Thursday, September 29, 2011

Houston Food Bank: Please Donate

Many of  you already know that when I run in the Houston Marathon in January I will be running not only for a Boston qualifying time but also to raise money for the Houston Food Bank as part of their "Run For Food" campaign.

Some of you have already donated money to this cause. Thanks to that generosity, I am already 70% of the way toward my goal of $500, which will be enough money for 1,500 meals for individuals and families who need nourishment. A big THANK YOU to you all. You come from all parts of my life: college, work, blogging and family.

Because I still need $150 to get to my pledge, I'm putting another call out there. And I want to tell you about one of the donors who has already given. His name is Max Weller. I met him through his blog, Max Weller on Homelessness. He writes lucidly and fearlessly about the issue of homelessness in Boulder. Looking at the city from the outside, you might not guess--given the multiple organic grocery stores, the mansions in the Flatirons, the university and all that--but it's a big problem here. I see a lot of homeless folks at my job in the library in downtown Boulder. None of their stories are the same. But the fact remains that even with excellent services offered here, most of them are struggling.

Max isn't usually happy with the way homelessness and its attendant issues (drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment, abuse of women and other crime) are handled in Boulder. He's a Missourian like me, and, like a lot of people from there, he believes in self-sufficiency, accountability and zero tolerance for bad behavior. He's a true "Show Me State" character plopped down in the flawed hippie paradise of Boulder. I don't agree with absolutely everything he writes (he's too hard on Boulder's cyclists, for one thing, though I understand why he has the perspective he has on them, but most of the time I do.

Here's the main thing about Max, though, and the reason his $20 donation to my marathon cause is so impressive: he himself is homeless. His campsite is an assemblage of tarps and chairs on county land in North Boulder (camping in the city is illegal). All of his income comes from donations from passers-by (he won't accept government subsidies of any kind, apart from maintaining a locker at the homeless shelter and using its morning services, including showering). He sticks close to Broadway, Boulder's main thoroughfare, because of its proximity to the shelter, a grocery store and the library where he writes his blog post. You see, his hip is injured and walking is an ordeal for him (something some of you runners can relate to). He rarely strays too far from the bus line.

Max's blog is hosted through the Boulder Camera, the city's newspaper, and if you dip into it, you'll see how smart he is, and how he isn't afraid of controversy. It's not my place to go into his past or the reasons he is homeless--you can find that out for yourself from his blog. All I know is that when he presented me with a $20 bill in an envelope inscribed to the Houston Food Bank a couple months back, I was humbled and inspired. It reminded me of the parable of the widow who gave all she had.

And so....I hope a few more people will follow Max's example and donate to this cause. I am upping the ante. For every $100 ABOVE my original $500 pledge that I raise, I will do a giveaway of some truly awesome Boulder goodies. So that's a giveaway at $600, at $ you think we can get to $1,000??? Here's the link to my fundraising page. Let's try.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Digression

I love giveaways...especially when I win them.

And I've been pretty lucky with winning this year. Here's the list of my loot since I started writing this blog nearly a year ago:
  • A pair of Newton running socks (from a trail running blog that's no longer online)
  • A box of LaraBars (from Another Mother Runner)
  • A full Asics running outfit (shirt, capris, hat AND shoes--can you say LUCKY?) (also from Another Mother Runner--I think I'm banned from winning anything else from those nice ladies)
  • A book, Stillpower: The Inner Source of Athletic Excellence (from Forward Foot Strides--I'll have a review of this at some point; I'm about halfway through it)
  • Yurbuds and another book, Meb Keflezighi's Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion's Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream (from See Mom Run Far--she's taking my copy of the book to NYC, where she's going to run the marathon and have Meb sign it to me--too too cool!)
  • Tommie Copper Calf Sleeves (from The Studly Runner)
  • A CamelBak-style hydration backpack (in the raffle at the Top of Utah Marathon)
So I wanted to say THANK YOU to all of the nice people who hosted these giveaways. I've enjoyed everything I've won. The content of the rest of this post is NOT directed at any of you. I realize that when companies are providing items for giveaways, you may be obliged by them to require certain things as part of the giveaway. And I know I'm free to choose to enter or not enter any giveaway I want.

That said, I want to talk about something that bothers me: giveaways that require you to "like" a company or product on Facebook.

Here's what Facebook (to me) is for: keeping up with family and friends (and maybe a few news sources and some of you running bloggers out there with Facebook pages), and giving them a convenient way to keep up with me and my family. That's it.

Here's what Facebook is NOT about: a whole bunch of spammy posts trying to get me to buy a product. If I like the product, chances are I'll seek it out on my own. Having the virtual equivalent of junk mail arriving in between photos of my nephew and updates on how my friend is doing at her new job will NOT induce me to buy even a product I like. In fact, it might make me like it less. I've been "un-liking" a lot of company pages in Facebook, gradually cutting down on the crap scrolling by in my news feed, and I'm going to continue to do that. My nephew is pretty cute, and I would have hated to miss his latest photo because it was overwhelmed in posts from T-shirt companies.

Why am I saying this? Because I've noticed more and more giveaways seem to require a Facebook like if you want to enter (on some giveaways, the Facebook like is optional-- much better). I've not entered some giveaways lately because of this. You might say, my loss. Well, sure, in one sense. But jeez, don't we have enough "targeted marketing" in our lives?

Requiring a Twitter follow doesn't bug me at all. Twitter is much more ephemeral. My mom and my childhood friends don't share their photos there. I follow lots of total strangers on Twitter. Another company's tweets scrolling through my list there is fine (and besides, they are limited to 140 characters--ha!).

Keep in mind I'm not on the list of bloggers who get to do giveaways (unless I want to buy the stuff I'm giving away myself), so I really don't know how they work. And I'm not young and cool and edgy, so maybe I'm just sounding like an old fogey who's mad I can't just tear the damn junk mail in half like I could in the good ol' days of print.

Anyway, just wanted to get that off my chest. Back to your regularly scheduled blog about running.....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mario Lopez Will Help Me Eat Right

My recovery week from the Top of Utah Marathon has been a week of regrouping. Here's the quick lowdown:

1. I've got my plan for the Houston Marathon ready to go. It starts tomorrow....with an off day. :^)

Like my Top of Utah plan, it's from McMillan Running (home of the running calculator that many of us use). I'm excited about it. It ups the intensity and the miles a bit (3000 meter repeats! a 24-miler on Christmas Eve!) while still preserving some cross-training and step-back weeks.

I really liked the McMillan plan I used this summer. It was not only effective but fun, with a lot of variety in the workouts and a lot of choice built in. Depending on how I felt, I could go harder or easier (within a range of paces and distances). There were even frequent "Choose Your Workout" days mid-week, where I could go with a fartlek (if I was feeling the need to work on speed), or a hill workout (if I needed that--I'll be choosing this option more often in this cycle), or a stamina workout.

2. I'm (again--yawn) working on diet.

A few days after the marathon, I climbed onto the scale and found my weight still sitting pretty at 129 pounds (this is "pretty" for me in recent years). But my body fat also hadn't budged: there it was, 22%. Too high for a runner trying to BQ.

A big part of my problem with food is poor planning. Here I sit, with this super-detailed plan for running workouts that I follow like a religious zealot, but almost never do I have any idea what I'm going to eat that day. This results in lots of seat-of-my-pants meals and snacks that may or may not be what I should be eating. It also results in hunger striking at bad times (like when I'm about to enter three hours of meetings at work) and the loss of lots of money I shouldn't be spending that way being poured into unplanned eating excursions. It's not good for my kids, either. Frequently (and especially when Dan is working late), they get PB&J or macaroni and cheese for dinner. How can I expect them to be organized and healthful in their food choices if I'm not setting an example?

I've known this planning thing is a problem for a long time. Now, with some time to devote to changing my habits and that 22% chub factor literally hanging from my body, I'm going to tackle it for good. And to help me out, I've turned to the obvious source: Mario Lopez.

Yes, he's got a high cheese factor (and no, I NEVER watched Saved By the Bell). But it turns out he's written the book I've been looking for on this topic. It's called Extra Lean Family: Get Lean and Achieve Your Family's Best Health Ever. That's got two words in it that I like: "lean" and "family." And I like the inside of it even more. It's all there: four weeks of good-for-you mostly-kid-friendly meals and snacks for a family of four planned out, with a grocery list at the beginning of the week so you can (hopefully) do all of that at once too (we're also at the grocery store way too much) and plans for making enough for leftovers (and then actually using the leftovers) built in.

These meals are realistic, and these meals are easy. I really don't like cooking very much at all. Every now and then I'll get a bug and want to make something elaborate, like a cake from scratch or scallops in pistou sauce. But those bugs have been few and far between since I had my kids. And while Dan loves cooking and is good at it, the man has a full-time job and isn't really much better at the planning side than I am. Mario takes care of all of that. He does incorporate some healthful takes on fun foods, especially on weekends (this morning's breakfast was Banana French Toast). But mostly it's super-practical. Even for someone who hates cooking, has a job and has kids--but wants to cut sugar and fat out of everyone's diet.

The debut of Mario's plan in the Becker house was today. For lunch at work, I brought a sandwich of lean deli turkey on a whole wheat English muffin with lettuce, tomatoes, a slice of low-fat cheese and hummus. It was yummy, and even better it was filling enough that the planned snack (a cup of grapes) will actually be enough for me. Tonight we're having grilled BBQ chicken with brown rice and an Asian cucumber salad (that I made in advance last night).

I know I'll have to bump it up some when the miles start rolling again. But it's organized enough that I can do that easily. I'm also hoping that after four weeks, I'll be able to branch out a bit and add some easy ideas from other sources, like Cooking Light magazine.

I'm really really hoping to get that 22% body fat down to something more like 19 or 20%. Mario does say "extra lean," right?

3. I will be returning to Tammy's spin class this week. Yay! Not only will she kick my booty, I should get some new music ideas.

4. Last Thursday I started weight training again. I'll be doing this twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hopefully this will also help with the leanness factor. I'm going to really work on the leg stuff this time, too--no slacking on hamstring curls and lunges. I don't want my legs to die in Houston like they died in Logan, UT.

So there you have it! Solid plans laid on all fronts. I love new beginnings!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Race Report: Top of Utah Marathon

When the hail started, all I could do was laugh. Right there at mile nine or ten of the Top of Utah Marathon, the walls of Blacksmith Fork Canyon rearing up on both sides of me like castle ramparts, the smell of the early fall trees in the air, the sound of my fellow runners' feet smack-sloshing the road around me. I laughed. My nose was running faster than I was, and I was running too fast. Next to me was a guy from New Mexico.

I told him, "This is what I wanted to happen during some of those hot summer training runs, but it never did."

He said he had done some long ones in 100 degree weather and dreamed of rain.

We both laughed again. And down came those pea-sized ice chunks and chilly needles of water.

It wasn't the end of the nutty weather, or the beginning. The first dousing rain had fallen on us at the start. We stood in the inky-black pre-dawn porta-john line, wearing the ill-fitting sweats we'd eventually toss away. At one point, after I had said goodbye to Erin and Alana, I stood with a bunch of other runners under the inflatable starting line gate. After my sweats got thoroughly sodden, I cast them off. They weren't doing me any good.

At other times during the race, thunder and lightning creased the sky, seeming right over our heads. After I emerged from the canyon and into town, about mile 14 or 15, I saw a horse in a meadow, an Appaloosa-looking fellow. He cantered nervously, beautiful in his contained energy. I think the thunder had spooked him. In that euphoric moment, I imagined myself drawing on his animal power. I thought I might actually do it. I thought I might qualify for Boston.

But I should have known it wasn't to be. The night before, at the expo, I had talked to the pace group leaders for the 3:40 and the 3:50 marathoners. They agreed that runners in this race, unlike most marathons, needed to bank time in the first half. Once the downhill ends (somewhere around mile 18), a lot of people slow way down, they said. The 3:40 guy said he planned to set 8 minute flat miles in the first part.

Thinking I was being conservative, I lined up with the 8:50 group. When I found myself keeping up with them for the first three miles despite a pace in the 8-teens and 8:20s, I went with it instead of being sensible.

I hurtled down that canyon.

Mile 1--8:29
Mile 2--8:11 (at one point in this mile, my Garmin said 7:36--ack!)
Mile 3--8:15
Mile 4--8:28 (the pace group got way ahead of me)
Mile 5--8:28
Mile 6--8:44
Mile 7--8:38
Mile 8--8:27
Mile 9--8:35
Mile 10--8:53 (this is probably where I should have been the whole time)
Mile 11--8:30
Mile 12--8:28
Mile 13--8:31

I ran a half-marathon PR of 1:51:50 in this race. Great. Except this wasn't a half-marathon.

Mile 14--8:34
Mile 15--8:21
Mile 16--8:40
Mile 17--8:31
Mile 18--8:54

And somewhere in that mile 18, the bonk came. They say it comes at Mile 20. For me, it was two miles early. There was a little hill there, but it was gradual, nothing really as hills go. Nonetheless, to me it was like someone had turned me around and asked me to run back up that canyon.

Mile 19--9:30
Mile 20--10:03

Somewhere in the 21st mile, my buddy from New Mexico, whom I'd lost at a water station somewhere, caught me. "I've been trying to get you for five miles!" he said. He looked great, his stride steady. I tried to stay with him.

Mile 21--9:14

But it didn't last. My lungs and heart still felt great, but my legs--quads and hamstrings--were as achy as I ever remember them being. It was then that I walked. A lot. I watched the window for BQ'ing recede and pass.

Mile 22--10:36
Mile 23--11:10
Mile 24--10:36

When I realized I had only two miles to go, I decided that if I couldn't get the BQ, I needed the sub-4. I knew it would be tough on those legs. But I wanted to salvage this race and be happy at the end. So I pushed (or what counts for pushing at that point!).

Mile 25--9:41

In this mile, a jubilant man in green passed me. "I've just gotta stay ahead of those damn balloons," he was saying to the woman next to him. "Don't they stress you out???" she replied. I knew they were talking about the 4-hour pacers' balloons.

Mile 26--9:40

The 4-hour pacers with their balloons passed me. One of the balloons had popped and hung, deflated, from the stick as its porter bobbed along. I felt like that balloon.

But I kept my eye on the Garmin. It said I was still OK. I rounded a corner and there was the finish line, a tenth of a mile down. I bore down. The 4-hour guys were dancing just ahead of the line, waiting to cross it when it turned 4 hours on the dot. I sprinted (or what counts for sprinting at that point!). I got there ahead of them.

Last Point-2--8:35 pace (ironically, this is my bare minimum BQ pace)

Final result: 3:59:11

I had done it. Despite not sticking to a reasonable race plan, despite bonking, despite rain and hail and lightning, despite walking, I beat four hours. My previous best time, in New York City 2005 at age 32, was 4:13:58. My first marathon, in Houston 1997 at age 24, was 5:00:26.

Best of all, I was happy. I had redeemed a race that could have left me miserable and discouraged. Redemption is what running is all about for me.

Good things about this race:

1. NO POTTY STOPS!! My "fueling" pre-race was perfect. I stuck to my guns and avoided fiber, dairy and heavy baked goods (and most other sweets) in the three days ahead of the race. The day before I had hard-boiled eggs, bananas, salty pretzels (thanks for this tip, Jill!), a turkey-tomato-mustard sandwich on a white salt bagel, Gatorade and the pre-race pasta meal of pasta with vegetarian red sauce, a white roll and salad. Race morning, I ate a hard-boiled egg and some dry Frosted Flakes and drank a cup of coffee. I had Cliff Shot Blocks every four miles during the race until the last six miles when I didn't bother. I had water and Gatorade at every aid station. It worked. I'll do it again just that way for Houston.

2. I was able to set a personal record even with a bonk. I'm now only 15 minutes shy of my BQ time. I think I can do it in Houston with good training and the willpower to stick to a race plan even when the talk around me suggests I do something else.

3. The weather! I love cold weather. I don't mind rain. Even hail is OK if it's short (and it did help that we had patches of sun during the race's second half and at the finish line). I'm hoping it will be nice and cool in Houston in January. I really do believe that heat takes a lot off your time. Expectations will need to be revised downward if heat is an issue.

4. Hanging out with Erin and Alana before and after the race. Especially after! Who doesn't love a celebratory lunch involving Mexican food and three women who got PRs?

Bad things about this race for me (the ones that were mostly out of my control):

1. I had to drive to get there and didn't study Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming well enough. I ended up driving way longer on Thursday night than I meant to because there was nowhere to stay between Laramie and Rawlins. Then, when I got to Rawlins at 11:30 p.m., the nicer hotels were completely full with itinerant refinery workers. I stayed in dumpy place, the kind with a musty cigarette smell, bare bulbs, peeling plaster and a curtain safety-pinned over a rickety wall-unit A/C. I slept terribly, worried the whole time about bedbugs and fleas (fortunately not an issue).

2. My cold didn't clear up before the race. Fortunately, it's just a little cold and it never entered my chest--I don't think it was a factor (at least not a major one) in my Fail. But it added a layer of stress and uncertainty to my entire taper week and interfered with my sleep.

3. I had to walk a lot in those last miles. I wouldn't care if walking had been part of my plan. But it wasn't.

This race reminds me a lot of my Boulder Spring Half last March (though for that race I had a cold that was much worse than this one). I ran too fast and bonked, but still set a PR (albeit not as much of a PR as I wanted at the time). After that, I overcame those mistakes in my next half marathon (the ZOOMA Women's Half), finishing strong and beating my PR again despite heat. That's what I will seek to do in Houston (minus the heat part, I hope).

My goals for Houston, therefore, are simple:

1. Stick to my race plan.
2. Finish strong--no going too fast.
3. BQ (the end for which all these other things are the means)

Oh--and because as usual I was CRAP at taking pictures and Fast Cory was AWESOME at taking them (and really you should see this gorgeous place), here's a link to his race report (PR for him too-Yay Cory!).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

No BQ....but PR!

I just got home from Utah after the amazingly fun Top of Utah Marathon. I'll have a full race report later--need to catch up with my family and eat ice cream--but for now:


A barely-squeaked sub-4--no Boston 2012 for me.

What can I say? I started too fast and bonked! But I still beat my 6-year-old PR of 4:13:58 by 15 minutes....and I learned a ton. I also had a great time with Erin of See Mom Run Far, who went sub-3:30 (I am not worthy!) and her friend Alana, whose debut marathon was sub-4 (what a great beginning!).

Thanks for all your good wishes! I'll have details (including hail!) very soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Top of Utah Marathon Playlist

It's Thursday morning and I'm feeling good. The cold is still there, but it's lower-grade (so far!) than the one I had back in March for the Boulder Spring Half. For the pace group situation, I'm leaning toward starting with the 3:50 group to preserve my quads. But I'll hopefully get to talk to someone at the expo about this before making up my mind definitively.

I've got my playlist for those last eight miles. Here it is, with commentary. It's about 90 minutes, hopefully way more than I will need. I know I'm really nerdy when it comes to music, but it works for me. I'm not sure about the order yet. I'll probably play with that some.

"Take Me Home Country Roads"--John Denver (always have to start with this song)
"Private Conversation"--Lyle Lovett
"Down By the Water"--Decemberists
"Let It Will Be"--Madonna ("just watch me burn")
"(Let Your Mind Be) Free"--DJ Quicksilver
"Sandstorm"--Da Rude
"Roses Are Red"--Aqua
"Can't Let Go"--Lucinda Williams
"Rox in the Box"--Decemberists
"Lift Me Up"--Moby
"Roll Away Your Stone"--Mumford & Sons
"I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again"--Chumbawamba
"Americano"--Brian Setzer Orchestra
"Goody Two Shoes"--Adam Ant
"Wild Wild Life"--Talking Heads
"Learning to Live"--by Unknown (I got this alt-country sounding song off a mix CD that Will & Ruth got as a party favor at a 5-YO birthday party; I need to ask Zander's mom about it; couldn't find it on YouTube; it's awesome though)
"The One I Love"--David Gray
"The People's Limousine"--Elvis Costello (Dan loves Elvis Costello and I know thinking of Dan at this point will give me a lift)
"Lost in My Mind"--The Head & the Heart (new song I just heard on the radio the other day; sounds like a road trip song)
"Africa"--Toto (more 80s; it's just who I am)
"Sloop John B"--Beach Boys (my dad loves this song; thinking of my dad will give me a lift too; I need a song my mom loves next time; Mom, if you're reading, send me a song!)
"Telephone Road"--Steve Earle (this is about a road in Houston; thinking about Houston....)
"Gabriel's Message"--Sting (yeah, this is a Christmas song, but it's beautiful and it's about submitting to the will of God, which is what I need to do in this race)
"Rock This Town"--Stray Cats

One song I did not include, because it's a little too mellow, is the Eagles' "Peaceful Easy Feeling." But I think that's the theme song for me for this race. It's my first marathon since my pregnancy five years ago. Yes, I want to BQ, and I'm going to do my damnedest to do that, but I know it's not the end of the world if I don't make it this time. I have another chance in Houston in January. And no matter what happens Saturday, I will have a much better idea of where I am, what I can do, what I need to work on, after this race is over.

So as the Eagles say, "I got a peaceful easy feeling/And I know you won't let me down/'Cause I'm already standing on the ground."

See you all in Utah!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Feel Like I Should Be Writing My Will

Do you ever get the feeling, when you have a big race looming, that your life is now divided between everything that led up to the race (especially the immediate torture of waiting) and everything after (none of which particularly matters)?

I spent my day at work making little Outlook appointments with myself, convinced that as soon as I walked out the library doors everything work-related would flee my mind to such an extent that I'll make lots of silly mistakes next week (missing meetings, forgetting deadlines, maybe just not showing up). My work week is Sunday through Wednesday (I'm 3/4 time). Tomorrow evening, after a normal Thursday home with my kids, I will get in my car and drive. The Top of Utah Marathon is behind every action and thought I've had today. It's amazing I was able to function on the reference desk!

Here are some new developments:

1) I have a cold (cue Darth Vader music). Dratted work (the kids aren't sick so I can't blame them this time). I'm downing water and Zicam, and I skipped my easy 30-minute run today in favor of a 30-minute walk. The symptoms aren't too bad so far. I hope I can keep any really wicked stuff at bay until after approximately 10:45 a.m. Saturday morning.

2) I found out the marathon will have pacers. This is huge! The only problem is they have a 3:40 pacer and a 3:50 pacer. My BQ target time is 3:45. Dan thinks I should run with the 3:40 pacer for the downhill part in the canyon and then allow myself to slow down and let that pace group go if I need to for the final 8 miles, which are flat to slightly rolling. And indeed this is the strategy many of the pacers on the TOU site recommend for this race. I tend to think of Dan as my running Zen master. He's never given me bad advice. Does anyone out there disagree with him?

I still honestly don't know if I can go as fast as those 3:40 pacers will probably be running in the canyon. I know I can stick with the 3:50 pacers. But then I risk not getting my BQ....

3) The weather: predicted high of 74, low of 49, possible thundershowers. Sounds good to me!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Taper Tics

This morning I was sleepy when my alarm went off at 6 a.m. I'd had another 3 a.m. Will wake-up. This time he needed me to find Mr. Wawa, encourage him to use the bathroom...and to answer this question (and this is a spooky one from a preschooler when it's the wee hours and you're talking to him in the nightlight's bleary glow): "Mommy, are there real bottomless pits in this world?"

Since it's Taper Week, though, this wasn't a problem. At 6 a.m. I rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour. I had only a 30-minute run scheduled and I knew there would be plenty of time to do that on my break at work. And there was. It was hot but it felt good, like all runs do when you're tapering.

Here are some things I'm doing (other than ignoring my alarm) to make the taper feel special:

1) I'm ditching the Garmin until D-Day on Saturday. My old Timex died a couple of weeks back, so I'd been using the Garmin even on easy runs. Not this week. I borrowed Dan's Swiss Army watch and will do all my easy ones with it. No tracking miles. No tracking pace, even on the little shake-out track workout my McMillan plan is allowing me tomorrow. I'm going purely by feel.

2) I'm also ditching the tunes until the last eight-point-two miles of Saturday's race. Even on said track workout. The iPod is getting a rest. And when I do put on the phones this weekend, I'm going back to my old-school ones. I can't imagine trying to squish the Yurbuds into my sensitive ears when I'm 18 miles into what will hopefully be a fast-for-me marathon.

3) I've read a lot about really fast, awesome runners having stomach trouble in their recent races. I still don't have the magic bullet for this. But I've gotta try. So starting Wednesday it's good-bye to dairy (even my beloved Greek yogurt), nuts and nut butters, any and all things with artificial sweeteners (yep, I mean you Nuun, as good as you do taste and hydrate), anything spicy (salsa....sigh....) and anything with too much fiber (broccoli, whole wheat pasta, beans). I may even avoid my husband's tasty bread because he uses whole-wheat flour.

What will I eat and drink? Very bland things....grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs, toast, white pasta with garlic and olive oil, tortillas, big pretzels with lots of salt, fruit (though probably not the night before, except for bananas), V8 juice and cranberry juice (I do NOT want another UTI or kidney infection).

4) I'm trying to read stuff that has nothing to do with running. Yesterday I picked up The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Anyone out there read that? I also have 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

But I can't help dipping into some running things. Blogs, of course! And Running the Edge. And I pore over my now dog-eared McMillan spreadsheet, as if just reading it again will reveal some secret that could unlock Saturday for me.

5) I'm playing lots of two-handed bridge with Dan. Yes, bridge is a game for four people. But Will and Ruthie aren't quite ready to play with us yet (Ruth's getting pretty good at playing war, though) so we make do, each of us playing two of the four hands. It's hard to get better without playing, and we've found most of the bridge groups around here meet when one or both of us are at work.

6) I'm thinking about my playlist for those last 8.2 miles. Post on that to come!

Here's another video, this one courtesy of Christine, who told me about this on our hike last week. Since I'm sharing a hotel room this weekend with the awesome Erin of See Mom Run Far and her friend, Alana, I don't think the alarm issue will be a problem for me. And I don't plan to accept any hot tea from spectators....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Week of Joy

I woke up 15 minutes ago and wanted to run. Of course. That's the way tapering is! You stretch yourself out...resting....resting.....almost there....until BAM! you spend all of what you've put in the bank in one spree.

Yesterday I had a fantastic 10-mile run. My McMillan plan called for doing the last four miles at marathon pace. I wanted to do them at 8:20/mile and did 8:29s. I feel OK about that. It was hilly, and 8:20s would have been a stretch given my training paces. By the end, I felt so good and full of anticipation for my race I decided to call this last week of tapering the Week of Joy.

Fittingly, the rest of the day was wonderful too, as fun as Labor Day was last week. I got my hair cut and colored, something that happens only once in a blue moon because of the expense and length of time it takes (three hours! it's not like I have that much hair or do anything fancy with it, but my hairstylist, Carrie, is super careful and thorough, so it's worth it). Afterwards I was starving so I got a Jamba Juice berry shake with whey protein in it, which my stomach did NOT like (note to self: no more whey protein). Then we went to a cookout with my relay team. I got my pint glass and shirt (which I had forgotten to take after the race). It was fun to see them all again (and we were all CLEAN and well-rested), and everyone's kids got along great.

At one point the TV was on with NASCAR--the kids were riveted. None of these kids watch much TV (my kids watch none at home), and it was really funny to see them so excited about something that all the adults (runners, you know) thought was pretty boring. Now Will and Ruthie want us to take them to a car race. I told them they could go with Daddy. I just don't get car racing. Human racing, yes, obviously. Horse racing too! Even dog racing, though I don't like what happens to the non-talented greyhounds (I love greyhounds--I want one). But car racing? Uh-uh.

I had too much food and wine yesterday, but Dan just laughed at me when I asked him if he thought it would make me fat for the marathon. "It's just one day," he said. So I'll be careful today, and the rest of the week...until Saturday.....

Today is 9/11. On the original horrible day, I was teaching English at my little school in Far East Russia. I had been in the country for two months, and at my site for two weeks. In Russia, it was actually already September 12 because of the time difference. I was writing vocabulary words for the 5th graders on the chalk board. My principal, Sergei, came in and said he needed to speak with me. He told me Peace Corps had called him, that two airplanes had hit the World Trade Center. I thought it was some kind of drill. He shook his head. Usually he liked to joke with me, but I saw no laughter on his face.

He took me back to his parents' apartment and over and over again I watched those planes hit those towers. I understood almost nothing of what the newscasters were saying--my Russian language skills were still too weak. Four months prior, still at my former job as a news editor at the Wall Street Journal, I had worked right across the street from those towers. My bank branch was in their basement mall. I often bought a falafel sandwich from a vendor on the sidewalk outside. I had interviewed people who worked on the 102nd floor. I had eaten several times at Windows on the World and stood on the observation deck with my mom. When my sister had visited once during the three years I lived in New York, we walked by and she had touched the massive base of one of the towers, saying, "It just feels like it might not be permanent." (Not kidding about that...psychic sister...)

On that September day in Russia, I was worried about my former co-workers, other friends in the city and my family. Communication was hard, but I managed phone calls to Dan and my parents and emails that got me answers ("Not one hair on the head of anyone at Dow Jones was harmed," wrote my friend Carlos). I spent the next few days and nights riveted to the BBC on my short-wave radio. My new Russian friends were amazingly kind, some embracing me in the street and crying on my behalf. Sergei's mother said, "I believe God brought you here, because you are much safer in Russia." And gradually my days returned to their new, weird Russian normal.

Back home, I know it didn't become any kind of normal for many of you for a while. When we volunteers were sent home almost a year later, the USA for which we had all been homesick was changed (most obviously at the airport). I'm grateful that in the ensuing decade, for now anyway, the fear has subsided, that a new tower is rising in that spot (which I later went and looked upon), that I was able six years ago to run the streets of that amazing city and that many of my new running friends will do so this year, ten years later.

We human beings are lucky that time heals. Another reason why this taper week will be a Week of Joy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two Videos

Now that their book Run the Edge is out (review from me coming soon), Tim Catalano and Adam Goucher are spiffing up their interactive website for readers of the book. It's called The Mavens' Guild--check it out. They put this video up today--it seems especially relevant for me with my race coming up, and I bet it will speak to you too.

Also, because I'm already thinking about how to get stronger for Houston and one of the things I need more of is core work, here's a video with some simple exercises that Runners' World has up. I like the idea of having to do only three exercises twice a week. Is that too good to be true? I know some of you have some serious abs out there. What are your favorite core exercises? I'm especially interested in hearing from those of you who (like me) have or had major issues with diastasis post-pregnancy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Top of Utah Marathon Goals

This morning was a cross-training day, and I really wanted to hang out with my friend Christine. So we both got up early and went for a little hike up the Sanitas Valley Trail. Our usual climb up Mt. Sanitas would have been too slick to be safe. The valley trail is a climb too, though much more gradual and without the stairsteps and rock scrambles that characterize the mountain trail.

We talked about a lot of things, like how her boy/girl twins started preschool and an eccentric former co-worker of hers and of course, because I'm thinking of little else these days, my upcoming race. She laughed at me a little for my grouchy post last week, in which I maligned The Secret. I explained to her that I know I was in a bad mood that day, but that even when I'm not in a bad mood (thankfully that's most of the time!) I do feel like an odd duck in the world of running bloggers because I don't think it's wrong to admit that I am not.....always....optimistic. She laughed again and said, "That's because you are a chronic realist. Not a pessimist...a realist."

That's the great thing about having a friend who gets you. It made me feel better. Pessimism might doom a person to failure, but realism? That just sets up reasonable expectations.

Which brings me to my goals for the Top of Utah Marathon.

Normally I like to have a three-part goal for any race I've trained seriously for: a moonshot-stars-align goal, a solid goal that moves the ball forward and a bad-day bare-minimum-performance goal. But being honest (and realistic!), I know that I will be disappointed with anything less than a Boston qualifying time at Top of Utah. So I have only one goal: run a 3:45 marathon or better--or completely flame out trying.

Part of me knows that's impractical. By race day, September 17, the Boston sign-up period will have been open for a week. Even if I do manage to squeak in with a qualifying run, chances are Boston will have sold out. I'll still need to qualify in Houston in January for Boston 2013. (For those of you who already qualified for 2012, check out the Boston Athletic Association's nifty registration date calculator to figure out when you can register!)

So why bet the farm on this race? Aren't I just setting myself up for a week of painful walking and a long drive back to Colorado in tears? Perhaps. But I'll also know what I can do, what I still need to work on, and that I tried my hardest in my first marathon in six years. Realistically, given my inconsistent training paces, a BQ in ten days probably is not going to happen. But I want to know how close I can get. And being a realist I know I'll be more disappointed if I have to ask "What if?" than I will be if I go down in spectacular flames.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Weekend

My last long run of the Top of Utah Marathon training cycle went well. I was fearing being unable to do the fast-finish bit, so Dan suggested I cheat a bit and make it a hill run instead, something that sort of mimicked Top of Utah's downhill-at-first-then-flat profile. So early on Saturday morning I drove my car to the western terminus of the Boulder Creek/Canyon trail--and left it there. I ran down the canyon and into town for eight miles, and then back up the trail, including the canyon climb, for the second eight miles.

I felt slow and pinched for the downhill part. But somehow, the turnaround revived me and I felt "in the zone" for the climb. It went by so much faster. I was really surprised and gratified. I felt high the rest of the day. My family went for a little hike that afternoon, and I was even up for some Fast Cory-style jumping:

Yeah, that twin's never going away.
Then the kids wanted to get into the act:

We couldn't get a good simultaneous jump photo.
Sunday was a work day for me. I went for a nice little recovery run on my break, the kind of run where you feel like you are flying and could keep going until you reach heaven, because that's the only place you could be going feeling like that.

When I got home, I knew for sure that fall was coming because Dan had baked bread for the first time since May. In the cool months, he bakes all of our sandwich bread from scratch. It's the best bread in the world, especially when it first comes out of the oven. And it makes the whole house smell good:

Yeah, the four of us had already consumed a lot of the first loaf by the end of lunchtime today. Fortunately there's another loaf in the freezer.
Today, Labor Day, was awesome.

First, we volunteered at Aid Station #9 at the Boulder Marathon. I've run the half three straight times, but this year that wasn't happening because of Top of Utah. I wanted to stay involved, and also expose the kids to some volunteer work, so we signed up. I had never volunteered like this before, but it was so much fun. We saw runners of all shapes and sizes, starting with the eventual men's and women's winners and ending with the last guy on the course. I was proud that two of these runners told me that ours was the best aid station out there.

Here we are just before I took the kids home--Will and Ruthie lasted a solid two hours, helped with filling cups and picking up trash. We're definitely doing this again next year.

After that, we went to Boulder's Hometown Festival. Again, it was a great time: the kids bounced in bouncy castles and hurtled down bouncy slides; they tried a climbing wall (as did I!); Will was in a Big Wheel race; they rode on Vern the Train Man's train; Ruth had a helicopter painted on her face; and Will had an airbrush train tattoo on his arm. Dan and I watched them and ate kettle corn.

Then we went over to old neighbors' house for a quick cookout. We got home about 30 minutes ago, got the kids in bed about 15 minutes ago--and I think they are already asleep.

I'm about to go to sleep too. My McMillan Plan has this to say about the next two weeks:

"You now enter the special Peaking Phase to rest the body/mind but keep the engine revved for racing! Reduce your life stress and focus on good sleep, proper nutrition and hydration."

I say, Amen to that!

I'm game for a little stress reduction. Ahhh!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Last Long One, Tommie Copper Calf Sleeves and August Recap

Tomorrow is my last truly long run ahead of the Top of Utah Marathon. I can't believe the race is in two weeks. It seems too soon. I'm starting to fret already. Hopefully tomorrow's run will help me burn some of that off.

It's a 16-miler (or 18 if I feel good--we'll see about that!) with a fast finish. I plan to drive to the top of the trailhead in Boulder Canyon, run down into the city for eight or nine miles and then run back up the canyon for the second part. I figure this will simulate finishing under duress, even if I don't go fast, because I'll be climbing pretty much the whole way back. Some of it will be quite steep.

Bring it on! After Thursday's lousy run, I feel like attacking this one. (And I got eight hours of sleep last night--thank you, Will, for conking and staying that way all night!)

Meanwhile, I've been trying out another product this week, one that I'm excited about. The product is my Tommie Copper calf sleeves. I had been meaning to buy some compression socks or something similar for my calves, which (along with my quads) get the Most Likely to Be Sore award after any given run. I foam roll them a lot, but that's not always enough to get the hurt out before the next hard effort.

Lucky me, I won a pair of Tommie Coppers from Marcia at The Studly Runner. They arrived just in time for me to don them after my Unexpected Relay last weekend. On Tuesday morning, I put them on immediately after a hard fartlek workout. They were supportive without making me feel like a sausage in a casing (as my friend Rosann would describe it), and nice and soft. I was also surprised, given the climbing mercury, that I didn't feel hot in them.

Ruthie wants a pair too! Do they make them in size 4T?

They were so comfy I put them back on after showering to go to work---and forgot to take them off until I arrived AT work and realized they were still there, still comfy, but didn't go so well with the skirt I had put on. I've worn them after every run since. I think they are helping with the calves. Today I had a short recovery run, and I noticed a big difference between the way my calves felt when I had them on post-run and the way they felt after a day on my feet with the kids (and no calf sleeves). I'm wearing them again as I type this. Winning them was definitely a coup, and I recommend them to anyone who feels their calves need a little TLC. Big thanks to Marcia and Tommie Copper! Now maybe I need to get the ankle sleeves....

Finally, I wanted to do a quick recap of August:

--I ran 168.3 miles. My biggest week was that of the 22-miler (the relay), which came in at 44.1 miles. I was a bit bummed that I didn't have a 50-mile week. The relay one would have been had I done the two 3-mile recovery runs that were supposed to bookend the big one. But I have my Houston ramp-up in the cooling weather to pile on the miles. All I can do now is cross my fingers and hope I did enough miles for a PR at Top of Utah. It was certainly the highest-mileage month I've done in six years. Surely that counts for something.

--I ran the Colorado Relay, unexpectedly, as Runner 2. It was a great time. I got to spend time in nature, running under the stars, hanging out with others who love and get running, reconnecting with old friends.

--I had some very satisfying workouts where I could see progress in my running: the ones that stick out are my second fast-finish long run (I used the Heart & Sole Half Marathon to push me along) and the fabulous tempo run I had ahead of the relay. I also had two very stinky workouts: yesterday's 9-mile goal-pace fail and the first fast-finish long run, which ended up being a slow 18 miles instead. Hey, you win some, you lose some.

--I got to meet (virtually) Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano. These two answered some of my questions and some of yours. They are classy guys, and I'm so looking forward to reading their new book, Run the Edge. My signed copy arrived in the mail today (to buy a copy, go here). I've already dipped into it and can't wait to give it a real read.

--I got lots of free stuff! In addition to the Tommie Coppers, I won some Yurbuds from Erin at See Mom Run Far, another inspiring-looking book, Stillpower: The Inner Source of Athletic Excellence, from Katherine at Forward Foot Strides and got some inspiring bumper stickers from Jim at 50 After 40. Thanks to all of you for the ongoing support and for doing giveaways. Maybe it's time for me to buy that lottery ticket.

--The AWESOME Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea at Another Mother Runner let me do a guest post on their blog that ran on Wednesday. In it, I wrote about one of the more personal reasons running is so important to me. The teenager I used to be is still inside me raising doubts, so their support and yours mean a lot to me. Thanks to SBS, Dimity and everyone who read and empathized with the sentiments in that post.

September, the month of my first marathon since 2005, has arrived. A post of my goals for Top of Utah is forthcoming. Meanwhile, good luck to all who have races this holiday weekend. I hope you meet or exceed your goals and that you and your families have a long, relaxing time together after that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Run

I knew it would be a tough one when my son woke up at 4:25 (35 minutes before my alarm was set to go off) and needed help locating his beloved stuffed monkey, Mr. Wawa. Mr. Wawa is one of those small SIDS-safe infant stuffies that has a head and nothing but a soft washcloth for a body. He gets lost easily in Will's bed, especially because Will tends to stuff him into pillowcases. So I groggily located Mr. W and then stumbled back into bed. I didn't sleep again.

It was supposed to be a 7-to-10 mile goal pace run. I've looked forward to almost all of my McMillan plan's runs, but for whatever reason I just knew this wasn't going to be a good one. There are those who might say I psyched myself out of it. But I don't believe in that Law of Attraction stuff. This supposed "law" holds that if you just wish/believe, the things you desire/need will flow to you. Therefore, if bad things happen (such as a goal pace run that just doesn't work out), you clearly didn't want/believe it enough. There's a ramblingly-written book and DVD called The Secret, which was hugely popular at my library, that describes this idea and cites many people throughout the ages, from Leonardo da Vinci to some modern-day shyster who bills himself as a "metaphysicist" in the DVD, to back it up.

But really, in running and in everything else, this supposed law is just a large pile of horse doo-doo. Here are the reason why my run was bad. None of them have anything to do with me not wanting a good run badly enough:

1. I haven't gotten enough sleep this week. The relay set me back to start out with. My son has awakened at 4:30 or so for three mornings in a row--once for a Mr. Wawa hunt, once for a hug and kiss and once for a soaked pull-up. I didn't wish for those things (though I certainly had fun at the relay).

2. I ran the relay's 22 miles harder than I would have run them had I done them as a straight regular long run. My average pace for them was 8:55/mile. Nine miles of that was significantly faster since it was that cruise 1,800 feet down Vail Pass. I'm supposed to do long runs at 9:30-10:30 miles. I don't think this will hurt my marathon, but I do think it set me back for this week.

3. I chose a hilly route for this morning's run. Partly this is because I can't help running hills around here, but it also helps me justify slower paces. Hill work is speed work in disguise, right?

4. My trots hit me at mile nine, despite three trips to the toilet before I even walked out the door. What do you do? There's nothing you can do but hit the old gas station bathroom.

5. My Garmin was hinky. I thought I had started it *twice* only to find I was wrong.

6. My earbuds kept popping out on me. I think I may have to revert to my old-school phones for the race.

Those reasons, my friends, are why today's 7-to-10 mile goal pace run became a 9-mile slog with some fast miles thrown in.

I have one more hard run Saturday morning, a 16-mile fast-finish. I'm going to eat carefully and sleep well (if Will and Mr. Wawa allow it!). I'm going to do my best not to make the last real long run of this training cycle terrible horrible no-good and very bad.

No one wishes for bad days. But, you know folks, some days are like that.

(Apologies to Judith Viorst, whose fine book "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Day" is on my daughter's nightstand right now!)