Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why We Run

My wife and I were driving home from work and having a conversation about fitness.  I remarked about how I was looking forward to my upcoming Clean Air Dash 5K and was considering doing a race every month or two throughout the year with the possibility of even participating in a marathon.  My wife who, while supporting me unconditionally, is a self-proclaimed non-runner and replied, "I don't get it."  After a short Abbot-and-Costello like routine of my trying to figure out what she meant, I finally understood that she was referring to running in general.  While a lover of yoga and dancing and someone who has attempted to get hooked on running several times, my wife couldn't comprehend why people go and run crazy distances for hours on end.

Our conversation did get me thinking about why I enjoy running so much.  One of the reasons I got into running in the first place wasn't because I was super fast, but more along the lines of being terrible at every ball-centered sport everyone attempts growing up.  Basketball, baseball, soccer - complete and total failure at each one.  When I started cross country, I had discovered a sport in which I wouldn't embarrass myself on a regular basis!

Now, many years later, I find that running also satisfies the introvert in me.  While I spend all day in front of students constantly interacting, I am by my nature very reserved and quiet.  I enjoy my solitude away from the noise and busyness of the world around me.  When I am on a trail or running down rural streets, my mind can wander and I am at my most relaxed state.  I am at peace and can endure  high levels of socialization after I have had my run.

If you ever forget why you run, revisit your beginnings and that desire to lace up and head out will come alive.

Happy running!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Product Review: C9 Champion Tech Fleece

With the changing of the weather, I have begun to keep my eye out for any good deals on warmer running clothing, since my wardrobe currently consists of shorts and shirts.  Sadly, what I had been finding lately was generally high-priced coats and pants that are well beyond my price range.  You can imagine my excitement then when I saw that Target was having a sale on its C9 Champion Tech Fleece Full Zip Hoodie.  I own several tech shirts, socks and compression shorts from C9 so my expectations were pretty high that the hoodie would meet my needs.

Up until this point, if the weather was ever cooler than expected, I would usually layer up with one of my college hoodies.  The issue with them is that they are all 100% cotton and thus don't allow for too much ventilation or temperature control.  In addition, any precipitation soaks in adding weight and decreasing the effectiveness of the clothing.  Like many other runners, I have sworn off cotton as a viable fabric for athletic gear until proven otherwise.  Now, on to the review!

The C9 hoodie is 100% polyester while providing the same fleecey feel on the inside as other winter clothing.  The fabric is not overly thick, so it won't keep you warm in the middle of a blizzard.  But, if you are like me in not minding layering in compression/spandex gear, this piece of clothing can make due until the weather truly drops into the snow/freezing rain weather.

When zipped up, the hoodie definitely hugs one's figure.  While not uncomfortable, the styling of the jacket does not leave too much bagginess.  I rather liked the cut, since it made for less wind resistance and actually moved with one's body.  I also liked having a full zipper that I could pull up or down to adjust if I was feeling too warm or cold.

Like any great hoodie, wouldn't be one without it, this jacket does have a hood.  If there is one piece of the clothing that I am not a huge fan of its that the hood seems over-sized compared to the rest of the hoodie.  When I started my run, I pulled up the hood, but found it really didn't fit my head unless I pulled the drawstrings pretty tight.  In addition, where the hood attaches to the rest of the jacket appears too broad thus letting cool air in around the neck.  While in no way a deal-breaker, it is a little bit of an annoyance.

The last piece of note involving the hoodie is the two front pockets.  These pockets are big enough to put a phone in, but I would not recommend using them for this purpose.  The opening to the pocket is fairly large leading me to be a little nervous while running that my phone would tumble out.  The pocket would probably work fine in regard to holding gloves, energy chews, earmuffs, etc.  The pockets are also lined with fleece, so if nothing else, you can keep your hands warm while strolling through the neighborhood.

After taking it for a go, I am very pleased with this hoodie, especially in being able to purchase it for under $25.  Target puts its C9 apparel on sale pretty regularly, so keep an eye out for another wave of discounts in the near future.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Stepping On "Not Leaves"

I seem to have gotten ahead of myself in thinking of the winter months' impact on running and neglected, as I was reminded today during my run, the reality of how fall creates unique diversity in how we conquer the roads.  Amidst the familiar smell of cross country season (yes, a sport can have a smell) on the cool air and the beautiful coloration of the leaves on the trees, other challenges lurk that can often be forgotten when running.  Like my winter post, here are few reminds when enjoying your fall runs.

Leaves Are Shady Characters
See what I did there?  While leaves are great in the summer for keeping us out of the blinding sun and look impressive in the fall when the hues shift, they can also be deceptive once they begin to lay on the ground.  This stark truth set in several times during my earlier run.  In running on roads with lots of curves and little berm, I often attempt to extricate myself from the pavement by keeping to the point where grass and concrete meet.  The challenge leaves add to this method of safety is that they can cloak what is actually beneath them.  Within the first half mile of my run, my foot landed on what I thought was grass covered by leaves, but instead turned out to be swampy mud.  Thank God for my water-wicking socks!  While I was able to get myself back in rhythm within a few steps, it could have turned out much worse.  And in seeming to not learn my lesson the first time (I'm a slow learner at times), I repeated the misjudgment and found my foot sliding into a divot between a small hillside and the road.  With twisted ankles and face-plants narrowly avoided, I'm going to be much more careful on where my feet hit the ground.

The Ents Are Going To War!
Or at least I swear the tree branches are attempting to take me out.  With less leaves and everything turning a dreary brown, low-hanging twigs and leaning foliage become much harder to see.  The scratches on my legs serve as proof.  Until the weeds die and the branches break off, these things will continue to serve as annoyances that give leave some pretty nasty scrapes and cuts.

Temperature Like the Stock Market
Where winter is pretty predictable in that it usually stays cold, fall has the opportunity to change on a whim.  While the sun may be shining, the breeze can offer a nasty bite that will cut right through thin clothing.  As a result, while it may be hard to accept, summer attire may need to find itself retired and replaced with items that can be adjusted in case the temperature drops or climbs.  This fact especially holds true on long runs, when anything can and, on occasion, will happen.

Enjoy your various pumpkin-scented/flavored/textured everything and happy running!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Winter is Coming!

Winter is coming

I feel like I am in a George R.R. Martin novel as I think about the Fall leaves drifting off the trees and snowy ground looming in the near future.  That realization set in quickly while running yesterday when half-way through my run my ears were stinging and throat felt raw from the dry, cold air.  The challenge of the run was even more complicated by the quickly darkening skies with dusk arriving that much sooner.  With the chilly weather blowing in and less daylight hours. I figure now is a good a time as any to give three kernels of insight into winter running.

Be Smart About It
In the past few years, winter months have been plagued with sub-zero days and intense storms.  In knowing how driven runners can be, we sometimes need a reality check that a day of working out is not worth endangering our health.  It's for this very reason that God created treadmills and strength-training websites (even though they may seem evil at first!).  No need to pull a George Weasley and lose an ear due to frostbite.

Bundle Up In Layers
Even though you may feel like the boy from A Christmas Story, dressing in layers works wonders.  As you warm up, you can remove any outer layers keeping your body at a comfortable temperature.  The key is to make sure you are wearing fabrics that wick away sweat and can breath a little.  Nothing will leave you feeling like an icicle than a cold blast of air over sweaty skin.

Opt For Reflective Clothing
Since many of us don't have time to run during the middle of the day, we tend to choose to either run in the morning or at night.  The change we may notice most when running at these times is the lack of glorious sunshine.  With Old Man Winter invoking so much darkness, we need to be attentive to how motorists will see us when on a residential road with few lights.  This thought set in when I was running one evening and realized that I was wearing both a black shirt and black running pants and any approaching car would have one heck of a time seeing me (even may pasty white skin would be of little help).  If you do any sort of search for "reflective tape for clothing," you'll find that a number of choices exist.  If you would prefer to not alter your lucky tech shirt, vests are always another option.  Either way, drivers will have greater respect for runners (and not unintentionally run us off the road) if we make it easier to see us.

Think Spring!
I know - we aren't even in Winter yet and Spring is already on the mind.  If you are like me and that's what it takes to endure the long, cold months, go for it!

Hope these tips come in handy and happy and safe running!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Going the Distance

Hard to believe that the last time I posted was when the school year was coming to an end and now we are about to end the first quarter of this year.  Time is flying by!

Since my previous post, life has been exciting and enjoyable.  I helped organize and attend my school's first mission trip partnered with Habitat for Humanity.  Between wearing a hazmat suit to clean out and demolish a house to digging through mud to create a rain garden, I learned a variety of new skills.  However, as a teacher, the greatest joy in the mission was seeing my students and watching them grow from the experience.  Of particular note, we kept their cellphones from them throughout the week leading them to realize how much fun they could have with their classmates when a screen was not in the way.  Some of them even commented how they didn't want their phones back since they liked being present in the moment by playing board games, playing outside, and just having conversations.  At times like these my students make me so proud to be their teacher!

On returning from the mission trip, I began training for my first half marathon.  I had run a variety of 5Ks and 5 Milers throughout high school and college, but I had never gone the full 13.1.  Like any training, I faced some ups and downs including shin splints, runners knee, and a very humid summer.  At times, I really considered why I was doing it and what was driving me to push myself.  However, I never gave or or let myself miss a run.  In reality, I especially liked my long runs since I was constantly trying to find new parks, trails and paths that I had never tried before.  The experience really opened my eyes to the beauty of the city of Pittsburgh and so many amazing things that have been added over the years to support fitness and running.  While I am sure it drives my wife little crazy, I never miss an opportunity to point out the different trails as we drive past them when going through the city.

All the training and half marathon research culminated on September 19th at the Greensburg Half Marathon.  When I was looking for a half to do, I wanted both one of that was small and also during late summer before the weather would get too unpredictable.  I lucked out in that the race met both those expectations.  In having not raced in roughly eight years, my nerves were definitely getting to me.  I ate a very small breakfast since I was not sure how much I could or should stomach and headed out the door.  When I arrived at the park, I just kept walking around anxiously waiting to begin.  When they finally called those of us participating the half to the starting line, I thought back to all the different advice I had read online and in magazines.  Trying to digest all those information, I did my best to implement it when the gun went off and the race commenced.  I expected my time to be somewhere around 2:15 since I had never consistently broken 10:00 minute miles and thought I would really hit the wall as the race continued.  To my surprise, I never necessarily hit the wall nor did I run as slowly as I expected.  When I reached the finish, my time was 1:48:18 and I noticed from the watch that I had run negative splits.  That was a shocker!  While my legs were definitely out of energy (I had my wife drive us home), my upper body felt great and I began to plan when I would do my next half.  I was in luck - the Pittsburgh Half Marathon registration opened the following week and I sighed up as soon as it was available.  My goal now is to improve on my time and at this time next year complete my first full marathon.  We shall see what happens!

You can read a full review of the Greensburg Half Marathon on Bib Rave

After my half marathon, I did take a few weeks off to heal from my various injuries that I refused to acknowledge while training.  With this week, the itch to go for a run has grown strong and I could not help but scratch it.  So, time to get ready for the races that are to come and what I learn along the way.

Happy running!