Saturday, June 25, 2016

Run Safely

This fall marks my 9th year of running. Over the years I've seen headlines, heard stories and been warned about safety concerns and running. But I've never worried about my safety on a run until today. And I'm angry.

I headed our on my typical 10 mile route this morning. I've run it too many times to count. It's enjoyable and takes me to a little nature preserve, so I get to pretend I don't live in the middle of the city for a blessed 1/2 mile loop.

Three miles in, on the sidewalk of a busy road, I felt a car pulling up behind me. It was rolling slowly, just outside my peripheral vision. At first I thought it was pulling over to stop, but it kept rolling and pulled alongside me. Window down, the driver was leaning toward the passenger seat, looking at me. I thought maybe he just wanted directions, but he didn't say anything. I ignored him and kept running. He kept slow rolling. I thought maybe he had car trouble and couldn't accelerate. Until other cars came, and he sped away. Odd, but I ran on. Then I felt it again. Same car. Same man, leaning and leering. This time, I popped my earbuds out and yelled at him: "WHAT DO YOU WANT?!" This time he began to speed up a little. "I'LL CALL 9-1-1!" And he drove away.

My turn into a quieter street was coming. I thought that I could make it before he could circle again. But would he turn down that smaller street to circle back? I didn't want to chance it. I altered my route to stick to main roads. And as I ran, I got mad. I had made the choice to leave my water at home because I would be running a route that carried me past a water stop. I now had no water and a new route that took me down very public streets. But I think I was most angry that he stole my peace.

How to Run Safely

Carry your phone. For the longest time (8 years), I didn't carry my phone. It wasn't a smart phone, so no camera for run finds and no playlist for music. I never saw the point in adding something extra to carry. Since getting my iPhone, I've been carrying it for shorter runs. Then my friend gave me a running belt, (which I love!) so I don't have to carry my phone. After today's incident, I will never run without a phone again. Make sure you also have an ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact. 

Tell someone your plan. By "someone," I mean a spouse, roommate, or close friend. DO NOT POST YOUR ROUTE ON A PUBLIC SITE. Just like you wouldn't tell the world you're traveling and leaving your house empty, don't tell the world you're about to hit the streets alone. Give your "someone" your route, time you're leaving and estimated time of return. (Just be sure you do the math right. I once accidentally shorted my estimated time by an hour. Oops.)  

Be aware. Listening to music? Fine. Just don't blast the tunes. Obviously, you want it loud enough to hear the music, but be sure you can hear everything around you, too. Or run with only one earbud in. Also, look for safe routes-- are there sidewalks? abandoned buildings? sketchy neighborhoods? 

Be seen. Run against traffic. I kinda thought this was a no brainer, but after today, realized that even on a sidewalk, I should be running against traffic. If you run towards traffic, you can see vehicles approaching. And if some creeper is lurking, it gives you time to cross the street to avoid a confrontation-- it takes much longer for him to turn around, across traffic to come get you than if you're running the same direction he's traveling. Wear bright colors, and if you're running in the dark, wear a headlamp or flashing light. Carry a flashlight, if you have to. Just make sure that people see you.
Arm yourself. It's becoming increasingly popular for people to get a permit and carry a concealed gun when running-- I've seen running shorts and bras now being made with pockets for sidearms. I'm not sure that you want to go that extreme. When I first began running before dawn, I would carry a bottle of pepper spray. At some point, it became an annoyance and hundreds of safe miles logged proved it wasn't necessary. I'm seriously reconsidering this now. 

The most important thing to arm yourself with is knowledge and awareness. Know your route and your surroundings. Don't be afraid to ask for help. And don't be afraid to speak up. I think my yelling at that driver let him know that I wouldn't go down without a fight. I only wished I'd taken a picture of his license plate so that I could report him. 
Night run = headlamp, bright colors, and Road ID.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

DTR Full Moon 10 Mile Night Trail Run

Race Recap:
THIS is an excellent event. Of course, I am head over heels in love with trail running.

The DTR Full Moon Endurance Challenge is a 10 mile trail run that begins at 8pm. The race was held at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, Florida.

Registration, Packet Pick-up:
Registration for the race is quite pricey. At $70.00, this is more than I would typically pay for a half marathon. But the race is unlike any other here in South Florida, so I was willing to pay for the unique experience. The race has a very limited number of spots and sells out, so don't wait until the last minute to grab your entry. Packet pick-up was offered a few days before the race but also on race day. I arrived around 6:30pm, and although I had to wait a little while to pay for park entrance, there was no wait to get my packet, which included my bib, a gender specific t-shirt and a cool decal for my car.

Race Start:
The race was delayed by 20 minutes to accommodate the number of cars coming into the park and the one park ranger who was collecting the park entry fee. Other than the fact that this would mean I wouldn't get home to bed until later, I didn't mind. There was a DJ mixing some music and rallying the crowd around 2 events-- a plank off and a push-up contest. A young teen played the National Anthem on his electric guitar, and we paused for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

The Course:
The state park's website boasts of sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, mangroves, and river swamps. I needed my headlamp right away. Due to the full blown thunderstorm an hour before the race, clouds lingered,  blocking the moon. The course was really well marked. For the section that passed through the mangroves, there were lights placed on the large roots that could be hazardous. I preferred staying pretty close behind fellow runners, so that I could use both their head lamps and mine to light the path and help guide my footing to drier places on the trail. The trail was quite wet and underwater in many sections. There were 2 or 3 aid stations, but the race organizers recommended that runners bring their own water, which I did.

The Finish:
Runners were awarded a really cool wood cutout medal. There was plenty of water, soda, champagne and beer. Mini Clif bars and bananas, as well as burritos (in THREE options-- chicken, beef and veggie) were available at the finish line. Many people lingered, chatting, eating, drinking and enjoying the music.

My Race:
*Caution: brutal, ugly honest ahead.
Considering I haven't been doing any speedwork or real distance, I had an excellent race. I can't remember feeling so good in a race. I think it was a variety of factors-- the darkness, the trail, the lack of listening to music, the loss I'm still processing... I know it's probably not right or healthy, but it's just feeling really good to suffer right now.

Three thoughts circulated through my mind and fueled my body:

  • “The best pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die." I went out fast (for me). I fell into a pack, picked a girl and tried to stay with her. I focused on staying relaxed, keeping my eyes on the ground, and pushing my pace. At the 2 mile mark, I was just over 18 minutes-- not a record breaking pace by any means, but given what I've been running lately, the dark, and the sloppy trail, I was happy. Happier still when I was able to pass my girl, find another one, pass her and continue to run strong. The quote I held in my mind and massaged like a worry stone is attributed to Steve Prefontaine. However, it appears that he may never have said it. I'm a little sad I know that now, but regardless, it embodies the attitude Pre had when racing. And it worked for me. I ran recklessly and hard. And twice I found myself suddenly sprawled face down on the trail-- it's quite shocking to be running fast one second and lying still in the dirt the next thanks to some nearly hidden root. Both times I was able to quickly recover by burpee-ing back up to running again. 
  • My sister died 4 weeks ago today. I'm still mourning. And it hits at absolutely unforeseeable times. There are times when I feel compelled to tell the person next to me that my sister is dead, and I'm sad, and life will never be the same. But I don't. I just wonder if they have a sister and how long it's been since they've talked to her, hugged her, told her they love her. When my legs were heavy I just pushed ahead because my sister couldn't push through her struggle with depression and addiction, and what's a little 10 mile run compared to the pain of losing a piece of your life? 
  • My friend Cindy is supposed to be here with me tonight, but her Mom died this morning so I have to run for both of us. Cindy has been the best daughter ever, so I know her mom was an incredible woman as well. Pampering and loving her mom that was slipping slowly into the demented arms of dementia, Cindy fought with her mom against the disease. And that's just it. Life is hard. Life is full of pain. Life is also beautiful and full of joy. I ran because I love to run. Being out on the trail brings me joy. Hearing the sounds of crickets and frogs and breath and feet splashing through mud brought me peace and healing. 
I finished the race strong, but spent-- and second place in my age group. I happily accepted my owl shaped "medal" and my giant burrito. (Apologies to anyone who saw me eating that steak burrito-- I was overcome with gratitude and hunger that comes from a race well-run.)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

My Fitness Parent

Good food.
Ok, so the app is really My Fitness Pal. But really, I think of it more as a Parent than a Pal. And this probably makes the makers of the app squirm because I'm pretty sure they want the app to seem friendly, fun and easy, rather than strict, stern and authoritarian.

I say, "Hey, whatever works."

I love My Fitness Pal. In moderation. Because I can tend to become really obsessive/compulsive (in a non-clinical, un-officially diagnosed sort of way). You see, I'm kind of an all or nothing girl. Never been good at moderation. There's no such thing as a little cake-- I either eat half the cake or none of the cake. Unless I have someone watching me, like My Fitness Parent Pal.

What is My Fitness Pal?
It's a great little food and fitness tracker. You can set your goals-- it allows you to adjust the percentages of macros (protein, carbohydrates, fat) you want to eat daily. You input your current body weight, your desired body weight (or maintenance), and it tells you how much of each category you should be eating. Then throughout the day, you input what you eat (by typing it in, scanning a barcode or searching for food). MFP keeps a running total of your intake (including vitamins) and lets you know how much you can still consume to hit your goal for the day. .

Not so good food.
You can also input your exercise. For cardio exercise, it will calculate the amount of calories burned based on time spent in the activity and add that into your calorie total. BUT beware-- it's not a perfect calculator. For example, it doesn't recognize strength training as a calorie burning activity, but it does recognize billiards. There is a feature that lets you connect directly to exercise apps, so your fitness tracking app can automatically upload your personal data.

It's really simple.

Why I love it:
It provides a reset. So, I mentioned before this all or nothing habit of mine. It's easy for me to lose track of what I'm actually eating, and over time, I find myself a little heavier than I want to be. I get into that poor me, "I just can't lose weight" mentality. About the time I start feeling helpless, I fire up the MFP and go "Woah! I'm eating A LOT." (Ok, all you ketogenic diet people who say that calories don't matter. I'm living proof that they do.)
3 mile run = 310 calories burned for me

It helps me discover portion sizes again. In order to enter the food I'm eating, I've got to return to portions instead of piles. It's not that I'm restricting. It's that I'm paying attention.

It keeps me accountable. Here's where that Parent part comes in. MFP is watching-- I'm not just having some chocolate. MFP wants to know how many servings. And I'm a horrible liar, so I always tell it the truth. So, before I eat half a jar of almond butter, I think, "Do I really want this recorded forever on the internet?"

What I don't love:
Inconsistency. It tells me how many calories I burned mowing the yard or doing automobile repair or unicycling, but it won't calculate the number of calories I burn when I do deadlifts or bench press or kettlebell swings.

Max deadlift = 0 calories burned

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Heroes in Recovery 6K Race

This was a last minute registration for me. I'd seen the advertisements for the Heroes in Recovery 6k on Facebook for some time, noted that the race's purpose is to raise awareness and benefit those who struggle with substance abuse and mental health disorders. But I didn't decide to do the race until after my sister died, and I began to receive many messages and texts voicing a myriad of similar stories to mine-- brothers, sisters, cousins, mothers, fathers battling addiction.

Addiction is quiet. It hides. It covers its tracks with lies.

Heroes in Recovery is all about raising awareness and HOPE for those who struggle with addiction.

For me, the 6k was about doing something to remember my sister. Doing something to bring awareness among my friends and family. Doing something for those who I know are still struggling daily to break free from addiction. And maybe a little about sharing in the suffering.

The 6k is an unusual distance, but it does what Heroes in Recovery is seeking to do-- get attention. While June 4 in South Florida isn't ideal weather for a road race, the morning was beautiful. The race was fairly small; the course contained more "hills" (slight inclines-- a bridge over water) than typical and was marked in kilometers, rather than miles. And it all began with the Serenity Prayer.

I went out hard and fast. Because that's what you do when you're carrying your sister's name on your arm and her memories in your broken heart. I remember getting to the 1k course marker and thinking there must be some mistake-- surely I'd gone a mile. My body was feeling the pain of my heart. And instead of backing away from it, I ran headlong into it. Pushing ahead, ignoring the fact that I haven't done speedwork for over a year. This was more of a reckless run-- I was out to go as hard and as fast as I could until my body wouldn't go anymore (which turned out to be about the 4k mark).

When my legs finally began burning for real, my lungs screaming for still more oxygen, my heart pounding from exertion and not grief... I desperately wanted to walk. Thoughts of "what's the point" and "no one cares" filled me, and I wondered how often my sister had felt the same way. Wondered how many days she spent feeling like it was too hard to keep moving forward.

I couldn't stop, and I didn't stop-- not until the finish line because I was also carrying the names of those who are still struggling. Still waking up every day to a fight that feels too hard. I carried them with me to the end, willing them to keep moving ahead, keep pushing through the pain. Because there's rest after the finish line.

My legs carried me to a 1st place in my age group and 4th place masters finish.

Monday, June 6, 2016

SPARTAN FIT! Book Review

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a full copy of SPARTAN FIT! by Joe DeSena so that I could write a review for this blog. Before you start thinking, "Oh, I get it, this is going to be one of those commercials to buy the book," let me tell you...

I'm a skeptic. A cynic. No one is going to buy my allegiance with free stuff. I was super excited to get this copy first and foremost because I'm a GIANT BOOKNERD, so the thought of getting my hands on a pre-published copy of anything makes me pretty giddy. But I was also excited to get the book because I read Spartan Up! and was hoping to get a little more meat. Spartan Up! is good, but it's more an inspirational, pre-race speech to get you fired up and wanting to live a better life. Spartan Fit! is a manual on living a healthier more active life.

Pre-Order your copy HERE
The book opens with a pretty incredible story of Jay Jackson. I don't want to give away too many details, but he survived a brutal home invasion using the unconventional training techniques he had been practicing to become a better wrestler. DeSena's point is that we never really know what could potentially happen to us in life, so we need to be ready for any situation that life throws at us.

I admit, I found myself rolling my eyes a little on this opening, thinking, "So, Joe, you're telling me I should begin training for a Spartan Race on the slim chance I could be held captive by intruders?" But the story is quite attention getting and completely makes the point that we never know what might happen.

DeSena then goes into the history of Spartan Race, including his own personal history and philosophy. What I found interesting is the history of the actual Spartan; he delves into their lifestyle and philosophy. And you just can't help but realize how far removed our society is today from that of ancient times. We've lost the art of moving for survival and for pleasure, and in reading these chapters, I found myself wanting to escape to a desolate place and spend some time in more natural settings.

The middle chapters contain the nuts and bolts of training and racing. DeSena explains typical obstacles that are found in a Spartan Race, including a description of successful completion of each and the penalty for failure, and he gives the basics for what a person needs to run a race.

My favorite chapter is the one on the Seven Pillars that Spartan SGX bases their training on-- Endurance, Strength, Athleticism, Recovery, Nutrition, the Mind, and Code. So many people lack a complete understanding of all the components of fitness. We often miss that training hard isn't the only factor in becoming healthy or fit. Nutrition, sleep and mental health are all vital ingredients that are often ignored. DeSena does an excellent job of emphasizing the importance of being truly fit.

Spartan Fit! contains a 30-day training plan with specifics on the types of exercises and even pictures of each to help those who might be unfamiliar. The plan is thorough and contains a "Day 0" fitness test for beginners and includes "Active Restoration" days, which emphasizes the importance of giving the body and the mind a break. There's a section for the Spartan Elite as well-- instructions and encouragement to increase the challenge when the typical training becomes too easy.

The book concludes with the inspiring story of Amanda Sullivan, a woman who's overcome great adversity and physical challenges to race and inspire others. Her story is a great reminder that whatever life situation you are in, you can always work to make yourself better in some way.

Honestly, I really did expect this to be a full length commercial to encourage you to register for a race. I was pleasantly surprised that the book contained some real "meat"-- solid information on the different aspects of fitness, why each aspect is important and how to train.

Everyone could benefit from reading this book--
  • beginners to find a basic understanding of fitness, nutrition and a training plan
  • intermediates to learn more details about the "why" of fitness and to discover some tougher challenges
  • elites to be reminded that it's more than just a medal