Training in the Rinax marshlands

17 07 2012

Not really.  It just feels like it sometimes.

So here is the obligatory Star Trek reference:
Neelix, the cook and self-proclaimed “chief morale officer” on the starship USS Voyager, is a Talaxian whose  home planet has a moon called Rinax which contains marshlands where the climate is said to reach 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer with 90% humidity.  OK, so it’s not quite that bad here. But if I don’t start using sunscreen on a more regular basis, I’ll probably end up looking like him.

Anyway, it has been a fairly uneventful training week.  No races scheduled, just a lot of heat and sunshine.

Tuesday, July 10 – Rode 20 miles on the bike in 1:45 then did a 3.1 mile run.  Although my goal for the inaugural ride was just “to get used to the new bike,” I found myself wanting to make it go faster.  I’m still not sure how to work all the different gears though.  I’d get it up to a speed where I couldn’t pedal anymore and then had to coast.  My legs got so used to the effort it took to power my big old cruiser, that this bike seems easy by comparison.  I think the guy at the Trek store was right when he told me “you’re gonna be a beast on this bike.”  I like that!  And I know now why they call it a “brick” when you ride first and then run:   that’s what your feet feel like the first few dozen steps after biking.

Wednesday, July 11 – 5.15 miles run.  I had intended 6 but got out of the house late.  Oh the joy winning a lottery would bring!  In the meantime, I’ll keep getting to work on time and fit in the workouts as I can.  I truly envy people who can work out at night.  My job drains every last ounce of mental and physical vigor from my body.  By the time I get home, I’m about as energetic as a slug on Quaaludes.

Thursday, July 12 – Really crappy sleep last night.  It was supposed to be a weights day but I rested instead.  Too tired to function, too cranky to care.

Friday, July 13 – Biked 1 hour then ran 30 minutes. I tried different shoes today to see if it made running seem easier.  Not necessarily.  It’s eerie how I felt so incredibly slo-o-o-ow.

Saturday, July 14 – There was supposed to have been a 14.3 mile long run today, except I overslept by 2 hours.  Yeah, I guess I was tired and needed the sleep but it pissed me off anyway.  Then the heat prevented me from doing much once I got started.  I made it about 6 miles and called it a day as far as running.  I did venture to spend some time on the bike afterwards but, with the combination of my old right carpal tunnel issue suddenly flaring up, a little neck arthritis joining the parade and my sore butt not liking the seat much, ended up heading back home after three miles.  So I went into the City to join friends at the Irish Fest and listened to music instead.  At least I got my Smithwick’s-drinking training done.

Sunday, July 15 – an off day:  brunch with friends then errands

Monday, July 16 – 30 minutes run, then 45 minutes on the bike before work.  Next goal: make this bike go faster.  It used to take all my effort to get the White Elephant (as I now fondly call my old one) up to 15-16mph.  Like I said before, the new one is a breeze by comparison and I find myself with leg power to spare. I guess I’ll study up on all those rings and chains now.  The old bike had a display with numbers for each gear.  The new one has none so I’ll have to do it by feel.  Next time I ride for sure.

And that’s it for now.

Lured in as if by tractor beam

10 07 2012

A few years ago when I was a fledgling runner, I thought the end-all and be-all of my existence was an annual half-marathon.  Once this feat had been accomplished however I would always experience a bit of a let-down and find myself wondering what to do with the rest of the year.  Then somewhere — I think possibly in Outside Magazine — I read an article about a year-round fitness regimen and a new vision began to take shape.  Since I wasn’t really thrilled with running in the hot summers and puttering in my garden didn’t provide the same endorphin rush as pushing my body to its limits in sport, I seized upon a notion to work on strength in the winter, running in the spring/fall and biking in the summer.  Never having done a bicycle event in my life, Old Impulse-Control-Issues Me declared an autumn century ride to be the perfect next training goal after the annual half.  And I do believe this will be the year to finally follow through.

With that in mind, I signed up for the 2012 North Shore Century on September 23.  What I liked about this event was the range of distances available (100, 70, 62, 50 and 25 miles) and the fact that it was described as “family-friendly,” which to me signaled riders of all ages and abilities were welcome.  I felt  like this guaranteed:  (1) I shouldn’t feel too terribly much like I didn’t fit in with the crowd, and (2) there would be various “safety net” distances I could drop into should I not be up to the entire 100 miles.

Having investigated these bicycle outings a bit further since then, I now realize there is way more to them than merely showing up on a bike and pedaling.  In my research, I have encountered terms like “pace line”, “drafting” and “big/small chainring”, each one of which I greeted with a quizzical “huh?” followed by a slight cramp in the stomach.  I mean, I’m still not entirely sure what all 21 of the damn speeds are supposed to be used for.   And then there was the next-door neighbor who immediately dissed my bike when I told him about my goal (and prompted the “don’t underestimate me” rant I posted maybe a month ago).   So I realize I do have much to learn and indeed far to go.   But that’s okay.  It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t bite off early more than I realize later I might be able to chew so I’m feeling quite at home with all of this right about now.

I did go out and buy a new bike.  It meant postponing my dental work but hey, a girl has to have her priorities.   And mine apparently don’t include Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos (or better teeth).

But isn’t she gorgeous?!  My new Trek Lexa XLS.  Once my big fluffy behind gets used to straddling that little bony seat, we are going to tear up these roads!

And new bike or not, I am also not stupid enough to show up a total virgin at this Century, so I registered for a couple of other rides in which to practice the new skills I’m going to need.  The first is Venus de Miles, the all-girl 25-or-61 miler, on July 29, and the multi-distance Bike Psycho Century on August 26.  So, what the hell.  Here we go with new bike in hand and training plan on the calendar boldly riding where my fat ass ain’t never gone before.

Lured in as if by tractor beam, I begin my Century training.



After the Anchorage half-marathon on Saturday, June 23, I took almost the entire next week off although I did do a lot of walking around on vacation.

Friday, June 29 – 45 minutes easy on the bike.

Saturday, June 30 –17 miles on the bike with some gentle inclines

Sunday, July 1 – I ran 5 ½ miles in the forest preserve near the house.  Still getting re-acclimated to the heat, I was pretty slow but I salvaged the workout by doing a few hills and then ran negative splits the last 1/3 of the outing.

Monday, July 2 – OFF

Tuesday, July 3 – The day got away from me due to chores and errands, and then it was 100 degrees outside (the first of three deadly hot days).  I had to do something so I spent 35 minutes outdoors on the bike after dinner.

Wednesday, July 4 – Four on the Fourth race in Elmhurst, IL.  We started at 7:15 and it was already 89 degrees by the time I crossed the finish line less than an hour later.  Scorching day!

Thursday, July 5 – 16.5 miles on the bike, a couple of pretty impressive hills

Friday, July 6 – 11.5 miles on the bike, mostly easy stuff around the subdivisions

Saturday, July 7 – OFF

Sunday, July 8 – 13.1 miles walk/jog, it cooled off outside but was still too hot to really “run”.  Yeah… so crazy for half-marathons,  I made up my own and did it.

Monday, July 9 – Active rest; worked in the garden for an hour before work

Tuesday, July 10  – Today.  First day on the new bike.  I’ll be back with details later.

Race Report: 39th Annual Anchorage Mayor’s Half Marathon 2012

2 07 2012

The 39th annual Mayor’s Marathon was held on June 24, 2012, in Anchorage on one of the hottest race days in memory (according to a few local runners), and I couldn’t help but feel it was my fault.  After all, when I ran the January 2010 Walt Disney World Half in Orlando, it ended up 34 degrees with sleet in supposedly balmy Florida.  Go figure!  I guess if I was a mutant, I’d have to be Storm.

Race weekend, as always, started with the Expo.  Unlike the Rock & Roll Series or some of the large events in Chicago (where I live about 50 miles outside the city), this was a modest affair held at the Sheraton in Anchorage.  A handful of booths promoted the usual attire, products and services, but the coolest attraction was the chance to be photographed with a real live moose.  Sort of.

Along with a Youth Cup, contests on race day included a full marathon (individual as well as 4-person relay), a half and a five mile race.  I did the half-marathon which started, along with the 5 miler, at the West High School at 9:00 a.m. Saturday.  The marathon’s starting point was located at Bartlett High School a few miles away.  Although the half and the full marathon started in different locations, they shared a common finish line.

I got to the venue at about 8:00 in order to scope things out and warm up.  As my fellow runners gathered and we clustered near the start, the first thing  I noticed was porta potty lines long and number of facilities a bit short so I made sure to get nature’s call sorted out before joining the crowd.  Soon the emcee began the standard announcements and indicated that 48 states as well as D.C. were represented at this year’s event with the largest number ever of Alaskan runners present.  A cheer spread throughout the crowd and the enthusiasm made me smile.  At about 8 minutes before the gun, we stopped to listen to a recording of possibly the Alaska state song (since we don’t do this in Illinois, I wasn’t sure what was going on at first) followed by the Star Spangled Banner.  Then the surge of participants continued toward the start line to wait for the race to begin.

I had read a race report a few months earlier which commented on lack of organization among runners at the line and how tough it was to wade through the charity walkers scattered at the starting area.  Finding this to be true, I tried to squeeze in somewhere near the back without getting stuck in the last tiers.  I am not fast by any means but I didn’t want to lose time by having to fight my way to my own pace group.  It seemed like people were spread out all over the place and it wasn’t easy to decide where to stand.  As we neared the final moments before the gun, they played “We Are the Champions” by Queen and “Rock & Roll” by Gary Glitter, two great songs to rev up that running motor.  Immediately before the gun sounded, the actual Mayor of Anchorage turned up to announce the start.  I was pleasantly surprised by that.  Even with the moniker of “Mayor’s” race I would never expect to see Rahm Emanuel if it was held in Chicago, so I found it quite nice (and his hair was perfect).

Gun having fired, off we went.  Runners, walkers and crazy moms with jog strollers, we sorted ourselves out and took off through the neighborhood.  As the crowd thinned out, we wound down Northern Lights Boulevard for probably about three miles.  I spotted several people in costume:  the usual tutus and fairy princesses among the girls and a variety of animals among the guys, including Mr. Moose here who posed for several fellow runners:

 At Mile 2  was an orchestra ensemble serenading us on a corner.

Closing in on Mile 3, I noticed people stopping and snapping photos at the sky.  There was an eagle on the utility pole.

My cell phone camera doesn’t have a good zoom but I tried:  

A short distance more and we turned off along the Coastal Trail and the vista changed from urban to glorious Alaskan countryside.  Despite all the photo ops, I was still making decent time at this point.  It was warm for Alaska (with a high of 72 degrees on June’s hottest day) but the sun wasn’t at its peak yet and the few early hills were modest.  Aid stations were plentiful, being located at 2.6, 4.8, 6.5, 8.2, 10, and 11.5 miles, and each participated in a contest for originality and enthusiasm which could gain them a $500 prize.  It was nice to be offered pretzels and orange slices along with sports drink and water.  A couple of stations had gummy bears, and one even featured a singer wailing a version of “Dream On” a la Steven Tyler.

It must have been somewhere around mile 7 that we passed the airport runway and the muscle cramps began.  I had done well in the increasing heat and was careful to drink enough, but I really hadn’t had much for breakfast and I was starting to get hungry.  My food focus this entire year has been on weight loss and it was thus a bit of a task for me to increase calories in the days preceding the race.  Both thighs began to curse me for that poor choice at around this point in the run.

After passing the airport we continued on for some time and then turned off into a forest where we left the road entirely and took to the trails.  I scarfed down a Clif Bar which brought me respite from fatigue but my legs were still painful  – not so severe as to stop me but enough to dampen my spirits a bit.  The cool and shade of the forest was refreshing and kept the heat at bay for a few miles.

At one point we found ourselves on a crowded paved path which was shared with the general public, and a disconcerting dance with the bicyclists began.  Approaching us from both front and rear, they zoomed past leaving breezes and sometimes impatience in their wake.  Unfortunately, a teenage girl riding with her family tried to weave between the runners but lost control and fell to the ground with a pitiful shriek.  Several runners and I turned to help her but her mom waved us off, saying “it’s okay, I’ve got it, I’ve got it.”  So awkwardly forward we went.

Mile 10 arrived to find me walking more than running.  I was hot and tired and my left IT band felt like someone was holding a cheese grater to it.  The marathoners’ course had merged with ours and an aid station volunteer cheerily called out to them: “only 16 more miles to go!”  For a split second, my blood ran cold.  “16 miles!” I thought, “are you freakin kidding me?!”  Then my mind registered reality and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Passing the mile marker, a girl asked me to take her photo beside it.  I obliged and we fell in together for a short distance.  She was visiting from Washington DC and, like me, was a “slow runner” who enjoyed destination races.  We chatted a while and walked along but I soon felt the urge to push on at a faster clip.  Cramps be damned, I just needed to finish.  So I picked up the pace and bade her farewell heading along solo for the final 5k.

Onward I went running and walking in no specific pattern, all thoughts of a PR having wilted under the sun many miles previous.  The final ½ mile of the course was a steep uphill dichotomy, brutal and hopeful all at the same time.  And then there it was:  the finish line.

I cruised across the finish as the announcer mispronounced my name and a volunteer handed me a medal.  Fatigued and exhilarated, hungry and happy, I ambled off toward cold water bottles and a large chunk of cinnamon bread with butter from Great Harvest Bakery.  There was a beer garden and plenty of festivities to enjoy but I had a cabin waiting for me at Denali and therefore no time to tarry.

Overall, the Mayor’s Marathon proved to be a fun outing and a race I would consider again if I didn’t have 38 more states on my bucket list.  Despite the crowded start line, annoying moms with jog strollers and dangerous mingling with leisure bikers, the route was a pleasant one (even with the killer hill at the end).  The scenery was gorgeous, the aid stations were plentiful and the after party looked promising.  Other than a bit more typical Alaska weather, I couldn’t have asked for more.  How did I do timewise?  I really couldn’t say.  My bib chip didn’t register and I wasn’t accurate with my Garmin so I simply must assume that it was “good enough.”