Monday, December 2, 2013

Last Race for 2013: Great River Road Run Ten Miler

This past Saturday, November 30th, I ran my last race for 2013--the Great River Road Run 10 Miler, which I finished in 1:35.26. Here's my race report.

1) A race down by the river...
Yes, that river, the mighty Mississippi.  This race, put on by the Alton Road Runners,
was in its 54th incarnation this year.  It's a race beside the Mississippi River--starting in Alton, Illinois. You run by the river the entire time--from Alton to Godfrey and back. It's a beautiful piece of scenery that I wish I lived closer to--I'd run by it all the time if I lived in the Riverbend area.

2) Third time was not the charm:
This time, I was vaguely dissatisfied--1:35.26 is a fine time, but I felt like I could have--and should have--done better. The last two years I was top 50 masters (at this race, not everyone gets a medal--medals are given out in the finish chute, and only to the top 50 in a certain age group). The age groupings are huge here--no 5 year and 10 year groups--my age group was 39-50. I was 67th in the female age 39-50 group this year.

3) It was blessedly warm.
One reason why it was a faster field was that it was pretty warm for November 30th.  More people come out for a race when they don't have to freeze their butts off!  I might have been a bit overdressed in a hat, jacket, long-sleeved tech tee and gloves.

4) And not as windy...
In previous years, this race has been very windy.  You run five miles out with the wind at your back, you reach the turnaround point and then the wind is in your face. The wind was mild this year in comparison to years past.

5) Music, no music--
I had my mp3 player glitch on me the last three miles, so that part was without music. My mantra throughout the race was "relax and breathe." It was harder than I anticipated--since I run half-marathons, a ten-miler should be a breeze, huh? Well, my pace was faster at this race than at either of the halfs I'd done earlier this year, so this race was fewer miles at a faster pace=harder.

6) Final results for this race:
Finish time: 1:35:27.6
Finish place: 434 of 748 runners
Age Group Placement: 67 (Female, age 39-50)
first five miles: 46:02.8 (9:12/m)
last five miles: 49:24.7 (9:53/m)
9:33 average pace

I'm vowing to make 2014 the year of the ten-miler. The fact that my first five miles were so much faster than the second five is a clue that I need to do a lot more long runs! I really want to kill the next ten-miler I run, so I've got lots of work ahead.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reasons to Run

Two days ago there was an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, mocking runners for their narcissism, their stupid 13.1 and 26.2 stickers and race T-shirts, and their general smug self-satisfaction.  This piece pissed me off, of course, but then I thought of the reasons I keep running.  I looked back at my exercise/running log from 2009, and saw the first day I ran outside--October 16, a 22-minute outdoor session.  What keeps me running four years later?

1)  It works (for me):
Back in 2009, I was working out a lot indoors at our campus recreation center. I'd use the rowers, the bikes, and I got over my fear of the elliptical (something about being suspended mid-air initially bugged me, but now I enjoy the lack of pounding) and the treadmill.  I noticed the piece of equipment that really fired up my weight loss was the treadmill.  I'm not the hugest treadmill fan, but this intrigued me.

2) It's a "lazy" workout:
On October 16, 2009, I started running outside. It felt so much freer than the treadmill, and I felt a rush. Something told me that is was something I could do, do well, and continue to do when I felt too lazy to drag ass to the REC center. It's "lazy" in that I don't have to think much about it--I get my clothes on (more on clothes later), get my shoes on, select music if I'm using music, and head out the door. I figured out a quick one-mile automatic-pilot loop in my neighborhood that I still use to this day.

3) It helps me keep my blood pressure in check:
I think America's doctors have given up on us.  They've told us again and again to eat a healthy diet and to exercise, but so many of us ignore that advice.  When I was going to the doctor a lot for high blood pressure care, no doctor ever told me to exercise.  They seemed stunned that I'd started a regimen without their advice, and that I was trying to wean myself off the huge pills they kept wanting to prescribe.  I hated going to the pharmacy every month for more and more pills. Eventually, I lost sufficient weight (though weight loss was never my primary goal) that the docs took me off all meds. I was so glad of that because less money on pills means more money on....

4) Clothes!!!
I'll admit to buying more running/workout clothes these days than regular clothes.  But I'm also cheap, so I'll hit up the sales racks at Target, Gordman's, Bealls Outlet, Ross Dress for Less (there's always a sign at Ross Stores that labels part of their sportswear section as "Active Bottoms," which still cracks me up), TJ Maxx and Marshalls.  In running clothes, I can wear obnoxious colors that I don't wear in my day-to-day wardrobe. I can be silly--and dress for a race as a tiger or a bunny (both of which I've done).

5) Music!
I love music, just about any kind of music.  But running has made me re-consider songs I thought were rubbish--lyrically, they may be, but some crass pop songs are great for running. I don't always use music when I run, and if I'm told not to use music in a race, I don't. But I've enjoyed re-connecting with my own past musical memories when I run to eighties tunes; I love hearing hyped-up house mixes; I've run to reggae, soca and salsa music; and I've discovered a whole lot of bands and musicians I never would have heard otherwise.  For a sample of my favorite running music, check out the links I've posted on the side of this blog.

So, Wall Street Journal dude, keep your sour attitude about running and runners. I've got my reasons to run and no one's going to take them from me. Running makes me feel like a bad-ass, and that can only be good.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Beauty of a Ten-Mile Race

Later this month (November 30th), I'll run the Great River Road Run, a ten-mile race held year in the Mississippi River town of Alton, IL (more info on the race at

Ten miles is one of my favorite lengths for a race.  It's longer than the 6.2 miles of a 10K, but less stressful to think about than a half-marathon.  It still takes preparation, endurance, and proper training, but if you run it well, you're not anywhere near as tired as when you run a half.

Are there many ten-mile races out there?  I thought ten-milers were a rarity when I last ran the Great River Run, but a quick internet search proved me wrong.  Here's a list of ten mile races that I hope to try one day:

Annapolis Ten-Mile Race, Annapolis, MD

Virginia Ten-Miler, Lynchburg, VA

Surf-n-Santa Ten Miler, Virginia Beach, VA

Charlottesville Ten-Miler, Charlottesville, VA

Medtronic TC 10-Miler, Minneapolis, MN

Soldier Field 10-Miler, Chicago, IL

Austin 10/20 (Ten Miles, Twenty Bands), Austin, TX

Here are some training plans for ten-mile races:

I look forward to running some ten-mile races during spring some day. Ten miles feels awfully cold in late November. As much as I've liked doing the Great River Road Run, I look forward to some sunny races at the ten-mile distance.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thirteenth Half Marathon: 2013 Saint Louis Track Club Half Marathon

This past Sunday, November 3, I ran my thirteenth half-marathon, the 2013 Saint Louis Track Club Half-Marathon.  I finished the race in 2:07.31.  Here are my race day observations.

1) This continues to be a well-run and nicely-organized race:
This was my third time at this particular half-marathon, which is sponsored by the main running club in the city of Saint Louis, the STL Track Club:
There's also a 5K at this race, and a youth run.

I keep coming back because it's a nicely done race, and I like the opportunity to run in Forest Park--the course route goes from Clayton, MO, past the campus of Washington University, into Forest Park and back to Clayton. If I lived in Saint Louis, I would regularly run in the beautiful wide expanse of Forest Park. It looks especially nice at this time of year, with the fall leaves in lovely color. The weather was a little chilly to start, but as the crowd got moving, it warmed up nicely.

2) I was not as well-organized as the race:
Last year, I gained a half-marathon PR at this race at 2.01.06.  This year, I wasn't as fortunate. I was much slower, and made some basic mistakes that made the race harder than it should have been.  My basic problem was fueling--I didn't have enough in my system (only had one gel in me prior to race time, and I should have eaten one on the course).  I should have eaten one about mile seven, but I waited too long.  By the time I got to right before mile 11, I stopped to walk--not because I was bonking in the jelly-legs fall-down way--but because I was tired. TIRED. I kept moving through miles 11 and 12, alternating walking and running--doing whatever my body would allow.  When I got to the clock at right before mile 13, I saw I was at 2:02, which surprised me. I thought with all the walking that I had ruined my race and would get in at about 2:15.  So I began to run again, and crossed the finish at 2:08 unofficially (chip time was 2:07.31).

3) Spotting fast people:
At last year's race, there was a particularly fast field, given that there were some displaced elite runners from the cancelled NYC Marathon.  This year's men's winner, Geofrey Terer, was in at 1:07.36--a 5:09 pace! Amazing.  The women's overall winner was Liza Hunter-Galvan, who came in at 1:18.31. Since this race is an out-and-back, us slow-pokes can see these amazing runners in action--they are headed out of Forest Park as we slower runners are making our way in!

4) Meeting a goal:
With this race, I've met a goal--I wanted to do 13 half-marathons before the close of 2013.  I did it, and even though I was not at my best or fastest, that goal is accomplished. The new goal is not to count them anymore, and just do them.

5) Final stats:
time: 2:07.31 (chip time)
average pace: 9:44/mile
gender rank: 184
age-group place: 22 of 52

My last race of the year will also be a race I've done before, a ten-mile race in Alton, IL--the Great River Road Race. I promise I'll fuel better for that one.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Twelfth Half Marathon: Muncie Mini Marathon

October 26, 2013:  I ran the Muncie Mini Marathon with an official finish time of 2:10.05, good enough for second in my age group. I was number 21 of 62 women running the race.  Here are my race observations:

1) A new (to me) race in a somewhat familiar place:  I'd been to Muncie, a small city in east-central Indiana, before--but not for a race.  I found out about the race through the website of America Multi-Sport, a company that sponsors half-marathons and triathlons at various sites in Indiana. The race cost was very reasonable so I signed up.  The day before my race, my poet-side was indulged--my husband and I did a reading from our poems and talked about publishing with students and faculty at Ball State University (Go Cardinals!)

2) Many races in one place:  The day's events actually consisted of several events: a 5K, a 10K, the "Mini"--for some reason, quite a few races in Indiana use the term "mini" for a half-marathon, and a one-mile run/walk. America Multi-Sport just wants to get people moving, but I did wonder if having both the 10K and the mini at the same time caused both races to be smaller than they should have been. I was surprised when I got to Tuhey Park (race headquarters) that the assembled crowd of runners there was smaller than at races I'd run in smaller cities such as Cape Girardeau, MO and Paducah, KY.

3) COLD!!! I know it was the end of October--almost November--but it was cold out there! Also, it was very windy. I could barely get my timing chip tied on, and instead of giving my long-sleeved tech T-shirt to my husband so he could take it back to the hotel, I put it on over the long-sleeved tech T I was already wearing!

4) Without music:  I didn't use music during the race.  We were warned that a lot of the race was on city streets, and that the streets weren't closed.  This was true until we got to the portion of the race on the Cardinal Bike Trail (after the 10K turnaround).  There was music and a sound system at the start of the race, but no on-course music.  I suppose I could have turned my music on, but that would have meant exposing my hands to the cold. I had forgotten my fancy runner's gloves, and was rocking some thick ones of my husband's!

5) Wish there had been more half-runners:  The first part of the race went well for me--I was hitting well-under ten-minute paces on the first six miles.  But the crowd really thinned out after the 10K turnaround point, and I was alone for long stretches.  I did wish there were more runners around me, because that often helps me run faster. I'm not attempting to pass people, but do like to pick out compatible runners to try to keep up with.

6) Confusion?  There were some confusing spots in terms of the finish of the race. Since there were not a lot of spectators along the route, I sometimes lost my place.  Even though this was pretty much an out-and-back, the last two miles were not exactly the same as the first two. After I was done, I actually saw one girl run in the opposite direction of the finish line. She had on really big headphones too, so the very helpful police (who had been stationed all the route) had to scream at her to try to get her back on course.

7) No gels:  I didn't use gels during this race, chiefly because I didn't want to take my gloves off to open the little gel pack. I had several on me, but just didn't want to risk my fingers.  The wind was bossing me around anyway, so I didn't want to decrease my temperature even further.  I did get plenty of water though--there were lots of aid stations, and since there were so few runners, I never had to fight to get a drink.

8) Miles 5 to 6 and miles 11 to 12 were the hardest for me.  Mile 11 has traditionally been hard in the races I've done, since I know the end is in sight, but it's not as close as one might think.  My under ten-minute pace became an over-ten minute pace in the latter stages of this race--the cold wind made me tired!!

9) Amenities that you would find at a much larger race: This race had chip timing, a very nice tech T, lots of runner support (abundant aid stations) and a nice, flat course.  What it lacked is what a lot of people have come to expect--no big crowds of  runners and spectators, no musical acts on course, no port-a-potties on the course itself, and no big after-party.  I would definitely do an America Multi-Sport race again (they also do halfs in New Castle and Richmond, IN), but I would know in advance that not all races draw or even need big crowds. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

To Marathon or Not to Marathon

I am often asked, because I run often, if a marathon is my ultimate goal.  Many folks assume that every runner (except Usain Bolt, ha ha!) wants to run a marathon. And with the disasters of New York (Hurricane Sandy) and Boston Marathons,  all sorts of people who cared not one whit about marathons had all sorts of opinions about marathoners and marathons.  The babble was overwhelming, and not very useful, and I did my best to tune it out.

By the end of this year, I will have run 13 half-marathons. I have had a lot of fun doing the various races I've finished.  I'm not a fast runner, so it takes me a little over two hours to finish 13.1 miles. I have asked myself if I should set a goal to run a full marathon. Should I run one to honor my late mother, who died of cancer at 52?  Should I run one to show I can?  Should I run one so I can excuse late-night eating splurges?

My sincere answer: I don't know.  Half-marathons are very easy to fit into my schedule--both the actual races and the training for them. I would have to up my mileage considerably to run a full marathon.  In prepping for the halfs I've run, I don't really follow a training plan, though I do know the general shape of one--speed runs, hill workouts, longer runs. I run for the fun of it, and I don't really know how to translate my sense of fun into the grueling event that is the marathon.  In many ways, my running philosophy mirrors that of the character Penny on "The Big Bang Theory":"I just run till I'm hungry, and then I stop for a bear claw." 

Except I don't like bear claws all that much, so let's substitute chocolate there.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Race Recap: 3rd Annual For Kids Sake 5K/10K

This past Saturday (September 27th, 2013), I ran the 10K race as part of the 3rd Annual For Kids' Sake 5K/10K Fundraiser in Carbondale, Illinois.  I finished with a time of 59:49, good enough for first place in my age group (45-50).

Here's my race report:

This was my third time doing this local fundraiser.  It's for an organization called For Kids' Sake, which runs orphanages and schools in Bangladesh.  The race is for a great cause and always turns into a great party after the races are done.

I haven't done a race in a while, so it was time for an attitude adjustment.  My first priority for all future races is to finish strong with no injuries, to enjoy the event, and to never sprint (to use a consistent, steady pace). I want a scrapbook of good running memories from here on out. If PRs happen, they do.

The race this year was on a Friday evening, a change from previous years. The 10K race started at 5:30; the 5K at 6.  Very few people were doing the 10K, which let me know I would probably get an age group placement. I am much more of a 10K person than a 5K person--I'd rather run long than run fast.

It was odd to have finished my first three miles and then suddenly be surrounded by 5K runners barreling onto the course. But I welcomed the company, even as I had to dodge little kids (who tend to stop and start). My favorite 5Ker was dressed as Superman.

I heard lots of applause on the course from student volunteers (the lovely ladies of the SIUC Black Women's Task Force).  But I had to tell the fraternity boys who were also volunteering to cheer for me ("come on, guys, gimme some love!" I yelled at the gentlemen from Alpha Tau Omega)!

I finished in 59:49, just under a hour, which was my goal. It was slower than last year's time, but hey, I'm slower than last year!  I was happy to have finished feeling good.

As I waited around for the awards ceremony, I got to see the post-race block party that breaks out after this event.  There's lots of food, free massages and cookies for the runners, and a DJ playing music (the crowd started dancing when "Crazy In Love" came on, and really started boogying to "Blurred Lines"). Right before the awards were given out, the young women of the Black Women's Task Force and the young men of Alpha Tau Omega, along with the CrossFitters and the Liferunners, were all country line-dancing to Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road." What a sight!  Speaking of CrossFitters, they dominated the 5K, including one very pregnant woman who ran very fast!

I love this race--it's a good time for a good cause, and I'll turn out as long as For Kids' Sake holds this event.  For more on this charity, visit <>.

Goals for My Running Life: 2013-2014

October may seem an odd time to post goals for anything, but I've been quite neglectful of my running blog, though I've been doing plenty of running. I keep a written log of all my running and workout experiences, so this list below comes from that journal.

Goals for 2013-2014:

1) maintain weight at 135 or below.
I've lost a lot of weight as a runner, and feel best when I am around this weight or a little lower. It can be hard to maintain, what with all the temptations out there. If I get below 130, I feel a bit fragile. It's a balancing act, so I try not to freak out if I get above 135.

2) complete all entered races with no injuries and a spirit of fun and determination.
I needed a bit of attitude adjustment when it came to races. I was concentrating too much on finish times and feeling disappointed that I wasn't fast enough. I am not a fast runner, but I am a determined one.  So my main goal from here out for any race I do is to complete it without injury. I also want to enjoy the race day atmosphere (for me, that means enjoying the local spirit, wearing cute runner clothes (not a mud-run person), and having some fun as I trot along).  I will still work hard to get to the starting line, but the reward is getting to the starting line--that my hard work got me there with enough preparation and confidence to relax and enjoy the race-day atmosphere.

3) to cross-train frequently.
I've conquered my fear of the elliptical (I used to dislike the feeling of hanging in the air, now I enjoy the lack of pounding the elliptical affords me).  I have logged a lot bike miles and rowing workouts. But I still can't swim, which is something I may or may not rectify.  I try to strength-train the sneaky way: find a dumbbell, pick it up, do arm curls during commercials while watching TV.

4) to read, write, meditate, relax and use running and exercise as a tool for personal growth.
I want to unite my cerebral world of poetry (I'm a poet and creative writing professor) with the physical world of movement and activity. A lot of writers are sedentary, and a lot of us have childhood memories of being the last picked for team sports, etc.  Running, I've found, is a lot like writing--it's lonely, it takes determination, and it takes a long time to see results.  But the results can be glorious.

5) to love my body as is.
A lot of people assume that once you lose weight, you love your body. All is rainbows and lollipops. You never have any body-image issues again. HA!  Runners may have more body-image issues than anybody else!  One pound gained or lost can make a huge difference in speed/endurance. I lost weight, became a runner, did lots of races, improved my health (off all the blood pressure meds) and still I feel, at times, uncomfortable in my own skin. But that's okay, and it tends to pass pretty quickly these days if I just let it pass. Once I get my running gear on, I cease to care what my body looks like, and I focus on what it can accomplish.