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Friday, March 24, 2017

A farewell

It's with a heavy heart that I share that our long-time friend and landlord, Dr. Harvey Bricker, passed away. While he died this January, circumstances prevented a celebration of his life here in New Orleans until this week. And until his memorial made the sad news public, I didn't want to post lest some friend or neighbor stumbled on the news in this way. Dr. Bricker passed away suddenly in January, and I received the call from his wife right after returning home from the Louisiana Marathon. The distraction and grief that followed were contributors to my poor appetite and recovery (but so was a stomach infection, I believe), although I didn't feel comfortable explaining that here at the time.

Thursday, Dr. Bricker's colleagues and students from Tulane University, where he taught for decades, remembered him. They remembered a warm and witty scholar, an author and researcher whose work stretched from France to Mexico. I remember a caring neighbor who often treated us to dinner, who could order an excellent bottle of wine, and who told the most fascinating stories I've ever heard. The last time we shared dinner with our landlords, the week before Harvey died, he told the story of winters at Harvard. His California girlfriend - later, his wife! - had no winter clothes and no money to buy any, so they would each wear one of his gloves on their outside hand, and hold hands in his pocket with their inside hands. I will always associate long and lively dinners with him, and always remember his charming stories.

It's rare that landlords become close friends, but the Brickers are near and dear to us. Dr. Bricker always treated us with the utmost generosity and kindness. He wasn't just a prompt and caring landlord: he invited us to dinners, checked in on our health, shared jokes, exchanged Christmas gifts, and could easily drink us under the table! More than once I remarked to David that it was a good thing our "commute" home was just across the porch to our side of the house! While I remember so many late evenings with fondness, I can't help but continue to grieve that such a charming and brilliant friend is no longer just a door away. For almost fifteen years, we shared a wall with Dr. Bricker, and we'll miss hearing his tread on the stairs.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Track struggles

I'm loving track workouts with the Powermilers, but I'm not going to lie, I'm struggling. I just can't flip the switch to speed! Last night our workout called for 2x2 miles to start the workout off. I hit the first 2 milers easily, right on target, but the second rep was immediately hard. It was 82 degrees, the sun was beating down on me, and I suddenly felt terribly sluggish.
Why, New Orleans? 
One of the awesome things about working out with this group is that when some of the fast guys have races on the weekend, or are just taking it easy, they'll run with me or another girl to pace us (which is super easy pace for them). Jimmi, who writes the workouts, was with me for the second repeat, and at a mile and a half he told me, "Shut it down." I was breathing too hard and running too slow. "You're not gaining any benefit from this," he explained, "And you want to be able to do the rest of the workout." So I did what he said. I took my rest, then ran 6x400 at 5k pace (400 jog) followed by 4x200 hard (1 min rest). He was right - I hit all my paces for the rest of the workout, especially easier since the sun started to go down, and I was glad I'd done what he told me to do.

That's one of the benefits of working with a group - those who know more than you do can help you train smarter! I would NEVER have cut part of a workout short by myself. I would have pushed through it, and then all my subsequent paces would suffer.

I hope my track workouts eventually get me to a faster pace, but for now, they're just slogging. I can barely get a mile under 6:40 at this point. I'm not exactly sure why. Something about my training is boosting my endurance, but not speed, I think; it's like I've developed a small, narrow window of paces I can run. For example, 6:50 feels hard, but 7:50 feels easy. I easily hit 7:30's in regular easy runs and don't even feel like it's an exertion. But if I tried to run 6:30, I'd be dying.

Any suggestions to tweak my training? Ideas to improve my track performance? Do you ever modify track workouts? 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Shamrockin' and volunteering

Sunday was the Shamrockin' Run 8k here in New Orleans. It's a road race that includes an option to complete the Guinness challenge, drinking five beers along the way. In the past, it's been billed as an elite race, a place to set 8k records, probably to compete with the CCC 10k here in April. But I saw no mention of an elite field this year, so I think that plan was dropped.


I signed up to volunteer at the 3-mile Guinness stop for set-up duty. I ran over there to arrive at 7:30 am (the water stop was less than 2 miles from my house, and I detoured through the park to see the finish line set up as well and to get about five miles in). I reached my corner about ten minutes early, but the race officials were already there, waiting for me. They can't leave cases of beer alone in the street, so they just had to sit until I arrived. Good thing I was early! More volunteers joined as time passed, and we waited until the street closed to set up our beer tables.

Each runner drinks four ounces of Guinness at each stop for five drinks total (that's so weird to me - like, not enough beer to even make it worth being a beer run). The cans of Guinness were 14 ounces each, but I think we managed to estimate four-ounce pours pretty well. We had three tables with about 700 cups of beer, stacked with cardboard, by the time we were done.

And then I ran back home, showered and changed as fast as I could, and headed to church! As I passed the park on the way home, I saw the lead man making his way through the park, but besides that, I left too early to see any racers.

Today reminded me that I REALLY need to volunteer at races more. I haven't volunteered in two years! And that's a shame, because as a member of the running community, I should do my part to allow everyone to enjoy races. I'm really going to try to volunteer at races more often in the future, especially ones I wouldn't plan on running, anyway.

Have you volunteered at a race before? What's your favorite way to volunteer? I must say, set-up was way less stressful than actually manning a water stop - making sure every runner got water was a high-pressure job!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I tried all the shoes

This winter, in a quest to find a good backup shoe to my Kinvaras, I bought enough pairs to shod the Roman army and ended up returning most of them.

1. New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo

Type: Cushioned stability
Rating:NO, NO, NO, NO, NO
Well, this is NOT THE SHOE FOR ME.
In my endless search for shoes that fit well, I'd hit on the Fresh Foam Zante, which felt great on but didn't provide quite enough support. The Vongo was surely a similar fit, being in the same line, and the next-level of support up, so I bought it. Less than half a mile into my run, my calves were so painful I had to walk home. The shoe has too little flexibility for me. They went back.

2. New Balance Vazee Rush

Type: I could never figure out what NB was marketing this now-discontinued shoe as.
Rating: NO, NO, NO
There is no cushion in this shoe at all. None. It's kind of stiff and cardboard-like, and flat as a pancake. Back they went.

3. Nike LunarGlide

Type: Cushioned, light stability
Rating: I'll never know
I tried to order these from Jack Rabbit. Remind me: never again. They never sent the shoe, although they charged me; I had to contact them ten days after my order and they were like, "Oh, yeah. I guess we ran out of that shoe. We'll reverse the charge." I had to email again to have them actually reverse it, though!

4. Altra Instinct 3.5

Type: Moderate cushioning
Rating: Meh
I got these at the expo for the RnR marathon. It was a risky purchase: they were out-of-the-box and non-returnable, but at $59, a bargain. But far be it from me to take just "a bargain". I wanted a BARGAIN, capital letters, almost free, so I talked them down to $49 (no one wants to leave an expo with unsold merchandise. If I buy at expos, I buy on the last day, and I always bargain). I don't hate the shoe. It's a heavier shoe than I like, but for easy runs, that's ok. There are two problems with the Instinct: one, I developed top-of-foot-pain while wearing them. Perhaps they weren't the cause - I had other potential causes that week - but that makes me nervous. Two, I just don't love the shoe. I find myself skipping over them and grabbing other shoes. I'm not sure of their fate just yet. I may keep them specifically for rainy and muddy runs, because they're really good for slippery surfaces. Or I may sell them on Ebay, since I only got a few miles on them.

5. Nike Free RN Distance

Type: Cushioned - soft, flexible
Rating LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE
So, who am I? I, who swore off Nike shoes after a pricey pair didn't last at all? In love with a Nike shoe? I just can't help myself! The squishy luxury is just too wonderful to resist! Now, I think a lot of runners would dislike the thick, soft soles on these shoes, but I love cushion. The first time I wore these I slept through my morning run and decided to do a quick 3-miler in the afternoon. But the shoes felt so good that I ran almost nine. That never happens to me. I can't remember ever extending my run because I felt great!


My go-to shoe is still the Saucony Kinvara, and probably always will be, but I think having a solid back-up shoe is important. It extends the life of both pairs of shoes, since the foam has time to bounce back before the next use, and allows you to use different muscles a little bit. Despite some fit issues with the Nike Free RN Distance (I went up half  a size for greater width, but they're still a little narrow and yes, a little long now), I am very happy with my new shoes, and hope they become a standby!

What's your primary, everyday shoe? Do you wear a backup pair? Are you loyal to one brand, or do you shop around?


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Powermilers St. Patrick's Day pub crawl

I am really enjoying joining the Powermilers for weekly workouts. I need someone to push me, and they're fast...and pushy. But I enjoyed this Tuesday even more: instead of a track workout, we ran an uptown pub crawl route in celebration of St. Patrick's day.
Pre-crawl. My head growing out of Red's shoulder

We started from Jimmi's beautiful house uptown, and after a starter beer, ran to bar #1: Le Bon Temps Rouler. A couple of guys got the first round, we lingered and talked, then headed off to St. Joe's. And thus it went. As we progressed back up Magazine, conversation turned from recent PRs, race plans, questions about kids, and commentary on block development to bathroom humor, lame insults, sudden silences followed by sudden sprints and ALL OUT HILARITY, and "Yo' Mama" jokes.
We wrapped up back at Jimmi's with pizza. Two people were thrown into the hot tub. One person lost their keys in the same hot tub. No one threw up. Everyone bonded. All in all? A successful crawl!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Power Miler Track Club, #2

After a week's break for Mardi Gras, we were back at City Park for the Power Milers workout. After the first week, when a bunch of girls were invited, most of the group emailed around that they had enjoyed it, they'd be back, etc.
Liars. 
Two of us girls (the other one, Kate, is engaged to another runner, so she has little choice!) showed up to meet the guys at the track. No wonder turnout was low, though: it was POURING rain and storming. Band after band rolled over us, and we were soaked in no time.
We started out with an easy two mile warm-up, then some drills on the track. When I've run with other groups, we all did drills together: line up, A-skips, B-skips (it took me years to figure out what those were...I just thought some people skipped weirdly), high knees, etc. But these guys just all do their own thing, whatever warm up or drills they like, then regroup to run. So I did my Myrtles, then a few form drills, then got into the workout.
Naturally, I was running totally alone, since Kate wasn't doing the full workout (and I suspect I can't keep up with her!) and the guys were all, "What's your pace? 5:50? 6:05?" etc. Please. Those time sound suspiciously like my 1200 pace... not my 10k pace!
Waterlogged feet for hours.
We started with 2 miles at 10k pace, and my first mile was just fine. Then the sky opened up. The light rain became pouring, driving rain. The track immediately filled with water, and despite the drains, it stayed flooded - drainage just couldn't keep up. My second mile was a struggle. I huddled down for 5 minutes rest, then started on the 1000 meters at 10k pace, with 200 meter jog. The weather got worse! At one point, luckily during a jog, the wind was blowing sheets of rain and was actually blowing ME around. I got off the track and behind a tree for shelter before my contacts blew right out of my eyes. I have no idea what my paces were...bad. Nothing even close to 10k pace. Water splashed around my ankles, and I was straight up miserable. After five 1000 meter reps, I got three minutes rest before "800 hard". Uh, yeah, right. I was so tired! But the good thing about having a group to run with is that the guys finished it with me: one runner did my first 400 with me, and the other jumped in for the second half. I finished in 2:59, which is hilarious, but hey. It's all I had that night.

I joined in for the 1 mile cool-down, but I passed on the post-workout beer: I was soaked to the skin and still had to go shopping! Yes, I threw some extra clothes over my saturated workout wear and went to the dollar store. Luckily, that super seedy dollar store is already the most bizarre place in the world (and it's open until midnight, which I find intriguing - what $1 emergency arises at 11:50 pm?) and I looked like the most normal person in there.

Power Miler track workout #2: done!
How do you warm up for track? Drills? Jogs? What are your go-to form drills? 
I always like butt kicks and high knees to limber up my quads and hamstrings.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Strava? Dailymile? Excel? Tracking your run

Many years ago, when I was in my running infancy, I kept track of my mileage on an Excel spreadsheet I downloaded from some ultrarunner's blog. I can't remember where I got it now, but it was a good tool that could hold plenty of data - elevation, weather, feel, gear - or just the basics. It automatically calculated pace and total miles, monthly miles, weekly miles, and miles per shoe pair (here's a Google docs similar version I found, although it is simplified). I mostly just used it to keep up with shoe mileage, and eventually I moved over to Dailymile.

Me on Dailymile

I'm still on Dailymile, although I'm not really very sociable there. I really just use Dailymile because it's very easy to use. You can save routes that you run often, and it takes just a second to add your run and attach your shoes to the run. I keep up with my cumulative mileage and my shoes on the site, and I like its simplicity.
Me on Strava

Recently, I joined Strava for a test run, if you will. I can't say I am in love. I know Strava has gotten very popular, but while it does the same things Dailymile does, it is a little clunkier. I guess if you want more social interactions and enjoy the various challenges offered, it's much better, but as just a tracking tool, it seems like it's more time consuming, mostly because I feel obligated to go into an uploaded run and edit the name and details. Otherwise, entering manual runs is very similar to the Dailymile process.
One drawback to me is that Strava requires you to enter time for every run. Your GPS watch syncs with Strava, so you don't have to manually enter runs, but I rarely run with my Garmin. I'm trying to use it all week while I test Strava out, but I prefer to run watchless and be guided less by pace. I always feel like simply being aware of my pace makes me run too fast! Even if I don't wear my watch, I can't enter the run manually without adding a time. For someone who runs untimed at least 50% of the time, that's a pain.
Another negative is that when I entered my shoes into Strava, it didn't allow me to put existing miles on them. Plus, when I synced my Garmin, it uploaded a bunch of older runs, automatically applying those miles to my default shoes.  So for now I'm using Dailymile and Strava to make sure I am keeping track of shoe mileage. I definitely like the option of being able to enter miles already on shoes when you add them - both for this situation, and the occasional situation in which I resurrect formerly retired shoes (it happens).

What's your favorite way to keep track? Do you value the social aspect, or are you mostly tracking for yourself?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What cost a marathon?

The other day I saw a post on Facebook about a half marathon in nearby Bay St. Louis. I was interested, because the race would allow me to stay at my in law's, and I haven't actually raced a half marathon in over a year. A quick glance at the Facebook page illustrated how small-town this race was: tough course, open to traffic, the sign-up link was broken, the url for the race was being offered for sale by GoDaddy, and the date of the race was posted differently in several places. So kind of a mess - that must mean cheap, right?

Well, it was $70!
That's not cheap to me - especially not when I might show up on the wrong day. I really can't believe how expensive some of these races are these days!

Take marathons, for example. The big ones are well over $200, and you can be assured that you'll never get a discount on them. The cheapest marathon I've run is the Mississippi Gulf Coast at $35, but the Rock N Roll New Orleans fee is just $59 if you sign up early. That's not bad at all.

Half marathons can be less of a value. I was appalled that the Louisiana Marathon half is now $140 at the expo. One hundred and forty! For a half! I don't run that many half marathons, but I remember feeling like $60 or $70 was a lot for some races. An early sign-up special got me into the Ole Man River half for $35 this year, which is an excellent deal.

I pay $25 on average for a 5k, $35 for 10ks, and I resent both of those enormously. But they're often assisting a charity, so I suck it up.

What do you pay for a marathon? A half? A 5k? What's the most you've ever spent on a race?