Categories
Running

A Runner Returns

I moved to New York City fresh out of college, but it wasn’t until January 16, 2012 – at the ripe old age of 26 and two months – that I finally felt like an adult.

That night – instead of searching out free happy hours, discount chicken wings and the poor life decisions of a 20-something enjoying independence and a paycheck at the same time – I tagged along to a Kathleen Edwards concert at Tarrytown Music Hall with some of my older/wiser/more cultured friends. There were no cheap beers, no sparkly tops and no next-day hangovers, and it felt like the most respectable, grown-up outing I’d attended since relocating to (and quickly adopting the mantra of) the city that never sleeps.

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In fact, here I am at a boozy costume party just months before with two random co-workers, one of whom I would eventually marry. 

My friends Beth and Karsten probably remember the evening in Tarrytown for the great music, the fantastic company and the fact that Edwards cursed so fervently between sets that the radio station hosting the event feared it wouldn’t get enough material to string together a PG-13 show.

But what has stuck with me most these last eight (8!) years was something else entirely: a seemingly inconsequential conversation with my friend Karsten on the drive to Westchester County. I don’t know why it’s so seared into my memory, but I vividly recall him asking as we left Manhattan what I’d done that day.

“Oh nothing,” I remember telling him. “I just ran four miles.”

“Four miles isn’t nothing,” he insisted. He was adamant that my Central Park loop was an impressive distance and something worth celebrating.

I disagreed. I was gearing up for my first marathon, regularly clocking 12-milers before breakfast, and I knew he couldn’t possibly mean it. Four miles was child’s play, I remember thinking. Four miles was embarrassing. Four miles was n-o-t-h-i-n-g. I spent so much time obsessing over distance running in my mid 20s – reading blogs, tracking mileage, comparing my training logs to strangers’ – that I truly, honestly thought four miles of running didn’t. even. count.

Oh, how wrong I was. But it took a life changing year to understand it.

Also a life-changing year for concert-goers Beth and Karsten, turns out.

After almost a decade of running, I stopped cold turkey last spring when I got pregnant. My doctor didn’t make me, but I felt heavy and tired and bloated, and my favorite sport simply didn’t appeal anymore. And after an entire year off, getting back into the swing of things with a new body has been tougher than I ever imagined.

Last month, after getting the post-partum clear from my doctor, I went out for a crawling 15-minute jog – and was subsequently sidelined for the next week with searing pain near my C-section scar. When I finally worked up the courage to try again, I only made it a mile then walked back home. I asked my doctor’s office whether there was a solution to my running-related abdominal pain, and the nurse’s response was a slap in the face: “Well, maybe you just shouldn’t run then.”

So I took off a few more weeks, focusing instead on stretching and strength and recovery. And eventually, I made it on a full 1-mile run, without pain. Then I did a 2-mile run. Earlier this week, I notched it up to a 3-mile run.

And today, pulling off a feat that seemed impossible just a month ago, I hit that elusive 4-mile mark.

Coach Lucille checks the splits.

I don’t care about my pace — all I know is that did it. And you know what, Karsten? You’re right. It’s not nothing after all.

It’s something.

Categories
babies Running

My 2019 Marathon

The phrase “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” may be one of the most overused cliché expressions in the world, alongside the cringeworthy “everything happens for a reason,” the phony “I hope you’re well,” and the totally deceitful “I don’t want fries – I’ll just have one of yours.” Sure, pal. One.

Don’t get me wrong: Advising a friend to think like a marathoner and not a sprinter makes sense in theory – take it slow, make a plan, think long term, etc. But when the idiom pops up everywhere from PR pitches to HR trainings to boozy nights out, it starts to feel a bit stale. Case in point: Having run four 26.2-mile events and attended countless bachelorette parties – both of which are said to be marathons, not sprints – I can assure you they have very little in common besides a desperate need for Gatorade the following morning. And the clever t-shirts. And the high-fiving strangers. And the inevitable post-event cheeseburger. Ok, fine, I guess they’re the same thing after all.

Still, I was surprised when I after nine months of waiting, I arrived at the hospital in mid-December and everyone kept telling me I was actually there for a marathon – which I guess is overused idiom-speak for a baby. (Did I mention I was having a baby?)

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Reluctant big sister.

First, the nurse in triage suggested I get some sleep because the birth process isn’t a sprint. Then one in the delivery room ordered rest for the very same reason as my contractions hit the 12-hour mark. After a third offered identical advice as I took some of my first post-delivery steps, I started to wonder if I was hallucinating all the blatant repetition (those epidurals ARE magical after all.)

But the more I think about it, maybe they were right. I mean, no one gave me a medal or a poncho at the end of this particular “marathon,” but I did get to shuffle home in excruciating pain with a memento to help me remember it all (in this case, our son), so I guess there’s some overlap there after all. And maybe that’s not all. Behold: why having a baby is like running a marathon, written by a poorly rested new mother, so please be kind:

  1. You’ll spend months preparing for the big day but that doesn’t mean it will go according to plan. Much like a marathon, you’ll want to go into childbirth with several tiers of goals. For races, I usually have an A goal (a new PR), a B goal (a sub-4-hour finish) and a C goal (smile at a bunch of strangers and try not to die.) Same for labor. My A goal was to have a baby in just four hours like my mom had me (fail) and B goal was to deliver a healthy baby with no weird complications (also fail). Luckily, I achieved my C goal, which, consequently, was the same for both events – smile at a bunch of strangers and try not to die. Success!
  2. Recovery is no joke. Marathoning wreaks havoc on your body, and apparently so does having a 9+ pound child sliced from your womb. Give yourself time to heal and be patient with your progress.
  3. In both races and childbirth, someone entrepreneurial will take advantage of your weakened state and try to sell you overpriced photos after the fact – and you’ll cave because you don’t feel like photoshopping the watermark out of the free teaser images.
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Honestly, what do I need with all these professional photos of tiny feet?

But the main reason labor is basically channeling your inner Pheidippides? Because they say you aren’t ready to run a marathon again until you’ve forgotten the last one, and boy, do I have a lot of forgetting time left! 🙂

Categories
Running Training

Party Like It’s 1997

I might be biased by the fact that I was a very impressionable twelve years old, but 1997 was a true golden age of music.

The world gave us so many hits that year: Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping, the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony and Backstreet Boys’ Quit Playing Games (With My Heart), to name a few. We got P. Diddy’s I’ll Be Missing You, Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life and Hanson’s MMMBop, and yes, I’ve seen two out of three of those musical acts in concert (and no, one of them wasn’t Sean Combs.)  And let’s not forget that five minute and eleven second long soundtrack version of My Heart Will Go On that graced airwaves, my family’s communal CD player and pre-teen piano music recitals for months on end as we imagined life aboard the Titanic and debated why Leo didn’t try at least one more time to get on that extremely buoyant door.

I believe I’m 11 in this photo, not 12, but 1. you get the picture and 2. what I wouldn’t give to still own that amazing velvet, pink headband.

But while billboard-topping hits including Spice Girl’s Wannabe and R. Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly Aqua’s Barbie Girl still sometimes find their way onto my upstate dance party play lists, the piece of 1997 poetry that I probably think about most often is that hypothetical commencement speech Wear Sunscreen.

Written as an essay for the Chicago Tribune in 1997 and recorded two years later as a spoken-word radio hit produced by none other than Romeo+Juliet director Baz Luhrmann, it gave listeners unsolicited advice like “do one thing every day that scares you” and “keep your old love letters; throw away your old bank statements.”

It’s chock full of wisdom, but the line that pops into my head on a nearly daily basis is this one: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” Last spring, when I was considering applying for a job that would require a cross-country move (to Southern California, but still), I wondered quite a bit whether my more than a decade in NYC had made me, as they say, “hard.”

It’s certainly made me an excellent photographer.

And in some ways, I it has: I have no patience for families walking three-abreast down a city street, I jaywalk like it’s my job and I secretly plot to destroy anyone standing still on the left side of an escalator. I’m not a monster: I’ll always try to help a perplexed tourist reading a subway map upside down. But I also once mashed a baby cockroach with my bare fist while drunkenly making post-bar grilled cheese in my cousin’s Brooklyn apartment, so yeah, you could say I’ve toughened up.

That is, I THOUGHT I’d toughened up. And then the temperature dropped to negative 9 degrees this past week, and I realized just how soft I really am.

Normally, Mongolian-like winter temperatures wouldn’t be a big deal: bundle up, stay indoors and binge watch Sex Education, which is so, so good but (public service announcement) too full of nudity to watch on an airplane or with your dad. But I made the mistake last fall of entering a game of chance I never expected to win — the NYC Half Marathon lottery – and accidentally secured myself a spot in the March 17 event.

WHAT HAVE I DONE

Or in other words, not running in this frigid, cruel February isn’t really an option, at least not if I want to try for my 14th (?) sub-2:00 finish.

So I’ve made myself a deal: when it’s so cold that frostbite is a real possibility, I’m doing the unthinkable and churning out my workout on my robot nemesis, the treadmill. But when it’s 25 degrees and up, I’m layering on the Spandex, channeling my inner Bernese mountain dog, and getting outside for my miles, icicles and all.

“The Bernese mountain dogs of the world have voted and we’re never coming inside again. Please leave our kibbles in the snow.”

And yes, I’m wearing sunscreen while I do it.

How is your arctic training going?

Categories
Running

Ghosts of Bloggers Past

Have you ever been ghosted? No, I’m not talking about throwing romantic ceramics with Swayze, may he rest in peace. And I’m not talking about use of this emoji, which is the only proper way to punctuate the phrase “I’m so hungry I could die.” And I’m not talking about hiding under a white sheet with holes cut out of the eyes and waiting for the Great Pumpkin a la Linus van Pelt.

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These aren’t the bones you’re looking for.

I’m talking about ghosting in the 2018 sense — or the soul-crushing feeling when someone you’d been talking with completely falls off the face of the planet without any advanced warning or the common decency to say good-bye. From what I hear, it’s a big problem with online dating. It’s also a big problem on this blog.

Hello again, friends. Sorry to have ghosted you these last three months.

It wasn’t intentional, I swear. I’m alive — and maybe even well, depending on your loose reading of the definition.

But I’ve just been so gosh-darn busy that I haven’t had the time to sit down and put thoughts to paper, at least not the coherent and punny ones that you’ve come to expect from me. I suppose I could have just posted a bi-monthly series of Lucille photos without any text connecting them (who’d have known the difference, honestly?) but I didn’t want to steal thunder from her own lifestyle blog: The Fast and the Furriest.

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“It’s password protected.”

To be sure, I didn’t disappear because I had nothing to say. On the contrary, I could’ve posted nearly every day since March, on topics as vast ranging as how to give a matron of honor speech that’ll leave the bride in tears (hint: make sure everyone’s drinking a lot) to how to be the most hungover alumni the Sunday of your college reunion.

Other topics of expertise this spring: drive-in double features, planting a garden, starting a dream job or running your 14th sub-2-hour half marathon despite having zero time to train and then being unable to sit for two straight days due to crippling hip pain. Aren’t your thirties fun?

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The home team cheer squad.

Now I can’t promise I won’t disappear again — this new job really is kicking my butt and our new upstate hammock won’t rock itself — but I’ll try to keep the honest-to-god ghosting to a minimum. I also promise to keep the LuBear photos flowing, because that’s what we’re all really here for, now isn’t it?

Sorry again to disappear for three month. How has YOUR past fiscal quarter been?

Categories
Running

Excuse Me: I’m Streaking Here

I’ve googled A WHOLE LOT of things this year, from presidential lines of succession to alpha-dog behaviors to whether a human and bear can ever truly be friends (spoiler alert: they can’t.)

But the thing I’ve surely asked the internet most often this year is a telling sign of my often-wavering commitment to fitness: “Should I go for a run today?”

If you saw my internet browsing history, you’d think I’m always looking for an excuse to get out of my morning workout. (You’d also think I have an unhealthy level of curiosity about Bernedoodles, and you’d be right.)

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This is the world’s most adorable equation.

Seriously though. When I wake up with a sore throat, I immediately consult the internet for validation it’s OK to stay in bed. When the temperature falls below 15 degrees, I always ask Jeeves if it’s safer to just take the morning off. When I feel the beginning of shin splints, I confirm online it’s cool to lay low for as many days as needed. I’m always asking if I should go for a run today, and I can usually find a credible excuse to bag it.

That is, until I started my holiday running streak. (Read more about that here.) By committing to run every single day between Thanksgiving and Christmas — no excuses — I suddenly transformed my constant refrain from the wavering “Should I go for a run today?” to a new, happier mantra: “When should I go for a run today?

Amazing how just a single word can transform a sentence.

[Kind of like: “My childhood bedroom featured an original Michelangelo” is just a tad different than “My childhood bedroom featured an original Michelangelo … turtle.” No less valuable though, I assure you. But I digress.]

Changing my mindset from “will I run” to “when will I run” these last few weeks has been an eye opener. When I know skipping isn’t on the table, working out suddenly feels more like a gift and less like a chore. It also means I’ve had to get creative: logging treadmill miles when it’s freezing or doing hill sprints in the light of my husband’s headlights at night or jogging in place in the living room during a snow storm while watching the hands-down very-best episode of Boy Meets World ever.

More of my runs during this streak have been 1-milers instead of the 3-5 milers I’d been hoping for, but I haven’t thrown in the towel — even with shin splits, holiday hangovers and a Bernese who’d rather snuggle than go for a jog.

Funny how finding time to run isn’t so hard when not finding it isn’t an option. Funny, too, how our dog thinks she weighs 12 pounds.

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I’m a lap dog, seriously.

Here’s to my final streak week! Who’s also still going strong?

Categories
Running

Streaking in a Winter Wonderland

As the excruciatingly painful Frozen “short” being forced upon innocent movie-goers before Pixar’s lovely feature film Coco tells us, it’s the time of year for traditions.

Whether your family’s traditions involve eating fruitcake or baking cookies or pounding tallboys at the Hanson brothers’ Christmas concert, this season unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with another holiday tradition I just can’t shake: holiday weight gain.

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(Also, loving Taylor Hanson. I’ll wait for you. Don’t tell Ben.)

The New York Times said it best in this poignant October 2016 article entitled “This Is Probably the Least You’ll Weigh All Year. Sorry.” The gist: U.S. adults’ weights tend to bottom out in in mid-autumn before peaking around New Years. It takes until April for most Americans to erase their extra holiday pounds.

“Instead of trying to come up with a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, it’s a whole lot better to maybe have an Oct. 1 resolution to gain less in the first place,” said one expert quoted in the story who clearly majored in obvious but difficult-to-pull-off observations in grad school.

I’ll be the first to admit it: keeping slim during the holidays is extremely difficult. From candy canes and spritz cookies to buttered rum and eggnog, the temptations are everywhere. Just look at the massively delicious pies served (and quickly polished off) at my Thanksgiving dinner of seven!

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My sister-in-law makes better dessert that your sister-in-law.

Some healthy eating blogs will tell you the only way to avoid December weight creep is to avoid holiday temptations altogether. “Don’t drink liquid calories at holiday parties,” they say. “Bring your own crudité plate to ensure there’s something healthy you can eat.” “Fill up on protein before walking by the dessert table.”

That’s probably good advice, and if you have the willpower to follow it, by all means, proceed. But if you’re like me and you actually WANT to indulge in some holiday treats without feeling guilty about it (and without needing maternity pants), might I propose another solution.

Instead of eating less this holiday season, why not just commit to exercising more? Weight = calories in – calories out, and while science shows it’s a little more complex than that, moving more to counteract eating more is a pretty good rule of thumb.

There are plenty of ways to pull it off. Maybe you park at the far end of the parking lot when Christmas shopping. Maybe you start a game up pick-up football with your fam. Maybe you go ice-skating, snow-shoeing, tobogganing or take your winter-loving friend for a cold-weather hike.

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Follow the leader.

Or if you’re a runner like me, maybe you commit to a holiday running streak. That’s what I’m doing this year — running every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, no excuses. I’ve streaked before, and while it can be tough to lace up on dark winter mornings, knowing backing out isn’t an option is a strangely strong motivator.

Now everyone’s personal streaking rules are different, and in my case, even a mile-a-day cuts it — and I’ve already done the bare minimum a third of the days. But even then, I’m averaging almost 5K a day, which is enough exercise to counteract about 2.4 pounds a month of holiday weight gain.

Of course, it’s very likely I’ll put on more than that, but luckily the New York Times said I have ’til April to burn it off.

How are you keeping your pants fitting this holiday season?

Categories
Running

Thank You Kindly

As is my tradition post-turkey coma, I spent the Thanksgiving weekend thinking about all the things I’m grateful for.

  • I’m thankful for my family and friends’ good health.
  • I’m thankful for a loving first year of marriage.
  • I’m thankful shy little Lucille has finally started to express herself freely.

Despite the divided political climate, the deteriorating environment and the proliferation of sexual assault across every industry known to man, there are somehow still lots of things to be grateful for this holiday season, from royal engagements to a new Star Wars installment to Fiona-the-hippo’s remarkable recovery. And let’s not forget how thankful I am for little lap dogs so tiny they could fit in your handbag.

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Use a magnifying glass and you might just see her.

I’m thankful each time I get a seat on the subway and whenever a lox bagel lands in my hands, but as an athlete, there’s one thing that makes me feel particularly grateful: cars that give runners a wide berth when they pass you on the shoulder. You, my dear conscientious drivers, are the real heroes this holiday season.

This may not sound like a big deal to you non-runners, but I truly mean it: drivers who slow way, way down and give ample space when passing a jogger on the side of the road make all the difference between a fun, carefree run and a harrowing one. I clock nearly half my miles in the sidewalk-free Hudson Valley, and I cannot count the number of times a sedan or pickup hugging the shoulder has nearly run me off the country road. I don’t know if they’re texting or distracted or just vehemently anti-exercise, but zooming past a human at 45 miles per hour with less than two feet of wiggle room is terrifying indeed.

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If you think running on this shoulder is scary, check out that sky!

If you have a runner in your life, I’m sure they want their stockings stuffed with all the normal things this coming Christmas: body glide, reflective sports gear, peanut-butter in all shapes and sizes. But believe you me, they also want another gift that everyone can give: slowing the heck down as you take those turns. Deck the halls, not the shoulders!

Ho ho ho!

Categories
Races Recipes Running

Choose Your Battles

I tend to have a pretty low bar when signing up for road races. Sure, I’ll consider the crucial things, like whether I can actually run that distance or if I’m physically out of town. But mostly I’ll register for anything that crosses my path, especially if 1. The swag is good (see this weekend’s upcoming 5K) or 2. My running coach demands it.

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A little more petting, a little less stretching, please.

So when I first learned about the Fall Foliage Half Marathon in Rhinebeck that took place this past Sunday, the only race research I did was checking my calendar. Even though I wasn’t in half marathon shape when I signed up in May, I figured I could get there by October, so I filled in my info, forked over $75 and started the slow but rewarding process of remembering how to run. I trained all summer, then made my way upstate this weekend for what I assumed would be a walk in the park, considering I’d successfully run 12 half marathons before.

Turns out, I should have done a little more research.

Although this race was ultimately a success for me — I didn’t turn back at mile 3 in tears like I was very, very tempted to do — Sunday’s event was really tough, and it’s mostly my own fault: I didn’t pick the right half marathon for me. Choosing a race simply based on whether it’s close by and the calendar’s free neglects all the other important factors that can help you decide if a specific event is right — or wrong — for your individual needs.

Here are some race factors I wish I’d considered before picking the Fall Foliage Half as my flagship fall race:

  • Start Time. Nearly every race I’ve ever done (save for some NYC marathon waves because 50,000 is a lot of people) starts at the normal hour of 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. or mayyybe 9 a.m. That timing works for me because it’s the same time I do my own training runs, meaning I’ve already figured out what to eat, what to drink and how many port-a-pot trips I need to start the race feeling my very best. I hadn’t realized it when I signed up, but Sunday’s race began at 10 a.m. to allow time for NYC or Albany runners to get into town. While some runners might have appreciated sleeping in, the late start time threw me way off. I didn’t know whether to drink coffee or eat a full meal, or whether my Saturday carbs were still enough to power me through. Even worse: finishing a half marathon under the powerful noon sun is not fun.
  • Course elevation. A race along the Hudson River certainly sounds flat, but my god, this half was anything but. The rolling hills of the first few miles I could manage, but the mountainous out-and-back into a ravine was positively soul crushing, and had I known it would be so hilly, I might have passed on this particular event. I spend a decent amount of time running the Queensboro Bridge, so I thought I was hill-primed, but I was wrong and Sunday’s road did NOT rise up to meet me like all those Irish blessings promised.
  • Spectator Density. I pretend I run races for the BLTs I get to eat afterwards, but it’s really waving at strangers and high-fiving little kids that powers me through. The 2015 NYC marathon left me clutching my side in tears on the race course, but believe you me I’ll never forget the roar of the crowd. I know this about myself — I like races where people come out to watch — so signing up for a small race in a small town probably wasn’t the right move for me. Fortunately, my family knows me well and they were camped out at mile 2.5 with blasting music and a “You Run Better Than the Government” billboard. Flying past then was rejuvenating, but it made for a very lonely rest of the course.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad race — the foliage was lovely, the fellow runners were nice, the course wasn’t packed and the BLT was delicious at the end — and I managed to eke out another sub-two hour time despite some tough middle miles there. But I still struggled Sunday, and let that be a reminder to all of us: when it comes to choosing races, you do you.

Me?
Categories
Races Running

Hot Mess: The Bronx 10 Miler

Say what you want about climate change* but it’s having a pretty horrendous impact on polar bears, Puerto Rico and my racing times.

*As long as what you want to say is “Wow, this is really terrible. What can I do to mitigate my carbon footprint?” and not “Huh? What’s climate change?”

The first two are hands down significantly more important (heck, I even covered polar-bear extinction for my college paper about a million years ago in what probably should have won a Pulitzer), but I’m going to write about the third one because 1. This is a running blog and 2. See reason No. 1.

For those of you living on the eastern seaboard, you probably noticed September was a little hotter than usual. How hot, you ask? In a month that’s usually a harbinger of cozy scarves and pumpkin spice and all the decorate gourds you could fancy, this September brought “super anomalous” temperatures that pushed the mercury into the 90s for several days running in what experts could only refer to as “extreme” heat.

Now that unusual weather’s great if you’re spending your morning on a leisurely hike in a shady Maryland state park with your dog’s aunt and uncle (previously known as my siblings), like I did last Saturday.

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“Um, Mom, is the bridge supposed to be swinging?!”

But when the heat hadn’t broken come Sunday — the day of the legendary Bronx 10 Miler, run exclusively on black pavement on not particularly tree-lined streets — all of us runners lining up at the starting line knew we were in for some pain.

Any runner worth her weight in salt (that’s soon to be sweated out) knows that working out when the weather’s hot is tough. That’s because excess sweating can lead to faster-than-expected dehydration, your heart has to work harder to cool down your body and, let’s be honest, most of us just mentally lose the will to live.

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“I give up.” Alternate caption: Keira returns!

So when the temperature rises, you do what you can to push through safely — drink at every water station, consume extra electrolytes to refill the ones you’re sweating out, take your turns wide in order to spend some extra time in the coveted shade and, sadly, slow your pace to run based on exertion, not time. Those kinds of responses help make sure you finish in one piece without landing in one of the course-side ambulances, but they sure don’t make for a stellar finish.

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I have bitchy running face but the blurry guy in front looks quite pleased.

Don’t believe me? Check my racing times. Even though this year I should be in better shape than last year, seeing as I’m spending more time running and less time planning a little thing called a (giant Irish) wedding, it took me 1:27:53 to cross the finish line, several minutes longer than in 2016 when temperatures were normal for this time of year.

That’s not unusual, since it’s generally recognized that higher temps mean slower times, but DANG it’s annoying. Ahh well, too bad there’s absolutely nothing we can do about climate change* impacting our race times and are just destined to get slower and slower as the earth warms.

How’d you fare in your hottest race of the season?

*Wait a second

Categories
Running Training Travel

Runner’s High: An Elevation Guide

You know that sinking feeling when – despite thinking you’re in pretty good shape – you go for a quick little run and can barely catch your breath?

We’ve all been there: you lace up all excited, expecting to knock your workout out of the park, but then you find yourself huffing and puffing with muscles and lungs who clearly decided not to show up to practice.

At least for me, it’s disheartening, discouraging and downright demoralizing. (This sentence brought to you by the letter D.)

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Like me! The dog!

Well, that’s how I felt the last two weeks while vacationing with my siblings. I’d wake up early each morning to churn out a few easy miles with my brother, and within the first five minutes, find myself feigning a loose shoelace or side cramp in order to stop and catch my breath, which Simply. Couldn’t. Be. Caught.

So I was feeling pretty darned bad about myself and my clearly out-of-shape physique. But then we got back into wifi range and googled the elevation of our host country, and – guess what, folks: Mongolia is as high up in the sky as Denver. VINDICATION! (Also, surprise! I’ve been vacationing in the land of Genghis Khan. No big deal.)

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Doing my best Lt. Dan impression.

Why does Mongolia’s elevation matter, you ask? Because the drop in barometric pressure at high altitudes decreases the amount of oxygen intake in each breath, which in turn lowers the amount of oxygen making its way to your muscles, which in turn makes working out super-duper tough (I believe that’s the medical term).

So what’s one to do if you find yourself in high elevation with legs itching to exercise? Plenty! Without further ado, here’s my guide to working out at high elevations in Mongolia, which maaaaay be slightly less useful than my guides to hydrating during races or training in the cold or literally anything else I’ve ever published ever.

But you can also apply these tips to non-Mongol movement, so maybe not so niche after all. Here’s some tips for staying fit when flying high:

  • Choose quality over quantity. You may want to log the 10-miler on your schedule, but if you find yourself in high elevation without time to get acclimated, better to check your expectations. For example, my first morning in Ulaanbaatar, my brother and I warmed up and then ran sprints in Sukhbaatar Square. Speed work’s a great workout anyways, but because of the built-in recovery breaks, it let us catch our breaths before the next 50-meter dash.
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Not pictured: my empty lungs.
  • Stay hydrated. Evaporation occurs more quickly at higher altitudes (according to the internet – I have not independently factchecked this) so you’ll need to drink extra liquid to replenish what you lose. That’s doubly the case if you’re in the Gobi Desert. Might I recommend some freshly squeezed goat milk?
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I’d say no goats were harmed in the taking of this photo but, let’s be honest, that can’t feel so good.
  • Take frequent breaks. If you find yourself short of breath, stop and catch it. While it’s tempting to power through, it’s safer to take a few minutes and do some light stretching or yoga while your muscles get a chance to refill their oxygen stores. No one’s timing you.

 

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Taking a breather? Or staring longingly across the world in Ben’s direction?
  • Cross train instead. If running isn’t in the cards, there are plenty of other ways to keep fit while on the road. Do some body-weight squats and pushups, go for a hike, climb a mountain, dive into your ger headfirst when a dust storm hits, ride a camel. As long as you’re using your muscles in some shape or form, they won’t atrophy during a forced vacation from long runs. Trust me.
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Also trust me that camels don’t like when you scratch their butts and make them think it’s a fly. Tom.

So there you have it: how to vacation in Mongolia without letting all fitness go by the wayside.

That said, it’s vacation, and if all you want to do on vacation is hang up your running shoes, sit back and smoke a cigar, I’m certainly not gonna stop you.

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Christmas card?

Any more tips for running in high altitudes to share, friends?