Friday, April 29, 2011

The Green

After a long winter, we welcome the arrival of spring and its lush greenery with open, finally non-itchy arms.  It's like a whoooole newwwww woooooorld.  It's beautiful!  If you're not a trail runner you are really missing out.  There aren't many things more wonderous than trails in spring.  But before you know it the grass and weeds have grown a foot in the blink of an eye. 

Let's take a moment to realize what this means.  During the warm months, vegetation grows at an incredible rate.  Now think about the length of the trails you run on.  Now think about how long it takes to constantly keep that vegetation from encroaching on those wonderful trails.  In Lawrence, the River Trails are about 9 miles long and the Clinton Lake North Shore Trails are about 23 miles long.  The Lawrence Mountain Bike Club and Kansas Trails Council maintain our trails in Lawrence and they do an amazing job.  Find out what organizations do trail maintenance in your area and lend a hand!



But back to running now.  As the spring turns into summer, the vegetation grows and becomes difficult to keep under control everywhere at once.  We run down the trail in an increasingly narrow path to avoid the encroaching greenery.  Why would you avoid the greenery, you say?  Well in case you aren't familiar with the Kansas climate, it's damp.  Lots of things love the damp climate here: chiggers, ticks, poison ivy and stinging nettle.  And I assure you, regardless of the precautions I take, I encounter all of these every year.

By mid to late summer, a midwest trail runner's feet and ankles are usually covered in red dots which may or may not be oozing (from ticks/chiggers).  I finally became sensitized to poison ivy last year, which had never bothered me in my 27 previous years.  I discovered that poison ivy starts off looking like a bright red scratch.  You might think you got it from running into a branch.  Then it explodes into a giant itchy mess.  And you know you have poison ivy. 

In addition to the uncomfortable state my body is placed in due to these external assaults from plant life and parasites, I also tend to suffer from eczema (can they come up with a less disgusting word, seriously sounds like I have herpes or something), another itchy enemy.  So by the end of summer, luckily my skin is not dry, but it is decidedly hot and itchy.

By late summer, the spiders are approaching Aragog size and they can build webs across the trail that are strong enoug to knock you on your ass (or at least slow your momentum) before you can say "Holy Aragog!"  I'm not ashamed to admit that I usually put off my August morning runs until I've seen a few bikes ride through.  I will say one positive thing about spiders.  In August, on a dewy morning, the light glistening off hundreds of spider webs high up in the trees is truly gorgeous.

If you're not squeamish about eating web, you might be turned off by the giant horseflies that will chase you for miles if they really want a piece of your flesh.  Yes, they bite.  According to Wikipedia, it's the females that bite.  B****es!  The one benefit of horseflies is that they usually get you into a good tempo run.  If you can't run fast enough to beat a horsefly, your best bet is to trade places with a friend (don't tell them you're trying to pass the horsefly).  Horseflies can be easily distracted by other tastier treats.  If you don't have a friend, you just have to pray that you will run into some other poor schmuck on the trail.

In conclusion, The Green is awesome for about 4 weeks until it turns into hell, but do I want to stop trail running?  Heck no!  Like my mother always told me, "No horsefly bites, no gain."  She might argue with the truth of the statement, but I'll just claim it's her failing memory.  Kidding mom!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Got Something To Prove?

I've been a little obsessive lately...over a 5k.  Yes, you read it.  The girl who seldom runs a race shorter than a 50k is stressed about a 5k.  That's because 5k's are hard!  Running hard for a short period of time can be just as difficult as running easy for a long period of time.  So you may ask yourself, "Why is the slow poke running a 5k?" 
  1. I feel some small amount of company spirit and would like to earn some points in the Corporate Challenge competition. 
  2. I want to prove that I can still run "fast".
Corporate Challenge is like the Olympics for people with boring, non-sport-related jobs. There are a bunch of different events: soccer, 5k, tug-of-war, track events, etc.. In the past, before we started hiring a butt load of young folks, we excelled at fishing, trapshooting and horseshoes.  There is a complicated scoring system which consists of participation points, division points and medal points.  Individual events also include age groups.  You basically need a masters degree to figure out the point system.  Fortunately I have a masters degree.  Unfortunately it's not in advanced score keeping.  Here's what I do know:
  • You get 1 participation point in any event whether you win or come in last place. 
  • It's freakin' hard to get more than a participation point in the 5k, unless you're in division G.  This means you're competing against a bunch of other 20-employee companies.  (I didn't actually look up that information, but you get the gist.)  Anyway, I'm in division A, the 2000+ corporate monster division.
So you can probably see this coming, but out of the 2 or 3 times I've competed in Corporate Challenge, I have never scored more than a participation point in the 5k.  So many people participate that they actually have to split the 5k up into 2 separate races: one for males and one for females.

My goals for the race are to break my 5k PR of 23:30 (which I set on a pancake flat course, very unlike the CC course) and to score some division points for once!  I know, a 7:30 pace is not very fast for some people, but it's pretty speedy for me.  I do most of my running on trails and my "trail fast" ranges from 9-12 minute miles depending on terrain and length of run.

I decided to run the course the other day before I met a group of friends for a trail run and ended up with a slightly disappointing 8:11 pace.  I felt like I was going pretty quick too!  Well, I know I probably won't be able to break my PR on a training run.  It's just not the same as a race.  I need a competitor.  You know.  Some girl who just looks WAY too cute in her perfectly matched outfit, or someone who is 5 inches shorter than me and 20 lbs heavier.  The kind of thing that really gets you going.  I'm not kidding when I say I was once passed in a 10k by an adult woman who was about 4'7" (I'm 5'4").  Fortunately I will have a few more opportunities to run the course before the race.  I'm hoping I can get my training time down around a 7:45 pace. 

I am definitely looking forward to this race being over, so I can obsess over the Jemez Mountain 50k which is two weeks later.  There is no doubt in my mind when I say it is going to chew me up and spit me out.  The elevation speaks for itself.  Oh yeah, you're seeing correctly.  It starts at 7000+ ft.  And yes, I do live in Lawrence, KS at 800ft.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tattoo

In case you weren't in the know, I got a tattoo last week.  I was pretty nervous.  Not about the pain, but more about the "I'm the type of person who thinks everything she did or said or wore more than a year ago was the stupidest thing EVER."  Isn't growing up fun?  Well I guess 28 is sort of grown up. 

So I wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate running my first 100...which was 6 months ago.  You can tell I was really dragging my feet.  I spent a long time thinking about what to get, asking people where I should go to get it, driving by the tattoo place and being too chicken to go in and talk to anyone, etc.  Finally I accumulated enough gumption to step foot in Big Daddy Cadillac's on Mass St.  After looking through the artists' portfolios, I settled on Steven.

Steven came out, sat down with me and sketched up my idea.  He was pretty quiet, which led me to believe that he hated me for being a dumb tattoo newbie, or something along those lines.  He asked me when I wanted to get it done: "Tomorrow?" he asked.  Panic set in.  "Uhhhh, no, I have to go out of town."  I really did have to go out of town to crew at Rockin' K.  Eventually we settled on Tuesday of the next week.  After I set up the appointment and paid my deposit, I turned to Steven and said, "I'll see you Tuesday then?"  He gave me a nod.  Nothing else.  Maybe a mumble.  Yeah, I was pretty sure he hated me.

Leading up to Tuesday, I worried a lot about how big the tattoo would end up being, what it would look like, etc.  All I had seen was a rough sketch Steven put together on the spot.  I had daymares of it turning into this giant monstrous thing I would regret for the rest of my life.  After sitting in the waiting room for a while, listening to a gaggle of sorority girls conspiring over which tattoos they wanted to get that very day, Steven had me follow him to his area? room? office?

I stood awkwardly as Steven cleaned the chair I would be sitting in and covered it in plastic wrap.  I kept shuffling around as he rotated it this way and that.  Eventually I sat down, took off my shoe and sock and after several misunderstandings realized that Steven wanted me to rotate my body so that I was resting on my hip.  Oh, I suppose that DOES make it easier to access the outside of my ankle.  We finally started talking as he prepared everything, which involved covering a lot things in plastic.  Ink is messy I guess!

When Steven placed the ink template of what he'd drawn up on my ankle, I finally started to relax.  It was bigger than I imagined wanting my tattoo to be, but after seeing it, I realized it was the perfect size.  It was smooth sailing from here.  Relatively.  Steven was actually pretty cool once I started talking to him.  Plus, his "office" was full of fantasy books and figurines.  A fellow nerd!


The process was more painful than I thought it would be.  I struggled to keep my leg from quivering and was afraid I would make him mess up the tattoo, but all went well.  The outline hurt the most.  I suppose it has something to do with the needle used for outlining.  Surprisingly, the filling was much more manageable.

So in conclusion, I'm very happy with my new artwork.  On the topic of regret, well I like the tattoo, and I can't see myself every saying, "Self, running 100 miles is super lame.  Why would you ever want to remember that?"  So there you go. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Good Health: The Death of Interesting?

The past few days I've been thinking about how happy I am to be back to running, pain-free, mostly.  If you've been following my sob story over the past couple months you might know that I have had:
  1. a broken tailbone
  2. achilles tendonitis
  3. IT band syndrome, and
  4. I cry a lot?
Currently, my achilles tendons are just about all better.  My IT band feels good.  I've tested it up to 5 miles.  This being said, I'm not going to run the 50-miler this weekend (Rockin K) just because I had a couple good 5 milers after 3 weeks of pain.  In the absence of these pains, my body is now reminding me that I still have a broken tailbone.  There are a couple things that are irritating about this.  The first being that it feels about the same as it did 1 week after I injured it which was...2 months ago?  The second being that it doesn't hurt very much.  It hurts when I sit for a long time, like when I commute to work every day.  Or when I use a rowing machine.  So it's a long term nagging, but not debilitating injury.  Gosh, why couldn't I have something REALLY debilitating like a broken leg?  Ohhhh, I guess I'll stick with the tailbone after all.

So yes, aside from the tailbone, things are starting to look up!  This made me start pondering about what the heck I would write about once everything was all better.  Nobody wants to read, "I had a good run today," every day.  If I'm not telling my sob stories what will I talk about??  Well, I guess really good stories would be nice.  That assumes I have to be achieving new things.  But what new things do I have to achieve?  I've run 100 miles.  I don't want to run more than that.  I'm going to have to start being a LOT funnier if I can't come up with some real drama.

Luckily humans are highly evolved to be idiots.  So we spend our entire lifetimes learning and achieving new things!  Maybe it's because I was a late bloomer to this whole running thing, starting after college, but I'm still getting faster.  That's nice.  I'm also getting stronger, because I started working out with a personal trainer.  Now I realize I have so much more to learn and try.  I'm attempting my first mountain 100 in August.  Once I do that, I'll have to do another one, you know, to get good at it.

I don't see my learning and improvement process slowing down any time soon, but I am certainly terrified of a plateau.  I'm also sure that I have plenty more crappy runs in my future, as we all do.  So not to fear!  I may still have some intersting posts left in me.