Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Vacation running, and the run funk

It's been four weeks of bad running around here, starting the week I ran at Afton. During that run, I had no gas in the tank, walked the hills, felt wiped out. The next day I tried to run trails with some friends and, even with them going slow for me, still dropped out after 30 minutes. No energy.

I rested. Didn't run at all for five days. Heck, I even took a pregnancy test, just in case. (Spoiler: it was negative.) Did 11 road miles with a friend training for the TC Marathon with me, and once again I was spent.

What was going on? I increased my carb intake, got more sleep, did some yoga and strength work instead of running. I was getting muscle cramps at night and I craved salt. I put together a very mediocre week of vacation running in western Minnesota, then a decent week of running here (including a 3.5 hour run at Lebanon Hills and the Endless Summer Lebanon Hills 7 miler). 

I headed to the North Carolina coast on vacation last week with plans to try and get an 18-miler, to continue my marathon training. But once again, I just couldn't put together a decent run.

The temperature was 70s to 80s and muggy, with a breeze on the beach. The scenery was certainly beautiful. The first full day there, my mother and I set out for a run from our rental house in Duck, NC, on the Outer Banks:

We headed up Duck Road (the only north-south road that far north on the island), and quickly found the boardwalk that skirts the sound. :
This part led right down into the sound.
The boardwalk goes for maybe half a mile, along the town of Duck.
Lots of trees with wet feet. The sound is freshwater, ever since the northern end of the island sanded/silted over in the 1800s. Geology is happening in real time out here.

Live oaks grow all over the Outer Banks. They're cool old trees.
Wetlands bordering the sound.
After the boardwalk ended, we continued north on the much less charming highway. We were in good company -- the whole area was jammed with runners and cyclists (everything from serious looking road cyclists to families on beach cruiser rental bikes). But by the time we turned around, 25 minutes into the run, I was already getting pretty tired. (And it wasn't the speed -- Mom's running motto is "Old, Slow, and Persistent"). By the time we were back to the boardwalks, I was taking frequent walk breaks. Maybe it was the heat or humidity, maybe it was being tired from traveling, but whatever it was... the run was not happening. I tried three days later and despite starting in the comparative cool at 6 am, I couldn't even put 5 minutes of running together.

I did get some nice sunrise pictures, though.

So after that, I pretty much gave up on vacation running. Oh, I did some yoga and bodyweight strength work (squats, lunges, calf raises, planks). We were certainly pretty active, swimming in the pool and ocean almost every day and riding bikes. I caught up on sleep, read a trashy book, played games with my family, and got a lot of sun (but avoided sunburn). It was a good vacation. It was actually a very good vacation.

When I got back this week, though, I called my doctor for an appointment. It was time to figure out what the heck was going on.

Gear Review: INKnBURN

My love for INKnBURN's running clothes is no secret. (I'm a newly named ambassador for the company, but all the gear reviewed here was purchased by me, before I had any relationship with them). I initially encountered their clothing in early 2012 through reviews on a number of run blogs (notably Iris's now-defunct Stet That Run), joined their Facebook feed, and fell in love with their designs.

A quick aside here: I am a pathologist. My job, every day, is to look at complex pictures (tissue slides), and recognize patterns (make diagnoses). I love the visual aspect of my job. I love drinking in complexity with my eyes, and finding meaning in frenzied, multilayered, seemingly patternless information. At various times, I've been a quilter. When I was pregnant, I was a hazard in the fabric store -- somehow, I craved colors, not food.

So, you can see why I couldn't get enough of their clothing. This wasn't a screen print. This was an all-over, whole-garment work of art. And once I read enough reviews assuring me that the tech fabric was, uh, tech-y and the clothes fit well, all I had to do was pick out a pair of shorts and give 'em a try.

The purple Run or Die shorts pretty much rocked my world. I loved the slightly textured, woven-but-stretchy fabric. The wide, stretchy, soft waistband. The vivid colors, melting from violet to fucsia. The two slim but capacious side pockets. And I loved the glaring skull on the back of the waistband (Even if my kids think it's an owl, not a skull. Hey, owls are badass too).

After a year and a half of hard wear, they're holding up pretty well. There's a little pilling over one side panel (probably from a run through a field of burrs). One front seam binding is just beginning to loosen, but should be fixable with a needle and thread. Otherwise, they look as good as new. Not bad for shorts I wear on average twice a week and wash in the machine and throw in the dryer (when I don't just wash them by hand so I can wear them again sooner).

I've worn them in temperatures ranging from 27 to 95, downpours, torrential sweating, blackberry canes, and deep mud. They look good even when you're bleeding in them, they always clean up well, and they're basically bombproof.

Not long afterward, I bought a Sugar Skull T-shirt. I've never owned such a flashy piece of clothing (excluding my wedding dress?). I love it. I wear it when I need to feel invulnerable.

I wore it for a 25 mile trail run two weeks after I broke my arm:
"Would you take a picture of me? 'Cause otherwise, even I won't believe I did this."
No, you're not imagining it. That is a GLITTER CAST, people. Gold glitter pressed into the fiberglass while it set. Yow!
In fact, it worked so well that, aside from trading up from cast to robo-arm, I just wore the same thing on race day, at the Superior 50K:
Outbound at the aid station, and feeling great!
And, uh, apparently a few other times as well:
Predawn run start at Afton. Note the merino wool armwarmers - in July!
Endless Summer race at Lebanon Hills. But hey, variety! Check the Lust shorts!
With the arrival of serious summer weather this year, I branched out to sample the tank tops:
Flutter tank top at the Portland Old Port Half Marathon in July
... and camisoles:
Lotus camisole at Endless Summer Murphy Hanrehan trail race (my hottest race ever, by a long shot).
On vacation last week in North Carolina, we even had two generations of duelling INKnBURN:
My mom ROCKS the Drifting Petals tank top, and left me in the dust on the run.
The tank tops were a pleasant surprise -- long enough to cover my waist and hips (and I'm tall), really nice body-skimming cut, and a hint of a racerback to show off shoulders. I wish there were a few more designs available for the tank tops... but do check out the Lust top, which is awesome.

I love the way the camisole looks on other people, but it doesn't work quite as well for me -- I think I fall in between sizes small and medium. Still, I like the surprisingly soft and comfortable straps, the shelf bra with a secret gel-sized pocket, and the wide variety of styles.

Despite the flashy looks, all the gear performs like technical wear should. The tops wick, dry fast, and wash well. The fabric doesn't chafe, shrink, or fade (so far). These are my go-to gear in warm to cool weather and for anything indoors -- basically, anything that doesn't require merino wool baselayers.

Want to try some INKnBURN for yourself? Register on their site and use my discount code (RobynToldMe) to get 15% off your first purchase. It's good stuff!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Endless Summer Lebanon 7 Mile Race Report (or, Twilight of the Endless Summer)

It's hard to believe, but the Endless Summer is coming to a close.  It's already mid August, and the Minnesota weather in the last two weeks has been distinctly September-ish, with crisp mornings in the 50s and breezy, sunny days in the 70s.

The last installment of the Endless Summer Trail Run Series was last night on my home turf, at Lebanon Hills Regional Park. I started running there in January with some of the Upper Midwest Trail Runners, and have been there at least a couple times a month all this year. After a summer of weeknight races at parks I'd never run (or, usually, even visited), it was time to return to familiar ground.

Even more fun, I got to do it with a friend. I met Stephanie while doing a crazy Internet running challenge last year, the 12athon. Run 12 miles on the 12th of the month. Earn "bonus points" for doing it in a particularly crazy way. (Examples: 12 miles, all uphill. 12 miles, changing your shoes after every mile. Run a 10K race, then at the finish, turn around and run it in the other direction.) The 12athon ended when 2012 did, but it took till earlier this summer to meet up with the other local 12athoner. It was exciting to join her in her first trail race!

Note her stylin' 12athon shirt!
Despite leaving work right at 5, I was foiled by traffic and by the time I reached Lebanon Hills, the parking lot was full. No worries, the race director had arranged for overflow parking and a school bus shuttle at a church a mile or two down the road.
Taken from my car (at a light), crossing my fingers that I wouldn't miss the bus.
A quick bus ride back to the park...
99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer....
... and just enough time to register, hit the restroom, and run into a few friends before the (slightly delayed) race start.
I met this awesomely dressed runner standing in line. Check out her gorgeous INKnBURN!
Mike and Janet were both racing. Janet's doing her first Ragnar this weekend, and Mike is deep in training for the Moose Mountain Marathon.
It was a Sugarskull kind of day. I love racing in my INKnBURN gear!
Everyone's ready to race.
John Storkamp, race director extraordinaire, gave the pre-race briefing from his  traditional stepladder. It seemed quieter than usual before race start. I was dazzled by the late afternoon sunlight and thinking about the last race of summer, and of what a great summer it's been .Maybe everyone else was too.

The Cliff's Notes version: Pick up litter, flags on your left, if you get lost, just come back here and we'll have a push-up contest and then drink some beer.
A quick countdown, and we're off! We'd been warned that the trail rapidly turns to singletrack, and there was, predictably, a bit of a bottleneck for the first quarter-mile:
Don't worry, it thinned out pretty quick.

Pretty soon, though, the crowd thinned out and the trail grew quiet, cool and shady.

Despite its name, I think of Lebanon Hills more as a collection of little lakes with trails (and the occasional hill) weaving between them, and less as a collection of hills. The trails are generally doubletrack width (singletrack in the winter when they're packed by snowshoers), dirt with a few roots and rocks, and pretty non-technical. They tend toward muddy since everything's close to one lake or another. There are a few respectable hills, but nothing steep. Of the four Endless Summer courses, it's probably the flattest and, I suspect, the fastest.

Most of the trail is wooded or lakeside, and much of it looks like this:
Last night, it smelled like moist earth, green growing things, and lake water.

But there are some lake views, and some of them are quietly beautiful.
This tree was moving so fast it was a blur.

Lake, with powerline counterpoint.

 I ran along with Stephanie, at an easy but ground-covering pace. After a while, we had our section of the trail to ourselves, and we jogged along, feeling pretty good, enjoying the trail. Around mile 2 or 3, I paused to take a picture of some amazing neon-orange fungus in the woods...
Nothing says "Don't eat me!" quite like neon orange
 ... when we saw these guys coming up behind us. Really? The sweepers, already?
"That's not a fungus, that's a trail marker. Oh, wait, that IS a fungus."
Wow! I don't think I've ever been DFL before. Luckily, they were a pretty easygoing bunch. They followed us at a respectful distance as we ran and walked into the aid station, at the Jensen Lake trailhead.

The aid station was well stocked, with water, HEED, gels and salt (because why not?), and some fabulous volunteers.
Kathy, speedy ultramarathoner and excellent person

Amy, who BROKE TWO RIBS running at Afton last week, ran another 4 miles, and didn't seek medical attention for another THREE DAYS. What is it with these crazy trail runners?

Bob and the other sweepers caught up with us at the aid station.
Refreshed, we were soon on our way again, running on the section of Lebanon Hills I know best, the loop around the lake. It was cool but not chilly, the shadows were getting long, and the water was still and beautiful. We ran when we could, walked when we had to, and enjoyed the evening.
The alarmingly bouncy and unstable-feeling bridge at the southeastern end of Jensen Lake. The first time I ran over this, last winter, I briefly wondered if it was a trail runner's hazing ritual.
As a side note, I'd been in a bit of a running funk for the last week and a half -- easily fatigued, decreased endurance, a touch of plantar fasciitis. I'd been addressing it with rest, more sleep, dietary changes (more carbs at every meal) and stretching and foam rolling, but hadn't had a really great run in a long time.

Maybe it was the slower pace. Maybe it was the time of day or the weather. Maybe it was just time for things to start getting better. But whatever it was, this run felt GREAT. My heart was full of joy.
Sunset over the lake
 The trail grew more and more dim as the twilight deepened and we approached the last mile. The sweeper crew behind us was chatty and encouraging. Stephanie, despite some shortness of breath and lightheadedness, was keeping up her pace and looking strong. It's tough to keep going on a hard run, and nothing was going to stop her.

We could hear the finish line before we could see it, and it got louder and louder as we rounded the last lake.
Visitor Center, just ahead!
 And there it was. We ran through together in just under 1:45, just ahead of the sweep crew.

I'd never been dead last before. But for a healing, exhilirating, beautiful run like that, it was worth it. And I'll say it again: if I'd realized the sweep crew was having so much fun before, I wouldn't have been running so hard! Thanks, sweep volunteers, for your patience, encouragement, and sense of humor.

It was fun to run with a friend. I think Stephanie had a good first trail race. I hope we can get her back on trails again soon!

Lots of friends cheered us in to the finish and there was still pizza and beer left. It was nearly dark, a reminder that summer's long days are coming to an end. It was a beautiful night. A memorable finish to the last race of the summer.

As the fall racing season begins, with its longer races, I feel like I'm coming into it refreshed. It's been a great summer for running and racing and meeting friends. I know the fall will bring new delights and surprises. I'll miss summer, but I can't wait.