos and houses.  The developers also put in a pond, jogging paths, and a dog park.  The trails were easy on my legs and I was pleased with the run!  I'd like to do a track workout tomorrow, so I'm hoping to wake up rested and ready to go.  The only thing that might change that is tonight's flag football game.  Hopefully I won't get too battered, as flag football is not supposed to be a contact game, but lately I've been feeling sore afterwards.

Today's topic is running clothing, i.e. what I wear when I run.  Although the summer days in Texas are brutal and I might be tempted to head out in the buff, I always run clothed.  Over the years I have developed a fondness for certain items and wardrobe, like many things, has become routine.  Clothing for me varies depending on the weather, so today I will discuss my warmer weather garb.  I'll save winter running for a later post!

So let's start from the bottom; I already mentioned what shoes I use in a previous post.  For socks, I like low cut cotton.  I'm not partial to a particular brand, but I have a lot of NB socks simply because I picked them up at the outlet store.

I strongly prefer running shorts to running pants, and will usually continue to wear shorts until the temperature drops below 40F.  I like thin, nylon shorts with a relatively high cut on the leg.  I have a couple of pairs of NB, as well as Champion, Reebok and Under Armour.  While I'm not brand picky, I do look for shorts that come with some sort of small "key pocket".  This is especially useful when you have to run with a house or car key, although tying it into a shoelace is another viable alternative.  Key pockets are most often sewn into the front inside of a pair of shorts.  I have also found shorts with small pockets built into the back exterior of the shorts.  These pockets are usually larger and can carry fun things like proximity cards and gels.

As a female runner, I of course wear a sports bra.  This is perhaps the trickiest part of apparel because not all sports bras are created equal!  I consistently get unpleasant chafing from ill-fitting sports bras and thus have tried many brands and styles.  I personally cannot wear NB, Reebok and some style of Nike running bras.  The best fits for me are Champion, Adidas and Gracie's Gear.  I wear both tank bras (which cover the stomach) and traditional sports bras, depending on the temperature and my mood.  The Gracie's Gear sports bra is my favorite, it has a large zipper pocket built into the top front, making it an ideal choice for a long run or other occasion where you have a lot of "stuff."  The material is also very comfortable and most importantly, I have no chafing, even on long runs!  I highly recommend checking it out if you have sports bra woes.
Gracie's Gear Tank Bra
I get pretty warm while running, so unless the temperature is below about 60F or I'm feeling particularly modest, that is all the clothing I am wearing.  In the 50s and 40s, I add a top layer.  I have lots of lightweight wicking t-shirts, mostly from races, that are very functional.  However, my favorite running outfit on a cool day includes a long sleeve cotton t-shirt.  I know all you endurance sport junkies are hating on the cotton right now, but I don't care.  Cotton is comfy and soft when I need to wipe sweat off my face or my nose is runny.  Also, all through high school I trained in cotton shirts, so it is familiar and nostalgic for me.  So don't hate the cotton!  On long runs or days below 40F, I am smart enough to don high-tech fabrics.

Most of my runs are in the morning when its either dark or the sun isn't particularly strong.  I usually pass on sunglasses or a hat.  I do have both, however, and sometimes they strike my fancy.  I have a nice pair of sporty Bolle sunglasses that wrap around my face and don't usually get foggy.  

As for hats, I have three baseball caps.  The first is a navy, 2001 Boston Marathon hat.  Many of you probably realize that there is no way I was old enough to run a marathon in 2001 and you would be correct.  It was given to me by my track coach who did run that race.  He used to wear it all the time and I told him one day that it was a great hat.  He took it off his head and offered it to me!!!  I have treasured it ever since.  Now that I've run two Bostons, I feel very proud wearing the hat.  My second hat is a Boston Red Sox hat, given to me by my father.  He bought it for my birthday in 2008 before I moved to Austin so "I would remember where I came from."  There is, of course, no town like Boston and no team like the Sox and I am proud to wear this hat wherever I go :)  The last hat is a white, mesh Brooks running hat that I got this past Spring.  I won it for placing 3rd in one of the Rogue Trail 10k races.  While it is probably the most sporty of the hats and best in the hot weather, it lacks sentiment and therefore doesn't get as much use.

Well now you know what I will wearing on my runs and hopefully you can spot me as I go by!  I would love to hear what other people are wearing out there, so leave me a comment or two!  I better finish this up so I can get ready for some flag football :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My World Wide Festival of Races Half Marathon

Today: 13.1 miles in 1:50:13 (8:25 pace)

This morning I ran my WWFOR half marathon.  I did it as a training run on my own.  My route started in downtown Austin along the Colorado river.  I parked near the MoPac bridge at 7am and headed off west along Lake Austin Blvd and did a 4 mile loop over Stratford Rd.  This street is very hilly and rolling.  I like it because of the hills, but also because it is tree lined with some serious mansions and a view overlooking the lake.  I saw two male deer this morning and observed a beautiful pink sunrise over the river.  At the end of the road, there is a very steep, plunging downhill that reminded me just how far I had climbed over the last few miles.  At this point, Stratford road re-connects with the trail along Townlake (south side), where I observed a fury of activity for the Austin City Limits music festival.  I then ran along the trail until the I-35 overpass, crossed the Colorado river, and then ran back to the MoPac bridge.  I added a short, 1.6 mile detour along the Shoal Creek trail to make the whole run 13.1 miles.  I finished in 1:50:13.

The Townlake trail is one of my favorite places for long runs.  A large portion of the it is soft, dirt trail with good shade cover.  With 6 bridges, it is easy to design a route of a desired length.  The entire trail (Longhorn Dam to MoPac Bridge) is 10.1 miles.  When that isn't long enough, I can add length on either the Barton Springs trail or the Shoal Creek trail, both of which intersect the Townlake trail.  Another major advantage is cold drinking water along the trail.  RunTex, a running specialty store in Texas, takes it upon themselves to deliver coolers of drinking water (and sometimes sports drink) and paper cups at three points along the route.  This is a really awesome, gratuitous service that many Austin runners enjoy.

Overall, I was really happy with the run.  My legs felt great the whole time and I was never overly fatigued.  Initially, I was worried that starting out by running the hilly Stratford Rd would tire me out, but I felt good the whole time.  I think part of that was the change in weather, it was cool and slightly overcast this morning, ideal for running.  I also tried GU Chomps (orange) for the first time.  Previously, I would use chocolate GU on any run longer than 10 miles but sometimes the gels didn't sit well with my stomach and they were hard to take if I didn't have water handy.  The GU Chomps are gummy candies, which I found really easy to chew and they didn't upset my stomach at all.  This was the first time I tried them.  I still have some left, so if I have repeat success on my next long run, I think I'll make the switch away from gels.  The only downside is that pieces can get stuck on your teeth...

Anyways, great training run and WWFOR half.  Congrats to Mark and Peggy for finishing the Chicago marathon today.  I look forward to hearing about your experiences :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Signed up for the Mule 30km trail race

Yesterday: 7.4 miles over hard hills, 8:27 pace
Today: 7 miles, 8:30 pace

Yesterday morning I was feeling extremely tired and lazy and instead of getting up to run, I slept in.  As a result, I did my hill workout in the evening.  Fortunately, the temperatures in Austin are much better these days, so weather wasn't an issue.  I waited until 6:45 to leave, because I prefer to run in the dusk/dark at night because the sun is still hot here.  I got through the run just fine, but in general I feel better running in the morning.  I hypothesize that this is because I like running on an empty stomach, which is easier to achieve right out of bed than at the end of the day.  About 15 minutes into my run, I saw a bunny!  The bunny was chilling on someone's front yard and he was so still that at first I thought he was a garden decoration!  Then he chewed some grass and started hopping towards me so I knew he was real.  My second animal sighting came about 45 minutes into my run.  At this point it was very dark out.  I was running on a quiet, residential street that didn't have any streetlights.  (I know that for many of you, this sounds like a strange concept.  It is for me too, because in MA all streets have streetlights.  Not so in Austin).  I then noticed that in someone's driveway there was a young deer, not a baby but not a full grown adult.  The deer then pranced across the street to another person's front yard, which was more wooded.  From there the deer watched me go by.  All in all, it was quite an animal-spotting adventure.

In other news, I registered yesterday for The Mule Trail 30km.  It is sponsored by Rogue, and I have previously run 4 of their trail races, which are all really well organized.  This, however, will be my first 30km (the other 4 times I did the 10km).  The race is on Nov 21st, so I have plenty of time to get some long runs in and I am looking forward to it!  It will be held at Muleshoe Bend Park, which is about an hour drive from where I live.  Needless to say, it will be a very early morning for me!

The last thing I want to mention is that I will be running the World Wide Festival of Races Half Marathon this weekend.  This is a free, non-commercial event where runners from around the globe are encouraged to all run a race during the same weekend.  Race options include the 5k, 10k and half marathon length.  While many will participate in an organized race, I will be doing a 13.1 mile training run.  If you are reading this before the weekend of Oct. 9th, I encourage you to register!

Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Shoes I Run In

Yesterday: 7.25 miles at 8:49 pace
Today: 2 hours of flag football

One of my favorite things about the sport of running is the low barrier to entry.  You can do it pretty much anywhere and you don't need much equipment.  Now, granted there are lots of running gadgets and gear available (garmins, heart rate monitors, hydration packs, super wicking undies, etc), but in the end all you really need is some loose fitting clothing and a pair of shoes.  Now, with the recent interest in barefoot running, you don't even need shoes, although most of us still use them.  For the average runner, the shoe s/he uses is the most important and specialized piece of equipment.

My opinion on running shoes is that its highly personal.  I don't like to give specific advice on what shoe a new runner should buy because 1) I don't have a lot of expertise in shoes and 2) your foot and my foot are very different.  With that said, please don't take this blog entry as advice on what shoe you should buy.  Instead, I want to talk about my running shoes because, well, we spend a lot of time together.  I have stories about how I ended up with what I have and frankly its about time they got a little credit.  So, here goes...

I am currently running in the NB 790T, a lightweight trail racing shoe and the Brooks Green Silence, a lightweight road racing shoe.
NB 790T.  I have these in pink and blue.  The blue ones have ~530 miles on them, so I use them rarely

Brooks Green Silence.  I think they are Ronald McDonald shoes
I always have at least two pairs of shoes going.  I started doing this back in the summer of 2007 when I attended the Dartmouth running camp and they clearly stated that we needed to pack two pairs of running shoes.  Why? you might ask.  Well, we did a lot of trail running and it was muddy/wet.  We also ran more than once a day.  So, that summer I bought two pairs of shoes and actually found that rotating between two different pairs worked well for me.  I liked the variation and it meant there was always a dry pair, even in the most precipitous climates. Sometimes I have two pairs of the same model (usually different colors), other times I have two completely different shoes.

I have a loyalty to NB.  When I was in high school, I started buying NB running shoes.  The company is based in Boston and has a great outlet store in Brighton where their shoes are discounted as much as 50%.  My parents starting taking me there in high school and I found that the NB brand was comfortable and worked well for me.  You also couldn't beat the price.  Since moving to TX, I go to the outlet whenever I am back in MA.  Unfortunately, I've found that in the last two years, both the quality and selection have gone downhill at the outlet.

I like lightweight shoes.  When I started running, I was diagnosed as a pronator and wore shoes with very firm insoles to correct against this pronation.  These shoes were very rigid and typically came with a lot of cushioning.  By the end of high school, however, I started really disliking the heaviness of this particular type of shoe, and instead began wearing a lighter stability shoe.  The pronating was no longer an issue, I think that because I started running so young, my form naturally corrected itself.  Eventually I stopped wearing shoes with significant cushioning or stability, and switched to a light weight performance shoe.  I am fortunate in that I land on my forefoot.  I really like a light shoe; it feels better to run in because it isn't bulky and I can easily feel the ground.  I think it improves my mobility and maneuverability.  I like to run on both trail and road, and I find that lightweight trail racers or a lightweight road flat is good for this transition.

The NB 790T is a great shoe.  I am now on my third and final pair and if I could I would buy many more.  Unfortunately, NB has a terrible habit of discontinuing their shoes, even when they are successful!  This particular shoe has hundreds of 4.5 to 5 star reviews!  I don't know why they have stopped making it, but they have.  I will be very sad when I have to toss my last pair.  Fortunately, they have come out with the 100T, which seems very similar to the 790T. There are some feature differences and the new shoe is lighter, but it looks like the 100T is something I will enjoy.  I haven't bought a pair yet because I am cheap and they haven't really been discounted yet.

I added the Brooks Green Silence to my repertoire because I got them for free.  Who can pass up free shoes?  Here in Austin, there is a running group called Rogue.  Every spring they organize a trail race series; it consists of three races spaced approximately a month apart on three different trails with lengths of either 10km or 30km.  This year I ran the entire 10km series and ended up placing 5th in the Women's open category.  My grand prize was any pair of Brooks shoes that I wanted from their store, Rogue Equipment.  Brooks was the race sponsor, which is why I was limited to this brand.  Well, I tried on pretty much every model that they had and found all of the road and trail shoes to be too bulky and heavy for me.  I was getting pretty sad, because who can pass up a free pair of shoes, when the woman working there remembered that they stocked two models of Brooks racing flats.  I tried on both and the Green Silence felt really comfortable.  They retail $100 and I didn't have to pay a thing, it was great!  The only downside to these shoes is that they look ridiculous!  The bright yellow and red are reminiscent of McDonalds, the lacing is funny and the two shoes are even colored differently.  Nonetheless, these shoes are made largely of recycled materials and should degrade very quickly in a landfill.  That's the "green" part in the name.  I think they should have made them green in color, but they didn't ask me.  Right now I have a mere 51 miles on them, but I really like them and think they will go the distance.  I don't know if I could convince myself to buy another pair at full price, though.

So that's everything you need to know right now about my running shoes.  I would love to hear what other people are running in and why.  No matter what you use, remember to be good to your shoes so they will be good to you!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Dogs I've Run With, part 2

Yesterday: 90 minutes of flag football, 3.6 easy miles
Today: 6 recovery miles at 8:47 pace

This morning I ran the Shoal Creek trail from 38th St to 15th St, and then looped back to my apartment through UT Austin's campus.  The Shoal Creek trail runs North-South along Lamar Blvd and eventually connects to the Town Lake trail in the downtown area.  I am very fond of this trail.  This morning there were lots of beings, both human and canine, out enjoying the trail!

That of course brings me to my topic for today, running with dogs part 2.  Last time I told you about the dogs I grew up with, Brandy and Cella.  I have also had the pleasure of running with a few other dogs since moving to Austin.  The first is Bojangles.

Bojangles is a 160+ lb male, un-neutered great dane who thinks he is a lap dog.  He is the faithful companion of another ChemE in my program and I have babysat Bojangles when his owners were out of town.  This dog is a big goof ball who loves attention, physical contact, walks and play time.  I once took him for a 3 mile run on the Shoal Creek trail, and he looked like a horse galloping.  And of course, whenever you take Bojangles anywhere, lots of people stop to ask you about him.  Many have never seen a dog that size, nor such a large un-fixed male (if you know what I mean). I always enjoy the opportunity to hang out with Bojangles, but as far as running companions go, he wasn't the best.  He overheated easily and didn't have a lot of endurance.  Frankly, I think walks are better suited for his personality.
Bojangles, next to a queen size bed
My next running companion was Nelson, an 80 lb St. Bernard/golden retriever mix that I fostered for about 3 weeks.  He was approximately a year old at the time and had been abused and starved by his former owners.  This left Nelson very territorial around food and unable to socialize with other dogs, but deep down he was the sweetest boy.  Even in the short time I had him, Nelson and I bonded a lot and established quite a connection.  He really craved affection and attention.  To burn off some of his energy, my boyfriend and I would take Nelson on runs, varying from 2.5 to 6.5 miles in length.  Nelson was a fireball, he had so much energy that my arm felt like it was being pulled out of its socket!  The sight of squirrels and birds made me fearful because Nelson was after them in seconds and still fixated, even when we were a quarter mile away.  Despite some bad leash manners, I enjoyed running with Nelson because he was such a happy puppy, and after his abusive background, it made me happy knowing that he was still so full of joy and love.
Nelson had this funny habit, in which whenever he scratched himself he involuntarily licked the air.  It was pretty adorable, and you can see it in all its glory in this video:

Ike is my most recent running companion.  I described him in a previous post.  As I mentioned, Ike is the 1.5 year old catahoula/boxer mix belonging to another classmate of mine.  He is super adorable, very vocal, affectionate, energetic, and athletic.  He loves running and has excellent endurance.  We've run for over an hour together before.  He is really well behaved off the leash and I prefer to take him to parks where he can run around and explore.  One morning while running at Walnut Creek, he disappeared behind some trees.  I heard a rustling and then a loud noise as an enormous Buck exploded from the trees and raced across the path with like Ike trying to hold on behind him.  That was probably the closest Ike has ever come to catching a deer and it was pretty exciting for him.  He also likes to hunt toads in my yard.  

Ike has developed a keen understanding of when I'm going running and it kills him to be left behind.  He recognizes my running shoes and clothes, and if I reach for any of these things he is up and by the door ready to come along.  For example, if I take out a sports bra or running shorts, he knows!  It sends him into a frenzy of excitement.  Whenever I babysit Ike, he is a great motivational tool for keeping my morning run routine going because I feel like I'm letting him down if we don't both get our daily dose of adrenaline.  In May, we took him with us for the Schlotsky's bun run 5k, which welcomes dogs and their owners, as long as they start towards the back.  Being in the back wasn't good enough for Ike, who always likes to be in the lead.  Given that this 5k has thousands of people, this wasn't an easy task to accomplish!  Ike pulled me through the crowd, weaving through impossible gaps; it felt like human slalom.  Then, as we went to cross the finish line, he freaked out and became very skittish at the sight of a man dressed in a large sandwich costume.  I guess sandwich costumes are pretty weird though.

I'm sure you will hear a lot more of the running adventures of Ike, because every once in a while I steal him from his dad.
Until next time, A

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Dogs I've Run With, part 1

Today: 9.12 miles over hills, 8:34 pace

This morning I was up at 6:45am and out for a nice 9 miler.  The original plan was to get up at 6:05 and drive down to Town Lake to run along the river.  However, when my alarm went off, I rebelled, reset the alarm for 6:45 and decided that if I didn't drive and started my run from home, I could probably still finish around the same time or earlier.  I got out the door just after 7am and it was nice and cool, still a little dark out and quiet - my favorite!  I ran west and crossed under the MoPac bridge, headed towards Mt. Bonnell's Covert park.  For those of you familiar with Austin, west = hills, lots of hills.  I found myself on a lot of rollers and a few big climbs before reaping the benefit of the run - a picture perfect view of the Colorado river.
Whenever I do this run, I allow myself to stop for a few minutes once I've reached the top of the trail and I just take in the scenery.  This morning it was perfectly clear, the water was still, and the million dollar homes lining the river front looked as ritzy as ever.  After a few minutes, I head back down the trail and started the steep descent along Mt. Bonnell Rd.  Eventually I started heading east and ended up back home, hungry and thirsty.  Yay long runs!

I love running with dogs.  Not all dogs, but the ones that like to run - no chihuahuas here.  An athletic dog is really the perfect running companion.  They don't bother you with talking, so you have uninterrupted thoughts.  If you want to talk, you can talk to them, just make sure no one else is around.  They are usually faster than you, so they keep you from getting lazy.  They are always excited for a run, so they motivate you to get out the door.  As a woman, you can feel more comfortable running at night or in secluded areas.  And, let's face it, sometimes running alone can get...well...lonely.

As I have previously mentioned, I started running when I was 11.  When I was in 2nd grade (7 yrs old I think), my parents got our first family dog.  Her name was Brandy and she was half Irish setter, half Golden retriever.  At full size, she was about 75-80 lbs and she was beautiful!  She was red-gold in color with the feathering characteristic of both breeds and the long pretty ears of an Irish setter.  She was also very graceful and she loved to run.  My dad was a weekend runner and always took her along.  She would stay on the leash for the first 3/4 of a mile.  Then he would reach a trail that went around a pond in my home time, at which point she would come off the leash.  This was her sign that it was time to flush the birds and she would take off, making sure every goose and duck and squirrel knew this was her territory and they needed to leave.  Then she would run back to my dad and run alongside him for about a mile, at which point she went back on the leash.  When I started running, I commenced this ritual with Brandy and took her with me.  She was very well behaved on the leash.  Sadly, at the young age of 7 yrs, Brandy developed cancer that stiffened her leg joints and prevented her from running.  The cancer quickly spread, causing seizures and other side effects.  When I was 13, she was euthanized.  My dad still does that run, as do I when I am back in Mass, and we have forever named it the Brandy Memorial Run.

Here is a picture of Brandy when she was a puppy, along with my sister and I.  Thanks to my sister for providing it!

When I was a sophomore in high school (16), we got a second dog, Cella.  She is a black lab mix, about 60 lbs of pure muscle.  Cella is much feistier than Brandy, but what she lacks in grace she makes up for in spunk.  Cella is a born runner.  She loves to chase things; birds, squirrels, people, rocks, you name it.  When Cella joined our family, I was halfway through high school and running all the time.  Of course, I couldn't take her to official practices, but any other time I ran, on the weekends or off season, she came with me.  We ran anything from 3 to 6.5 miles back then.  Sometimes when I did track workouts, she would come with me and run around the fields while I did my hamster loops.  When I went to college, Cella stayed with my parents for the first two years.  Whenever they went on vacation, I would watch Cella in my dorm room.  This was not exactly a legal move, but all my dorm mates loved having her around and I was very discrete.  In the mornings, I would take Cella for a run around the Charles river or somewhere else in the city.  This prepared her for the long day of sitting by herself in a dorm room.  I once took her on my 10.5 mile Fresh Pond run, which she completed as happy as ever.  This is the longest run I have ever done with a canine companion.  Cella is a rock.

When I was a junior, Cella moved up to Vermont to finish college with my sister.  My sister now lives in Salt Lake City, and Cella lives there too, so I don't get to run with her anymore.  However, Cella still lives a very active life, with lots of doggy friends, hiking and swimming (see picture below).  She just recently got a new brother, Muscato, who I am eager to meet.  
So Brandy and Cella are the only two family dogs I have ever had, but they are not my only running companions.  I'll expand in my next post, but in the meantime, consider finding your own running companion.