Monday, December 28, 2009

Finding Your Playground

For myself and for most people who have yet to set sail on their 2010 training programs, this time of year is all about finding the joy in what you do. The rest of year was drawn out through a schedule which was tied to a series of races. Now that it is over, my motivation to get out the door is driven by whether or not something I do will be fun. When it stops being fun, I have to find something else or take a break. For some, that is focusing on other sports outside of the swim, bike, run regimen we all know so well. For me, if you couldn't tell, my fun lies in just running.

Unlike other sports, running allows the freedom to go wherever or whenever you want. One of my goals this time of the year has been to discover new places to run. I know my immediate neighborhood pretty darn well by now, since I have been using the trails and roads around it exclusively over the past season, since we moved in February. So sometimes when I need to find that "fun factor" again, I need to explore something new. After some searching around online, I came across a website that provided an excellent description of some areas I had never known existed, many of which are within striking distance of my house.

So recently, I set out on foot to explore one of these routes. Turns out, this trail begins only a short distance from my house! I've been driving past this road for nearly a year and never once noticed a trail. Shame on me! But thanks to this handy website, I've found a new place I like to call my playground. This route offers everything one could ask for in a trail. Parts of it are paved, while most of it is soft dirt or gravel. It offers fun "obstacles" such as creek crossings where you have to jump. In other cases, you have to focus while you cross (or else, you will get wet!). And lastly, it follows the path of a creek, leaving you with constant scenery.

On my initial outing, I set out following a pretty intense couple of days of rain. Though this made crossing some areas a bit tricky, it also made for a flat out fun time. When it was all said and done, I had traveled 12 miles and was craving more. If I had been training for a marathon, this run could have easily been pushed to much further distances. When I reached my turnaround point, it wasn't really my planned point. I thought the trail continued to meet up with another trail, but on this initial run, I got a bit "lost", so I just turned around and came back the way I went out.

In the future, I hope to link up to another trail network and continue to explore these parts. Running in the woods into unknown territory brings back a sense of unknown, which is rare after you feel like you've explored every possible option. It's encouraging to know that there are so many places I have yet to explore. Add to the fact that each time you return to trails like these, the conditions and scenery will be different depending on the season.

I think its safe to say I've found a trail I'd like to call my playground.

I'd encourage everyone to re-evaluate your typical routes you use day in and day out and find something new to change it up and have a little fun. This can be done simply by using GoogleMaps or any of the number of sites that allow users to post routes, such as MapMyRun or TrainingPeaks. I know there are a ton more sites out there, so these are just a few to get you started.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ok Winter, You Win

Seriously. That was fun. But let's move on. Everyone loves snow. See I don't have a problem with that. I have a problem with the mountains of it covering the sidewalks and any resemblance of a trail. I can't even think of running outside until the 3 ft deep aisles of snow have melted. And while we're at it, a high of the upper 30s isn't going to make that process happen any time soon, so can you please make it a bit warmer?

So you know what, winter? I give up. You win. You are the best season of them all. But how about you show some compassion and let some warmer weather in so we can melt a bit of that snow on the sidewalks so some of us can enjoy running again and not dread doing it on the treadmill. Comprende?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Weekend That Was...Snowy

Wow, what a snowy mess of a weekend this was. (That is a chair that is half covered and a loveseat that is fully covered to the left of it in the picture!) This weekend forced you to remain inside, since the roads were just not usable at all. I was frequently amused by the news coverage though, showing all these people driving around in their rear wheel drive sport cars, thinking they could drive around in a blizzard. I can then only draw the logical conclusion that people who drive sports cars are not smart.

The snow started Friday night and didn't stop till very late Saturday night. After playing a few rounds of snow flipcup outside at a party on Friday night, we decided it would be smart to leave early to avoid the major issues on the road. After only an hour or 2 of snow, the terrible DC area drivers had already begun crashing their cars. Along the way home, we saw probably 20+ cars either involved in an accident or stopped along the side of the road. I still don't quite get how people stop learning how to drive once the snow starts falling, but that is what happens here. Its best to just avoid people in these situations by not driving at all.

In total, our last measurement on Saturday night registered 25 inches! By mid morning Saturday, with a solid foot of snow, we decided to venture out and start some shoveling, since it would be nearly impossible to dig ourselves out with the totals we were anticipating. After about a solid hour of shoveling, I was tired, sweaty, and sore, but the driveway was covered in a new blanket of snow within minutes of finishing. It was coming down at rates between 1-2 inches an hour. Oh well. It would eventually make my job easier when I went to finish the job once the snow stopped on Sunday.

After shoveling, we decided to venture out and ended up grabbing the ski gear and tried for the short slope of our neighborhood street. There was already a solid base of powder, so I was able to get a decent amount of speed going and made a couple of runs out of it.


The cross country skiing back up though, was tough! No chairlifts on this slope!

With not much else to do, I was really looking forward to watching the Ironman World Championships, which was set to air on NBC. Well, thanks to what is now being called the "Snowpacalypse", it did not air :( All NBC channels were showing special local coverage of the storm. I tried everything, but there was nothing but coverage of the snow. Ugh. I'm sure it will be aired again though another day this winter.

Sunday morning, we awoke to clear skies, but just an endless blanket of the white stuff. I got cracking on the shoveling again and managed to get the driveway, the stairs, and the sidewalks all done within about 1.5 hours. But man was I sore! I couldn't run due to the weather this weekend, but I sure was able to cross train!

It is now Monday and we are still kinda snowed in. The driveway is all shoveled but our street is still a mess of slush and ice. Hopefully the sun will melt it all, just in time to freeze again tonight. Hope everyone else had some fun in the snow!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Photos From Jingle All The Way 10k

The photos just came out from the 10k on Sunday. Though I am not particularly happy with the way mine turned out, I plucked some of the good ones scattered throughout the race that I considered worthy.

But first - me
Crossing over the small bridge near Mile 1 (in the background)

Back over the same bridge near Mile 6

And now I present to you the highlights (they get better further to the bottom)

Running Snowman

Ugly Sweater Guy


The Joggler


The Penguin

Santa and His Reindeer

Speedy Santa

Xmas Gnome

Not sure what is better - the girl riding the elf or the guy carrying his bike helmet to the right

Monday, December 14, 2009

Race Report: Jingle All The Way 10k

I know...I was "officially" done for the year. But, with the prospect of another free race entry sponsored by my company at the Jingle All The Way 10k, I decided to throw in another race to cap the year off and get a good baseline on my very Base type of training I have been doing over the past 2+ months. It also served as another opportunity to show I can pace myself, unlike the last 10k, where I failed miserably.

Despite the very questionable weather (winter weather advisory with ice in the forecast), I decided to run rain or shine, if for nothing else, the free t-shirt. Sunday morning came a bit earlier than I'd prefer for a Sunday (5:45 am) in winter, as I was worried about parking with the pretty large crowd expected (about 5000) and I still needed to pick up my packet. I ended up getting to the race about an hour early, which was perfect, allowing me time to check in, take care of business, and warm up, just in time for runners to begin corralling at the start line.

I set myself a solid 10-15 rows of runners back. I know there were a lot of fast runners there, so I didn't want to be that guy. After standing around for a few minutes and listening to a bunch of people talking about their expected pace before the start, I knew I was in the right place. Before I knew it, the gun went off and the race had begun.

My goal for this race was to not start off too fast and just go out at a steady effort that I could hold over the course of the race. I think I largely achieved that goal, or at least showed some improvement over my last race. My Mile 1 split was 6:34, which was in sharp contrast to the 5:58 I ran in the last 10k I did.

As we passed Mile 1, I found myself running next to DC Mayor Fenty, who I know is a fair bit faster runner than me (he finished in 39:17). Still feeling like I was moving at a comfortably hard pace, I stuck with him. Then, I found myself actually making sense in my head during a race for a change. Since I knew he was a faster runner, I probably should not use him as a pacer, as it will only burn me up early in the race, leaving me grasping for the finish line toward the end. So, with my competitive ego at my side, I sadly let him go and forced myself to slow as we neared the Mile 2 marker. As I crossed, my watch read 6:46 for my split.

Miles 3 - 4 were spent cruising along with a same 2 other guys, all of us nearly stride for stride the entire time. I came through mile 3 with a consistent split of 6:47 and passed the 5k point in 20:55, which was pretty darn close to where I figured I'd shoot for (21:00). At some point during Mile 4, I grabbed some water from the water stop, only to find the cup was filled really high. As I squeezed the cup to pour it in my mouth, the water jumped into my nose, causing me to cough quite a bit. I stopped coughing by the time I hit the Mile 4 split, which was 6:52.

Mile 5 is always the place in a 10k where my mind plays tricks. Here I was, cruising along with pretty consistent splits (on PR pace) and my mind is starting to tell me to just jog it in. I told it to shut up several times, responding with a few surges, but I just couldn't get out of the funk. I knew if I could hold any reasonable pace at this point that I was going to PR and scored my slowest split of the day with a 6:58. I decided that I would not allow there to be a split over 7:00, so I picked it up.

With only a little more than a mile to go, my mind started to get back on track. We crested a very short bridge, which left just a straight shot of about .8 mile to go to the finish. I could even see the finish line all the way in the distance and I knew I had more effort in me, but I just kind of ran fast, without pushing the pedal all the way down. Mile 6 came through back on pace in 6:48. In the last .2 to go, I kicked it up a notch to bring it home. It took 1:20, which is a 6:40 pace.

I crossed the finish line and looked down at my watch as I stopped it and saw that it read 42:05. This was yet another 10k PR of 35 seconds, bring down my 10k time a total of 1:41 this year without actually training specifically for a 10k. Not too bad a way to cap off the year!

Here are some of the overall stats:
Pace: 6:47/mile
Overall Place: 158/3700+
Gender Place: 137/1508 Males
AG Place (25-29): 34/355

I saw race photographers out on the course, so I may have some updates of the photos as they become available.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Benefits of a Head Lamp

Let's say your season is over (or maybe it is just starting up again) and you just need to get in a workout. BUT, your job holds you captive till it is dark outside, forcing you to either suck it on the 'mill or become a weekend warrior and make up all your workouts on the weekends. But then you have this great idea that you'll wake up early and go for a morning run (brilliant!). You set out your stuff the night before, slap the alarm when it goes off the next morning, and get out the door only to find yourself enjoying the morning run. Then you declare, "morning runs are awesome, I should do this everyday!". So you set everything out again, only to find yourself hitting snooze all the way through that hour run you had planned for the morning.

Sound familiar? This happens to me all the time. I've learned from my mistakes though. Every once and a while, the morning workout is a good idea, but it cannot be trusted consistently. The bed is simply too warm and the pillow too soft to convince myself to get up early to get my workout in.

So, what do you do? Hit the 'mill? Become a weekend warrior?

Well, anyone who is continuing to workout this time of year surely knows that it gets dark early. Here are the 2 options I consider realistic:
1) Drag yourself to the gym and run like a little hamster on a treadmill
2) Continue to run outside, but in the darkness

Your choice - but being the sane person I am, I choose option #2. And here's why.

I present to you - The Head Lamp in all its glory!

I have been running with a headlamp for a few years now and I am no longer afraid of running in the darkness (yea, I said it - afraid...). In fact, I think I enjoy it more than running in the daytime. When it is dark, you have to pay closer attention to everything around you, like cracks in the trail, rocks, etc. Personally, I feel more focused on my body and its movement in the darkness. Things all appear more quiet and you can focus on yourself and just running. All of this is thanks to the head lamp, which shines a nice little 5 ft or so circle of light around me.

Headlamps come in all different shapes and sizes, but most of the lightweight ones give you enough light from their bright LEDs so you can find your way. The one I have has 3 lights (1 bright main light and 2 side lights to help with peripheral vision), similar to the one pictured.

I originally got my headlamp for just general use, but it has proved to be pretty effective for use while running. When it is on my head, I rarely feel it and it does not make any difference in my ability to run as I would in the day time. I also use it to help with setting up my transition area at triathlon races because it is frequently very dark for early races and some extra light goes a long way in eliminating anxiety on race day to get things set up properly.

***BONUS BENEFIT***
The one other significant race-related reason to go out and get yourself a head lamp: porta-potties! You know as well as I do that those early morning races do not provide significant lighting over the porta-pottie area. I don't know about you, but I prefer to know what is going on when I am in there and a head lamp can help you figure that out ;)

Happy running!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Snowman Fail

Saturday morning while it was still snowing, Rebecca and I were watching some kids building up giant balls of snow to make a snowman. Well, it didn't go quite as planned. I watched one kid try to add the 2nd ball on top of the 1st ball, only to fail and the 2nd ball crumbled off to the side. By the end of the day, this was the final result.
Snowman fail or snowman-turned snowball fort? You decide.
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