Sunday, March 23, 2014

Amid Doubt

It's been a long winter.  I'm not going to tell you anything you didn't already know...especially my friends in Pennsylvania.  Thankfully, I continued to train through the snow, ice and bone chilling temperatures.  My support team (the Rainbow Runners) carried me through the season.  We commiserated over the mounting snow piles and the missed school days; we chatted about kids and eating plans, running plans and new routes.  Our bond pushed us towards a greater accountability.  My 2014 highlights include racing the West End St. Pats 5K (hoping to PR), picking up the pace during the July Quadzilla 15K and rounding out the schedule with my debut in the NYC Marathon.  There are other races I'll sign up for, but not any I'd consider a 'milestone'.
As the weeks of 2014 peeled off the calendar, our mileage increased - I didn't have any reason to log 13+ mile Saturday am runs; I wasn't even running the local half marathon at the end of April.  I just enjoyed the company.  I did, however, have one race in my sights - West End St. Pats 5K on March 23rd.  The last 5K I ran was the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I crossed that finish line in 24:43, a personal best.  I couldn't believe that I crossed over into the 24's.  I knew I had to break that time.
I continued to train harder by incorporating hill repeats and some speed work (mainly done on treadmill days - when it was too FREAKIN' cold to breathe outside).   Two weeks before the race, I started to talk about my goal - break 24 minutes.

Last Saturday, I ran my last long run of 13 miles.  I felt that I could have run another 13; a run of 3.1 would be 'easy peasy'.  That same weekend I worked overnight and wound up staying awake for roughly 36-ish hours.  My head hit the pillow on Sunday night at 8 pm and I slept soundly (without any movement) for close to 10 hours.  Monday morning hit me like a ton of bricks - I struggled.  Tuesday morning hit me like a school bus - I struggled again.  Wednesday morning, if I recall, I went running - I struggled again.  Thursday morning I started to come around.  Friday morning, I went running again - four miles with one of the ladies.  By 5:30 am we had hammered the road - I felt much better.  Oh, and I took a vacation day, so that made everything much better.  Later that day, I bopped over to the yoga studio to take a class.  Not really reading the description, I unsuspectedly walked into a level 3 class.  It had been years since I practiced Ashtanga Second Series.  I welcomed the back bending; what a lovely change of pace from the constant forward bends!  I knew, however, that I'd be feeling the bending and twisting in my torso for days to follow.  I topped off the day with a date with my love.  We enjoyed burgers at Emeri's Burgers And More before jamming to Huey Lewis and the News (what a great show!).  Even though we went to bed before 11 pm, I slept until 8:30 am!!  Now that's my idea of sleeping in. Saturday was filled with hustle and bustle that included shopping and lunch with a friend, an afternoon birthday party with Ava and a family trip to get frozen yogurt.  Yum.

Race Day
The 5K starts at 12:15 pm, which is WAAAAY too late for me to bust a move.  On a normal day, I've logged a shit ton of miles, showered, drank two cups of coffee, ate a mean breakfast and start looking forward towards relaxing by 12:15 pm.  Crap.  I started to get nervous.
I grocery shopped early to take my mind off the day ahead, AND, I was not going to shop after the race.  After returning home, I prepped the crock pot for dinner, showered and grabbed a cup of coffee.  The remainder of the morning was spent getting the girls items in order and making sure I had all my gear for and after the race.  By 11 am we were pulling out of the driveway.
On the way there, I told the hubbs that I was nervous.  Yes, nervous to run a 5K.  Maybe my goal was too lofty.  Maybe I was setting myself up for failure.  Maybe the 12:15 pm start would hurt me.  Maybe I didn't eat enough.  Maybe I should have pooped more (for you non-runners, pooping before a run, especially a race, can be crucial).  Maybe I would not run.  Ridiculous inner dialogue.
We arrived about an hour early and immediately walked towards the building to get a little warmth before camping outside on the race route.  I must have peed three times before finally making it outside.  My nerves were getting the best of me, and it had to stop.
I found two friends as I left my family road side.  We banded together towards the starting line.  I knew I had to get out closer towards the front if I would want a fighting chance to keep up a good pace.  With two minutes to spare, I looked around me knowing I would have to weave my way closer to the start.  I waved 'good-bye' and weaseled my way through the waves of the green crowd.  With 45 seconds to go, I took a deep breath with closed eyes.  The horn sounded and I took off.  I passed the family on my way downhill towards the first turn.  I gazed to the right with an extended arm to alert them of my presence, but continued on.  Following that moment, my sport bra started to irritate me.  It felt like my heavier breathing was constricted by the band across my back and chest.  I tried to wiggle my tight torso to loosen its grip, without success.  Damn, this race was going to suck.  At some point, before the 1 mile mark, I gave up.  I stood tall, relaxed my arms and pushed.  I normally scan the sidelines for familiar faces; I did none of this.  I focused my gaze straight ahead.  We rounded another corner headed back towards the starting line when I saw the 1 mile mark.  A gentleman with a tall hat stood at the line with his phone in hand.  He was silent until I crossed the mark - 7:13!, he shouted.  I, in return, exclaimed, 'Holy shit!'  Yes, holy shit, I ran that first mile in SEVEN MINUTES AND THIRTEEN SECONDS.  I have never run that fast in a race.  I'd never be able to maintain that speed.  It was all downhill from here.  But, really, it was...another downhill.  I crossed the starting line, again, and chugged down the hill, passing my family again.  I barely acknowledged them.  When I knew I was out of their sights, I think I slowed down.  I put on a good show for them; now was the time to pull it back.  But I guess that didn't really happen.  I crossed the 2 mile mark to the tune of 14:35.  Sure, my pace slowed, but nothing considerable.  Perhaps, tragedy would be around the next corner.  We made another left onto the main drag that is absolutely a slight incline.  I continued to focus straight ahead without catching anything in my periphery.  My lungs burned, but my arms and legs continued to pump.  The crowd was closing in around me; I needed to finish strong.  We rounded the last corner with the finish line in my sights.  My eyes focused on the clock which continued to tick upward past 22 minutes.  My outside voice softly said, 'Oh my God.'  I crossed the finish mat with my eyes closed and the red illuminated 22 minutes and change tattooed on  my mind.  I slowed to a jog, then an eventual fast walk to catch my breath.  The burning in my lungs produced a taste of blood in my mouth.  The hubbs was surprised to see me so soon.  After all, I wasn't confident that I'd cross any earlier than 24 minutes.  But, I smashed it.  Yay.
I picked up a temporary smoker's cough which I think was a combination of burning lungs and the cold air.  Eventually, the blood taste went away.  Thankfully, it was just a 'flavor,' nothing productive.
Rumor has it I placed third in my age group.  I missed the awards ceremony and the results won't be posted until tomorrow night.  I can't believe that would be a possibility.
What I do know, is that amid all the doubt, I trained hard and got exactly what I deserved.  I had a goal in mind and nothing was going to get in my way.  I can only hope that I keep my eyes on the prize to continue a rewarding everything I do.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Road, Rumbles and Rest - Not in Any Particular Order

I believe it was a week ago this past Friday when I decided to unplug.  In all sincerity, I discovered an article about putting down all electronic devices for an entire weekend.  I guess last weekend was it, or so said the interwebs.  After a cluster of an evening, I welcomed the break.  I didn't want to connect with the outside world.  I posted a big 'peace out' on Facebook as a smile wiped across my face.  It didn't take long for me to realize that I wasn't missing a goddamned thing.  To my surprise, I quickly lost the reflex to check my phone.  How refreshing!
By Sunday, evening I got smacked in the face with some sinus pressure causing me a restless night of half assed sleep.  At 4 am, I stared at my phone.  I began to remove some apps - Facebook, Twitter, Local News, CNN.  The list continues.  Although I'm a recovering Catholic, I welcome the short sacrifices ushered in with the Lenten season.  I proudly state that I'm currently estranged from technology. It is, however, difficult to completely divorce myself when my job depends on it.  I sit at a computer most of the day talking about applications and workflows, clicks and documents.  Giving up my job for Lent wouldn't be a sacrifice; it would be a welcome mat.
Of course, the first week of ditching my phone was filled with so much crap.  Each day added frustration to the growing pile of messy situations.  I had no control.  Thinking my Thursday/Friday would be a little easier, I soon became sadly disappointed that no relief appeared to be in my future.  The weekend was packed with enough busy activities including a night shift of computer maintenance.  I normally don't work on maintenance weekends, but I was on-call.  Not familiar with the work being tasked to me, I tried to thoroughly document in order to save myself a lot of guess work.  Sadly, the documentation was all over the map and I couldn't find the right people to answer my questions.  As Friday afternoon rolled around, I dared to get more answers, but instead was met with a lot of 'I don't knows' and 'Well, it should be fines'.  Fuck it.  I walked out at 3:45 to meet someone for a drink.
I barely remember Saturday.  I definitely went for a run - thirteen miles to be exact.  The distance felt great, I was satisfied with my pace and I felt like I could keep going.  A late afternoon trip to the farmers market yielded some fresh veggies for roasting and two delicious looking strip steaks.  Grilling was the plan and, oh man, I became intoxicated with the smell of the grill.  Finally...Spring is finally on the way!  In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the kids were in bed, the husband went off to work (he goes in for maintenance) and I was heating up a cup of coffee at 11:45 pm.  This was going to be an all-niter.  I will spare you the boring details of the work, but lemme tell ya - it took a long time.  We had no issues, but it took forEVAH.
Fast forward to 7:00 am.  I had my third (or was it my fourth) wind and another cup of coffee.  I escorted the girls to the family room so I could continue my work.  Following a few phone calls, instant messages and application checks, I sprinted (probably more like a slog) up the stairs to shower.  Yoga teacher training calls...
I got to class with two minutes to spare and no shut eye.  The focus of today's workshop would be arm balances.  Awesome (sarcasm), I can spend the next two hours doing face plants.  Sweet.  I was, however, pleasantly surprised with my focus and performance in the more challenging poses.  Maybe I should sleep less.  Ha, yeah right.  I kept moving through the class until we transitioned to savasana.    I damn nearly passed out.  The bellowing sounds of the music echoed in my clear mind.  I felt the base tones reverberate through my torso.  As if my body hovered above the mat, it seemed as if I wasn't making any contact with the floor.  Fully conscious, I teetered in the sweet spot of bliss.
After class, the busy schedule didn't end, but we adults managed just fine.
I knew I needed a good evening meal to fill my soul and cool my fiery energy.  Sadly, I aimlessly wandered the grocery store looking for something.  Before I gave up and left defeated, the lightbulb nearly shattered above my head in the tomato sauce aisle.
I grabbed a jar of butternut squash sauce (never saw that before) and navigated the oblivious patrons towards the produce section.  I shoved two orange peppers in a plastic bag, ready to check out.

Butternut Squash Stuffed Peppers w/ Roasted Vegetables

Slice peppers in half lengthwise.  Remove seeds and pith (white membrane).
Place open side up in roasting pan.  Drizzle with EVOO and salt.  Roast for 20 min on 400 degrees.

Chop leftover roasted vegetables (I had leftover roasted carrots, asparagus, onions & brussels sprouts).  Mix with butternut squash sauce.  Add a little water until there's a thinner sauce consistency.

Scoop veggie mixture into roasted peppers.  Top with Feta cheese and roast until cheese warms.
Add crushed red pepper before serving.

Is it bedtime yet?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Blasted Back to Reality

February is the shortest month.  February 2014 was packed with enough bustling around.  I can't believe it's over and we survived.  
Earlier this month, I traveled to Wisconsin.  Yes, Wisconsin in February.  "Who does that?" I heard frequently.  C'mon, people.  If you knew me AT ALL, I'd book a one way trip to Arizona, Aruba or even Florida - anything to get away from this season called Winter.  The PA folks are getting screwed up here with the bone chilling temperatures and the steady dumping of snow.  I WANT OUT.  Wisconsin was a whirlwind of a trip for work.  I spent one day, two nights in class and battling the cold.  The low during my short time there was -14.  That's MINUS FOURTEEN.  I traveled bundled up with two pairs of gloves, a hat and my two layer ski coat (even though I don't ski).  Strangely, I noted people walking around with exposed hands and NO hats.  WHO DOES THAT?  I was thrilled to return to the east coast when 20 degree weather warranted leaving the coat in the car.    
The following week presented the usual life challenges of balancing family and work complicated with snow cancelations/delays.  Yet again, we survived to welcome another weekend paired with much warmer temperatures and sunshine.  The weekend wrapped up and I sadly said good-bye to my family again as I left them curbside to hop another plane.  This time, I traveled to Florida (again for work).  I don't normally travel for business, let alone twice in the same month.  A large group made the trek to Orlando for a Health Care IT conference - some have dubbed it the Super Bowl of Health Care IT.  If you're asked to go to this conference, consider it an honor.  
I learned a lot.  Here's the summary (in no particular order):
  • Just when you settle in and start to accept what's face value - it's a trap!
  • Take advantage of a swimming pool, even if it's for five minutes.
  • Downtown Disney (or anything Disney) makes me sad when I'm without my kids and husband.
  • Orlando is one of the sketchiest towns I've visited.  
  • Tequila is to Muffin as Kryptonite is to Superman (a lesson I learn time and time again).
  • Traveling with a large group yields a lot of laughs.  
  • I work with some great people who absolutely have my back.  You know who you are.  Thank you.
  • I'm determined enough to workout in the worlds shittiest fitness 'centers' just to log a few miles for stress relief.  
  • If traveling to a different climate, try on your warmer weather clothes BEFORE you commit to bringing them (or make sure you pack a lot of safety pins).  
  • Don't get your heart set on passing a Starbucks in the airport.  It leads to major disappointment.  
  • You can never pack too many travel snacks.
  • A sixteen minute flight isn't worth the aggravation of major turbulance, spontaneous tears and a queasy stomach.  
  • Holding my kids and being held by my husband is a nice reminder of my great life.