Monday, December 23, 2013

Deep thoughts at the end of the running year

It's been a good year for running. There's been elation, disaster, recovery, comedy, self-discovery, friendship, a little of everything. It was the first year I ran trails in a serious way, the first year I did an ultra, the first year I ran socially. I'm still enjoying an "off season", though I am looking ahead to January, when I'll start gearing up the long runs again. In the meantime, I've been reflecting a little on things I learned this year. In no particular order, a few insights:

1. I can do this. At the beginning of the year, my major goal was to train for and run a 50K trail race. Spring Superior 50K, in May, was a huge achievement for me. As the year evolved, other plans came up: recover from my broken elbow, run with friends on trails, volunteer, run in beautiful places. I recovered from iron deficiency anemia and trained for and ran two more 50K races, Wild Duluth and Icebox 480. At the end of the year, I can say that I can run 50Ks. And that's not something I knew a year ago.
Spring Superior!
Wild Duluth!
Icebox 480! I swear I actually own more than one shirt.
2. I am a lazy runner. I can run all day. No, literally, all day (or at least, 8 hours). Hey, all you need to do that is time (and Larabars). But running fast? Hoo boy, that hurts. I did no speedwork this year -- basically, it was all endurance mode, all the time. I know I've got another gear and that I can go faster (heck, I did it last week on the track), but I've got to overcome my natural inclination to keep it easy all the time.
Endless Summer Murphy 10K with Amy.
Ran this one as hard as I could in the heat.
3. There are things I'm good at. On trails, I get passed going up hills, but pass lots of people on the descents. Somewhere along the way, I actually figured out something about descents! Even if I'm not going fast, I can keep moving for a long time. I've figured out how and what to eat and drink, most of the time. And I have a very high pain threshold (but am finally figuring out the difference between pain I should run through, and pain that should make me stop).
Zumbro 17 mile. Broke my right elbow at mile 2.
You don't want this kind of race bling.
4. Running long on trails = no overuse injuries! Looking back at my training logs from the last few years, I noted when I was having pain. Achilles tendon, plantar fascia, posterior knee tendon, hamstring -- they've all been a little "tweaky" at one time or another. I'd rest, maybe ice, do water running, and if all else failed go see my excellent ART guy. Looking back at this year, though, the last time I saw him was way back in May! He fixed some early PF a few days before Spring Superior. Since then -- and, not coincidentally, since I started doing long runs exclusively on trail -- I've had a few minor ouches and tweaks here and there, but nothing that kept me away from running for more than a couple of days.

I'm pretty sure other things have helped too. I started paying serious attention to my core and posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes) last fall when I began doing kettlebell classes at the YWCA. I started doing a lot more yoga around the same time. I keep a foam roller in my office as well as one at home, and I use them. A lot. The added strength and flexibility are making a big difference in my injury-free running.

Courtyard yoga!
... and some box jumps for fun.
5. The races will still be there next year. I signed up for the TC Marathon this year. Sort of trained for it, but iron deficiency anemia really sidetracked my late-summer running. Despite the fact that I was heading into race week with my last long road run two months previous (and only 11 miles, and it damn near killed me), it was still a major internal struggle to decide not to run it. Heather over at relentlessforwardcommotion has talked about FOMO, or fear of missing out, as an impetus to do things you shouldn't/wouldn't/aren't ready for. Her essay on it came at just the right time, and I kept reminding myself: The race will still be there next year.

I had a little FOMO over the last few weeks, as Frontrunner Sports did their Black Friday discounted entries into the Chippewa 50K and I didn't sign up, and then worse the other weekend when registration for the Ice Age 50 Mile filled in just a couple of hours. Spring is not a good time for me to train for a 50 miler, but still, it was hard to let the idea go. I just have to remember, I've only been doing this a year. There are years and years of great races ahead of me. Deep breaths.
Deena did the TC Marathon (her first) and killed it!
So much fun to do some training runs with you.
Those are some of my insights from the 2013 year in running. What's next? I'm not so big into "new year goals". Why pick an arbitrary time -- the change of the calendar -- to decide what to do next? But I'm pretty sure the coming year will include more trails, more weights, and hopefully some more speed. The most important thing is that it includes lots of runs in beautiful places, alone and with friends. I can work out the rest as I go along.

Have a great New Year!
I just can't get enough of this picture.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review: INKnBURN tech tube

It's winter in Minnesota, and so far it's been a righteously cold December. Lots of subzero nights and single-degree days, and a memorable 10-miler in -10 degrees. I weighed my running gear recently and discovered I'm putting on 4+ pounds of clothing, not counting shoes, just to stave off hypothermia while running.

So when INKnBURN asked me to write a review of a piece of cold-weather gear, my honest first thought was, "It's too cold for INKnBURN!" This time of year, I'm usually wearing technical merino baselayers and miracle-fiber outer layers. But it occurred to me that my Drifting Petals Tech Tube (like a Buff, but from the same fabric as INKnBURN's tech shirts) might actually be an ideal cold-weather layering piece.

I tested it out this morning. It was zero degrees Fahrenheit, with 10 mph winds on the river, which made for a windchill of -16F. I had a 6 mile run on tap.
Dressed to run! Fleece-lined merino wool hat, Tech Tube as a neck gaiter.
It still hasn't gotten cold enough to need the hood. I think my face would freeze first.
I set off heading into the wind. Two layers of merino plus a wind-blocking fleece gets my core toasty warm, but on previous similar runs, my face had definitely gotten chilly. The Tech Tube kept my neck and chin plenty warm, even going straight into the wind.
Mile 3. Note the ice crystals on my face (and in my hair, sticking out).
I don't know why I have this expression. My face may have been frozen that way.
At mile 3, I crossed the Mississippi River and started heading back. Now the wind was behind me and, by the time I got to mile 4.5, I was actually getting pretty warm. When running in very cold weather, it's never a good idea to break much of a sweat -- if you get wet, then cold again, it's really cold. I unzipped my coat, then both of my baselayers. Still warm. I pulled off my hat. Whoops, too cold! 

Here's where the greatness of the Tech Tube came in -- I just folded it and pulled it up over my ears, and voila: earwarmer! Perfect for the next mile, until I headed back into the wind for the last section and needed my hat again.
Awkward profile selfie...
... and the other side.
So, the eternal question is now answered: It is never too cold for at least a little bit of INKnBURN.

Later this morning, I enlisted my seven year old assistant to help me show off some more Tech Tube tricks.
My photographer (and tech tube model)
As it turns out, his idea of photographing involved taking pictures at wacky angles. And giggling a lot.
Okay, there's a problem with this picture...
Well, at least my head is in the picture this time. Tech Tube as beanie...
... and beanie turned the other way!
Tech Tube as headband...
... and from a different angle.
Why, yes, the photographer was spinning in circles during this one.
Why do you ask?
Scarf/neck gaiter/neck warmer.
Goes great with the Sakura long sleeve, doesn't it?
In conclusion:
1. It's never too cold for INKnBURN.
2. Tech tubes are versatile, comfortable, warm, and amazingly colorful.
3. Use my discount code ("RobynToldMe") at for a one-time 15% off discount!
4. My son has a future in fashion photography. Maybe.
Thanks, everyone!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Taking an off season

It's been 5 weeks since Icebox 480, my last "goal" race of the season. After finishing 50K there, my goal was to take a true "off season". I didn't necessarily need to stop running completely, but I wanted to drop my run volume and focus on recovery and doing fun stuff. I also wanted to kick-start my winter plan to add strength work back in (stopped doing this when I broke the elbow, and continued not doing it when I was in ultra training mode), and start doing speed work. I'm happy enough going the pace I go, but I have a nagging feeling that I could be going faster. This seems like a good time to test that idea.

Here's what I've been up to since Icebox:

  • Week 1: I ran 14 miles, all slow, and did a bunch of yoga. Worked on making my left IT band better. Went to the Upper Midwest Trail Runners' awards banquet. Enjoyed the monster potluck buffet, laughed with friends, and heard hair-raising stories of the Iditarod Trail Invitational (a 350 mile race, in February, on, yup, the Iditarod Trail). No plans for that one any time soon, but wow.
  • Week 2: Ran about 21 miles, including a track workout and an incredible run at Afton in the pre-dawn 10 degrees and wind. Did my first Olympic weightlifting workout (RAWR!) and a bunch of core strength work. Ran track repeats for the first time in forever. Loved it.

Afton. The sun was barely beginning to come up as we got up to the prairie loop.

It was the first really cold weekend, and Afton Alps was making snow.
Apologies for the blurry pictures, but flash obviously wasn't going to work.

Lots of snow blowing in from the ski area.
Yes, I'm wearing two hats in this picture.

Back up to the parking lot, and into a beautiful, sunny, cold day.

  • Week 3: Ran 25 miles, including a 10K turkey trot (the Turkey Day Trail Trot at Battle Creek) and a fatass run at Afton. The turkey trot was a fun two loops through a 5K cross-country ski trail. Mostly wide trails, a couple miles of singletrack. I wanted  to negative split, and did it, running the first loop in 33:45 and the second in about 33:00. At Afton, I did about 10 miles, quite a bit faster than the week before! I had a great time running a few miles with some speedy friends who had already done one 25K loop. Even with that to slow them down, it was definitely a tempo pace for me. Fun to be up there with the front of the packers, even for a little ways! (I did catch myself thinking, "What the hell am I doing up here?!") I also did more Olympic weights and yoga.
    What am I doing in this picture?! At least my INKnBURN shirt looks good.

  • Turkey Trot pre-race. Same folks as at Afton, less clothing!
    Off to a running start!

    XC ski trails, then singletrack

    A few rolling hills through the woods
    Beginning of lap 2, and the clouds were clearing away!
    Midrace. Me: Excuse me, you've got a turkey on your head.
    Him: What?
    Me: There's a turkey on your head!
    Him: WHAT?
    Me: TURKEY!!
    Him: AAAAAAAGH!!!!!!

    • Week 4: The beginning of some seriously cold weather. Ran 25 miles, including 10 miles at Jordan's Donut Run, where the starting temperature was -11F, not including wind chill (probably more like -20 or -25 with it, by the lake). Due to timing issues, I got to Nokomis at 6:50 am and ran 2.5-ish miles, then joined up with some friends at 7:20 for a lap around Nokomis so that we could get 12K miles for the Lunch the Chicken Memorial 12Kathon. (Don't ask. Suffice it to say that Stephanie was involved again.) THEN at 8 we started the 5 mile official Donut Run route, with stops at Mel-O-Glaze and A Baker's Wife. It was definitely the coldest run I've ever done, but I was dressed for it. And it was pretty fun to do it with friends! Also, Olympic weights, strength work, yoga.
    • Beginning of the official Donut Run. Same folks again (except for Stephanie), way MORE clothing.

    Mel-O-Glaze apple fritter.
    Can you believe 50 people showed up for a run in -11 temperatures?
    I have truly found my people.
    Butter cake at A Baker's Wife. Butter. Cake.
    • Week 5 (this week): About 11 miles of running so far, planning a 3 hour run at Lebanon Hills tomorrow  morning (the longest I've run since Icebox) and a 1 hour Sunday run so will probably end up somewhere around 31 for the week. Indoor track workout yesterday, where I ran a blistering-for-me 8 min/mi pace doing 200, 400, and 600m intervals. I couldn't believe how great I felt doing this! More Olympic weights and strength work (I'm loving the muscle soreness that lasts for days afterwards). Spin class. Yoga. Having fun.
    Gotta wrap this up. More soon on deep thoughts during my "off season", things I've learned as a runner in the last year, and starting to think about plans for next year. In addition to cutting back on running, I also have had a self imposed moratorium on race planning for the last 5 weeks. It's been good to have a quiet, unstructured season and I can tell my body is responding well to the new stuff I'm trying. We'll see, but I think this is going to take me good places heading into 2014!