Friday, November 26, 2010

Oh Smoothies!

Yesterday: 7.25 mile tempo run, 8:00 pace
Today: 4.5 mile trail run with Ike, 8:47 pace

I love fruit.  I always have.  As a little girl, I used to ask for fruit instead of ice cream or cookies for dessert.  We had large raspberry bushes in the backyard and I would eat all the berries straight off the bushes before anyone else could them!  When we went strawberry picking, I used to get in trouble for putting too many in my mouth instead of the basket.  It's hard for me to find a fruit I don't like (the one I have found would be durian, a spiky, sulfur-smelling fruit native to east Asia that I experienced while in Singapore).  I naturally incorporate fruit into pretty much every meal I have ...because it's delicious!  That being said, fresh fruit is definitely something my body craves right after a run or other hard workout.  This makes sense, because fruit is sweet, refreshing and loaded with easily digestible sugars - perfect for recuperation.

My last food post was about leafy green vegetables, so today I need to talk about fruit.  While eating fruit in any form is fabulous, smoothies are a particularly excellent and creative way to blend flavors.  I love drinking a smoothie with my post-run breakfast.  I have been making a lot of smoothies lately, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts and ideas.

I think winter is a great time to talk about smoothies.  This is because very few fruits are in season during the winter, making it harder to find reasonably priced, fresh fruit in the grocery store.  Frankly, I'm a budget shopper, and I feel offended when I have to pay outrageous amounts for produce, especially if it isn't ripe or flavorful.  This means that in the winter, the variety of fresh fruit I can buy suffers.  As an alternative, I buy frozen and canned fruit, which work great in smoothies.  However, I don't use exclusively frozen fruit for two reasons; 1) I don't like the icy, frozen texture that results and 2) it's hard on my cheap-o blender.

A typical smoothie for me contains the following:
1.5 cups of liquid (combo of almond milk and water)
3 servings of fruit; varies
1 tsp white sugar
~1/2 tsp of nutmeg, cinnamon or powdered ginger

I typically use three different types of fruit in a smoothie, sometimes four.  This is a great opportunity for me to get rid of any overripe fruit lying around.  In the past this has included bananas, kiwis, apples, pears and berries.  To this, I add 1 or 2 of my stockpile, frozen fruits, which include peach slices, blueberries, strawberries, mango, raspberries and dark cherries.  I think cherries would have to be my favorite.  I add about one and a half cups of liquid, including some almond milk and water.  The final two ingredients are white sugar and a dash of spice.  Adding a spice to the smoothie really adds a kick and nice flavor.  Nutmeg is definitely my favorite, but changing it up with other spices like cinnamon and ginger is fun.  I am also going to try fresh ginger, which I've heard is good.

I liquefy it in a blender until its smooth and serve it for myself in a juice glass as part of my breakfast.  It's also fun to see what the final color is, which varies significantly depending on which fruits I chose.  I urge you to give it a try and let me know what you think!  Any creative fruit/flavor combinations I should know about?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Mule Trail 30km - Race Report

On November 21st, I ran The Mule Trail 30km race, sponsored by Rogue Running at Muleshoe Bend Park.  This was my first 30km race, and what follows is my race report for the event.

The Logistics
The race started at 7:30am on Sunday morning at Muleshoe Bend Park, which is roughly an hour's drive from my apartment.  I had never been to the park before so I was nervous about getting lost and therefore woke up at 5:15am, ensuring myself plenty of time to get there.  I got ready pretty quickly and headed out the door at 5:45am.  I had both printed driving directions and a Garmin GPS.  Fortunately, I had remembered to print and bring directions, because the Garmin seemed to be completely unaware of not only the park I was headed to, but also all of the roads nearby.  The only issue I had with the printed directions was reading them effectively in the morning darkness.  Luckily, I rose to these challenges and arrived at the starting area at 6:45am.  This race was pretty small, so I got a very close parking spot and had plenty of time to stretch, visit the porta-potty (twice!), and pick up my timing chip.  The timing chip was designed for an ankle bracelet.  This was the first time I had worn an ankle timing device and I was concerned it would be uncomfortable, but it was actually quite nice and cushy.  Unfortunately the weather was not ideal.  While it had been cool and dry all week, things had warmed up considerably during the past weekend, and it was in the mid to high 60s throughout the race with significant humidity.  I race better in cold weather, so I was particularly disappointed.  Fortunately for me, there was a cool breeze coming off of Lake Travis and cloud cover, which helped a little bit.

The Start
With about 45 minutes to kill, the lead up to the start of the race was very leisurely for me.  There were about 50 people that had turned up for the 30km race (closer to 80 for the 10km, which started a half hour later), and I chatted with a few while passing the time.  Just before 7:30am, the race officials called us over to the timing mat, gave us some directions and got us on our way.  With so few people, I was right near the front and was able to run unobstructed the entire race.

The Course
This race was a triple loop course, with each loop being 10km in distance.  The start of the loop is about a quarter mile on dirt trail taking us from a camping area to the head of the main trail.  At the end of each loop, we had to retrace our steps along this dirt trail back to and across the timing mat.  The main trail was one large loop encompassing the majority of the park.  It was very technical, almost entirely single-track, with highly varied terrain.  There were tree roots, large rocks, small rocks, ledges, deep sand, long grasses, ruts and loose gravel.  Most of the loop was rolling with about six decent size hills.  There were a few flatter and faster sections where I was able to pick up my speed, but the majority of the course was a lot slower to run on than road.  Spaced in three areas along the course were water stops, stocked with water, Nuun (an electrolyte drink) and snacks.  On each loop I used two of the three water stops, varying which one I skipped.

My Performance
I headed out on the first loop at what felt like a comfortable training pace.  My intention was to pick my pace up on the second and third loops, once I was more familiar with the course.  Unfortunately, that wasn't what happened and I ended up slowing down on each loop.  I ran the first 10km in roughly 56 min.  The second was 58 min and the final loop was just over an hour.  My final time was 2:55:40.  I think the heat and humidity definitely slowed me down; my legs felt sluggish and tired and I was definitely sweating more than I had hoped I would.  However, seeing as how this was my first 30km race, that was a PR and so I can't complain too much.  At least I have something to improve upon now.  On a positive note, I was the third female finisher, second in the open division and 12th overall, including the men.  That is definitely one advantage of doing smaller races!

The Aftermath
After crossing the finish line, I was both sweat soaked and salty.  I felt dehydrated, but I think it was mostly an electrolyte balance that left me dragging towards the end.  When I got home, I got into the shower to wash away the dirt and grime, at which point I discovered significant chafing from my champion tank bra.  The chafing was the worst in my armpits and the middle of my back.  Washing salt and sweat away from chafed areas is extraordinarily painful, and I did not enjoy it!  However, everything is now healing quite well.  I then ate a healthy and hearty lunch, drank lots of water and continued eating well throughout the day.  While I felt quite sleepy, the soreness was minimal.  The next morning, though, when I tried to walk down the stairs, my calves immediately cramped up, which was very painful.  I carefully massaged them with my hands until I could walk comfortably again.  Because I hadn't eaten anything since dinner, I think my electrolytes were again imbalanced, because I felt much better after eating breakfast.  At work, I skipped the stairs and used the elevator instead.  This morning I felt great, and went for an easy 6.7 mile run at an 8:45 pace.  I'm recovering nicely and I expect I'll be able to get a tempo run in on Thanksgiving morning.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gearing up for my first 30k!

Yesterday: Rest
Today: 9.1 miles at 8:21 pace

This morning was deliciously brisk, with cool, dry air and temperatures in the low 40s.  This was perfect weather for my last 'substantial' run prior to this weekend's 30k trail race.  I ran just over 9 miles in 1hr 16min, and felt great!  Well, actually, my stomach was a little troublesome, but I attribute that to one to many chocolate cookies last night.  My legs and lungs felt great, and the run felt relatively effortless, even though it was over a lot of hills.  That really boosted my confidence and I am now eagerly looking forward to this weekend's race.  I think I have not raced since May.

While running this morning, I had the pleasure of seeing two deer romping through some yards.  I am always impressed by how graceful the movements of a deer are, which makes them very enjoyable for me to watch.  These particular deer were interested in crossing a relatively busy street.  I watched them move across the yard and stop at the edge of the lawn and the road.  They then proceeded to look both ways, checking for cars, before crossing the street and entering another yard.  It was a very interesting thing to spectate and I was the only one there to see it, which is what I love about running in the early morning.

So my 30k trail race is this Sunday morning, starting at 7:30am.  Packet pickup is this Friday and Saturday.  The start is about an hour's drive from central Austin, so I will probably be getting up at 5:30am on Sunday morning, leaving at 6am.  I'd prefer not to be at the start too early, because I won't have anything to do while I'm waiting.  The course will be three loops of 10k each, with an aid station roughly halfway through the loop (and of course at the start).  I do not have a goal pace in mind.  Not only am I unfamiliar with this course, but trail running is always slower than road running.  I have also never raced this particular distance.  My plan is to run the first 10k at a comfortable training effort and see how it goes.  When I start the second loop, I will have a better idea of the terrain, where I can speed up and where I will need extra time (ledges, sharp turns, hills etc).  I will try to run this second loop intelligently and then see what I've got in the third loop.  Ultimately, though, I want to finish feeling strong and enjoy the race.  The best part about trail racing is taking in the beautiful scenery.
NB 101T

On another note, I recently purchased the NB 101 Trail shoe online.  The 101T is currently making its way towards me in the mail and I am definitely looking forward to the arrival.  As you may recall, I am currently running in the 790, which New Balance retired.  It's (quasi) replacement was the 100T, another ultra lightweight racing shoe.  This shoe got really great reviews, and its improved version, currently on the market, is the 101T.  In case you haven't noticed, New Balance can't leave a good thing alone!  Nonetheless, I  am excited to give the 101T a whirl and once I have been able to fairly assess it, I will share with you my opinions.  Until then, I'll be using a pair of 790s and the Brooks green silence.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A new watch

Yesterday: 7.8 mile tempo run over hills, 7:55 pace
Today: 6.1 mile recovery, 8:30 pace

Yesterday I had a pretty successful tempo hill run.  As you can see above, my pace for the entire 7.8 miles was under 8 minutes per mile, which is definitely fast for me.  This is my half-marathon pace.  My original plan for yesterday was a track workout.  Here is what happened.  Alarm goes off at 6am.  I wake up and realize my throat feels slightly scratchy and the glands seem swollen.  I drink some water, but it doesn't help.  I also feel tired.  Because I am tired I come up with lots of reasons to go back to bed.  I then realize that doing a track workout (my least favorite of all workouts, because I hate running in circles) with a sore throat is going to suck.  I decide the best course of action is two-fold: (1) Skip the morning workout and get a little more rest and (2) Later in the day re-evaluate my condition, and if I'm feeling good, do a tempo hill run after work.  A few hours later, my throat felt fine, and I determined I was not sick and thus running would not harm me.  I therefore did my run in the evening after work, the only downside being that it was slightly warmer than I prefer.  You may ask why I didn't just do an evening track workout.  The answer is that track workouts require the most discipline on my behalf to complete, and my resolve to run is much weaker later in the day.  Tomorrow I will do the track workout.  I can't back down because I've declared it on the internets.  Done.

Timex 1440 watch
So the main topic of this post is that I got a new watch.  Not a fancy one, a $15 one!  As you may know, I posted recently about the gear I run in, which includes a Nike sports watch.  Said sports watch is about 5 years old.  Recently, the all important 'reset' button has stopped functioning.  No matter what I do, it doesn't work.  Furthermore, the battery was replaced a mere 5 months ago, so its not the battery.  Without the reset button, I was unable to reset the Chrono display to zero.  While this is slightly annoying, I used my superior math skills and simply subtracted the old from the new time to figure out the length of my runs.  The tipping point, however, came this past Sunday with daylight savings.  See, the reset button is also essential to change the display time, and while I love my digital watch for running, I love it more for day to day use.  I always like to know what time it is, and having a watch that is one hour fast is very annoying.  The problem is when you forget that the watch is one hour fast!  I dealt with it for Sunday and Monday, and Monday evening I got a new Target.

See the idea of buying a fancy sports watch is enticing, especially the GPS watches.  But, they are all a significant investment, over $100.  Before I make that kind of a purchase, I want to consider my options and make an informed decision.  However, my watch needs couldn't wait that long, so the easiest thing to do was to make a minimal investment ($15) and buy a functional but basic Timex 1440 watch.  So far, I really like it! However, I would love to hear everyone else's reviews and suggestions for watches because more than likely I will be upgrading in the near future.

In other, ChemE, exciting news, I will be attending a conference in Shanghai, China in May!  I found out this morning that an abstract I submitted for a biotechnology conference was accepted.  This will be my first time traveling to China and first time presenting at a conference :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Interview with Ruth England, Rogue Coach

Yesterday: 16.2 miles at 8:31 pace (6 miles over technical trail)
Today: Rest day!

I capped off a great training week with a 16-miler yesterday morning.  I met up with my friend Zach at 6:45am and we ran a 10-mile loop around the town lake trail, followed by 6 miles (out and back) on the Barton Springs trail.  The Barton Springs trail is very rocky and technical, which I think is good preparation for my upcoming Mule 30K trail race.  Because yesterday morning was the last day before day light savings, we were able to run for about the first 30 minutes in complete darkness.  Surprisingly, neither of us had any spills on the trail.  The weather was very cool (as compared to a previously humid 14-miler) and I felt great!  My pace was faster and I felt much less tired when I finished.  Glad to have this cooler fall weather to train in.  Also, it was very nice to have Zach to distract me and chat with.  Thanks for slowing down and running with me, Zach!  This run topped off my week with 51.25 total miles.  I'm aiming for similar mileage next week.

On November 4th, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruth England for the 105th episode of the Runners Round Table.  You can listen to the interview here or download it through iTunes.  In 2004, Ruth and two others founded Rogue Running in Austin TX with the mission of applying elite level training concepts to everyday runners. They are an integral part of the Austin community, operating a specialty store, hosting race events and training hundreds of runners every year for marathons, half marathons, ultras and other goal races.  I first found out about them because every spring they host a 3-part trail race series.  I have now run four of their trail 10ks and will be doing my first trail 30k at the end of this month.  I have also met a lot of people in Austin who have taken part in their training programs.  I was curious to learn more, and Ruth was kind enough to chat with me.  For those of you in the Austin area, I think you will really enjoy hearing more about this major part of our running community.  For those of you outside of Texas, I still think Ruth's interview has a broad appeal.  We talk about trends she has observed in the specialty running store, training techniques, the kind of runners that come to Rogue and even their new elite training program for professional runners.  I hope you will give this a listen!  I also welcome any feedback you have.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Running in Traffic

Yesterday: 7.5 mile tempo run, average 7:53 pace; 2.7 miles at 7:07 pace
Today: 8.6 miles at 8:43 pace

The weather continues to be awesome in Austin, well, at least for runners.  There is no humidity and the mornings are cool.  Yesterday the temps stayed in the 50s all day, with on and off drizzles and gusting winds.  I don't think the other Texans appreciated that, but it wasn't so bad for me.  Don't get me wrong, I love having sunshine nearly every day, but I am also not so wussy that I refer to 55F as "cold".  Texans broke out the winter coats yesterday...I am not even joking.

City of Portland's pedestrian safety campaign slogan
Today I would like to share my opinion about road running and that constantly nagging obstacle of traffic.  Some of us are blessed with easy access to running trails and bike paths, which keep us out of traffic and away from cars.  I often seek out trails for my runs, as one major benefit is that I don't have to contend with street crossings, stop lights and cars.  However, the majority of my running is still done on roads.

I often feel that the drivers are out to get me.  They view me as an annoyance and an inconvenience, for forcing them to slow down on a residential street, not drive in the bike lane, or wait 12 seconds longer at a stop sign.  Like many runners, being around traffic makes me nervous because I never know when some driver is going to hit me.

To avoid this problem, I try to make use of sidewalks when I can.  Last time I checked, cars cannot drive on the sidewalk.  There are three things that prevent me from doing this all the time though.  First, sidewalks are uneven and unpredictable surfaces.  Sometimes they turn suddenly, or tree roots have cracked the concrete, or they suddenly stop.  The road, on the other hand, is usually in better condition and smoother, so on a quiet street I prefer to run in the road.  Second, sidewalks are made of concrete whereas roads are (typically) made of asphalt.  Running on concrete causes a lot more impact on the legs than asphalt.  Finally (and most importantly), many many streets in Austin do not have sidewalks.  That's right, there are no sidewalks.  I don't understand it, it's like they assumed that people wouldn't walk anywhere.  Whenever I find myself running on a sidewalk-less street, which is pretty much on every run, I have no choice but to run in the road.

For all of the reasons above, I find myself doing a lot of running in the road. This, of course, puts me in direct competition with the traffic.  Over time, I have developed habits to minimize my risk.  First, I run as far to the right as I safely can, in a bike lane or shoulder if available.  These are areas cars are not supposed to drive in, although that doesn't always hold true.  Second, I almost always run against traffic.  This makes it easier for me to spot approaching cars and in some cases make eye contact with a driver.  Also, I never cross in front of a car unless I can make eye contact with a driver.  Even if I have the right of way.  I make eye contact with the driver.  That is because many people in their cars have forgotten that pedestrians exist and are often surprised when they spot one.  For this reason, I never assume the driver knows that I am there.  Furthermore, I freely use hand signals.  If I want to pass in front of a car, I put a hand up with the palm out towards the driver, indicating they should stop.  I thank drivers when they are courteous and occasionally flip off the drivers that are jerks.  If I am running at night, I always wear a bright color like white or yellow.  All in all, I simply never assume a car won't hit me and am always on the defensive.

So what motivated this post?  On several of my regular running routes in Austin, I find myself on relatively busy roads that do not have sidewalks.  These stretches of road are usually short (<.5 mile) connectors such as a highway overpass.  This also makes them unavoidable to get between point A and point B.  These sidewalk-less roads all have four lanes, two in each direction.  What I find amazing is that drivers will see me running towards them on the right, outside of the road.  The left lane will be unoccupied.  They could easily move into the left lane.  They chose not to move into the left lane.  They chose not to slow down.  They chose to drive by me, within a foot of me, at full speed.  Amazing!  Is it a game? because I don't want to play.

So this is my plea for the drivers out there to be nicer to the runners and cyclists and SHARE THE ROAD!  Sometimes it is beyond our control as runners to be in the road instead of on the sidewalk, but that doesn't mean we want to play Russian roulette with our lives.  Please slow down as you go around me, and I promise to return the favor if I am the one driving.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Squash: A cross-training experience

Yesterday: 6.1 miles at 8:51 pace; 1 hour of squash
Today: 7 miles at 8:23 pace

I haven't posted in the past few days because my father came to visit me in Austin and I have been busy busy!  The weather was great for his visit; 70s and 80s in the afternoon, sunny and clear skies.  We had plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, including horseback riding, tail gating and hiking.  He left Austin this afternoon, so I guess things have to go back to normal, including me being at work (instead of having fun).

One of the things we did during his visit was play squash.  Twice to be exact.  For those of you who don't know, squash is a racquet sport.  Of the other, more mainstream racquet sports, it is most similar to racquetball.  It is played indoors, on a squash court.  A squash racquet has a small head and the ball is small and made of rubber.  It was invented by the French, but popularized by the British.

Regulation squash court
I really enjoy squash, however finding places to play can be a challenge.  The easiest place to find squash courts is at  a university or college, especially in New England.  Like many obscure sports, squash is more popular in New England than other parts of the country.  As a child, my parents put me in squash lessons.  I wasn't very good, but I learned a lot and developed my skills enough to play with my parents and sister.  At MIT, they had six very nice squash courts.  I took a squash class as part of PE and continued to play with my family and friends.  The University of Texas has far fewer squash courts than MIT, but they do have some, so my father made a point of bringing his racquet with him.

The soreness I am experiencing now is a consequence of not playing squash for months, and then playing two days in a row.  Like other racquet sports, squash requires a lot of fast, lateral movement.  This is very different than running, so I have a sore butt and inner thighs today.  In fact, it seems that any sport that is not running makes me sore (previous entry about football).  I did have the intelligence to keep up with my morning runs, which I believe stretched out my legs and minimized the possible discomfort.

I would like to finish with a few interesting things about squash, for those of you unfamiliar with the sport:
In squash, all four of the court's walls are in play, including the back wall.  A lob or particularly hard return will often bounce off the back wall.  These shots are the most difficult for me to return.
Squash balls are made of rubber, and there are different grades of rubber (of varying hardness).  The rubber ball always needs to be "warmed up" before a game because as the ball heats up, the rubber softens and becomes bouncier.  This is often done by hitting it repeatedly against the wall.  Other people will keep the ball under their armpits.  Warming up the ball can be particularly challenging in winter, but not too bad in Texas.
Squash courts are often not well ventilated.  This means you are running around in a 6x10m box with no fresh air and it can get hot.
Squash can be played as a doubles or singles game.  Doubles courts are larger.  I have only once played doubles squash.

In case you were wondering, we played 6 games, I won 2.