Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Shortest Distance

...between two points is a straight line. This morning's run was one long, straight line. For a change in venue I drove up to Lakelands Trail State Park which has its western terminus in Stockbridge, about 12 miles from here. I had only ever used the trail once before, years ago, on a bike ride. I ran from the trailhead in Stockbridge east to the small town of Gregory just over 5 miles away. I started around 9:30 am so not only was it an extremely pleasant sub-60-degree temperature but I had the trail virtually all to myself. I crossed paths with only four people the whole time I was out.

I had a fierce debate with myself about how far I was going to go. These out-and-back runs can get a person into real trouble. Every mile farther east I traveled added two more miles to the total I would have to run. I was feeling quite fine and knew that 8 miles was easily doable. But that meant I would have to turn around at mile 4, and I thought, Well, that just sounds silly...surely I have enough oomph to go at least 5 or maybe even 6 miles out! Oh wait...that means I would have to run 12 miles total...uh...maybe not. I could totally picture myself just cruising along the lovely path until, uh oh, I'd gone 8 or 9 miles with that distance yet to go in the opposite direction. I am not ready to run 16 or 18 miles yet! Conveniently, I reached Gregory around mile 5.2 and decided that was far enough. I stretched a little and then turned around and headed back.

I saw all manner of birds, including an Eastern Towhee, which I believe is a bird first for me. I heard a lot of birdsong I recognized, such as house wren, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, gray catbird, song sparrow, goldfinch, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jay, chickadee. I also heard birdsong I didn't recognize and I wished I had had my binoculars because I would have liked to add those birds to my list. I did catch sight of a small dark bird trilling an unfamiliar song but it was too far away for me to get a decent positive-ID-worthy look. Not with my poor distance vision. That's all I've got: "small, dark songbird." Uh, there are, like, 100 species of those.

I got back to my car just after 11:00 and on the way back to Chelsea one of my favorite songs, "Untitled" by Interpol, came on the radio so I turned it up really loud. And then right after that was Peter Bjorn & John's "Young Folks"! An excellent run, a new bird sighting, awesome tunes, kick-ass coffee, and nothing to do for the rest of the day except relax, watch NASCAR, and crack open that bottle of Jolly Pumpkin beer that's been chilling in the fridge since yesterday. Even better, I DON'T HAVE TO GO TO WORK TOMORROW!

It's 1:45 and I'm still in my running this bad?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Race Report: Marine Corps Historic Half

Let's get this started!

After the race, showing off some of my race swag.

At last, at long last, race weekend had arrived. I started training for it in January, and I was quite ready to get on with it and see if my goal of a sub-2:00 half marathon was indeed going to happen (all suspense in regards to this is nonexistent since in my previous post I revealed the results).

Friday the 16th in the afternoon John and I headed down to the Cleveland area where we spent the night at my parents'. Saturday morning we were up early and ready to hit the road for the 400-mile trip to Virginia. I took the morning driving shift until we reached Somerset, Pennsylvania and stopped for lunch. After our lunch stop I took over the back seat of the Jetta and John took over driving duty with my dad in the passenger seat. We arrived in Fredericksburg around 4:00, checked into our hotel, and then went to the Healthy Lifestyle Expo at the convention center to pick up our race packets. While there, I saw Kathrine Switzer, who was signing copies of her book Marathon Woman. I also stopped at the Bondi Band booth where I was unable to contain my excitement at the discovery of new and heretofore unknown patterns, whereupon the sales girl pulled out A GIANT BAG FULL OF BANDS from under the table and told me I could rummage through it. I bought three more bands (I now have 16). These are the headbands you see in all of my recent race pictures. I love them. I have very unruly hair and these babies keep every strand in place. Plus, they're great for sweat control!

We watched TV for a little while and then went to sleep around 9:30 with a projected wake-up time of 5:15. I didn't have the most restful night; the room was stuffy, the bed uncomfortable, and as a general rule I never sleep well unless I'm in my own bed at home. Nonetheless, I got enough sleep to feel confident about my energy level when we awoke the next morning. It wasn't my less-than-ideal sleep or the glass of red wine I had with my spaghetti at dinner the night before or fussing with my race gear that had me in a panic in the morning. No, it was because I had an earplug stuck in my ear. Yes, dear readers, you heard that right. Like a 3-year-old who stuffs a jelly bean in his ear, I had gotten one of my earplugs (I never leave home without them) jammed too far into my right ear. Compounding this was the fact that I didn't bring my tweezers (my normal method of stuck-earplug extraction...yes, this was not the first time this had happened) and I had just cut my fingernails. Frantic scrabbling at my ear only managed to push the plug in further. I finally said, "I'll just go into Wal-Mart and buy a pair of tweezers. We're going to park in their parking lot anyway."

Post Wal-Mart shopping trip, pre-earplug removal. One hour to race.

After a successful operation in the back of the car I could finally hear properly and I wasn't going to be forced to run the race with an earplug stuck in my ear. Commence normal race morning routine.

Fussing with race bib. It has to be exactly centered, you know.

Walking to the starting line in the dawn's early light.

Probably the most vital prerace activity.

Contemplating the task at hand.

After standing around for a while, my dad and I eased into our respective start corrals and John went off to spectate. The moment was upon me.

The starting line.

My plan was to start slow and build to my intended cruising pace of 8:30-8:40/mile. I wanted to run the second half of the race faster than the first like I had been doing in training. I knew it was going to be tempting to start fast, given my excitement and the overall downhill trend of the first 10 miles. I kept myself in check for the first mile but once I got warmed up I found myself running much too quickly. I remember looking down at my Garmin and saw I was running at a 8:30 pace during mile 2. I had to slow down or I was going to flame out and not have anything left for the later stages of the race. It took me a few miles but I finally got myself under control.

Mile 1: 8:59
Mile 2: 8:40
Mile 3: 8:45
Mile 4: 8:47
Mile 5: 8:55
Mile 6: 8:58

At mile 7 we were in lovely downtown Fredericksburg, and John had taken a shuttle bus from the starting line so he could see me go by. Of course our stupid slow digital camera couldn't focus fast enough so John didn't get any pictures of me midrace. We saw each other, however, unlike at the start when I ran past him, waving and yelling, and he totally missed me.

Once I reached the halfway point of the race I told myself that now, now it was time to go faster. I felt great: very strong, not tired at all, very energetic, fresh, nice slow, deep breathing. I sucked down a Gu and some Gatorade and quickened my pace.

Mile 7: 8:40
Mile 8: 8:25
Mile 9: 9:14 (this is where I had to make a pit stop. It probably cost me 30 seconds off my finish time, but it was imperative.)
Mile 10: 8:44
Mile 11: 9:12
Mile 12: 9:17

Shortly after mile 10, the hill appeared. This was one long uphill climb from the Rappahannock River plain to higher ground. It wasn't particularly steep, just long. It lasted for almost the entire mile. At this point in the race it was taking a toll on many of my fellow runners. There were a lot of people who had slowed to a shuffle and a lot of people walking. I put my head down and ground my way up that hill without stopping. At the top there was maybe a half-mile of flat and then around mile 11.5 the final hill, which was really just a freeway overpass bridge, was in front of me. This one was by far the worse of the two major hills on the route. It was much harder. I knew, however, that once I reached the crest of the bridge and crossed the Mile 12 marker on the ground that I only had a mile and change left and why not give it everything I had? I checked my Garmin. I was on track to finish in under 2 hours. I had put enough time in the bank during the first half of the race that my slowdown in the second half would not affect me. I told my weary legs they were almost done, could they please go just a little faster and finish strong? They responded.

Almost at the finish!

I pulled out an 8:28 mile for Mile 13 of the race and ran the final 0.1 at an 8:00/mile pace. I crossed the finish line, triumphant, in 1:56:46. I had done it! I had finished in under 2 hours! I had also set a new half marathon PR; my previous half time was 2:07:30. I moved on through the finish area, collecting finisher's medal, bottle of water, commemorative towel, and got my timing chip taken off my shoe. I wandered over to the family reunion area and John joined me shortly afterwards.

In a postrace daze. I think we've all felt like this from time to time.

My dad finished in 2:07:44.

My dad and I. He's been running since before I was born and ran 5 marathons back in the 1980s. If it wasn't for him I probably never would have taken up distance running.

Once we were both done there wasn't much else to do but walk back to the car, go back to the hotel, get cleaned up and packed up and hit a nearby Waffle House for a greasy postrace breakfast (after looking over the menu I whimpered that all I wanted was a fruit salad and a bowl of oatmeal to which both John and my dad just laughed. I compromised with a veggie omelet and some whole-wheat toast). We were on the road shortly after 11:00 for the drive back to Cleveland. I zoned out and promptly fell asleep in the back seat. I definitely wasn't as tired after this half as I was after the Detroit half last fall but I was still tired. I just ran 13.1 miles, after all.

Our day's adventures weren't complete, however. Once we reached Hancock, Maryland, where I-70 comes down from Breezewood, we took a short side trip to one of the greatest road cuts known to man (or geologists, anyway): Sideling Hill. Yes, John and I got our nerd on in a big way. This road cut reveals a spectacular syncline, formed during the Alleghenian Orogeny 230-240 million years ago.

Nothing makes a couple of geologists happier than a big pile of rocks next to a highway.

Once we had gotten our fill of roadside geology, it was back to the car and homeward bound. We arrived back at my parents' around 7:00 that night and the next day John and I returned to Michigan.

Final stats:
  • 1:56:46 chip time
  • 8:55/mile average
  • 45/279 W 30-34
  • 269/1794 all women
  • 1046/3826 overall
Now what do I do? I won't start training for the Detroit Marathon until next month. I've registered for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run 10K on June 1 (anyone else from the area planning on doing something that day?). I guess I'll have to...RUN FOR PLEASURE! Oh my. I plan on doing so tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Know, I Know...

Yeah, my half marathon was three days ago and I haven't posted a race report yet. Here's the ultrafast version:
  • 1:56:46 (new PR by 11 minutes)
  • 45/279 age group
Long version with pictures hopefully coming soon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Irony Entirely Possible

I am in the process of printing out relevant documents for my trip this weekend. At the Web site of the Fredericksburg Expo & Convention Center (where the race starts and ends), there is a "Next Up at the Expo Center" banner. On the left is the Marine Corps Historic Half and the Healthy Lifestyle Expo. On the right is Mixed Martial Arts Cage Fighting (coming May 24!).


Sunday, May 11, 2008

One More Week

This morning I completed my last long run for my half marathon training: 12 miles. After yesterday's gorgeous weather today dawned gray and cool. A check of the weather radar map revealed a large storm swirling off to the south that was guaranteed to bring rain to the area. I couldn't put off this run so I dressed for the probable conditions (tights, Dri-Fit long-sleeved shirt, jacket) and hoped I would be able to get in most of the miles before the rain hit. John decided to accompany me on his mountain bike while I ran. I still carried my own Gatorade and Gu in my CamelBak because I wanted to get used to hydrating and eating on the fly during the race. We set out just after 9:00 on this route:

I decided I wanted to approach this run much like I did last week's 11-miler; that is, to run at or below my intended race pace to see how reachable my goal of a sub-2 hour half will be. I also decided I wanted to run a negative split, doing the last 6 miles faster than the first 6.

Mile 1: 9:03
Mile 2: 8:52
Mile 3: 8:57
Mile 4: 8:59
Mile 5: 9:14 (hills)
Mile 6: 8:52

Total for first half: 53:55

It was around the sixth mile when the rain that had been threatening finally made its presence known. A light sprinkle soon gave way to a steady rain and I was soon soaked. I pulled the sleeve of my Nike shirt over my Garmin to protect it and forged onward. Now I dug in for the second half of the run.

Mile 7: 8:30
Mile 8: 8:22
Mile 9: 8:22
Mile 10: 8:22
Mile 11: 8:31
Mile 12: 8:43

Total for second half: 51:23

I was surprised (and pleased) to see I had maintained the exact same pace for three straight miles. I was also pleased to see my negative split plan had worked.

Total for entire run: 12 miles, 1:44:45, 8:44/mile.

This bodes extremely well for my race plans. One week from now we will most likely be almost back to my parents' in Cleveland, another half marathon under my belt.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I Have a Problem


I had a vivid dream that I was in a running store trying to decide on a new pair of running shorts. Should I get the Asics? The Hind? The Nike? Ooh, and what's this white singlet over here?

I clearly



Thursday, May 8, 2008

Vegetable-Cheese Mini Quiches

This recipe is from my South Beach Diet cookbook and was my breakfast standby for the few months I spent on the South Beach Diet back in the fall of 2003. A few words, first, about my fling with the SBD. It was successful from a weight loss standpoint; I lost 26 pounds in about two and a half months (I went from 220 to 194. Kind of remarkable to consider that I've now lost over 40 pounds more from my lowest weight on the SBD). However, almost as soon as I faltered with the diet (wouldn't you know, right around the is impossible to avoid carbs at Christmas) the weight started creeping back on. In the end it was too restrictive. I couldn't meet its demands. Now I know that any diet that tells me I'm never allowed to eat ice cream or have pizza again for the rest of my life is a diet I want nothing to do with. I did learn some good eating habits from my stint with the SBD. I started using whole wheat pasta and brown rice. I reintroduced the vegetable side dish. But my completely sedentary lifestyle and overwhelmingly poor eating habits (brown rice notwithstanding) got me in the end.

Anyway, since I've been shaking up my routine (with startling positive results!) by switching to Core I thought I would drag this old favorite out and give it a try again. That and I ran out of fruit to mix in with my breakfast yogurt and I haven't gone to the grocery store yet this week. It has become absolutely imperative that I go tonight BECAUSE WE ARE OUT OF BOOZE. I'm talking about our normal supply of gin and vodka which are always in the freezer ready to be mixed into whatever strikes our fancy that night. This is situation critical, people. I can't even have a Cosmo after work, for crying out loud. Cranberry juice plus Cointreau and a splash of lime juice just...isn't...the...same. We drank the last two beers in the house last night while eating popcorn and watching Kill Bill: Vol. 2 which is a Netflix disc that has been sitting around for about a month. (Speedy Netflix turnaround is not our forté.) Needless to say, without the gin or vodka (my base of choice), well, our liquor cabinet doesn't really lend itself to much. We have a lot of weird stuff (Dubonnet (rouge et blanc), Pernod, Chartreuse (green and yellow), Galliano, Midori, Limoncello (and Orangecello), Amaretto, Frangelico, Chambord, Calvados, Grand Marnier, various vermouths, blue Curacao, Tuaca, Kirschwasser, a large selection of the crème de family, and some other things lurking at the very back of the cupboard which I am sure I am forgetting) which are all quite tasty...but not by themselves. Ever had green Chartreuse straight up? Yuck!

On to the quiches:

  • 1 10-oz box frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup reduced-fat or fat-free shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup egg substitute
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin(s) with 12 foil cups (very important to use FOIL as the paper ones will turn into a big soggy mess, which I learned through highly aggravated experience).

Microwave frozen spinach (sans foil wrapper but still in box) on high for 2 1/2 minutes. Remove spinach from box into a strainer and press out excess water.

Combine spinach, onion, bell pepper, cheese, and egg substitute in a bowl. Distribute evenly among foil liners. If you want, top off each cup with a bit more egg substitute. I did it because I had half of the pint carton left and just wanted to use it up. Hey, it's egg substitute, so it's not bad for me, right? Besides, the extra layer of egg substitute on top kind of makes them look more like real quiches.

Bake for 20 minutes, cool, then remove quiches foil and all. They keep nicely in a sealed container in the fridge and are very portable. Just remember to remove the foil when microwaving! I find that 20 seconds on high makes them nice and toasty.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Hit 65...Can I Retire Now?

Wait...wrong kind of 65. Not 65 years but 65 pounds. That's how much I have lost on Weight Watchers. Oh my, you should have heard the clapping and cheering that erupted in the room when my award was announced. I was unable to do much more than sit there with a big shit-eating grin on my face. Then I got a little gold "5" star to put in my logbook. (We get gold stars for each 5-pound increment. It's totally elementary school!) Then I said a few words about how I stay motivated after being on the program for so long.

Not an hour later I was at the School of Music auditioning for a part in an upcoming production of Don Giovanni (Mozart). I sang "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" which is an aria from that opera. My voice is a little out of shape these days as I am not taking lessons and practicing, but it's hard to undo four and a half years of training. My voice knows what it's supposed to do, and I pulled it off well enough to be offered a part in the chorus on the spot. Hallelujah! Finally, I get to actually sing in an opera! I was in Michigan Opera Theater's production of La Boheme some years ago as a supernumerary (nonspeaking onstage role) and that was a fantastic experience, but I yearned to be on stage and singing. I will finally get that chance!

For those of you who don't know, my other passion in life is singing. Yes, I have something else that's near and dear to my heart besides running. I am a professionally-trained classical singer and the great dream of my life is not to qualify for Boston (though that would be nice), it is to be an opera singer. I would like to have a career as a professional singer more than anything else. At my age, however, I realize that my window of opportunity is probably closed, and I won't ever have an international career. I can, however, indulge my love of singing on a smaller scale in things such as Arbor Opera Theater's production of Don Giovanni and the occasional impromptu living room concert.

In other news, this morning was an absolutely perfect morning for my five-mile run. It couldn't have been any better. Ambient temperature was about 58 degrees, no breeze, sun just starting to gild the tops of the trees along the cemetery driveway as I passed by. I took it easy and did the 5.25 miles at about a 9:25/mile pace.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Friday morning I sacrificed about a half cup of my precious blood in the name of science. I got paid $20 for the privilege of allowing my blood to be used in a genetics study. I was (as I suspect I will be for most studies) a normal control, the "healthy volunteer." It was a nice way to make some extra cash. I'm holding out hope that I may get involved some kind of megabucks-paying exercise physiology study. I'd love to have my VO2 max calculated, to run on a treadmill for a while with things beeping and spitting out numbers all over the place. A girl can dream.

So there I was back at the U of M hospital for the first time since I had surgery lo those many months ago. The day I met with my surgeon, a visit which ended with a blizzard of paperwork and endless long trips up and down the hallways from one department to another because I was going to have surgery in two weeks, was one of the great days of my life. I wandered from lab to lab in a daze, a fog of disbelief and extreme happiness because it was finally happening, I can't believe this is actually happening, I'm having surgery, I'm having surgery, I'm going to finally get well, oh my God, I'm finally going to be well.

Three hours in the bowels of the U of M hospital and I went home with a giant wad of papers and instructions and forms and a bag containing a box with a concoction called HalfLytely, the consumption thereof being one of the most unpleasant experiences ever.

What a difference 15 months I was at the hospital so they could pay me, not the other way around, and how often does that happen? I am in fabulous condition, 40 pounds lighter than I was on the day of surgery, infinitely happier and healthier.

In other news, I had a superb training run on Sunday, during which I ran at or below my target half marathon pace (9:09) for each mile and averaged 8:59 for the 11-mile distance. This bodes extremely well for my sub-2:00 goal at the Marine Corps Historic Half, which is coming up in TWO WEEKS! I can't believe it! 14 weeks of training down, just a shade less than 2 to go.

I am already thinking about doing the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run two weeks later. I don't know which distance I would like to do: 10K or half marathon. If through some catastrophe I do not achieve my goal at the Marine Corps half (urgh) I would like to attempt to do so at the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Unofficial Milestone

My highest recorded weight was 223 lbs (pre-Weight Watchers).

Yesterday morning I weighed myself. 153 lbs.

I have lost 70 pounds. 70. I can't even wrap my head around that number. That's like, an entire small child.

After being on a plateau for so long I changed two things: I began exercising in the morning and I switched to the Weight Watchers Core program. You know that saying about how "doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity?" Well, clearly doing the same thing over and over wasn't working for me, so I changed everything.

And it's working. Man, is it ever working. With the Core program, I do not have to track Points and only eat a certain number of daily Points based on my weight. I eat foods from the Core Food List and I can eat generous portions of them (but not to the point of stuffing myself; I still have to practice portion control). I think I desperately needed the additional fuel and my diet is leaner and more vegetable-heavy than ever (and good thing, too, since my weekly boxes from my farm share start rolling in at the end of this month).

Next week's weigh-in will be a big one, as I fully expect to drop the 2.4 lbs from my Tuesday weigh-in of 155.6 and reach the 65-lbs lost mark on the program.

I admit to being somewhat thrilled by the attention I get at meetings during "awards time." At this point I am the biggest loser in my meeting group. Someone in my meeting even told me I was her "Weight Watchers idol." I probably blushed and looked sheepish. I am pleased, though, that my success might have a positive effect on the other members. When I first started, I was awed by the people in my meeting who had lost 40, 50, or 60 pounds. I fervently hoped I would be able to do the same. If they could do it, certainly I could, too.

And now I have.