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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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Altra Shoes and Swinging Arms

Last night I attended a running clinic featuring the designer of Altra shoes, Golden Harper. While I do not (yet) own a pair of Altra shoes, I have had the opportunity to demo them during a several-mile run. Though I admit that they felt a little odd at first, I felt very comfortable running in them by mile three. I also trust that they are good kicks because my mother, who is notorious for her constant complaining about her extremely wide, neuroma-ridden feet that fit in nothing other than a pair of socks comfortably, hiked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago through Spain in a pair earlier this year. Not only did she live to tell about her adventures, but she frequently raves about the brand as the only athletic shoe that has never caused her any pain.

The shoe design boasts a "zero-drop" cushioning and box-shaped toe space that allows the foot to land and spread out naturally, much like a minimalist shoe concept but with cushion (and far more comfort). The thing I found most intriguing about the shoe design is that it encourages proper running form by removing the sloping cushion and pointed toe-bed of traditional popular running shoes.

The clinic was small, which was great because we had ample opportunity to ask questions and trouble-shoot individual running form problems. My running-form pitfall? Over-striding. Other issues? Hyper-flexibility throughout all my joints that leads to instability issues and pain in my hips, knees, and rolling my ankles. The fix? Try harder to land with my foot directly under my hip, and focus on my upper body, particularly how I swing my arms, to achieve that ideal foot placement. I feel like I work on this all the time, especially when I start feeling tired, but the difference is that I am supposed to be thinking of swinging my elbows back and minimizing the amount of arm motion versus punching my arms forward like many of us were taught.

This evening I gave that a try and focused on both my posture and arm swing during my four-mile run, which I did with my 10-year-old daughter at about a 9:25 min/mile pace with my running group. That teeny, skinny, long-legged child of mine is the runner I wish I was born to be, and I gave her the tip that I was working on to remind myself to keep doing it. I must admit that my run felt great despite the cold air on my nose and cheeks.

If you haven't heard of Altra shoes, definitely check them out. And if you have never focused on the back swing of the arm versus the forward swing, I think it's worth a try, especially if you have difficulty keeping your posture upright.

Next week the running store I buy my shoes at is supposed to get the latest Altra models in stock. I will definitely be getting a pair, so I'll let you know what I think of them once I have the chance to run more than a handful of miles in them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Half-Marathon Prep Time

The idea of running a half marathon this weekend without racking up some weekday mileage scares me a little, so I decided to go for an easy three-mile run yesterday with my running group despite still not feeling 100%. Usually, I try to run that short of a distance at a sub-9:00 min/mile pace, but last night I kept the pace at something closer to a 10:30 min/mile. Although I was worried about doing too much too soon after being so ill, I actually felt energetic and strong during my run. A running buddy of mine kept an interesting conversation going, which was a good distraction as well.

During this last year, I have aimed to run a half marathon or similar distance about every other month. The most recent half I ran was in September, followed by a 15K trail race through Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, WA last month. I never thought I would enjoy running 10+ miles through rocky paths, mud, and intense hills, but the views make trail racing worth every rolled ankle and mud-ruined sock.
This stump seems to be having a volcanic
identity crisis.

View from Point Defiance

This weekend's half marathon is a very small, informal race, and I am planning to run it at an easy pace as prep for the Tucson Half Marathon in a few weeks. With any luck, maybe I will PR that race. Or maybe I won't. I'm not a very competitive runner; my goal is always to simply finish strong. Side note: I'm not sure when traveling to attend a race became a thing for me, but this is the second time this year that I have ventured out of Washington to take off at some starting line and hurl one foot in front of the other until I pass through the finish line.

Due to this darn sinus infection that has been going on for almost two weeks, I had to back off on my weekly mileage. This concerns me a little because I have found that keeping up with a decent number of miles in the few weeks leading up to a long race is essential for me to feel strong and avoid injury. I have not yet run two half marathons within three weeks of each other, so I hope that I will feel back to normal and can run a strong 13.1 miles in Tucson without feeling too fatigued.

In the meantime, a friend of mine is attempting to coerce me into running an ultra next year. She will be my running buddy for this weekend's half marathon, which is predicted to happen right in the middle of a cold torrential downpour. As much as I hate admitting this to myself, I'm intrigued and know that there's a good chance I'll be too high on adrenaline and endorphins to say no. If I decide to go for it, this blog is about to get a lot whinier. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll just prove to myself what a badass I am really capable of being.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Fruity Post

Any guesses on what my favorite go-to snack item might be?

We have a fruit bowl that is comically overflowing with an array of colorful goodness on any given day. The kids know that they are always welcome to whatever is in the fruit pile, and a mid-week trip to pick up more bananas is a necessity, lest we perish from lack of obsessive banana consumption.

As I continue to slowly recover from travel, illness, and food poisoning, I was relieved to find that my favorite snacking items actually taste good to me again, and they haven't created any further discomfort. I'm at the tail end of the disgustingness, but it's safe to say I will not be doing any burpees today.

I am planning to run a half marathon this weekend, so send a few positive vibes my way for a speedy recovery if you have a chance.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Practicing Humility

I have been visiting family in Tucson, Arizona since Thursday, and wouldn't you know it, I have been battling what appears to be a sinus infection and got hit with food poisoning while I have been here. How does one exercise during these circumstances? One doesn't.

I'm sure there are plenty of fitness folks who can summon the miraculous energy to swing a kettle bell, pump out some squats, and even go for a run while they're struggling to breathe and crouched over a toilet heaving up last night's dinner, but I am not that person. While I managed to go for an easy few-mile hike at beautiful Sabino Canyon to pay homage to the incredible super moon lighting our way, that was the extent of exercise I was capable of handling during this trip. 

Today, I am flying back to Seattle and - if the stars align properly - I will likely go to an evening yoga class. Or maybe I'll just collapse face-first into my pillow. Make no mistake, though. If I do manage to get out the door with my yoga mat in tow, I'll be practicing humility and skipping all the fun poses. Lying in Savasana sweating out all the sick inhabiting my body sounds far more doable than anything involving flexing my muscles. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

See (and Be) the Beauty in this World

This morning my beautiful, kind-hearted, Caucasian/Asian daughters cried. How does a mom console her terrified, hurting children?

I took them outside and asked them to name three beautiful, amazing things they could see, smell, or hear. It's a cloudy morning, the rain a gentle mist and the green of the grass electric despite the darkness. Fall colors and flowers greeted us, bright and magnificent against the gray skies.

We breathed in the fresh scent of wet earth and called it amazing.
We closed our eyes to enjoy the gentle music of rain on the grass, rocks, and roof over our heads.
We appreciated the deep reds of our ornamental maple against the green, yellow, and orange in the background.

Today is still a gift. Take a moment to breathe and allow yourself to accept there is still immense beauty and light around us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Dreadmill

To encourage regular attendees to vote, my Tuesday night running group was canceled this evening. I considered staring at my phone to watch the election results tumble in while I chewed my nails, but I instead did three long miles uphill on the treadmill.

I hate the treadmill, but I find it an excellent reminder that I can do the miles, even when they hurt and I'm bored out of my mind. 

Today, I give myself a gold star for exercising even though every cell in my body didn't want to do it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Running in the Rain: What to Wear

The end of Daylight Savings Time is my least favorite time of year. That extra hour of sleep really only feels like extra snooze time for about two days before my body has accepted the new time as the norm, after which I'm stuck with the depressing reality that the sun sets as I pick my kids up from school for the day. Some people like that extra hour of sunlight in the morning, but I much prefer having an extra hour in the evening.

With that time change, the rain inevitably seems to pick up as well. I live in the Greater Seattle area, so I am no stranger to running in weather that begs one to go home, change into cozy pajamas, and curl up under a thick blanket near the fireplace with a good novel and a cup of steaming tea. Running in rainy, windy, chilly weather is far from what I consider ideal, however, I have to keep running. Consistent exercise - especially that which is done outside - is a vital component of maintaining my mental health. The rain and gloomy skies do not bother me too much, but the lack of daylight depresses me quicker than voting in this year's election.

One of the most common questions I hear is, "Do you actually run in this weather." Yes, yes I do. Following that, almost always: "What do you wear in this kind of weather?"

Both are great questions, and since the first answer is a simple "yes," I am going to focus on answering the second.

Disclaimer: I LOVE bright, artistic-looking, stop-cars-in-their-tracks sort of running gear, and my favorite tech clothing comes from INKnBURN. No, I'm not getting paid to advertise or review anything, so everything I'm posting is something I actually wear by choice. Additionally, I generally dress a tad warmer than what running guides often recommend. By common recommendation, one is to wear shorts and a short-sleeved shirt in 50°F+. I freeze my buns off in anything under about 58°F if I'm not a little more covered up, especially when it's breezy with a chance of rain. I chalk this up to being raised in the desert. Or maybe I'm just a wuss. Whatever.

Yesterday morning was my favorite running weather: cool, cloudy, damp from rain the night before, and a little sunshine peeking its way through the gray. It was about 50°F with a slight breeze, and I went for a miserable-feeling 6+ mile run with one of my favorite running buddies (aka husband). Why miserable? My girls both have a cold and somehow manage to constantly cough in my face, slobber on my food, and slime me with their germs as tokens of their love, so I woke up with a headache, watery eyes, and some sinus pressure. Not surprisingly, I felt extra cold, so I wore full-length running tights, a lightweight Smartwool running top, layered a short-sleeved tech shirt over the top, and added running gloves to keep my icicle fingers from turning blue. It wasn't cold enough for a beanie or headband, so I went with my favorite Beat the Blerch hat instead to keep the sun off my face, any mist out of my eyes, and provide just a little warmth to my noggin. My husband opted for humor with his ugly-Christmas-sweater-style long-sleeved tech shirt.

The weirdos who run together... stay together.
Shirts by INKnBURN
Seattle autumn weather varies greatly. Sometimes, it's 40°F and windy with torrential downpour; other times, it's sunny and 60+ degrees. Frequently, it's cool and humid, and a light rain comparable to a mist will fall at just the right time during a long run. Often, clouds will cover the sky but the temps will hang around the upper 50s. It's safe to say that one generally has to plan for temps between 40°F-60°F and cloudy with a chance of meatballs during this time of the year.

So, without further delay, here's a breakdown of what I like to wear while running in the various autumn weather:

  • Cloudy but little or no chance of rain and temps in the upper 40s through mid-50s:
    • Short-sleeved tech shirt layered over a merino wool activewear top; the wool top keeps body temperature regulated even in the rain but does not overheat;
    • Capri tights;
    • Hat to keep the sun and any unexpected rain off my face. 

Long-sleeved top by Smartwool
Short-sleeved top from Hood to Coast
Serpent Capris by INKnBURN
Hat from Beat the Blerch

  • OR... 
    • Lightweight running pullover with sleeves and thumbholes over racer-back tank;
    • Running skirt, shorts, or capris (if under 50°F);
    • Hat;
    • Nighttime safety gear: reflective vest with flashing LED lights and headlamp;

Top by Spalding
Skirt by INKnBURN
Reflective Vest by Amphipod
Headlamp by Black Diamond
Hat by Zero Limits

  • Probable light rain and/or wind and temps in the upper 40s through mid-50s:
    • Ultralight windproof and water-resistant running jacket;
    • Short-sleeve or lightweight long-sleeve tech top (under 50°F);
    • Capri tights;
    • Hat to shield rain from face.
Jacket by Saucony
Top and Capris by INKnBURN
Hat by Zero Limits

  • Rain, wind, and temps in upper 30s through 40s:
    • Highly water-resistant, windproof, lightweight, breathable active shell jacket;
    • Short or long-sleeved tech top or merino wool top (for temps below 40°F);
    • Full-length tights or thin fleece-lined activewear tights on cold, dark days;
    • Running gloves;
    • Headband to keep ears and forehead warm;
    • Hat to keep rain off of face and hide tears/grimacing. 

Windstopper Jacket by Gore
Lined Tights by Marc New York Performance
Hat from Beat the Blerch
Headband by RiptGear
Gloves by Mizuno
Of course, this list is not exhaustive and does not include other factors such as whether the wind feels cold or bearable, whether the humidity makes the air feel balmy or icy, or whether the sunlight happens to feel warm or like it's hiding behind a haze. It also does not include the fact that sometimes I go out wearing nothing but a short-sleeved top and a pair of capris. As far as socks are concerned, I purposefully left them out of each lineup because I generally wear whatever pair of thin running socks I pull out of the drawer first, saving my thicker ones for the sub-freezing winter days.

Finally, it is important to recognize that every runner is unique. Some people, like my husband, heat up quickly. Others are more rain-sensitive than I am. Some folks run mostly naked through blizzards (no joke!). But regardless of what kind of weather-sensitive runner you are, I do think the follow list is an important set of must-haves during these colder, darker, rainier days:

  • Reflective vest or other light-up gear to make you visible in the dark;
  • Headlamp or flashlight;
  • Breatheable waterproof or rain-resistant running jacket;
  • Lightweight windbreaker;
  • Long-sleeve running shirt for layering or wearing alone;
  • 3/4-length or full-length running tights;
  • Hat;
  • Gloves.
I am always excited to learn of gear that makes my colder weather runs more comfortable. Do you have any favorites that I missed?

Note: Any items I did not provide a link for can be found on Amazon if still available. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Blast that Core, Oh Yes... Blast It

I had plans to go to yoga today, but occasionally, plans fail. Tempting though it was to skip a workout all together when my car wouldn't start, I instead decided to do the Iron Strength Workout for Runners Core Blaster, which is a 20-minute... you guessed it... core blaster.

While much more doable than the full 50-minute workout, it was still challenging. I may or may not have ended up in the fetal position afterwards.

Nothing to see here. Move along.
I'd be lying if I did not admit that I skipped using my 5-pound dumbbells, and I was also too slow and fell short of the number of burpees I was supposed to do. I did attempt to keep up with the doc and supergirl this time, though. I promise. 

Today, I give myself a gold star for actually doing the workout even when I felt like the universe was against me.

P.S. I still hate working out. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

An Occasional Treat

I am sore today. Unsurprisingly, my quads hurt the most. Damn you, Iron Strength Workout for Runners.

Thursdays are always a bit physically exhausting for me because I usually do a 3-5 mile run, which inadvertently often becomes a tempo run due to time constraints or a much-faster-than-me running buddy, then I have an hour long hip hop class in the late evening.

Also what must be factored into today's agenda is my downtown Seattle work meeting, chauffeuring my youngest to gymnastics after school, which is a 45-minute drive one way, and the fact that I have prioritized my exercise load of laundry so many times that I'm just about out of clean underwear (Quick! It's a statewide emergency!). Let's not forget dinner, ensuring the girls have completed their homework and get to bed at a decent hour, and spending time with my sweet doggie and the pup that we are currently babysitting.

On days like this, I have a choice. I can allow the stress to overwhelm me, or I can treat myself to some Starbucks on my way home from the work meeting and spend ten minutes sitting in my backyard appreciating the beautiful, sunny, 61-degree autumn day before getting back to the work I need to complete.

Today, I chose the second choice.

Behold... the "controversial" Starbucks cup, which works
exactly the same as their normal cup. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Brutally Honest Initial Review: Iron Strength Workout for Runners

I hate working out. There. I said it. 

Considering my enjoyment of running, yoga, dancing, swimming, rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, walking, martial arts, flying trapeze, and probably cycling (though I haven't been on a bike since college), I realize this statement sounds rather ironic. The truth is, though, contrary to what others may view as a workout, I do not consider any of these activities "working out." To me, they are fun activities that miraculously happen to double as exercise and keep me in shape.

When I think of working out, I'm cringing at the thought of high intensity interval training, any exercise routine involving squats, push-ups, and dumbbells, or straight-up weight lifting. Or Cross Fit, which my husband does. I'm like.. uh, no thanks... pass me another donut... when people ask if I'm going to become a Cross Fit junkie as well.

This is me, covering my face and hanging my head in shame as I admit this awful truth. I added an obnoxious filter to make it appear more sinister. It doesn't at all have the effect I was going for. Oh well.

Does this photo make my nose look big?
With this confession out in the open, I also have to admit something else: I know that I need to include working out into my weekly activities if I want to become a stronger runner and decrease my chances of injury. My physical therapist friend has told me this. My Hood to Coast captain, who is a running and triathlon coach, told me this. Half the articles I read in Runner's World and through other running resources tell me this. In fact, I have known this since well before I ever began running. So why haven't I been doing it? Come on. I've already admitted to jumping off a 30-foot-tall platform and swinging through the air, letting go, and allowing a complete stranger to catch me whilst hanging from his knees on a trapeze bar. One has to be just a little bit stupid to do that kind of thing willingly. 'Nuff said.

A very recent change in my professional life has resulted in my ability to work from home most of the time, and with this change, I have an added bonus of nearly two extra hours in my day that I previously spent cursing other drivers from behind the wheel of my car. While I have been spending some of this time going to daytime yoga classes, visiting with my neighbor friend, or preparing an extra-good dinner, I also decided that it is time to add some dreaded working out to my weekly schedule.

Today, I attempted my first pathetic workout.

The stuff that makes a grown woman weep.
Let me rephrase: the workout wasn't pathetic. I was kind of pathetic.

I have seen The Iron Strength Workout for Runners advertised in Runner's World and through social media sources regularly since becoming a runner. I've watched the demo videos posted, read reviews, and finally, I decided to just suck it up and buy the DVD. It arrived yesterday, so I gave the full 50-minute workout a shot this morning.

The workout is broken up into different sections including a warm up (this isn't part of the actual workout?), five "supersets" (just kill me already), burpees (ugh), planks (tears), and stretching (thank God... need more of this STAT). The man who developed and leads the workout is both a doctor and hardcore distance runner/Ironman with good sense of humor. Along with him are two equally amazing runner/athletic types who do the workout while the doc explains the moves and has one model performing modified versions of the exercises. The best part? The young lady on the DVD is a total badass and breaks a sweat comparable to a simple glisten while performing the entire workout like it's nothing. Meanwhile, the Boston-Marathon-qualifying male looks like he's moments away from putting in his notice about 30 minutes into the torture. Despite the fact that he's obviously dying, he is a great sport about it all. I must admit that it was good to see such an accomplished runner have difficulty with the workout as I struggled through it - a bit of refreshing reality you do not normally see on a fitness video.

I'm just going to admit this immediately so that my limitations are out there for the world to know: I sucked at this workout and basically had a near-death experience 20 minutes in. There's nothing quite like an intense workout to show me just how out of shape I really am despite my best efforts.

I had to pause the video several times to catch my breath, gave up doing full sets of reps about halfway through, and I barely made it through half of the burpees. I thought about giving up several times, but I stuck with it to the end out of morbid curiosity and a desire to work off the Halloween candy calories I may or may not have stolen from my daughters' stashes (shhh don't tell).

So here's a list of the things I learned while doing this workout:

  1. Surprisingly, I struggled the most with the leg exercises. I'm a runner and a dancer... how is this possible?
  2. Also surprising... the only portion of the workout I was able to keep up with was the arm weights/upper body strengthening part. What on earth? A result of yoga, maybe?
  3. My core is in pretty good shape. Hooray! Having two kids didn't destroy my abs!
  4. I have the worst heart rate ever when doing any kind of HIIT exercises. Not surprising, but it sucks to discover that a change in activity still messes with my tachycardia. 
  5. Jumping Jacks make me need to pee. Yup, my bladder is still shot from birthing to giant humans. Must do more Kegals. 
  6. I hate burpees. Period. 
  7. I need to keep doing this.
Along with the full workout, I received a second DVD with three 20-minute workouts. I'm going to attempt one of those later this week sometime. And then I am going to suck it up and do the whole 50-minute version again next week.

If you don't hear from me again, it's because I died attempting round two. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Rocky Running Journey

My relationship with running began as a child. My dad was and still is a runner, and the kitchen counter always held the latest versions of Runner's World and the Road Runner Sports catalog. I remember occasionally flipping through the pages of the magazine and feeling excited about the idea of running, but I never really had the opportunity to give it a try because 1) I lived in a miserably hot neighborhood without sidewalks full of old people and the occasional weirdo in southern Arizona; 2) I attended a small Catholic school without sufficient sports activities; and 3) my parents did not encourage me to run. I was also just dumb enough to think that kids did not have the option to be distance runners because I had never seen anyone my age actually running. 

Fast forward to high school when, for the first time in my academic career, I had the opportunity to attend public school. My naive, abnormal teenage self was shocked to learn that a couple of my drama class buddies, who all seemed like normal people, ran on this thing called cross country after school. I wasn't sure what cross country was, but it sounded really cool when one of the girls told me that she actually liked running and that the team ran for three or more miles every day. This news dumbfounded me. How on earth did a fourteen-year-old run more than, say, one or two laps around the track we used for PE classes?

I started eating lunch with humans who ran on the cross country team. They were fun people, high on endorphins, and their energy was contagious. For a short time, I dated one of the runners. He was my first boyfriend, and he crushed my pathetic little goody-goody heart one month later when he dumped me in between classes. I wasn't about to let that stop me, though. I wanted to be a runner.

Finally gathering enough nerve to put myself out there, I joined track the second semester of my sophomore year. Much to my dismay, I was awful. My running was sluggish and weak, I knew nothing about running or proper form, and my heart rate topped the charts at well over 200 beats per minute during practice on a regular basis. When I told the coach, he didn't believe me, so I didn't dare tell him that I was seeing black spots in front of my vision while I gasped for breath for fear I'd be kicked off the team. I attended a few track meets and ran the 800 meter race, taking dead last just about every time. 

That summer, I was determined to get better. I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to beat the sweltering Arizona summer heat and went for a few mile run regularly, but the training did not seem to help. Every time I ran, my lungs screamed and my chest felt like an elephant had taken residence on my ribcage, but I stubbornly keep going. I was so excited to finally be part of the cross country team my junior year only to discover that... well, I sucked. Finally, after that season, I gave up and resigned myself to understanding that I was not destined to be the runner that I felt was trapped deep inside of me. 

I learned I have a minor issue with tachycardia and heart palpitations in my mid-twenties, which accounted for the chest pain and breathing issues I experienced. Like many runners, I started out running too fast, not allowing my cardiovascular system or the rest of my body enough time to build the strength and endurance it needs to pump oxygen and utilize energy efficiently. 

Well over a decade later, my good neighbor friend and I had the conversation that I posted last week: 
A:    I want you to run a half marathon with me.
Me:  No. I hate running. 
A:    You should really run a half marathon with me. You would LOVE it.
Me:  In the event of a zombie apocalypse, I'd willingly be eaten first just so I don't have to run. 
A:    Please? It's not until June, so you have plenty of time to train.
Me:  Ugh... I'll think about it.
The inability to say no to a friend asking me to do something I really didn't want to do segued into the bizarre decision to keep doing this weird thing during which I step one foot in front of the other while pumping my arms back and forth at a cadence of around 170 steps per minute with the hope that eventually I'll be able to stay at 180 steps per minute one day... for fun. 

Once I made the decision to do the half marathon, I bought the cheapest treadmill I could find because I was too embarrassed to be seen attempting to move my lead feet in public. I followed a couch to half marathon plan and started with walk/jogging. The jogging was difficult for me, just a couple of minutes felt nearly impossible, but I kept with the training program. This time, I knew I had to start very slowly to avoid the chest pain. 

A couple weeks into the program, I ran a full mile without stopping. I remember feeling my face crack into a smile as I stared at my garage wall with my feet pounding the cheap treadmill tape. It had been an impossibly slow mile, but my heart rate did not exceed the safe zone, and I had actually done it. Another four months of avid training, and I finished my first half marathon. I was not fast and the last three or four miles were borderline agony, but I did it. 

The day after that half marathon, I learned the valuable lesson yet again that too much too soon is a really bad idea when I unsurprisingly suffered massive IT Band pain that left me hobbling for weeks. It pays to have a physical therapist as one of my closest friends. With her help and recommendations, I became best buds with a foam roller and lived to tell about it.

I began running again two months later. This time, I held off on running another half marathon until more than a year of consistent training had passed. During the course of that year, I joined a local running club, signed up for shorter distance races like 5Ks and 12Ks, added a little trail running to the mix, and eventually, got to where I am today. 

My most recent half marathon was a personal best by ten minutes. More importantly, though, I had a great time running with my husband and close physical therapist friend, and I managed to feel strong and healthy for the entire 13.1 miles. I love the picture below because for the first time, I look like a "real runner" during a race. I'm also smiling like some crazed lunatic. Seriously, who runs that kind of distance for fun?
Beat the Blerch Half Marathon - September 2016
Several miles after this photo was taken, I had a sweat stain in the shape of a smily face on my boobs and waist, and my friend said, "I'm not going to lie, I kind of hate you right now," as I powered forward and kept us on track with our 9:45 min/mile pace strong to the finish. 

I think she's forgiven me since.