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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Flight Anxiety and a Few Coping Strategies

I spent the last week in Arizona with my husband and girls visiting family for the holidays. I am happy to report that it was a wonderful week full of good moods, cute kids, tasty food, great quality time with loved ones, and much spoiling of the above-mentioned children. As an added bonus, the trip finished with a free first-class upgrade on Delta.

That last bit was a surprise, and I must admit that it made a potentially horrendous anxiety-provoking flight both comfortable and pleasant... and, I dare say, almost enjoyable.

Well over a decade ago, I suffered a full-blown panic attack on a flight somewhere a mile high between Arizona and Florida. I was traveling with a friend to Miami for a cruise to the Bahamas. We were seniors at the University of Arizona, both engaged, and we were heading to the aqua waters for a final (and, sadly, my first) "girl trip" before both of us walked down the aisle.

I'm not sure what triggered the racing heart, the ants crawling up my spine and the back of my neck, my chest squeezing with pain, and the horrible shaking that I tried to suppress as to not draw attention to myself, but once it started it seemed to open the floodgates for mid-flight anxiety attacks thereafter.

Logically, I am not afraid to fly. I know it's safe, and about half the time I can get through a flight with just a touch of nervous energy that eventually passes once I get used to being up in the air. Unfortunately, though, a very primitive-seeming part of my brain occasionally gets triggered for no apparent reason, and I suddenly feel trapped in a claustrophobic metal tube, victim to the bumping turbulence and weird pressure changes.

When I flew home from Arizona a couple weeks ago after the Tucson Half Marathon, I started feeling the anxiety creep up about ten minutes after takeoff. The flight was somewhat smooth, but I suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe. I swallowed my pride and did the one thing I knew could help: I looked at the cute, dark-eyed young guy next to me wearing a black cloth face mask and earbuds, cleared my throat, and asked, "Would you mind talking to me? I'm a bit of a nervous flier and it would really help distract me if you wouldn't mind chatting for a little while."

He took off his face mask, told me he didn't mind at all, and asked what bothered me about flying. More than three hours later full of chatter and laughter about music, running, my kids, and ice cream, I thanked him for humoring the weird stranger suffering from anxiety, and he thanked me for not being too terrified of the scary-looking face mask to initiate a conversation. I didn't ask his name, but people like him restore my faith in humanity just when I feel like I'm about to lose myself to a three-hour panic attack that I may or may not recover from gracefully. And to clarify about the face mask... he was a frequent flyer who found wearing the mask helped him stay healthy during his travels.

I have had many discussions with my therapist about how to cure my flight anxiety, and I'd like to share a list of things that usually help me cope because watching a movie, reading a good book, and listening to my favorite tunes don't always do the trick. They don't all work every time, and nothing seems to cure the terror when we hit a bout of particularly bad turbulence (except for maybe the last thing on the list), but this bag of tricks works quite well most of the time.

  1. Make your neighbor a flight buddy, even if they're wearing a face mask. Seriously, a good conversation with a stranger is an excellent distraction.
  2. Take a beta-blocker. While I do not take any medications on a regular basis, I do sometimes take a low-dose of Propranolol to keep my heart rate from getting out of control when I fly. Heart palpitations cause increased panic for me, so my doctor recommended that I pop a pill one hour before I fly. It does keep my heart rate from going crazy when I take it, and that helps me feel calm.
  3. Pull out a coloring book and colored pencils. Yeah, I know it sounds a little weird, and I definitely get a few curious glances from people when I whip out my Prismacolors, but it's quite soothing and meditative and can really ease anxiety.
  4. Pretend you do this all the time and that you're completely at ease with flying. When you hear a noise, explain to yourself with snobbish delight exactly what that sound is. Imagine yourself laughing with the pilots in the cockpit, completely at ease with being 30,000 feet above the ground. Turbulence doesn't bother you because you know it's just the aircraft responding to wind or the hot air rising from the desert. You are too busy reading your Runner's World magazine and drinking your coffee to be concerned about anything around you. If I'm having a really good flying day, I can fake it so well that I actually believe myself.
  5. Meditate. Not just during the flight, but regularly and definitely before the flight. Meditation decreases anxiety and is an extremely powerful method for replacing fear with peace. 
  6. Read "Soar - The Breakthrough Treatment for Fear of Flying" and practice the methods described. I'm only halfway through the book, but I wish I'd found it sooner. The Strengthening Exercise explained in the book really helps, and I only just began learning it. I feel cautiously optimistic that once I have the chance to practice the method in its entirety there is a possibility that my flight anxiety will become a rare occurrence.
  7. Upgrade to first class. I'm not a frequent first-class flyer. It's expensive, and let's be honest, I'd rather spend the money on INKnBURN and good food. However, in addition to the unexpected upgrade yesterday, I did upgrade one time earlier this year as I checked into my flight just after I had a root canal. My face was swollen and my ear was hurting, and I was so stinking miserable I wanted to cry when I realized I was about to spend three hours on a plane the next day. It didn't cost that much to upgrade, so I treated myself. It was so worth it. The seat was huge and comfortable, which kept the claustrophobia away, the food was actually good, and I probably went through an entire bottle of wine because the flight attendant just kept refilling my glass. I didn't have even a touch of anxiety, even during the few bumpy parts.
  8. When all else fails, drink wine. I know it's not recommended, but darn it, it works. I try not to use alcohol too often for this purpose, but it has the ability to turn a miserable several hours into something fun, especially if you're watching a comedy and squeezing your husband's hand so hard your fingers are turning white.
If you have any cures for flight anxiety I haven't mentioned, I'd love to hear them. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cure for a Ingrown Toenail

Fair warning, this is kind of a gross post. Feel free to judge me. Or skip it.

I have already mentioned that I have been dealing with a horribly painful, swollen area next to my big toenail, so today I am happy to report that... *drumroll*... it finally appears to be on the mend.

As a lifelong dancer and few year runner, I am no stranger to foot issues. I have arthritis in my big toe joints, a neuroma in my left foot between the third and fourth toes, and my feet haven't been ache or pain free on any given day due to these issues since my late 20s. It's okay, though. I've learned to work with it. Movement helps a lot, as do shoes with a wide toe box, soaking them in warm water with epsom salt, using an AcuBall, and using products such a Salonpaas and Arnica Gel.

However, there is one type of pain that so help me God I am not prepared to deal with, and that is the throbbing pain of an ingrown toenail. As luck would have it, I developed one on the inside part of my big toenail more than two weeks ago. I travelled with it, ran a half marathon with it, and then came home to continue my regular training. Regardless of epsom salt soaks and cleaning it with peroxide and smothering the area with Neosporin, the darn infection just kept getting worse.

At the end of last week, I was at the breaking point. It was throbbing so badly that my walk had been reduced to a hobble and I had to skip a couple of my regular runs because it was just too uncomfortable to even wear my running shoes.

Finally, I tried my last-resort home remedy option, which is one that my husband used ages ago. After dropping a guitar case on his big toe, which literally caused the most disgusting toenail I have ever seen, a doctor recommended soaking a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol, pulling small pieces of the cotton off, and shoving the cotton up under the ingrown part of the nail. Sounds gross, right? Believe me, it was, and I'm not really sure what's more surprising to me... the fact that I still dated him after seeing that unsightly mess in a pair of flip-flops (which were the only shoes he'd wear), or the fact that it took several years for his toenail to finally heal. Whatever the case, it was disgusting. So repulsive, in fact, he tells this hilarious story of the time that one of his college professors was lecturing in front of the class and stopped mid-sentence in front of James with a look of horror and screamed, "Oh my god! What happened to your toe?! You should see a doctor! That's what they're there for!" Yes, that's a true story.

Anyway, worried that I would develop a toenail that scares small children, I went about the painful process of soaking cotton in rubbing alcohol, balling up a small piece, and using a nail pick to carefully shove that tiny piece up under the corner of the nail. It was so excruciating that I nearly screamed, but I finally got it up under there. Within ten minutes, the throbbing dulled significantly. I kid you not. I slept on it, awoke to a still-swollen toe, sighed, dealt with the pain of removing and reapplying the cotton, and went about my life repeating the process through the weekend. The third time I did it, I also jammed a small bit of the cotton to the side of my toenail where the major part of the pain was originating.

The next day, the swelling and pain was reduced dramatically, and it was far easier to get much more cotton up under the nail. I've done that for five days now, and let me tell you, my nail stopped hurting completely by yesterday morning.

I'm still a little worried that the pain will come back because I can feel a minor amount of residual swelling when I press on it, so I'm going to keep adding that cotton to the area until my toenail appears completely back to normal. In the meantime, I'm just going to put this out there: don't wait until your ingrown toenail is so painful you can hardly walk. Just try this remedy from the get-go. It actually works. 

If you've gotten this far, kudos to you. That was a gross one, and you deserve a lifetime of zero ingrown toenails just for getting through it.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Running in the Frigid Temperatures

I have been living in the Seattle area for more than seven years, but the Arizona blood runs deep within my veins. I am a total weather wimp. If it's sunny, I'll be the one wearing a sweater in 70°F. If it's cloudy, I break out the long sleeves in anything under 78°F unless I'm being active.

Today, the weather is clear but brutal with a current temperature of 26°F and a daytime high prediction of not much better. While I realize that this is nowhere near as cold as other parts of the country, I am freezing and ready to hibernate in a warm cave near a toasty fire. On days like today, I'd much rather spend my exercise time in the hot yoga room, but it's not always possible.

Take last night, for instance. My 10-year-old daughter joins me at running group on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which really helps hold me accountable with my running schedule because I like setting a good example for her. It was cold and dark outside, but not too windy (thank goodness). I also couldn't complain too much because it wasn't snowing and we didn't run through too many icy patches.

I often talk to others about how easy it is to fall off the running wagon during the cold months, and I totally get it. I have found three tricks that keep me on track: 1) I sign up for races during the cold months that require training; 2) I often run with a group and bring my daughter with me, which is a double-motivator; and 3) I wear the appropriate gear. On days like these, it is easy to convince oneself to stay inside with a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea, but I am training for a hefty set of high-mileage races next year and cannot afford to allow myself to succumb to laziness. Instead, I dressed for the weather and found myself quite comfortable for the four miles during which I braved the cold.
Weather wimps be like, "35 Pounds Later!"
If you can't tell amidst the jumble of fluorescent pink, here's a breakdown of what I wore (minus my choice of underwear and sports bra... you're welcome):
  • Fleece-lined full-length running tights by Marc New York (found these at Costco)
  • Ultralight Smartwool long-sleeved base-layer top
  • Mid-weight long-sleeved pullover with thumbholes by INKnBURN
  • Windstopper jacket by Gore
  • Windstopper headband by Gore
  • Gloves by Head
  • Reflective vest by Amphipod
  • Headlamp by Black Diamond
  • Smartwool PhD running socks (not pictured)
If you tend to heat up quickly, I would suggest foregoing the Smartwool base-layer, or substitute it with a tech tank to keep your core warm. If I had been running in the same temperature in sunlight, or had I been doing a tempo run, I admit I would have been too warm. However, for a 9:30 pace in freezing temps with a slight breeze coming off of Lake Washington, I was comfortable and even found myself wishing I had brought a buff to cover my neck and mouth to help warm the frigid air before it hit my lungs for the first two miles.

I had my daughter dressed in lined leggings and a matching long-sleeved top, a short-sleeved tech shirt over the top, and a thin down vest. Of course, she had her dorky reflective gear on as well, and though I insisted that she wear a beanie on her noggin, she took it off at mile one and told me she was warm without it with a smirk on her face. 

Secretly, I'm a little worried her eyes might get permanently stuck facing the back of her head from all the times she rolls them at me. Whatever. At least she's warm, right? 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Living the INKnBURN Ambassador Life

About six weeks ago, I applied to become an Ambassador for my favorite activewear brand, INKnBURN. While working on the application, I realized that I likely was not going to be considered for the position as my social media following is not as impressive as many of the other Ambassador picks, nor my running abilities nearly as capable or elite as I wish they were. I completed the application as honestly and thoroughly as I could, though, and sent it off with my fingers crossed.

Two weeks ago amidst a tough few days, I awoke to an email congratulating me and extending the offer to be part of the Ambassador program. Thrilled and mildly shocked doesn't even begin to define how excited I was and still am to have been chosen.

If you haven't "liked" or followed their page on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., I highly recommend doing so. I have raved about their apparel since well before becoming an Ambassador because it really is the most beautiful, best constructed, long-lasting, and comfortable activewear I have found to date. Also, I am partial to supporting small businesses, especially those that make their products in the USA.

If you would like to see their apparel in motion, you can follow INKnBURN through the following links:
Oh, and if you want to follow my chaotic life on social media, you can find me through these links:
If you have questions about their clothing, please feel free to ask me anytime. As you have probably noticed, I have quite a few of their pieces and have plenty to say about all of them.

Monarch Pullover by INKnBURN

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Runner Problems: Edition - Toenails and the Mancold

Yesterday sucked.

As I frantically went about the day's happenings amidst my husband's mancold-turned-meningitis-scare that ended with him anxiously awaiting a lumbar puncture for hours in true emergency room fashion, I was plagued by a common runner's ailment that left me wincing in pain everywhere I went: the dreaded ingrown toenail.

I'll spare you a photo because... gross.

Of course, my better half's illness peaked on the same day as our daughters' school Christmas show. My day involved a therapy session followed by a hectic search for a sweater to match my 10-year-old's dress, holiday shopping for foster kids, picking the girls up from school, and carefully explaining that Dad was in the hospital but probably wasn't going to die. After gently dealing with the alligator tears, I sighed and gave up on healthy life choices and went through the psuedo-Mexican food drive-thru at Taco Time to appease the starving, teary-eyed minions in the backseat. After choking down a pathetic excuse of a bean burrito, I transformed into mom-the-stylist to curl and braid hair and help my kiddos into their dresses.

Yeah... about the sandals in freezing temps...
Luckily, a lumbar puncture was not necessary. James escaped having a needle stuck into his spine and instead returned home in time to watch the girls' show with a diagnosis of viral-related torticollis, a prescription for steroids to fight the inflammation in his shoulders and neck, and narcotics for the pain. 

The show went well, my older kiddo sang the harmony of her songs in her lovely bell-like voice beautifully, my younger peep smiled and showed off her dimples the entire time she was on stage, and my husband didn't croak.

My toenail, however, suffered being stepped on by kids while playing stylist, was jammed into a pair of tall boots to match last night's dress (which are roomy and normally one of the most comfortable pairs of shoes to wear with semi-formal wear), and angrily hissed at me while I soaked it in peroxide and smothered it in Neosporin before bed.

I woke up with it throbbing, and I didn't even go for my normal run last night. Darn this obnoxious toenail. 

I'd like to give up and go back to bed today, but I am determined to make it a better set of daylight hours than yesterday.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Running the Tucson Half Marathon in Style

Last Thursday I did something I had never done before: I flew to another state to run a half marathon.

My family lives in Tucson, Arizona, so I suppose it's not too running-obsessive to have chosen to visit for the race. In fact, it's safe to say that I took the three-hour flight out there more because I wanted to see my parents, sister, brother, brother-in-law, and niece and nephew, and that I just happened to choose that particular weekend because I thought the event would be a nice bonus. My dad was actually the one who wanted me to run that race with him, so I'll just blame him for the travel.

Wow. Just listen to me trying to justify the fact that I flew to Arizona to run a race. I can stop anytime I want. Really
Obligatory bib and packet pickup photo op in my
Kimono Tech Top by INKnBURN (obviously).
I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the event. After running most of my races in the Seattle area, I felt that the Tucson Half Marathon was very well organized. Additionally, it was far more challenging than I expected because the course is primarily downhill for the first several miles, saving the "rolling" (read: long stretches of incline) hills for midway and during the last several miles. To top it off, the course finished with a few intense and fairly steep inclines at mile 11. 

The views were gorgeous for the first several miles. We started the race at 7:00 a.m. before the sun was up, and the temps were downright cold for the first half hour. But then, the sun rose over the mountains, and the views of a pink and blue sky with the mountains near the border in the far distance were breathtaking. Either that, or I was out of breath because I started at an 8:45 min/mile pace and held it for miles, which was just downright stupid for someone who usually runs longer races a minute per mile slower. 

I slowed down at the halfway point and managed a finishing time of 2:04:29, which was a 9:30 average pace. This was a personal record for me (or a "PR" in runner's terms), but I'm not going to lie... it was tough, and I nearly lost it on the last hill around mile 12. Luckily, I found a sweet lady running at the same speed around mile 9 and asked if she minded if I pace with her. She had flown in from California to also visit family and run the race, and we kept a small amount of chatter going through the tough last few miles that helped me push through to the end. 

When I finally reached the finish line, I was awarded both my PR and one of my favorite medals to date, which deserves some serious recognition because it is evident that the designers took a lot of pride in creating it. My dad crossed the finish line about five minutes after I did and was equally excited about the bling's craftsmanship.
Tucson Half Marathon Finisher's Medal
Bling with Stained Glass
As I have mentioned before, I love to spend some time reflecting on what I have learned after running a race, so here's my post-13.1 list from this time around:

  1. The first six miles of the Tucson Half Marathon course is a LIE. Next time, I must start at a more reasonable pace to conserve my energy for those last painful several miles.
  2. Trying to keep up with the 2:00 pacer is, sadly, not a reasonable speed for me yet. Patience, young grasshopper.
  3. I need to focus on strengthening my hips. They both felt like they were tearing away from the sockets at mile 11. I think it was the stress on my muscles from all the downhill. 
  4. Bringing an emergency blanket to wear while standing in the 20-minute porta-potty line would have been a good idea. A 70-degree December daytime high in Tucson is commonly paired with a 38-degree nighttime low. 
  5. I need to train at higher elevations. I commonly run at or around sea level. This race started at about 3500 feet, and the nagging side aches I experienced for the first three miles probably could have been prevented had my body been used to the oxygen levels. 
  6. Eating Mexican food (oh, the glorious Tucson Mexican food... be still my heart) would have been a really bad idea the day before the race. I'm awarding myself a gold star for practicing self control.
  7. Running with an ingrown toenail sucks. Darn you, big toe. It sucks even more when I don't pack a pair of comfortable street shoes to wear after the race. But by all means, at least I had my fashionable ankle boots with a narrow toe box to wear with my skinny jeans. *Facepalm*
  8. Asking to pace with a random, pleasant-looking stranger running the same speed at mile 9 was a great idea. 
  9. Traveling to run a race is mildly insane but worth it. 
  10. My colorful INKnBURN Crane Pullover and Dragon's Gate Capris was my top-complimented and favorite race outfit to date. Seriously, this comfy pullover was a godsend in the chilly temps, and a huge shout-out to the company for ensuring it arrived at my parents' house in time for the race after I contacted them inquiring about shipping times. 
Cheesy 2016 Tucson Half Marathon Finisher!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Runner Problems - Edition: Laundry

Runners be like...

Left: workout load after a few days
Right: Other clothes worn in same amount of time

Oh Em Gee... which laundry takes priority?

If you work out regularly, I know you get it, too. Thanks for understanding. The struggle is real.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Running Advice from a 10-Year-Old

As I have mentioned before, it seems my teeny, long-legged oldest daughter was born to run. When I took her to running group with me for the first time about a year and a half ago, she was nine years old and ran two miles without stopping at about an 11:30 min/mile pace. Now I don't know about you, but that was FAR more than I was capable of doing without several weeks of training.

She runs like a girl. Try to keep up. 
I thought maybe her first running experience was a fluke, but she proved me wrong. Within a couple of weeks, she was running three miles at an even faster pace and went on to run her first 5K a few months later at a 9:30 min/mile pace. A year later, she ran that same race at a minute per mile faster.

She frequently wows the newbies at running group as she flies past them while keeping up with the quicker group of adults. Sometimes she has better running days than I do and stays a couple feet ahead of me, turning to tell me to hurry up with a smirk on her face. I can only wish that I had her natural-born talent.

Last week while she jabbered on about how much she enjoys running and how proud she is of how much she has improved while busting out four miles like it's nothing, I asked her what she has learned. Her response was so simple and organic that I've mulled it around in my head like a mantra for the last week, wondering why I allow my personal running goals to be so complicated at times.
"Just go do it,"
"Be your best."
With that, she shrugged her shoulders like it was nothing and kept racing ahead of me in the cold, dark evening.

As her parent, I can only hope she keeps that beautiful perspective as she continues to do what she loves.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Beat the Blerch Holiday "Fun" Run

If you have never heard of The Oatmeal, you really need to check it out. The artist behind the comic is both a local Seattleite and an ultra-marathon runner, so it's safe to say his comics really hit home for me and often leave me laughing stupidly. I'd be laugh-snorting if I were a snorter, but sadly I am not. I say "sadly" because I have a friend who snorts when she laughs and it's the best thing ever because it makes everyone around her laugh, which makes her laugh (and snort) even harder, and before you know it you've had a complete abdominal workout from all the hysterics. I need more snort-laughers in my life because they're flat-out amazing. True story.

So anyway, there's this awesome race in September by The Oatmeal called Beat the Blerch, which may be the most enjoyable half marathon I have done to date because, well... cake. And twisted humor everywhere. I convinced my husband and one of my closest friends, Kim, to run it with me this year.

Pre-race shenanigans. In case you're
wondering, I'm the goat's arse.

My husband and friends are kind of awesome.
After the 13.1 mile out-and-back trail race, we plopped onto the grass and did the only logical thing one would do after running that kind of distance:
Did I mention... cake?
With the Beat the Blerch Half Marathon being such a blast, it's only natural that Kim sent me information for the Holiday Run asking if I wanted to do the 10K with her. Well, twist my arm. Of course I wanted to do an easy fun run with one of my favorite people. Plus, it meant surprising her with obnoxious light-up necklaces and Christmas-light earrings so we could be twinsies for the Saturday evening race:

My tall, beautiful running buddy and my
awesome INKnBURN tights pre-race.
Unfortunately, even though I'm usually notoriously over-prepared, I was not at all prepared for how freaking cold this 10K was. In addition to the icy temps, it was painfully windy and included the added bonus of having to dodge a ton of 5K walkers taking up the entire width of the narrow Green Lake trail for the first mile. To be fair, I'm not knocking anyone for getting out there and walking, running, jogging, limping, crawling, whatever... I actually think it's wonderful that folks of all ages and abilities were out there and some brought their kiddos, and I would never discourage any kind of healthy physical activity... BUT it would have been swell if the slower peeps and those with strollers or who brought their dogs (despite it being against the rules) would have kindly stuck to the right of the walkway to allow the runners to safely pass on the left. You know, like that rule on the highway that the slow Seattle drivers freaking ignore because they want to piss off the people actually going the speed limit. As a result, Kim and I and other runners were stuck jumping over large puddles to the left of the paved pathway.

Did I mention it was cold? My toes, which had gone completely numb while walking over to the park in the parade of crazy holiday-adorned Blerch runners, were soaked with near-freezing water and felt like I was running on two blocks of ice in a matter of about three minutes. Kim and I were both grateful that we had brought extra running clothing and changed into something warmer than originally planned. We warmed up by the time we were about halfway through the first chilly lap of the lake, but the wind didn't show any plans of letting up. By about 20 minutes in, we had passed through the main bulk of the crowd and were able to run at a reasonable speed.

We finished fairly quickly despite the circumstances in about 54 minutes, laughing about how miserable we were with our ridiculous necklaces jingling and bouncing and our numb fingers and toes burning. Oh, and me saying, "Hey Kim... remember that time in September when we ran Beat the Blerch and you wanted to strangle me for setting a pace faster than planned? Yeah... about that..."

Don't let the smiles fool you.
We were freezing our butts off.
Once we completed the race and earned our awesome Blerch bling, we headed back to the store where we were promised cookies and hot chocolate only to find a giant line of flashing Christmas-lights-adorned Blerchers stretching around the block. So what happened next? A WHOLE LOT OF TAMRA WHINING ABOUT HOW COLD SHE WAS (how annoying) as we stood in the line from hell for over half an hour. Luckily, a couple of my friends happened to show up to the line at the same time we did, so at least the company was great as we stood there, huddled together, soaked in cold sweat under our thin tech wear and lightweight running jackets. The wind showed no mercy and the temps kept dropping as our teeth chattered.

After dying from hypothermia, we were brought back to life upon finally reaching a box full of blankets, which were being handed out to all the attendees by Blerchangels. And not just any blanket, but the most disgusting/awesome/hilarious blanket I have ever seen. Allow me to introduce my latest Blerch bling and new blanky:

Medal and... OMG WHAT IS THAT? 

Ladies and gents, THAT greasy thing is actually a blanket.
Shortly after wrapping the blanky around my shoulders, we made it indoors to the treats just before it started drizzling outside. Dairy and I aren't friends, so I sadly nibbled on an allergen-safe cookie while watching my friends sip hot chocolate *sad violin*. Finally, Kim and I were slightly warmed up and brave enough to run through the rain wearing giant pizzas to my car, which was conveniently parked about a quarter of a mile away. Minus ten points for crappy Seattle parking.

In a nutshell, Beat the Blerch Holiday Run was cold, miserable, and I almost lost a digit or ten due to near-frostbite, but the company and laughs and giant pizza blanket were worth it... I think. No promises that Kim and I will do it again next year, even if a giant pizza is involved.

The Beat the Blerch Half Marathon, though? Count me in for next year. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Silver Linings

This week has been tough for me, and today I am frustrated to admit that I am continuing to struggle with issues related to eating allergens.

Though the stomach pain has mostly subsided, I am still experiencing on-and-off tenderness in the upper left part of my abdomen, which is where I seem to always struggle with allergen-related inflammation. While running with my oldest daughter and husband at running group last night, I tried to smile through the quick, cold four miles even though I secretly felt like someone punched me in the gut. Sure, I could have just admitted it hurt and put my feet up, but I didn't want the pain to get the best of me. I am glad I went, though, because the activity and camaraderie of the other runners lifted my gloomy mood a bit.

Unfortunately, this morning I awoke to a bit of a rash on my cheeks and chest. Worse yet, a sore lump under my right armpit flared up for the second time in the last few weeks. Good old lymph nodes, reminding me that eating dairy and pecans is bad.

And then, to top it all off, I knocked a glass off the counter while making myself some stomach-friendly oatmeal with chia and cranberries this morning. On days like this I kind of want to just throw my hands up in the air and walk away.

When I'm having a tough time like today, I try to make a conscious decision to do things that I know are healthy for me. So the question I am asking myself right now is this: How am I going to turn this "bad day" into a good one?

I have a plan.

This afternoon, I am going to spend time with my girls choosing Christmas gifts for children in need. Tonight, two of my best friends will be coming over for some much-needed girl time and to enjoy an allergy-friendly home-cooked dinner. Tomorrow I will be running a fun, pressure-free 10K race. And this weekend, I will make a point to get enough sleep.

My life is a beautiful one, and I recognize that. Sometimes, I just need to remind myself, and that's okay.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Soaring With INKnBURN - An Honest Product Review

As I have mentioned many times, my favorite athletic wear is designed and made by a small company in California called INKnBURN. Why am I obsessed with their gear? It's simple, really... just look at this gorgeous butterfly tech shirt and tights!

The Soaring Tech Shirt and Tights set is the most recent duo released by the company that completely broke all my self control and left me screaming, "Shut up and take my money!" I think I ordered it the same day it was advertised because FOMO is a very real thing for me and there's absolutely no cure for it when I do miss out on a favorite design.
And streeeeeetch.... ahhhh.
Decent athletic clothing can be both difficult to find and a bit on the pricey side, so I will admit I was skeptical of branching out and trying the brand. None of their products are sold locally, so I had to trust their online size chart and customer reviews. Luckily, I also have some friends in town who had already purchased some of their clothing, and they assured me it was both worth the price and accurate sizing-wise.

I have already had the chance to wear this latest set multiple times, so I'd like to give you an honest opinion of the products. Why? As someone who has worked for small businesses for the majority of my professional life, I want to be supportive of companies who deserve a shout out. And trust me, INKnBURN is definitely deserving of a massive cheer and pat on the back. Heck, I'd throw them a huge party if I could because I cannot rave enough about their apparel.

Here's a breakdown of what I love about the Women's Soaring Tech Shirt and Women's Soaring Tights (and all of the other INKnBURN pieces that I own, for that matter):

  • The artwork on every piece they create is amazing, and the colors do not fade or bleed onto my skin or other clothing despite sweating enough to create a flood, excessive wearing, and constant washings. One of my favorite aspects of this design is that it is just as intricate on the back as it is on the front. I'm hoping that when I wear them for an upcoming race that the people running behind me will enjoy looking at my backside so much that they'll forget to pass me. 
Front view of the fabulous Soaring butterfly design

At least my roadkill gets to enjoy the bright colors on my behind?
  • The tech shirt fabric used is high quality, stretchy, moisture-wicking, extremely breathable, and silky soft against my skin. 
  • Sweat stains are invisible against the butterfly pattern, which is nothing short of a miracle for those of us particularly sweaty folks *cough*....
Yup. That happened. I should have
worn an INKnBURN shirt.
  • The seams are flat, mostly double-sewn for durability, and the stretchy thread used is soft and not scratchy. For someone with sensitive skin like me, this is a necessity. Additionally, the seam on the back of the neck is covered by a soft layer of smooth fabric in place of a tag. I find this far more comfortable than other popular tech shirt brands, many of which leave the seam on the back of the neck exposed. I took a close-up photo of my Soaring Tech Shirt to show the neck seam and the inside stitching vs. that of one of my other tech tops below. You should be able to click on the photo to enlarge it.

Soaring INKnBURN Shirt Stitching vs.
Bright Orange Brand-Not-Mentioned Tech Shirt Stitching
  • In comparison to the shirt, the tights are made of a thicker, very smooth fabric that feels like a second skin and breathes well. They have a snug fit, which I prefer because they don't creep down while I'm running, but they're not quite as tight as compression wear. Like the shirt, the seams are flat and smooth.
  • Like the INKnBURN capris, the full-length Soaring tights do not chafe me in the *ah hem* upper-most thigh area where the seams of the diamond crotch meet the seam of the upper thigh during long runs. I have had this problem with some of my other full-length tights made by other brands recently, so this is a HUGE plus for me. I shouldn't be surprised, though, because all of their gear is tested by ultra runners. In other words, crazy super-humans test out the tops and bottoms and other items by running distances of 50K to 100 miles at a time wearing these clothes before they are deemed worthy of selling to the public. 
  • Bonus feature: a camouflage pocket big enough to hold your phone on the thigh!
Soft, perfectly stitched seams and surprise! a pocket!
  • One of my favorite features is the wide waistband, which fits comfortably over my hips to about my belly button. After birthing two humans, this is exactly where I like my running and yoga pant waistbands to sit. If you prefer a lower rise, the waistband folds over to reveal more beautiful design work. 
  • Additional bonus feature: stretchy drawstring hidden in the waistband!
Confession: I haven't needed to use the drawstring yet.
While I have obviously found my activewear soulmate, no review would be honest without the inclusion of a wish list:
  • I would love to see the option of petite sizes in the future for all my teeny friends out there. These tights are quite long. If you are a petite peep and prefer not to fold or bunch the ankles, you may want to consider purchasing a pair of the INKnBURN capris instead of the full-length tights. For reference, I am a long-limbed 5'6" (though I'm going to sheepishly admit that sometimes I tell people I'm 5'7" because I thought I actually was that height until my husband measured me in recent years), and these fit me perfectly with plenty of wiggle room if I had even longer legs.
  • It would be great to see this print ending in a wider leg in addition to the tights-style leg. For those with extremely muscular calves, the compression may be a bit more than you like. Again, if this is the case, I do recommend the capris as I find them a little stretchier through the calf area, or you should check out a pair of their performance pants, which afford more room in the lower leg. 
Finally, I want to comment about the prices because I used to balk when purchasing a tech shirt that I didn't find on the clearance rack at Target, and now I am more than willing to throw my cash at INKnBURN like a lovestruck teenager screaming at a Justin Bieber concert. Here's the bottom line: you get what you pay for. The prices are better than what I've purchased from Lululemon, and comparable to other high-quality activewear. What I feel really sets INKnBURN apart from other companies is that all of their products are made here in the USA. I love supporting a small business with high integrity and good business practices, so it is no surprise that I was thrilled to also find that their clothing performs second to none. 

Happy Toe-Standing, INKnBURN-Wearing Yogi
If you love the Soaring print as much as I do, you can purchase them here and here. If they're sold out of your size, keep checking back. They will not get more in stock BUT they will certainly come out with a new must-have print soon. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Running Tips from the Non-Natural-Born Runner

If you missed my original post about how I ultimately became a runner, you can read it here.

I am not certain I was born to be a runner, but I am stubborn and decided to challenge nature anyway. Instead, I made the choice to become a runner regardless of lack of natural-born talent, albeit after I basically kicked and screamed and said there was no way I was ever putting on a pair of running shoes. Deep down, though, I always wanted to know what the wind would feel like on my face if my feet could pass effortlessly over the trails. I imagined a point where my body moved so fluidly that my mind found a blissful void of conscious thought as my silhouette practically flew at a seven-minute mile pace amidst the backdrop of a dramatic sunset. Reality has a funny way of grounding one's thoughts, though. Running was never something that felt natural to me until last year, and as for effortless or being capable of shutting off my brain, well, let's just say that's a work in progress and will likely always be part of the challenge that I love about running.

After much trial and error over the last few years, I have definitely learned some lessons that I think are worth sharing.

  1. Get professionally fitted for the right pair of shoes. The correct shoes for your foot shape, arch length, pronation style, foot strike, etc., can make all the difference between a good run vs. a bad one, and they can significantly reduce strain and even injury. The random cute shoes you find on the sale rack or the pair your friend runs in likely will not work for you. Ignore the obnoxious bright yellow color, accept that you probably need to wear a running shoe in a larger size than your street shoe, and get the one that feels amazing on your feet when you actually run - not just walk - in them. Sometimes running shoes are kind of ugly, and you might just be the person who gets fitted two sizes larger than your street shoe. It's okay. It doesn't mean you have big feet. Trust the person fitting that big ugly shoe to your foot.
  2. Start slower than you want and don't be in a hurry to speed up. My daughter ran a couple miles without stopping the first time I took her running with me. She was only nine years old. On the other hand, It took me weeks of consistently switching off between walking and jogging before I was able to slowly jog one mile, and I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I thought I was going to die every step of that jog. Four weeks later I barely survived a three-mile run at nearly a 13-minute/mile pace, but darn it I did it. Now I can run 13.1 miles at a consistent 9:45 pace and still smile for the camera. Moral of the story? My kid's natural gift is probably not the norm. Don't be afraid to be like me and snail your way to becoming a decent runner. Speed comes with time. Or maybe not at all, and that's okay, too. 
  3. Focus on being a strong runner, not a fast one. I cannot stress how helpful this mindset is for me. Familiarize yourself with proper running technique; learn about posture, cadence, breathing methods, and arm swing, and learn how to avoid over-striding, hunching forward, and looking down. If something hurts, slow down and reassess your form. Keep it slow and build endurance using proper form. Eventually, you will likely speed up naturally. 
  4. Hydrate properly before, during, and after a run. Water probably isn't enough to keep you hydrated if you run long distances - your body needs salt, too. Drink something with electrolytes, and remember to hydrate the day before a long run. If you plan to run six or more miles, bring water with you or make sure you have a reliable water source along the way (if it's hot out, just play it safe and bring water even for a short run). Don't forget to rehydrate after the run, lest you be paid a visit by the horribly painful charlie horse wizard in the middle of the night. If you forget this tip, don't worry; after waking up with your calf cramping and screaming omgimgonnadie! one time after a long run, you'll remember this for next time.
  5. Don't let the weather stop you, dress appropriately instead. If I let every cold and rainy Seattle day stop me from getting outside, I never would have stuck with running. It is so easy to convince yourself to stay inside when the temperatures drop or the forecast calls for rain. It's a little more difficult to justify that temptation if you have all the appropriate gear. If you're not sure what to wear in bad weather, check out one of my previous posts about running in the cooler temperatures and rain here
  6. Cross training can be fun. If you're like me, you automatically think, "Ugh, weights and spending time at the gym ... kill me now," when you hear the term "cross training." Cross training doesn't just need to be cursing through squats and lunges next to some dude who's farting and grunting while bench pressing twice his weight, though. Instead, consider trying out something new: hip-hop dance, Zumba, barre classes, swimming, Cross Fit, cycling, hiking, aerial arts, yoga, etc. Try a combination of things; whatever you need to keep active when you're not running. 
  7. Sign up for a race or running event. Paying for a race or other running event gives you a goal that helps get your lazy bum out the door in a pair of running shoes when you would rather be on the couch eating Oreos. Once your goal is set, find a good training program and follow it religiously. When that race is over, sign up for another one. Always have something to work toward. 
  8. Trade excuses to skip a run with the 10-minute rule. On the difficult days, I combat my inner whining (I don't wanna run because I have a sniffly nose and a bit of a headache, or I'm just so exhausted and I already ran yesterday...) with a simple rule: I can quit if I want to, but not until I have been running for ten minutes. Ten minutes is a minimal commitment; it's probably not going to kill me, and those sore muscles or stomachache can handle ten minutes of movement. Interestingly enough, I have never stopped at ten minutes; instead, I have always managed to run at least twice that amount of time even on the worst days. 
  9. Join a running group or find a reliable running buddy. Misery loves company, and company can make an activity that could be miserable into a fun and enjoyable time. Not sure where to start? Do a quick internet search for running groups near you. Give them a call and ask about it. When you show up, walk your nervous self over to the group and introduce yourself. Tell them you're new and that it's totally intimidating trying this for the first time. People like honesty, and I'm willing to bet that most were scared the first time they showed up to that running group as well. I was borderline terrified the first time I showed up to my running group, and I'm pretty sure I was shaking when I walked in and introduced myself. I wasn't a strong runner, and I was certain I was going to poop out at mile one when I started at a pace quicker than usual. Six miles later, I finished with the store owner on one side and one of the employees on the other side of me. I'd run faster than I ever had, managed to throw a few words into the conversation between gasping breaths, and was told that I was a much better runner than I gave myself credit for. I was hooked after that, and now my running buddies are like a second family.
  10. Know when to give yourself a break. Look - sometimes you legitimately need a break. Most of the time, that voice inside is just encouraging you to be lazy when you really need to get out the door, but sometimes you do need a break. If you're running a fever or expelling liquid out of either end, stay in bed. If your knee is bothering you, your lower back hurts when you walk, or you have a blister the size of the moon on your foot, it's okay to take a rest day. If you feel bad about skipping a run, go for a walk or do some yoga instead.

    And finally...
  11. Occasionally treat yourself. A treat doesn't need to be a donut; rather, think of it as a reward for hard work. Treat yourself to a massage when everything hurts, buy yourself that shiny new running shirt, or allow yourself a day of lounging in your pajamas while soaking your feet in a pot of hot water and epsom salt as you watch a movie after a big race. Don't overdo the treats, though. Save them for the days you really need them, such as after you reach a goal.
I'd love to know if you have any favorite running tips. Please don't be shy and feel free to share in the comments. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Atonement for My Gluttonous Sins

I did something bad on Thanksgiving. Now I'm paying for it. I am ashamed of this fact, so I'm just going to come clean and tell you all about it.

Several years ago, I got very ill. Amidst my mental health struggles, it became apparent that there was something very wrong with my digestive system. In hindsight, the pain was always there. I remember experiencing days with similar stomach pain as a child. My parents called me a hypochondriac, but discomfort much like extreme gas pain would creep up on me several times per month. I was later diagnosed with lactose intolerance in high school. At that time, my doctor told me that yogurt and some cheese should not bother me too much. I switched to using soy milk in my cereal and took Lactaid every time I ate diary. It helped a little, I guess, but the stomach pain never went away completely.

I was also constantly combating skin issues. Acne, rashes, simple scrapes that didn't heal as quickly as they should. Acne is supposed to decrease as you age, but mine got worse. As I approached my 30th birthday, I decided I was done with the cystic pimples that kept showing up along my jawline and on the back of my shoulders. It was extremely painful, and I was ashamed to have such horrible skin. I went on Accutane, which I had fought using for over a decade, and my skin has been mostly clear ever since. While I would have liked to avoid using such a powerful drug, I can't say I regret it; it was the right choice for me.

Even though my acne cleared up, my illness did not. The stomach pain, which I had endured since childhood, seemed to become worse as I approached 30. My horrible sleeping habits, which I had also struggled with since I was a child, had reached record insomniac heights. Not surprisingly, I experienced fatigue and consistent problems with depression that seemed impossible to combat. Swelling in my big toe joints was diagnosed as some sort of autoimmune-related arthritis when the doctor looked at my x-rays and scratched his head, unsure of why my dancer's feet were in such bad shape when my cartilage was in far better condition than expected.

In 2013, the stomach pain reached record extremes. I was working at a prestigious firm where nice business attire and sitting on one's rump in front of a computer all day was required. Every day for months on end my lower belly hurt so badly that I secretly unbuttoned my pants as I slaved away. Any pressure at all on my stomach made the pain more intense. The week that I began sweating from the icepick stabbing and twisting my colon causing me to feel like I was going to black out from the intensity was the final sign that I needed to call my doctor.

"I either have colon cancer or Crohn's disease. Either way, I'm going to die." I had told my doctor. All my vitals were fine. After much discussion and poking and prodding, I agreed to a blood test to check for food allergies. My doctor mentioned something about a possible gluten allergy, to which I may or may not have freaked out about.

A few weeks later, I learned that I am not simply "lactose intolerant," I am full-blown allergic to dairy, particularly to whey and yogurt. Also on that list of do not eat or you may die are pecans, egg whites, and several other foods to which I am sensitive but do not cause my immune system to freak out quite as much if eaten in small occasional doses. Luckily, gluten is not on that list.

My doctor explained that eating the allergens causes my immune system to react and start fighting, thus leading to inflammation. The stomach pain was going to take some time to alleviate once I removed the "bad" foods from my diet; the years of eating them had severely irritated my gut, which could take months to heal. I'm not going to lie; the next few months were hell for me as I learned to navigate my newfound medical issue. A relapse meant return of the extreme pain. Going to restaurants and quietly alerting them to a food allergy meant public humiliation in some places. I won't name names. It was awful.

Slowly and with time, I was able to adjust my diet to one that is safe. I have never been much of a meat-eater, so I found that primarily eating a plant-based, whole-foods (think vegan) diet makes it easiest for me to avoid the allergens. I am sensitive to soy, though, so I throw in a small amount of chicken and sushi here and there to ensure I have enough energy to keep up with my activity levels.

Finally, the perks of my new diet emerged. Minimal to no pain in my stomach meant I could sleep soundly. The chronic fatigue and constant ill feeling went away entirely. My skin, though still sensitive, broke out in less rashes. Even the swelling in my joints minimized. Though the diet can be a pain to follow, the benefits are quite amazing; I actually feel like a human being.

So fast forward to Thanksgiving. Our good friends were gracious enough to host dinner at their house this year. For no particular reason, I woke up in a bad mood and went full-blown I-have-no-self-control when I got around the food. Against all common sense, I ate ALL. OF. THE. CHEESE., devoured the mashed potatoes mixed with milk and sour cream, desecrated the creamed spinach, and finished off a piece of cheese cake.

I am a disciplined person, so I cannot explain why I did this. Within an hour of eating, the stomach pain began. The next day, I was horribly uncomfortable and wanted to hide in my bed and cry, but I went for a few mile run anyway. By Saturday I was so miserable I could hardly function. On Sunday, I woke up and ran eight miles, the pain finally starting to make its way out of my body. And yesterday, well, although my stomach was mostly feeling better, I felt anxious and depressed. Why did I do this to myself? I went to a late hot power yoga class and tried to forgive myself. My back was hurting and my joints were sore, but I pushed through it.

Today, I have an appointment with my therapist during which I plan to discuss my sudden lack of self control and will hopefully get back on track mentally. Tuesday is also a running group night, so hopefully I'll have a chance to laugh with a couple of my Hood to Coast buddies as we gallop through the wicked cold (but hopefully dry) evening.

Today is hard, but I just keep reminding myself of one of my favorite quotes:

It's a good reminder.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Working Out Like A Kid

I have two daughters, ages 10 and 8, and they are both rock stars when it comes down to staying in shape. My oldest is a distance runner who runs with me regularly and finished her most recent 5K race with an 8:34 min/mile pace (no joke - she's fast!). And my eight-year-old... well, she has ABS:
No filter, unless you count the star blocking out her school logo.
How does one get ABS like this kid? Let me know when you figure out a shortcut because I sure as heck am not planning to join a gymnastics team anytime ever.  This long-haired, loud-voiced goofball was born with broad shoulders and muscles where no newborn is supposed to have muscle definition. When we discovered she has my abnormal flexibility, it was only a matter of time and oh-my-god-how-are-we-going-to-pay-for-this-insanity before she was signed up for gymnastics.
She normally spends six hours per week at the gym after school, but classes were cancelled last week due to Thanksgiving. One would think that my daughter would be off the hook and free to lounge in front of the TV filling her dimpled face with turkey and mashed potatoes, but no. Her coach sent this scary death threat out with specific directions that boiled down to this: CONDITIONING EVERY SINGLE DAY DURING THE BREAK OR BUST.
Translation: Try not to die. I dare you.
I'm moderately jealous of my kid's ability to do this kind of horrendous (and frankly, amazing) conditioning with good humor and a brace-face smile while giggling through the pain, so I decided to give some of it a shot with her.

"Hollow Hold" for 60 Seconds
Dragon's Gate Capris and Top by INKnBURN
For the record, I didn't make it very far because I had to head out for my yoga class (and also because my abs were screaming for dear life after a couple of tuck-ups following 60 seconds of hollow hold). If I'm being honest, I think this is a conditioning list worth working toward being able to do, regardless of the fact that I will never be a gymnast. However, unless you're an avid yogi and dancer, I would suggest modifying the splits, bridge, and handstand portion of the list.
This is our party trick.
I have been asked by a few people whether I think spending that many hours in a gym is a good thing for an eight-year-old to do, and my answer is this: If it were my older daughter, no. But this one? She loves every second of it. The day that she no longer enjoys it is the day that she's welcome to make the choice to spend her time doing something else. We don't push her or expect her to be on a team; we agreed to let her do it as long as 1) she makes school her priority; and 2) she continues to enjoy gymnastics.

While I am amazed by both of my daughters' natural athletic ability, I also feel like this is one thing I did correctly amidst the chaos, frustrations, and I'm sure the many mistakes I have made despite my best efforts as a parent. I want my kiddos to value physical health and mental wellness, and I see them following my footsteps when I watch them enjoy doing borderline-crazy physical activities at such young ages. I truly believe that teaching through example is one of the most effective forms of teaching, period, and seeing my girls excited to take on these kinds of physical challenges makes me proud of both them and myself for being their example.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"It's got electrolytes!"

If you haven't seen the movie Idiocracy, stop what you're doing and watch it right now so that the title of today's post makes sense. I am usually a total film snob watching the latest Sundance Film Festival award-winner while savoring a bottle of fine red wine and nodding solemnly during the depressing ending, as if I know anything at all about cinematic arts. Not with Idiocracy, though. While I usually avoid funny blockbusters, I laugh ridiculously at that one every time while silently worrying that humanity may be headed in that particular direction.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes, electrolytes. Because one of my favorite lines in Idiocracy is "It's got electrolytes!"

For whatever reason, I have always had a bit of an uphill battle with dehydration. When my younger daughter was an infant, I started having heart palpitations that made it difficult to breathe and blacked out while nursing her. Several trips to my midwife, doctor, and a cardiologist later, I learned that I have a minor heart condition, tachycardia, that is made much worse by dehydration.

Water has always been my preferred drink. Sure, I'd die without my morning coffee (black, please), I often enjoy a cup of hot decaf tea in the evening, and I like some red wine with my snobbery during a Friday night film, but water is the only thing I drink during the day, with meals, and pretty much any other time if given the choice. I'm not a juice-drinker, I am allergic to milk, I dislike soda and other carbonated drinks, and I'm not a fan of sweetened liquids in general. Just give me a glass of cool or room-temp water and I'll be happy.

Well, eight years ago a cardiologist told me that despite my H2O consumption, I suffer from dehydration. Say what? He told me that it is critical that I drink liquids containing electrolytes if I plan to do sweat-worthy activity, and he recommended I drink Gatorade or something similar. Unfortunately, I don't like Gatorade because the flavor is too strong and far too sweet for me.

I drink a lot of Smart Water, which does the trick fairly well, but sometimes I need a little more than that. Luckily, I discovered NUUN electrolyte drink tabs during this last year. While I would still prefer less flavor, the carbonation is minimal and the taste is gentle enough that I can drink it without gagging.

Not my favorite flavor, but drinkable.
Though I still stick to drinking water most of the time, I do use the drink tabs the day before a long run (6+ miles), during trail and other long races, and while I am recovering from sweating enough to scare a small child. As much as I kind of hate admitting it, drinking the electrolyte-infused water really does help a lot.

It also helps with hangovers from being too much of a snob on film night. Not that I would know anything about that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Find Your Inner Wild

My Hood to Coast team will not be running from Mt. Hood to Seaside this upcoming year and has instead decided to run a different relay race for 2017: Ragnar Trail Rainier. I am both wicked excited and slightly terrified of this change.

Here's the part where I admit to being a total chicken: I have been afraid of the dark my entire life. Now, as an adult, I'd like to say that fear has lessened, but I'd be lying. The fact is, it scares me. Period. One of the best and worst parts of running a 24-hour relay race is that we have to run solo through the night.

I was Runner #2 for Hood to Coast this year, and each of my legs were roughly six miles. The first six miles were straight down the mountain. It was morning, but the heat was intense. I remember my quads feeling like they were going to explode near mile three and running out of water half a mile from the exchange point. After powering through the last stretch of downhill, I relaxed in the van playing the role of navigator and jumped out at each exchange to bring water to my incoming team members and cheer for each next runner at the start of their leg.
Excitedly waiting for our team captain to start the race. #HoneyBucketSelfie

Several hours later, I geared up in my reflective vest and headlamp and ventured out for six more miles in the dark, all mostly a steady low-grade uphill. It was brutal. The only things that made the dark okay were the stream of vehicles with lights at my back and tons of other runners suffering along with me. The third leg I ran was through gentle mountainous rolling hills boasting views of peaceful farmland. Saying hi to the cows grazing in the fields and breathing in the blissful fresh air through moments of fog while my legs screamed filled me with a sense of nearly delusional well-being and serenity. It was a crisp early morning, and I was exhausted to the point of hysterical laughter but somehow managed to jump over two snakes in the middle of the road, run up a steep mile-long hill toward the end, and fly to the exchange knowing that I was finally done running. Though my slowest run, it was my favorite leg of the race.

Portland at sunset, shortly before running my second leg.

So why did I say that running through the night is somehow a good thing? I like that I voluntarily did something that scares me. In fact, running Hood to Coast scared me in general. I was worried that I was not a strong enough runner, that my times wouldn't be fast enough, and that my awkward self was going to have difficulty socializing with the much cooler and more experienced runners of my van. None of those fears were validated; in fact, it was the opposite experience. I ran much stronger than I thought I could, and my times were just as solid as everyone else's. To top it off, my teammates were just as quirky as I am. I had a wonderful time and instantly felt like my van members were the "solemates" I was always meant to have.
Hood to Coast Post-Race "Solemates"
My Well-Deserved Medal

I'm not afraid of running on roads with other people in the dark, but I am terrified being in the middle of a forest at night, with or without others. For the Ragnar Trail race, I will be running 16.1 miles split into three different legs through the trails of Crystal Mountain. One of those legs will likely be in the middle of the night. Yesterday, I sent an email to my team captain begging to run the shortest of the three trails during my night shift, to which I'm sure he rolled his eyes but will hopefully be persuaded.

Despite the pending doom of running through a forest in the middle of the night where I will surely become meal to a large freaking cat, bear, and dragon, I am elated to know that I am already signed up and have paid for another relay race. In the meantime, I will be spending the next several months doing the dreaded Iron Strength Workout for Runners, running through trails (yes, even at night), and learning how to use a ninja sword to fight the jackelopes that are already planning to chase me.

If you're signed up for that race, I'll be the one sprinting with a machete and bear mace blasting gangsta' rap from a bluetooth speaker wearing INKnBURN everything, and screaming at every tiny leaf that rustles in the wind during the night as I attempt to Find My Inner Wild.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Half Marathon Survival Tactics

Yesterday I ran the half marathon that I was semi-dreading due to last week's unfortunate snotty sinus infection paired with ebola (or whatever landed in my stomach and tried to kill me). Despite my concerns and more-delicate-than-usual health condition, I finished strong in about 2:15, which is nowhere near my personal best but still much better than I expected. That time included a few-minute waiting period while my running buddy made a pit stop at a Honey Bucket around mile 11, during which I enjoyed the beautiful Lake Washington views and stretched a little while checking my Suunto watch impatiently. I suppose I could have trotted along without him, but the conversation was keeping my spirits high and I did not feel any pressure to finish in a hurry.

In addition to the decent finish time, I am most proud of how I ran the race. So now, whether you really care or not, here's my play-by-play of *drumroll*... how I survived running a half marathon while sick.

I couldn't sleep the night before, probably due to anticipation of oh my God how am I going to run after nearly dying this week. I bounced out of bed early after my date with insomnia and woke myself up with a quick warm shower to encourage my stuffed-up sinuses to have mercy on me. The temperature was predicted to be surprisingly decent for mid-November in the upper-40s/low-50s, but a large storm passing through promised rain. Last year I ran the same race in 28°F while slipping on ice and frosty fallen leaves, so this year's weather prediction was a massive improvement. I dressed in a pair of my favorite INKnBURN capris, short-sleeved tech top, and Gore Windstopper jacket.
Did I take this photo before or after running?
Only the smell will tell.

After shoveling a very small bowl of cereal down my throat (we were out of bananas, which is my go-to pre-run food), downing a shot of hot caffeine, and brushing my teeth, I rushed out the door about five minutes late. The race was being hosted by my running group, which is only a ten minute drive from my house that early in the day. My meager breakfast didn't cut it, so on my way over, I hastily ingested my favorite pre-running energy treat: Stroopwafel, which you must pronounce loudly with a comical accent as [Strōp]+[vä+fəl].
Stroopwafel! Strooooooopvahfeeel!
I never promised I was totally sane.
Somehow, I made it on time to check in, pin on my race bib, and use a flushing toilet before heading out to start the race with an easy 10:30 mile. Several of my Hood to Coast team members were there for a normal Sunday run, so I had the unexpected pleasure of pacing with three of them for the first several miles as the rain prediction turned into reality. My team captain was there to tease me in his German accent, "Okay Tamra... are you warmed up yet? When were you planning to pick up the pace?" It has been three months since I ran that amazing relay, and I still feel a gush of warm-and-fuzzies every time I see these people.

At mile five, the last of my H2C buddies turned, waved, and wished me luck. My running friend also going the full 13.1 and I were discussing various trail races and had fallen into a comfortable rhythm that we managed to very slowly increase. By the time we made it to the porta-potty at mile 11, we were running a comfortable 9:00 mile through the light but persistent rain. Nothing hurt, no aches and pains nagged me to run slower, and I managed to keep a conversation going through the rolling hills without too much heavy breathing or snot-blowing involved. We finished at the 2:15 mark at a speed of 7:53 min/mile according to my Suunto, and I was neither out of breath nor limping as I made my way to the bagels and apple pie. I am usually pretty spent after that kind of distance, so I was incredibly proud of myself for holding back and playing it safe. Additionally, this was my first consistent negative-split half marathon, which I consider a heck of an achievement. If you are unfamiliar with what "negative-splits" are (I was, so no shame in that), it basically means that each mile you run is faster than the previous mile.

Whenever I have race experience, I like to think about what I learned. Here's my list from yesterday:

  1. Running a half marathon while sick may be incredibly stupid but is entirely doable.
  2. My Ón shoes are still my favorite half-marathon kicks, even in the rain.
  3. Walking the steep hill at mile 9 is an acceptable energy-saving strategy.
  4. Waiting for your running buddy to take a dump mid-race makes for hilarous conversation.
  5. Starting much slower than normal can equal consistent negative splits and plenty of energy at the end of the race.
  6. I am never wearing that old sports bra for a long-distance run again. The chafing is unbearable. 
  7. Running more than 13.1 miles is completely doable. I don't need to be afraid anymore. 
  8. I am much stronger than I think I am.

Rain-Soaked Shoes by Ón
Shoe Pod Tracker by Suunto