Friday, April 8, 2011

The running chronicles

It's time to chronicle my life as a runner.

I try to say that with confidence, but I really don't consider myself "a runner".  I run, that's true.  I picked up the habit last summer after getting talked in to doing a 5K with some friends.  I nearly puked at the end of the race.  Let's face it, when you're a desk job, two kids, not exercising besides chasing two kids around or doing marathon cleaning sessions at home kind of gal, running 3.1 miles is no easy feat.  I was almost afraid of doing the race for the weeks leading up to it.  I came home and had several Bloody Marys that day.  OK, it was the 4th of July and we were having a party, but, still, I really didn't take it with much seriousness.  And dude, running in July is HOT.

So here we are, it's April, and I have run at least once a week ever since that race.  I missed two weeks in the early winter due to IT band injury and holiday travel, but I have been out there.  In June last year there is no way you could have told me that I would have run every week, run one race a month (or more), and been so hooked that I spent most of my time online looking for the next race.

2010 was the year of the 5K for me.  A group of friends and I ran that 4th of July race together, and made a sort of pact that we would continue to race together through the year.  We chose 5K races as our races of choice, knowing that we were all novices and wanting to perfect the 3.1 mile distance.  Racing for a better time with each race, we did as we set out to do; one race every month through the year.  We did most of the races as a team.  Well, a team in the sense that we met at the starting line and then again at the finish line.  No team shirts or anything, we're not that fancy.  I think I was the only one who had a December race, taking my grand total number of races to seven.  That one was the only race I did where I didn't know anyone, but being one of 800-some Santa Clauses made it all OK.
We called ourselves Team Garmin, after the large digital time/pace/distance meters that we all wore on our wrists.  Totally gives me flash backs to the debut of the digital wrist watches of the 1980's, and all the gawky 13 year old boys sporting them while they played on their new Ataris.  Sorry, I digress.

We supported each other and congratulated each other for each of our own achievements.  It was a great race season.  As the colder temperatures set in, most of the team retreated for the comforts of indoors, sweaty gyms, and treadmills.  I, however, could not imagine being locked up inside like that.  I had to get out.  I had to run. 

So I continued through the winter to run outside.  I found a route near home that was comfortable, safe, and, for the most part, challenging.  I ran outside every week.  I battled my aching IT bands.  Hot Dad even got me a cool running jacket for Christmas, so after the new year I was even warm.

I think the coldest temp I ran in was -8F back in late Janurary or early February.  The most fun was when it snowed and I got to use my new pair of Yaktrax.  Forget running on the sand, try running in the snow.  Your legs will perhaps not thank you, but you will thank your Yaktrax for a wonderful run.

Realizing that I would not improve all that quickly running just once a week, I sought out a location that would allow me to run after my hours in the office.  Sunlight is not plentiful in the first quarter of the year here. Working full time sort of limits me to weekends to enjoy direct daylight.  My only option was the dreaded indoors.  An indoor track.  Sigh.

So, reluctantly, I joined all the Resolutioners and started running on a hamster wheel, cleverly disguised as a fitness track at a community center which caters to soccer moms and the elderly.  That first night was rough.  I haven't run on an indoor track since high school.  Honestly, there is little that is more boring than a 1/8 mile track, however I have to admit that the cast of characters that frequent the place tend to give it a little more flair.

Below the hovering hamster wheel is a large wooden floor, divided by a huge shower curtain style divider.  On one side there are youngsters with basketballs, probably wasting time after school until their parents get off the train and collect them and take them home.  On the other you have all the little girls playing out their mothers' dreams of being ballet dancers.  Usually one woman in charge of fulfilling those dreams, guiding the girls through techniques, routines, and new props with which to look flexible and graceful.  There is the stray mom on the side tending to a toddler or a smart phone.

Meanwhile, on the wheel itself you find a whole different crowd.  Made up mostly of older folks from one of the assisted living communities nearby, I could tell I was bringing down the average age by a huge margin.  Still, despite the occaisional geriatric flatulence, I found it to be at least tolerable.  Knowing that I would only have to endure this indoor thing until the weather improved and the sun stayed out later, I could do this.  It's temporary.  And it got me up to three times a week instead of one.  Super.  That's confidence.

We got hit with a blizzard in February.  This made for one of my most fun runs of the winter.  In a gentle snow fall I headed out to run through the streets of my neighborhood for a total of almost 4 miles.  With snow up to my shoulders in some spots, it was eerily serene and quiet.  There was nobody out, it was super cold, and the Yaktrax and I enjoyed a peaceful Sunday morning run.

March is pretty much the start of the running season around here.  There are random races in January and February, but none that I really felt strongly about doing.  Finally, registration opened up for races in March, and I jumped on a local Shamrock Shuffle.  It was even being held around St. Patrick's Day!  I could.not.wait.  A race, a race, a real race!!

Race day for that Shuffle was good running weather, but not good waiting for the race to start weather.  Barely in the 30's with a cool breeze, it wasn't exactly springy.  I was nervous and cold, but I knew that this was what I'd worked for all winter.  All the running in the snow and putting up with the hamster wheel had led me to this day, the first day of my racing season.  And then they shot the starting gun.  It was a good race, and a few friends were there doing the race, too.  Team Garmin was only represented by two of us, the others were too fearful of running in the cold or some crap like that.  Not hot boys, not hot.

I met my goal in that race.  I started last year at the 4th of July with a time of just over 32 minutes.  I ended last season with a best time of just over 29 minutes {for which I won first in my age bracket and got a medal, thank you!}.  I was aiming for 28 minutes in this race, and that's just what I did!  With an official time of 28:07, I did what I set out to do.  The course turned out to be slightly long, and my Garmin showed me a time of 27:51, and no matter how you look at it, I killed that race.

I am now two days away from my second race of the season, my first 8K.  I am trying to stay confident and remember that this race is going to be fun.  I'm doing the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago.  I haven't run since last Saturday due to child illness, school meeting, book club, and general fatigue through the week.  Still, I'm really excited to be doing this one.  The race and the weather fiasco surrounding it shall be another entry!  Until then....