Being Honest about Fall

It’s heeeeee-re!

Today is the first day of fall, and I’m sure that those memes about leaves crunching under feet and curling up in cozy sweaters are already filling up your social media feeds faster than an empty¬†beer stein at the local Oktoberfest bash.

I’m not much for memes or social media bandwagons, but I¬†don’t mind it as much this time of year, because I do love fall. I love football and chili and leaves and being able to run at better paces just as much as the next gal.

But I’ve also noticed something about the way we talk about fall – well, the way we talk about all seasons, but this one in particular. The chatter around fall is just so…dreamy. Maybe it’s because I live in the city where there are far fewer trees and apple orchards, but when was the last time we actually had the picture-perfect fall depicted in all those memes? The social media meme¬†portrayal of¬†fall seems to be¬†symbolic of the way social media works in general: it thrusts the high points into the spotlight and obfuscates the day-to-day reality. To be fair, I can’t just blame viral social media content. Even in the days before dial-up we were in the habit of looking at things we love through rose-colored glasses.

I write a heralding-of-fall post on my blog each year, celebrating my love of the season but trying to put a different, creative spin on it. One year I wrote a letter to fall. This year, I want to honor my favorite season by speaking more honestly about it.

Yes, a few days – several if we’re lucky – are¬†crisp, sunny, foliage-coated 50-degree splendors.¬†But just as many days, more actually, are unseasonably warm or blustery, cold and rainy.

Yes, fall fashion is fun and cozy. But let’s also remember that fall, being the transitional season that it is, is also really exasperating¬†to dress for. How many times have we struggled to figure out what to wear for the day because there might be a 20-degree temperature differential from one rush hour to¬†the next?

Yes, the cool temps are such a welcome change, especially after one of the grossest summers on record. But let’s not forget that with cool temperatures come less sunlight and early darkness. Actually, I don’t really consider this much of a downside. I know I’m in the minority in this but I enjoy the first couple months of early darkness. There’s something about it that just makes me want to rush home, light a candle and get cozy with blankets and a good book or TV show or home cooked meal. Just me? I figured.

And yes, I love that the community seems to come back to life with events, things to do, and the desire to get outside before the temperatures plummet, the sun retreats and the trees go barren. But I tend to forget that the busyness of fall¬†has a dark side. There’s a good busyness, like spending your weekend hitting up Oktoberfest and the farmer’s market, running a half marathon, picking out pumpkins and apple bushels, and still finding time¬†to catch a stream of football games over a batch of chili. But there’s also the¬†stressful busyness, the work and event duties that pile up at my job this time of year, and the fact that it’s just really hard for me to focus on anything. Fall is inspiring and lovely but I think we can all admit that at times it’s also a little overstimulating.

 

I am honestly not trying to be a Debbie Downer here or ruin anyone’s excitement for fall. There’s nothing wrong with being excited for fall – goodness knows I am excited too. Perhaps I’m just in a pragmatic mood lately, but after this year and the lessons I’ve learned about setting realistic expectations and what happens when you try to over-structure life, I’m really feeling the need to emphasize that the things I¬†love aren’t perfect, and pretending they are doesn’t help anything. And, I’ll be honest, I’m also just kinda over sugar-coating things.

So yes, let’s celebrate the much-heralded arrival of what seems to be the favorite season of the overwhelming majority of us. Let’s say hallelujah that cooler weather is finally around the corner, let’s get pumped that our much-anticipated race seasons have arrived, let’s rejoice that the world around us is about to explode with gorgeous color even if it comes and goes in the blink of an eye.

I’m going to do all these happy things and more.

But I’m also going to cool it with the clich√©s this year (get it?? COOL it?! Cause fall is cooler? Apparently I’m not going to “cool it” with the bad puns though…).

I’m going to love and ENJOY fall but I’m going to love it as it is, not how I dream it to be. Instead of acting like it’s going to be three months of happy fun time in pumpkin-scented la la land, this season¬†my mindfulness practice is centered around taking the good with the bad, and appreciating and being grateful for the highs but not expecting them any more than I expect the lows.

That means loving the crisp cool sunny days while taking the ones that are cold, wet, and gross.

That means loving the energy, while accepting the occasional overstimulation.

That means loving all the fun new activities and events, while accepting the busyness and managing the lack of focus and the occasional feeling of being overwhelmed.

That means loving the perfect-temperature days when I can comfortably be outside in a cute sweater with no coat, or run in long sleeves and shorts, while acknowledging there will also be days when I’m shivering my ass off at the bus stop because the forecast said it would be in the 50s so all I wore today was a thin trench coat.

That means loving pumpkin everything, and accepting pumpkin EVERYTHING.

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I hope fall will be great, and dream-like, and everything fall is supposed to be. But maybe it won’t be. So I resolve to appreciate the good days when they come, be patient through the bad ones, and for once, in our little game of hide-and-seek, letting “the magic” have its turn as the seeker.

Now, let’s all grab a pumpkin beer and cheers to what is, in spite of its imperfections, the best season.

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Do you enjoy fall?

What is your favorite season? What is the best – and worst – thing about that season?

On Goals…and Ambivalence

Yesterday I signed up for my first 2017 race: the Wisconsin Half Marathon. The Wisconsin Half Marathon was my first half marathon back in 2014, and I wanted to make it a “streak” race that I did every year until this year, when I had to sit it out because it was 6 days after the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Normally when I sign up for a race that long, I’m not just signing up: I’m making a statement. I’m typically not a person who runs half marathons just for fun, so when I pull the trigger and pay that registration fee, it means I have big plans. Indeed, I have dreams for the 2017 Wisconsin Half

Well…maybe. Sort of. I don’t know. I plead the 5th?

I posted my registration to Facebook with a triumphant declaration that this would be the race where I finally succeed in nabbing one of my longest-standing wish list items: a sub-1:45 half marathon. Granted, I also added the caveat that even if that doesn’t happen I still wanted to have fun re-running my first half marathon in my college town. But still, I felt nervous about declaring that goal on Facebook. I’m not sure why. Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows it’s not some big secret that I’ve been drooling over a sub-1:45 for the better part of two years now. Every runner has a dream that they just can’t get over: for many, it’s a sub-2:00 half, completing an ultra, or qualifying for Boston. For me, for some reason, it’s running the half marathon distance at that elusive sub-8:00 pace. While there’s no guarantee I won’t just immediately start lusting over a sub-1:40 after that, the <1:45 is my “it” thing I just can’t let go of and I know I will feel some form of running closure once I can finally prove that I, too, am capable of it.

The problem is that things are changing. I’m changing. And as much as I want that sub-1:45, I’m just not sure I want it enough. Not more than I want to be able to live the rest of my life without devoting so much time and energy to formal training plans.

I’ve been able to devote myself so fully to training for marathons and improving my times because I have a lifestyle that has allowed for it. A steady job, with set hours, no children to raise, no plans for change and really no unpredictability whatsoever in my life. Going on vacation for a few days or a week was the biggest wrench in my training plans.

But I’m getting to a point where I’m just not sure that improving at a hobby is worth all the sacrifices that need to be made in other areas of my life and the single-tracked mind it requires. I love to run and run well, but running isn’t as huge a part of my identity as it is for other people, and I often find myself feeling like I’m being¬†pulled in many different directions. Running for improvement used to win that tug of war handily, but as this year has gone on, its grip has drastically weakened. I want to improve at running but I no longer want it as much as I want to let go of it and move on to other things for a while.

2017 is already shaping up to be a big year for me. We have a lot of travel planned for the spring, which obviously would interfere with a training plan (that and the nasty winter we’re apparently supposed to get this year…). But I’m also looking to shake up my lifestyle a little bit¬†in the coming¬†year. I turn 30 in March, which as you can imagine, is prompting some introspection as of late, and I’m getting the feeling that after several identical years, it’s time for a change in my life. Since it’s still in the tentative/brainstorming stage, I’m not ready to publicly talk about what that is yet, but let’s just say it’s less of a “change” and more just something that will eat up a lot more of my time and focus, leaving little room or desire to cram in race training. I also want this to be the year that, in the same spirit as I trained for my first half 3 years ago, I try new things with no strings attached. Without the pressure of time goals and improvement, maybe this could be the year I finally run my first trail race or do my first triathlon (SPRINT triathlon, people! 70.3 and 140.6 are NOT in my future!).

Which brings me here: why did I declare a goal of a 1:45 half marathon knowing I won’t have the time – or, frankly, the desire – to devote myself to training for it?

Because I do still want it, and I’m not ready to rule¬†it out as a possibility. I’m already so close. While the best I have managed so far is a high 1:47, I ran that race on a tough day in my peak weeks of marathon training with zero taper, and my fitness indicated that with better weather and fresh legs, I was¬†capable of a 1:45-1:46 – which, regardless of what they say about “woulda coulda shoulda,” I continue to fully believe. Add to that the killer fitness base I will have built up at year-end from this fall’s 10K training, I think a 1:44 or better is a possibility for me even without an intense, targeted training plan if¬†I stay in shape and keep running as a part of my lifestyle. It may take me a few tries to get it this spring, but I think I can do it.

But, I’m also accepting – and okay with – the possibility that it won’t happen.¬†I do still want to run and participate in races, but things are going to be different next year. My priorities and values are starting to go in a welcome new direction¬†that I’m eager to follow. Being fast and improving my race times is really beginning to seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I don’t regret the time I’ve spent devoted to that passion, but the growing discontent I felt after the Pittsburgh Marathon was more than simple burn out, it’s telling me that it’s time to move on and that running can’t come¬†first anymore.

None of this affects my current 10K training, by the way. I’m in it, I’ve committed to it, I’m enjoying it and I intend to see it through. But, I am starting to rethink my goals a little bit, and wonder if I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself and setting my standards for this one cycle at an inappropriately high level. I think second-guessing myself and my workouts is natural since I’m out of my comfort zone with this type of running, but I also am feeling like I’m starting to get a little too greedy with my expectations for success. Given that this may be my last formal, improvement-focused training cycle for a whole year, I need to start making it a priority to actually enjoy it and appreciate the opportunity as well.

 

P.S. – I’m sorry ¬†I have not yet responded/followed through with the feedback I got from last week’s post calling for blog recommendations. I did check out several of the blogs and I’ve been meaning to follow and get engaged, but it just keeps getting away from me. Since we’re busy this weekend but staying in town, I hope to have time to get on that!

Chert, Trolls, and the Art of Starting a Fire: 24 Hours at Blue Mound

In my last post, I alluded to this past weekend’s camping trip being strange and random. Well, let me explain.

We were originally scheduled to camp at Blue Mound State Park on the weekend of August 12-14. But we decided to move it so we could watch Olympics that weekend. I was able to find an opening on the weekend of September 9-11, so we decided to run with that. I would love to say I was optimistic that pushing back a month would allow us to avoid the heat, but September is still pretty warm around here so I wasn’t holding my breath. We were just glad to free up that weekend in August.

Well, the short week leading up to this past weekend was oddly stressful. We had just traveled to Iowa for Labor Day weekend, and after we got back on Monday my whole sense of rhythm and routine just felt off all week long. Between training runs and Kevin having things going on during the week, we never found time to prep for the trip. Faced with the possibility of having to do a hard workout Thursday evening, then drag my butt to the grocery store, then prep our camping stuff, then wake up at the butt crack of dawn on Friday to get my workout in, all so we could leave for camping after work on Friday, I suggested that we just wait and go Saturday morning. Kevin happily agreed. I was able to do my workout Friday evening, then we went to the store, got things ready and planned to leave early Saturday.

It should be smooth sailing from here.¬†Kevin only needed to stop at work on our way out of town, and then we would be on our way. But as we neared the highway exit for Kevin’s work, we noticed that it and the next one were blocked off. Huh? That’s when it dawned on me: the Brewers race is today. A bunch of streets would be blocked off and Kevin’s work is right in the middle of all the closures. Yup, that’s right, my morning was derailed by, of all things, a race. We ended up having to take a long roundabout way to Kevin’s work that put us almost an hour behind schedule. Now we were looking at not arriving at Blue Mound until almost noon. Was it really worth it to drive two hours out there and not even have 24 hours there? It was tempting to say F it and just go home, but I had paid for the campsite, we’d bought groceries, we’d come all this way, we might as well go and enjoy some fresh air instead of going home and sitting on our butts all weekend. So we went.

We drove through a lot of rain but skies were clear and the air was crisp and lovely by the time we arrived and checked into our campsite. We set up our tent and in the process realized that in our grand ol’ rush to pack for a sub-24 hour trip we had managed to forget:

  • Pillows
  • Kevin’s hatchet for pounding in our tent stakes and chopping up firewood for kindling
  • Toothbrushes – both of us
  • Tinfoil for cooking our baked potatoes
  • Paper plates to eat said potatoes on

So, before we could get started on our hiking for the day, we had to leave the campground and drive to the local general store we passed on the way in. There we managed to pick up everything we needed, except for the pillows and a hatchet. So, we would just have to hope that the sticks we picked up (still wet from the morning’s rain) and the paper we brought would get enough of a fire going for the logs to catch.

So, essentials restocked, we finally started on some hiking. It was a gorgeous day on Saturday – temps were in the mid-60s, the humidity was low and the sky was partly cloudy. I actually wore LONG SLEEVES on our hike!

 

Blue Mound State Park is located on West Blue Mound, the largest hill in the southern half of Wisconsin. The many mounds of the area are monadnocks, hills or mountains created through centuries of erosion.

BMSP’s defining feature is several lookout points from the top of the mound that offer scenic, sprawling views of the surrounding countryside. There are two observation towers on the hiking trails that offter this view, as well as a couple clearings in the trees surrounding the flat field atop the mound.

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The view, and long sleeves in September!

Kevin and I hiked about 3.5 miles worth of the trails at Blue Mound. On the first trail we hiked, the Flintrock, we weaved among several massive boulders that we learned were composed of chert. Chert (or flintrock), is a very hard, erosion-resistant rock that was formed by silica-rich water that flowed over the land millions of years ago. The silica is what makes it so hard. Native Americans actually used the chert to make arrowheads and start fires. We learned that apparently, much of the land used to be covered in a big layer of chert but over time, most of it eroded except for the highest points – aka, the top of Blue Mound. So the mound has this unique top layer of chert, and the boulders along the trail are pieces of it that broke off and tumbled down the mound over time.

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After this hike, it started to rain. Neither of us brought rain jackets, naturally, because there was no rain forecasted for this afternoon. Our first thought was our campsite – we hadn’t closed the rain flap on the tent door, because of course we didn’t, so our heads filled with fear that our sleeping bags were getting soaked in there. As we dashed down the trail about .4 miles of our campsite, the showers intensified and the woods towering above us could only provide so much cover.

Luckily our sleeping bags were spared, but the firewood we left outside was not so lucky. A lot of it was covered in plastic wrap but still, it was wet. The sticks we had collected for kindling were wet(ter). It started to rain again and Kevin and I ended up just sitting in the car for a while, putzing around on our phones and wondering what else to do with ourselves, because #SoOutdoorsy #LegitCampers. Finally the rain let up and the clear skies returned just as late afternoon, sitting-in-the-car-lethargy was starting to set in, but I was determined to rally, so we drove to a nearby trailhead for more hiking.

We logged a couple more miles of hiking and the next trail we hit, the Indian Marker Trail, was really cool. It was shorter but more technical, and it was really pretty.


We then hit up the observation towers and discovered the clearing in the trees around the top of the mound that offered lovely views of the surrounding land.

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So for all that had gone awry this day/trip, we really nailed it on the hiking. This was probably the best hiking I’ve had at any of the parks we’ve visited except Devil’s Lake.

But the weirdness isn’t over yet. For a camping trip, this really turned into more of a hiking and exploring the nearby small town trip. After the hike, we were going to go back to our campsite to start a fire and cook the dinner we brought with us. Except…that didn’t happen. I guess all the mishaps from the day had sapped my willpower, because Kevin had mentioned a brewpub in the nearby village of Mt. Horeb, and suddenly nothing sounded better than sitting down to a beer. Indoors. So once again we piled into the car and drove out of the woods that was supposed to be our peaceful weekend reprieve.

We drive by signs for the Mt. Horeb Grumpy Troll Brew Pub every time we go to Iowa, and have always been curious, Kevin being the beer aficianado that he is and me just enjoying the chance to drink craft beer in relaxing environments. At least now we would get our chance, right?

With a population of about 8,000, Mt. Horeb is typical of most small towns scattered about the Midwestern countryside, except for one thing: TROLL EVERYTHING. The Grumpy Troll Brewery. The Thirsty Troll Brew Fest. The signs on I 151 luring road-weary travelers onto the storied “Mt. Horeb Trollway”. The troll carvings. And the unique distinction of being the “Troll Capital of the World.” A cursory glance around the town’s main street area quickly revealed a proud Norwegian ancestry, but I had to know, where does all this troll stuff come from?

It turns out, decades ago one of the local businesses used to feature carved trolls imported from Norway out on their lawn to attract customers. Back then, I-151 went right through Mt. Horeb, so all the truckers and passers by would see the trolls. When the state of Wisconsin decided to create a 151 bypass around Mt. Horeb, the locals were worried they’d lose commerce from the travelers passing through, so they created signs and a marketing campaign around the “famous Mt. Horeb Trollway!” to lure drivers from the highway back into town. A local wood carver made several trolls to place around town so that the trollway was actually, well, a trollway and thus Mt. Horeb became an official home¬†for trolls.

I’d love to say I learned all this by striking up a conversation with a local, but, I looked it up on the internets later (source). I know, I know¬†–¬†such an adventurous and savvy traveler, I am.

Back at our campsite, we decided to start a fire to relax the night away. Well, with wet wood, wet sticks, and no ax to make kindling, things were not going our way. The paper we brought would light easily but those fires weren’t hot enough for the logs to catch. Frustrated, Kevin gave up. But I was like, dude, this can’t be impossible. People at campsites around us were laughing the night away over their raging fires, I was determined that if they could do it, so could we.

Well, it took a tireless amount of persistence but finally, I started to make headway. Tearing bark pieces off some of our logs helped create flames hot enough for the logs to catch, and very gradually we started to get ourselves a real fire. It still took care and effort to maintain it, as it started to go back on life support a few times, but I was able to keep it going and give it some momentum. The logs were still not catching very well due to the wetness, but finally, my little fire baby was able to shed its training wheels and cruise off on its own.

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At this point, Kevin couldn’t fight the fatigue anymore and retired to the tent to crash. I was tired too, but god damnit, I worked my butt off building that fire and after the day we’d had, I wasn’t going to quit now that it was finally going! So I stayed up with my fire, alone, tired and soaking up the solitude of the night. At some point I realized the nearby campsites had gone to bed and all was quiet outside the gentle popping of the flames. I’d love to say I contemplated life, the mysteries of the universe and how to fix the ills of society, but my thoughts drifted aimlessly. They bounced around from Mary Lou Retton and Olympic gymnastics, to an old episode of Law and Order about a woman who had supposedly died in 9/11 but actually her fiancee killed her the night before and moved her body to ground zero so that it would look like she died there, and then several more odd stops on the random thoughts train in between. Of course, the more I wanted to go to bed,¬†the more my fire happily roared bigger and brighter, so up I stayed. I got down to three logs left and decided that was a good place to call it a night – not bad for two bundles of firewood. It wasn’t even midnight yet.

The next morning, we got up eager to go to the “coffee and conversation” that the host campsite apparently had going every Saturday and Sunday morning, but no one was there. Another one bites the dust. So, we packed up our things and said goodbye to Blue Mound.

We breakfast’d at a little cafe in Mt. Horeb. The food was great, but we were eager to be on our way home. Except for one thing. Just as we turned off the famous Trollway, headed for 151, we were stopped in our tracks again by road closures. It was – you guessed it – another race.

Which race would be closing roads all the way out here in the countryside? Why, it was none other than IRONMAN Wisconsin! Mt. Horeb is nearby Madison and apparently smack dab in the middle of the bike leg. Cops were directing traffic and allowing cars to cross the course when gaps in the riders opened up, but after waiting a while it was pretty clear there wasn’t going to be a gap for a long-ass time. So we turned around and headed back toward the park to get onto 151 there.

It was actually really cool to watch the Ironman bikers, but I couldn’t believe that on two separate days, in two towns two hours apart, our travel plans were derailed by races. What are the odds?

 

So that was our magical, outdoorsy weekend at Blue Mound State Park. Despite such a brief, disorganized trip full of hiccups and cop-outs, it was nice to get out in the fresh air and spend time in the woods.

The whole time, though, I felt like a bad camper. We like to camp and do it often. We’ve never totally bailed on campfire cooking to seek the refuge and modern comfort of a restaurant before, and I feel like that decision sort of branded me with a scarlet letter “I” for Indoor Wussy or something. But for whatever reason, I just wasn’t having it this time. And I guess the moral of the story is, despite what you see from all the outdoorsy folks on social media about the deep connection and total harmony with nature, sometimes even avid campers just don’t hit one out of the park. And that’s okay. Nature, like the rest of us, isn’t perfect either. Shit happens and not every outdoor experience is some glorious soulful wonder. But that’s okay. After all, if everything had gone to plan and I had been outdoorsy enough to make REI proud, I might not have learned about the unique quirks of Mt. Horeb, or had the chance to (briefly) spectate an Ironman, or been able to experience any cool hiking at all.

Life is messy, and no one is perfect. But if you look hard enough you might just find those experiences are worth it anyway.

10K Training Week 6

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I can’t believe this was my 6th week of training already. If I count the time from August 1 until my first race (not my last one) as my official training, that means I’m halfway through training already.

This week it was back to the training grind. With a time trial/race week the week before and a cutback (mostly easy miles) week before that, it was good to get back to some sort of structure in my training this week.

Week 6 brought a progression run (6 miles with 4 easy and 2 at moderate-hard pace), a hill sprints workout, and an 8-mile long run with a 15-minute fast finish (between goal MP and goal HMP). The rest was the usual: strength work, easy runs.

We got another mini-heat wave this week, and I think both my high and my low for the week were in the same workout: Tuesday’s progression run.

The low was that it was awful out there. I couldn’t get up in the morning (shocker), so I decided to brave the heat in the evening, hoping that it wouldn’t be too bad if I pushed my run back closer to sundown. The forecast was saying it was going to be in the mid-80s, but I later learned it was actually 90! This was the hardest run I have done all summer. I felt like I was dying out there. I couldn’t breathe and my legs felt like jello. Even as the sun was retreating to the horizon, I just couldn’t get any reprieve. Halfway through I wanted to just stop and cry because it was so hard and so miserable. And this was at an easy pace! I was so tempted to bail on the fast finish and just do the rest of the run easy. But something inside me said, just TRY. You can always slow down again if it’s too hard. Also, I had chosen this particular route because¬†the first half is uphill which means the second¬†half is downhill – a perfect set-up for progression and fast finish runs.

Anyway, I stuck with that moderate hard-pace for the last 2 miles (although god bless a couple stoplights for being red just as I approached), and I ended up nailing it. I ran those miles in 8:29 and 8:23, which was¬†great given the conditions. This is where the high comes in – I felt so strong and proud of myself for getting through that awful hot workout and not giving up. It would have been so easy to just bail on the hard part and do the rest of the run slow, but I kept reminding myself that I’m never going to get better if I don’t push myself, if I don’t try things that seem impossible at first, if I always take the easy way out and settle for just getting the miles in. And sure enough, this workout made me feel strong, and I knew that this would be the workout I looked back on during my 10K races, even more so than the runs where I hit fast paces in great conditions.

The rest of the week was fine. My hills workout was HARD. It was 8×1:00 uphill and I was barely halfway through the repeats when I started wondering how I’m ever going to finish. It was weird, because I did this on the same hill that I did all my hill repeats workouts during Pittsburgh training. I remember doing 10 or 12 reps back then, and running up the whole hill instead of just 1:00 of it – and now here I was, struggling on 8 shorter (although, to be fair, faster) repeats! I normally love hill work but it has been really challenging for me this cycle – maybe it’s the faster reps?

Also, I actually skipped a run on Saturday because we were camping at Blue Mound State Park and there was just never really time to get it in, and I don’t feel too bad about it because we did about 3.5 miles of hiking that day. Nothing that intense or anything, but it was nice. That whole trip was kind of weird and random, but more on that later.


My long run was Sunday evening. The temps were in the low 70s and the humidity was very low so, yay, I wasn’t struggling to breathe at an easy effort for once! Whoo hoo! But the sun was brutal. Even at 5 PM it was just beating down on me in the second half of the run. About 5 miles in I started to feel really tired and my legs felt oddly fatigued. I figured I was probably tired from our camping trip and hot from the sun, but man, I just wanted to be done. Once again I was tempted to bail on the fast finish and keep it easy, but once again I sucked it up and did it anyway. I didn’t feel as euphoric for it as I did on Tuesday, I was just glad to be done. But I did feel good for pushing through. During my fast finish the thought entered my head that the reason Laura is making me do all these damn fast finishes is that I need to learn to be strong and summon energy in the last 1-2 miles of my 10K races. Looking back, there were a few times in miles 3-4 of last weekend’s 10K time trial that I was tempted to bail on the pace, so yes, this is an important skill even for short distances!


 

My workouts this week reinforce a something I first realized at last Sunday’s time trial race, which is that my endurance is developing much more quickly than my speed is. This is interesting to me, since I expected it to be the other way around. At first, this was frustrating to me, as you saw in last week’s race recap. My thoughts always go right to the negative: the whole point of doing shorter distances is to get faster! How am I going to shave time off my PR if my paces aren’t getting better?

But then I had a realization that was something along the lines of, “oh shut up and count your blessings.” I tend to forget this fact now that I’m focusing on the shorter single-digit distances, but endurance is still very important for the 10K. I mean, 6 miles is a long time to hold a really fast anaerobic pace. Being able to hit killer paces won’t mean much¬†if I don’t have the endurance to sustain them for the whole race. Being able to run faster is obviously important to improving race times, but the endurance work I’m doing now is just as important, and I need to remember to be grateful for any and all improvements that I’m seeing.

And the fact is, none of us can have it all. The challenge I have to overcome in this training is that I’m simply not very¬†good at running fast. This isn’t being negative, it’s just stating a fact: the genetic lottery did not bless me with an abundance of fast-twitch muscle fibers. I have some pretty killer endurance and my slow-twitch muscle game is on point, but damned if I don’t struggle to muster up the speed to run a fast mile or 5K. It’s just hard for me. And that’s okay. We all have weaknesses. The whole point of this training cycle was to finally try and work on my weaknesses. But as I’m realizing now, I’m also going to have to be diligent about drawing on and being grateful for my strengths. They are important too, as it is my strengths that are going to pull me through this. Indeed, it is the aerobic and endurance base I’m building now that is going to allow the speed gains to (hopefully) start to flourish in a few weeks.


 

Luckily we have mild temps forecasted all week this week (except today, which is conveniently a rest day for me), because Coach Laura is putting me through the ringer this week! Tomorrow I have a VO2 max workout – mile repeats at 5K pace – and honestly I am terrified. I’m exhausted just thinking about it and with how hard it’s been to run fast lately, I don’t know how my stubborn little legs are going to muster up that kind of speed for a mile at a time! Wish me luck…

My long run also goes up to 10 miles this week! Double digits for the first time since the Pittsburgh Marathon – 4 months ago! I’m actually kind of excited about it. 10 miles is one of my favorite distances to run in training, mostly because I have an odd fondness for my particular 10 mile route. Also, the long run is usually my least favorite workout (sooooo long, soooo time consuming!), but I’ve actually really been enjoying and looking forward to my long runs this cycle. I guess that’s easy to say now that they’re all under 90 minutesūüôā

 

WANTED: Blog Recommendations!

Well, it’s about that time.

It seems that my blog roll is going through one of those natural life cycle transitions. In the past month, many of the blogs I follow have fallen off the radar and stopped updating. I’ve also lost a lot of readership lately, as I’m only getting about half the comments I used to and my stats say I’m getting fewer site visits¬†as well.¬†Don’t get me wrong, getting comments isn’t the be-all-end-all of everything, but it’s a little hard to find the motivation to blog when hardly anyone is engaging or reading anymore. And it’s a bigger bummer that updates have become scarce from so many of my blog friends.

This isn’t a criticism by any means – I completely understand and respect the reasons that people need to let blogging fall on the back burner. We all have jobs and responsibilities and I know how difficult it is to find the time and energy to blog amongst all the other crap we have going on in life. No judgement.

But I am really missing my usual active blog feed these days, so maybe it’s time to replenish it by adding in some new faces.

That’s where you come in! There are sooooo many blogs out there and trying to¬†pick¬†ones I want to follow is sort of a daunting task, so I’m looking for recommendations! I mean, if you read my blog and I read yours, chances are we have at least a few things in common, so I bet I might like some of the blogs you like!

In the past I’ve been¬†a little picky in what I look for in blogs, but I’m willing to be open minded (promise!). That said, there are ¬†couple of big things I typically look for in blogs I want to follow:

  1. It’s personal and relatable. I don’t mean it’s a diary that delves into every detail of the person’s life and feelings, I mean, it’s actually about that person’s life/training/etc.¬†I respect that some bloggers want/need to make money, but I don’t want to read a bunch of sponsored posts and product reviews and how-to lists. I read blogs because of the opportunity to connect with others, either in conversation or just through that person’s writing. Share as much or as little about your personal life as you want, but I want to read about you.
  2. It’s engaging. I don’t need every blog I follow to follow and read me back. I know that’s not a realistic expectation, as not everyone has as much time to read my blog as I have to read theirs. But I look for bloggers who engage with their readers in some way – do they respond to the comments they get? Are they open to conversation? DO they value the feedback they get from readers? I follow some more popular blogs and I completely understand that my comment is one out of 100 and they don’t have time to respond, let alone care who the heck I am. This is just a personal preference thing – what I like about blogging is the opportunity to connect with others, so I gravitate toward bloggers who share that value.
  3. It gets updated. I don’t look for blogs that update every single day, but once a week is nice. It’s such a bummer to find a blog you’re super jazzed about only to realize that person almost never writes.
  4. Topics I like: I follow mostly running blogs, but I also like blogs about minimalism, lifestyle, reading, photography, travel and nature. For running blogs, I don’t care how fast or long someone runs, but I do prefer bloggers who actually run and train regularly. Bonus points if that blogger also writes about non-running stuff from time to time (but not a requirement).

So, friends: know anyone who fits the bill? Let me know in the comments! And I’ll definitely let that person know you put in a good word when I check out their blogūüėČ. Oh, and obviously this should go without saying, but I am still reading and following all of you, of course!

Race Recap: NewBo Run 10K

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I spent Labor Day Weekend in Iowa visiting my family and running the annual NewBo Run with my mom, which we did last year and had a ton of fun.

We got in late Friday night and went to bed right away after a long day. Saturday was a busy day – I did a 3 mile shakeout run, and then we checked out the big local artisan market downtown, followed by lunch and drinks at Lion Bridge Brewery then browsing some antique shops in the Czech Village and hitting up the NewBo Market. We went to dinner at one of the best pizza places I’ve ever been to, then Kevin and I went out to visit my high school friend Randi and her husband Jason and we ended up staying out there talking and having drinks until after 11.

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After only about 5 hours of sleep, I was up bright and early for the NewBo Run, which I was using as a time trial. This race is part of the NewBo (“New Bohemia”, a formerly run-down area of Cedar Rapids revitalized after the flood of 2008) Arts Festival that takes place every Labor Day weekend. The race starts and ends at the NewBo Market where the festival is going on, and the medals and awards are all handcrafted by local artisans. This was my 2nd year running the 10K.

This year’s race drew 900 participants between the 10K and half marathon. We lucked out this year with weather – it was around 60 degrees at the start and cloudy. I was actually chilly! Always a good sign before a race.

I didn’t warm up beforehand. I was planning on using the first mile to warm up but still I should be better about that. I often skip race warm ups because I just hate doing them. The race started shortly after 7:30 and I tried to stick to my easier effort for that first mile. But I kept looking down at my watch and I was surprised to see paces around 8:50 – 9:15ish – that’s normally pretty easy for me but it felt kind of labored and I was not too thrilled about that.

The race course goes out of New Bohemia and starts to transition into park trails. The route goes into the Prairie Park Fishery and onto the Sac and Fox Trail. At about 2.5 miles, the 10K runners split off from the half marathoners and we continue on a bike trail around the pond and make our way back to town, and right at about 4 miles we come back to the roads where we ran miles 1 and 2 and head back to the finish. Like any course, it has some slight rollers here and there but is otherwise mostly flat with no real hills.

I ran my warm up mile in 8:44 and started to pick up some speed. In retrospect, I probably should have run another mile of warm up and let myself ease into the pace more, but I confess I was trying to get a good time because I wanted to win an age group award again this year – normally I don’t care, but the awards for this race are really cool handcrafted ceramic mugs and I wanted one.

I went into tempo pace in mile 2 and ended up staying there the rest of the race. It was a pretty quintessential tempo run: hard and not fun. Unlike last year, I wasn’t passing people left and right and gaining steam in the final miles. I was just trying to get through it.

So, the good news: I was definitely getting a workout, but I felt strong and steady for the whole race and held a very consistent pace for those 5.2 miles. There were a few points where I felt like I was fading, but my legs always answered with a second wind and I held my pace. In mile 2 there was a long gradual descent, and I tried to brace myself for it to be a long gradual incline as I approached it on the way back, but I surprised myself by feeling strong and running up it really well. I was able to keep my rhythm until the end for a strong finish. In addition to feeling so steady and not wavering much in my pace, my legs never felt fatigued and I had virtually no soreness after the race (strength training, is that you??).

I finished in 50:58, good for 6th place in my age group (no award, boooo). Subtracting my 8:44 first mile, that means I ran my 5.2 tempo miles at roughly an 8:06 pace.

Which brings me to the not-so-good part: if I felt so good and strong and steady….why couldn’t I run faster?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great time and that tempo pace isn’t bad by any means. But I ran the exact same pace I ran at my 5K time trial over a month ago, when the weather was worse and I hadn’t even started training yet. With better weather and more fitness, shouldn’t I have been able to run faster? I mean, I knew I wasn’t going to match my PR, that I probably wasn’t in shape to bust out a string of sub-8:00 miles, and that 5 tempo miles is still a pretty hard workout for me at this point in my training. But the point of a time trial is to measure progress over time, so what do I make of a time trial that shows…well…no progress? If I ran the exact same pace as last time despite cooler weather, that means if it were just as hot as last time I probably would have run slower. Does that mean I’ve actually somehow lost speed and gotten slower?

It’s possible I’m reading way too much into this. I know that I had a good result and a good showing at this race and I should be happy about it. I know I should focus on the positive. But honestly, I’m really starting to lose hope that my goals of making big improvement and setting a big 10K PR are achievable. I don’t have some huge time goal (or really any time goal), but I do want to take a sizeable chunk off my PR and hit some new paces. I really didn’t think that was some impossible goal. But if my paces won’t budge (and still aren’t back to my usual level) after 4 weeks  – 1/3 of my training cycle – how can I expect that I’m going to see anything more than a minuscule improvement? My first race is only 8 weeks away and right now the best I can apparently do is a pace that I was able to hit without even trying during Pittsburgh training.

Anyway, on a more positive note, after the race I met up with Kevin and we waited for my mom to finish. I wasn’t sure how long we would have to wait because my mom was saying she has barely run at all this summer and was worried about how she was going to do. But all of a sudden, there she was – she finished in 56:52.

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We admired our handcrafted medals, which are AWESOME ceramics in the shape of Iowa, and then went out for brunch at Parlor City. We then perused the arts festival and Kevin and I went to an antique store to pick up an old chest we had bought (but couldn’t fit in my mom’s car) the day before.

And now, another Iowa weekend has come to an end. It’s back to the real world now, although hopefully I can ride the whole “today is Monday WAIT NO IT’S ACTUALLY TUESDAY” feeling all the way through the short week.

As for training, it’s back to the grind. I’m starting a new phase of training this week with some harder fartlek and tempo workouts and higher mileage – my long runs will go up to 10 miles next week. As for this week, we are getting another mini-heat wave here so I will probably have to do my Tuesday and Wednesday runs in the morning again.

With the harder work I’ll be doing, I’m really hoping I’ll finally start to see some of those elusive gains and my work will start to pay off. I actually have another race to use as a workout next month – a 5 miler that’s part of the Central Waters Brewery Great Amherst Beer Festival on October 8th, another 5 weeks away. That means I’ll have 10 weeks of hard work under my belt, so if I go out there and my best effort gets me yet another 8:06 pace (all else being equal), maybe I’ll just give up and run these 10Ks for fun. I know that sounds melodramatic, but this has been an exasperating summer, and I’m honestly beginning to feel like I’m just never going to get faster again.

So, long story short: I had a good race and ran really well and I’m clearly getting stronger. I just wish it would have been a little faster. NewBo Run, however, is a great race and if I lived in CR I’d come back every year.

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Goodbye Iowa

Weeds

I have a confession to make: we totally pooped the bed on our garden this year. We were great about keeping up with it for the month of June and some of July, and pretty soon days…then weeks…went by without us even stepping foot there. I actually kind of forgot about it at one point. I knew that we needed to stop by there and face the music, but I just kept putting it off. Finally, a couple weeks ago, a friendly reminder post in the garden’s FB group asked that everyone start to remove the rotting fruit and¬†overgrown¬†weeds from their plots, and I knew I could put it off no longer.

As I gingerly approached our sad summer experiment the following evening, I was pleasantly surprised to find that other than lettuce that had gone to seed, our tomato and pepper plants were actually still alive (thanks rain!). But it was gnarly in there. The tomato plants were an¬†out-of-control tangled mess overtaking the pepper plants and spilling out of the plot. If a weed¬†hadn’t grown to a couple feet tall, it was part of a¬†green carpet intricately woven over the dehydrated¬†soil. It was a mess.

But it was our mess, and it was time to make amends with the fruits of our neglect. I took a deep breath, put on my gardening gloves, and reached in.

As I sat there pulling out viney strings of weeds, hearing them separate from the earth with a definitive snap, I started to think about the way I’ve tried to live my life through this blog, and how it parallels the reason I failed as a gardener: we¬†got excited and planted too many things that we¬†couldn’t take care of instead of planting fewer things and giving them more time and space to flourish.

I guess that’s the downside of a culture that lives so much of our lives on social media. Social media gives us the tools to craft and imagine all the things we can do or be, but not the tools to actually do and be those things. And that includes the blog – it’s so easy to talk about what I want to do, and think about it, but not to actually do it. Social media is rife with inspiration. The¬†problem is that people¬†tend to be really good at getting inspired,¬†but¬†pretty lousy at turning inspiration into action.

I drank the Kool Aid, even though at the beginning of this year I was adamant that I totally wouldn’t. I tried¬†the bucket lists, the fitness goals, the tidiness projects, the sunrise runner’s club. I even brainstormed budget and savings and healthy eating challenges. I did it all because, like everyone else, I can’t help harboring fantasies of an “ideal self”, a Hanna who wakes up long before her alarm to a spotless apartment, who regularly does yoga and rides her bike to work every day, who always has a leftover’s of last night’s healthy meal for lunch, who is a total outdoor adventure girl that spends her weekends camping and climbing mountains (you know, all those mountains in Wisconsin), who reads every night instead of watching TV and seamlessly balances 3 different volunteer gigs, and who doesn’t need to be training for a race to be motivated run 8 miles before breakfast every day because she just loves running that much, you guys.

Just like the overeager gardener, this overeager blogger failed to realize that¬†you have to do more than just plant the seeds – you have to do the work to take care of them. So, in the most unsurprising development ever, that ideal Hanna never did materialize. Instead, I just got tired. The dog days of the nastiest¬†summer on record sapped what little mental energy I had left, and I eventually just gave up and let the weeds of apathy, laziness, and messiness completely take over. I have not been living this summer; I’ve just been getting through. We let our apartment go into total pigsty mode, I haven’t cracked open a book in over a month, I’ve been eating like a college frat boy, and I am motivated by little else in my day-to-day life besides getting to the sweet release of Friday evening (to be fair, this last point is true pretty much year round because let’s face it, weekends rule).¬†My life began to feel like a page in a coloring book: all the outlines were there, but there was no color to fill them in.

This time, I’m not starting some new challenge or project to whip myself into shape or “hitting reset” or anything like that. I’m dealing with the summer doldrums on their own terms this time, and just trying to ride it out. I’m also just trying to do a few little things each day.

Like, occasionally I’ll spruce up my hair or put on a little makeup. Usually I don’t wear makeup because down with culturally imposed standards of beauty! (real reason: I’m lazy and it seems pointless) But it’s amazing how much better it can feel to simply look a little more pulled-together. I actually sometimes feel more productive at work when I’m dressed nicer.

Speaking of a more pulled-together appearance, I also just went out and invested in some new work clothes. Partly because of the whole appearance-affecting-attitude thing I just mentioned, and partly out of necessity: my go-to black pants are literally falling apart. I hate shopping so I have a tendency to buy cute but cheap clothes and wear them until they’re threadbare and perpetually wrinkled. A cursory glance at my closet revealed that my fall wardrobe is almost nonexistent, so I knew it was time to invest in some new pieces that aren’t fancy or chic but are a little more professional looking – i.e., still me.

We finally cleaned our apartment. I’d love to say I pulled together a bunch of willpower to make this one happen, but we were actually forced into it when we found out late last week we were getting a surprise family visit over the weekend (long story). Our bedroom is still a disaster but after 24 hours of scrambling our apartment was CLEAN and TIDY. I still have to pinch myself when I walk in. It’s like a weight has been lifted off my chest – I feel like a whole other person when I’m at home sometimes. Never underestimate the impact of outer order on inner calm! Anyway, I kind of feel like our surprise visitor was actually sent by the gods to force us into action or something, and I heard their message loud and clear. I’m clinging on for dear life to this feeling and have now gone almost a week without letting the place fall back into disarray¬†(but I really should get around to cleaning that bedroom…)

Finally, I’m just trying to cut myself some slack. It’s okay that I’m not a morning person. Morning people don’t have some monopoly on productivity and happiness (despite what many of them seem to want us to believe). It’s okay that I like to unwind by watching TV in the evenings. It’s TV, not heroin. It’s okay that I’m not a neat freak, that I don’t eat 100% clean, that I don’t have $36,634 in savings, that I can’t make it to book club anymore. I’m a good person.¬†I’m doing okay for myself.

Today is the last day of the month, and I am not going to do what I always do and proclaim “September is going to be so much better, because I’m looking forward to thisthisandthis and the slate is clean and everything is going to be awesome again!! #Make2016GreatAgain” September is going to be September. October is going to be October. Fall is going to be fall and 2016 is going to be 2016. And if you need me, I’ll be over here, just trying to be a little better each day, and take them all one day at a time. Okay, take most of them one day at a time. You know me.

The survivors