Monday, November 30, 2015

A Run Just For Fun

Running, especially when speaking about races, can take on a competitive component.  We are always striving for the next PR to prove to ourselves that we have improved in our abilities and all those long hours on the road were worth it.  Yet, one of the dangers this tendency invites is that we forget how much we love running in general.  Buddy the Elf puts it so well (and yes, every time you read it you will hear it said in Will Farrell's voice).

As a result, I was pretty excited when I signed up in the beginning of November for the Ugly Sweater Run.  In reading about the various aspects of the run (offering hot chocolate to me is a definite selling point), I began to look forward to participating in the event where no chips or timers would be in sight.  My runs lately have been really enjoyable to the point that my iPod had no juice left in it from sitting unused for so many weeks.  In approaching this 5K run, I only had one goal in mind - just enjoy myself.

The anticipation for the event was great as I began my hunt from an ugly sweater to wear.  After checking the sweater aisle in a variety of stores throughout Black Friday shopping, I eventually found what I was searching for at the local Goodwill.  With the sweater set out, all I needed to do now was pick up my run packet and all would be ready.  Fleet Feet Pittsburgh hosted the pre-run pick-up, which is the first time I had been to this running store.  In true Pittsburgher fashion, I was a little nervous about crossing over a river in order to get to the store (going outside of one's region where he or she lives is a big deal, especially if it involves using a bridge or tunnel!), but survived the ordeal.  Let the Christmas-themed running shenanigans begin!

With the race having a later start time (sleep in longer? yes!), I was able to take my time getting ready and heading out the door.  While I could have parked near the starting line, I passed up this option (and saved $7) by instead parking along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and running into the city.  Not only is this trail my favorite in the city due to its scenery, but I also had the opportunity to warm up.

As I approached PNC Park where the race was held, the festive inflatable spirit was clearly in the air and ugly sweaters abounded all around.

With all the sights and sounds, the time until the run started flew by.  The one issue was that I could feel my legs cooling down from my jog to the staging area.  I did a little of static stretching and got into position to begin the run.  I did start my Garmin when my grouping was released, but purely for tracking purposes and had my sleeve pulled over it the entire run.  I set into a decent, but not race, pace since I wanted to just enjoy the experience.  However, like any time I push myself, I could feel my shin muscles begin to tighten.  I pulled back a little, but knew the rest of the run would involve lower-leg soreness.  I didn't let this dampen my mood and kept trucking along.  When I reached the finish line, after giving Santa a high-five, I stopped my watch and noticed that I was only a minute slower than my recent 5K PR.  Cool!  After a cup of hot chocolate, a selfie with an inflatable and some stretching, I made my way back to the car.

Overall, I was really happy with the day and believed I accomplished my goal.  This run reminded me how much fun running can be and also helped prep me for my next race in two weeks - the Jingle Bell Run/Walk.  In addition, I have now acquired an ugly sweater and hat that can make an appearance on Ugly Sweater Day at school!

Happy Running!

Check out my run review on Bibrave!

Friday, November 27, 2015

5 Ways to Practice Gratitude

For this Friday Five, I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  The theme for this week, in honor of Thanksgiving, is gratitude.

The time leading up to Thanksgiving and running through Christmas is often filled with an external encouragement to show gratitude.  From themes in TV shows to advertisements, we hear from so many sources how this time of year is when we should be grateful.  However, when December 26 rolls around, we often return to a state of less thankfulness.  As a result, the five suggestions below I am hoping you find to be timeless and can practice these simple means of gratitude year-round.

1.  Write a Thank You Letter - A simple thank you note can mean the world to someone.  As a teacher, I have received these notes over the years and have a drawer that I keep them in.  Any time I need a boost of motivation, I read one of the letters.  The writer of a thank you letter may never know how much his or her words mean to the recipient.

2.  Donate to Charity - While the holidays are great times to give to charities, off-season donations also serve a need.  Places such as food pantries often get an influx of goods during Thanksgiving and Christmas, but begin to run low in the summer and early autumn when schools and other organizations are not collecting and donating.  Reflect your gratefulness for what you have by giving to others throughout the year.

3.  Show Authentic Appreciation - Any time someone does something nice for us, we automatically respond, "thank you."  However, when we say these words, they are more of a reflex than from the heart.  Next time someone performs a generous act, respond in gratitude by thanking them specifically for what he or had done.  "Thank you for...."  This intentional thanking will help you become aware of just how many kind acts other people, even strangers, do for you throughout a day.

4.  Appreciate What We Have - One of the simplest ways to show gratitude is to be content with what we have.  Look around wherever you are reading this post and take in what all is around you.  So many blessings we have in our lives!

5.  Give a Wave of Thanks - As with every Friday Five, I always like to include a running-focused item on the list.  The way in which we can show gratitude while running is giving some non-verbal thanks to drivers who are aware of us on the road and kindly give us space to run.  While some cars may make us a little nervous as we feel the breeze of them buzzing by, other motorists provide us a wide breadth.  By giving a small wave or nod of thanks, we show our appreciation to the drivers for watching out for our safety.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful and blessed holiday season and thank you for reading my blog!

Happy running!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

#RunChatHunt Has Begun!

It's that time of year when a chill breeze is in the air, the scents of apple and pumpkin waft through the house, and the number of decorations a runner sees along his or her route suddenly multiplies.  This last change in the seasons is one of my favorites and it can become just as exciting for you, too!

The great people at #RunChat, who on Sundays provide an awesome twitter chat, want to keep running as interesting as possible and bring a greater awareness of it to a social level.  To accomplish this amazing task, they developed what is referred to as #RunChatHunt.  Think of this activity as a running scavenger hunt.  The goal of the hunt is to find as many items from a list as possible, snap a picture, and share it on social media.  The objects range from seasonal to unique to a little bizarre.  The hope is that each runner will help in capturing his or her running experience and allow others to get a small glimpse into it.  To add to this adventure, for each item you submit, you receive an additional entry for some amazing prizes.  Check out the list of items below:

For more details, list of prizes, and the rules, visit the blog post from #RunChat here.

I will be updating this page with the various pics I take so you can track my progress.  I already have in mind where I want to begin!    Comment below if you want plan to join in the fun!

Happy running!

My #RunChatHunt Finds:

1.  Left-over Halloween Decoration: Looks like one has already served as a snack!
2.  Salvation Army Bell Ringer: He stayed at his post the entire day - that's endurance!
3.  Holiday Running Gear - Wow do they make a lot of Christmas-themed running attire!
4.  Holiday Inflatable - Hello Mr. Christmas Tree!
5.  Something that best represents your city - Pittsburghers are die-hard sports fans!
6.  Race Finish Line - Thank you for your assistance Ugly Sweater Run!
7.  Bridge - Only had 446 to choose from...Yes, we have the most in the world!
8.  View From A Trail - Three Rivers Heritage Trail is my favorite!
9.  High School Track - Finally paid the track a visit and found out it's open to the public!
10.  School Zone Sign - Was leaving the track as it was getting dark and realized I need the sign!
11.  Fake Snowflakes - This heat wave was making it hard to find these gems!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Product Review: C9 Champion 3 in 1 Insulated Jacket

The cold weather has arrived and the warm clothes are making an appearance!  A few weeks ago, Target had a sale on its C9 outerwear, which I had been eyeing up for some time.  When I saw that the 3 in 1 Insulated Jacket was included in the discounts, I couldn't pass it up.  Since getting the product, I have worn it in all three parts - outer shell, inner insulated lining and the jacket as a whole.  Now that I have given all three elements of the jacket a test, I feel confident in reviewing my impressions of it.

Like I have mentioned previously with C9, it is one of my favorite lines for workout clothing that won't break the bank but serve its purpose.  And in getting a 3 in 1 product, I felt like I was getting even better of a deal.  So to break down this review and get it under way, let's start with the outer shell!

The day I purchased my jacket, the temperature was slightly mild for this time of year.  However, the wind was crazy and had a slight chill to it.  One of the claims of the jacket is its wind resistance and I thought, "What better way to see how true that is than running in 20 MPH gusts!"  I unzipped (which is a nice feature compared to snaps or Velcro) and removed the inner insulated lining and put on the outer shell.  I noticed the various number of cords that were throughout the jacket shell and, to be honest, had not the slightest clue what to do with them, since no instructions were included with the jacket.  As is my natural inclination, I decided that I would just figure out what all the bungees were for while on the go.  I then headed out the door and planned on covering a few miles.

I pulled the hood up in order to retain some heat, but due both to the wind and size of the hood, it quickly fell off.  I then remembered seeing a cord at the base of the hood and decided to give it a pull.  To my surprise, I began to feel the cords inside the hood conform to my head - it's ingenious!  The jacket didn't create any greater issues running in windy conditions than if I were just in shorts and a shirt.  I also liked having not only two front pockets, but a chest pocket for holding my phone as well.  Since I often over-dress for runs, I did have to let the jacket air out when I was finished with my workout so it could dry from sweat.  Overall, the first run with it was pretty successful.

My second run with the jacket necessitated a little more warmth than provided by just the outer shell, but not to the point of wearing the jacket as a whole.  I chose to wear the inner insulated liner with the temperature being in the mid-40's.  I was happy with how warm it kept me without feeling bulky or cumbersome.  In addition, the inner layer also has its own zipper pockets, so no need to worry about things falling out or not having pockets if just wearing the insulated liner.  So far the jacket was two for two!

In the last few days, the chilly air of autumn has finally set in giving me the opportunity to see just how well this 3 in 1 jacket can keep my toasty while the temperatures are hovering around freezing.  As someone who gets cold easily, I half-expected to be finishing my run icy and wanting more layers.  Boy was I wrong!  Not once during my 32 degree run did I feel cold but in actuality had to zip the coat down a little to cool off.  This jacket will be seeing many miles this winter and I won't be dreading my cold runs!

Overall, I am very pleased with the jacket.  The one big disadvantage to the product is that it does not have any reflective material on it.  Since some of my winter runs will be after the sun sets, I will need to invest in a vest or lighting system.  Other than this issue, I am happy to have found a quality 3 in 1 insulated jacket for the right price.

Happy running!

Friday, November 20, 2015

5 Favorite Fall Drinks

For this Friday Five, I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  The theme for this week is five favorite fall drinks.

I will admit, I am a pretty boring drinker with almost every meal consisting of primarily just water.  However, a few drinks during this time of year do stand out.  While my list may looks like that of a five-year-old's, it is also characteristically me.

1.  Hot Chocolate: Without a doubt, I could drink hot chocolate non-stop from the moment the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  As a self-proclaimed chocoholic, with affirmation from my wife who claims I can sniff it out anywhere in the house, anything containing that sweet substance is for me.  I have to admit, in trying a variety of hot chocolate drinks from various establishments, Starbucks wins out.  It is just so dang good!

2.  Hot Apple Cider: In close second, warm apple cider hits the stop when hot chocolate is unavailable.  I am sure that this is due to the sheer amount of sugar content in the drink, but it tastes oh so amazing.  While I have had fresh cider (my in-laws used to own a wooden cider press), I'll take whatever form of the drink I can get.  Of all my drink choices, this one is probably the most seasonal since the shelves become suddenly vacant of it the moment the leaves are no longer on the trees.

3.  Sparkling Grape Juice: When my wife and I first started dating, neither of us were 21.  In order to celebrate the various holidays, we would go to the store and pick up a bottle of sparkling grape juice as our festive drink of choice.  For ten years now, this tradition has continued.  As we move through the fall holidays and into the winter celebrations, our table will have a bottle of grape juice sitting on it, but of course being poured into fancy wine glasses.

4.  Water: Yes, I did include water in my fall drink list not only because it is my drink of choice, but more from a running perspective.  As the months get colder, we sometimes forget that our hydration needs do not necessarily decrease.  Even if we may not be drenched in sweat at the end of a autumn run, we still need to replenish our H2O supply.  Amidst the other festive drinks of the season, continue to keep up with your water intake.

5.  Soup Broth: During the summer months, grilled chicken and fresh veggies are a staple for meals.  However, once the cool air blows in, the soup cans appear.  Once I have eaten all the goodies in my chicken noodle soup, I love drinking the broth.  It's alway tasty, filling, and hits the spot.  I would therefore consider broth as a legitimate fall drink.

What fall drink tops your favorite list?

Happy running!

Friday, November 13, 2015

5 Healthy for the Holidays Tips

I decided this week to join in on Friday Five, since I have always enjoyed reading these blog posts at the end of a long week.  I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Cynthia at You Signed Up for What, and Mar at Mar on the Run.  The theme for this week is five ways to stay healthy during the holidays.

Holidays are always a wonderful time of the year, but they can create some challenges when it comes to not overindulging and also attempting to find times to get in those runs.  Here are five ways to stay on track despite the turkey, Christmas cookies, and champagne.

1.  Make use of extra time: Depending on your progression, the holidays may be an occasion you are out of the office more than in it.  In being a teacher, I am one of those blessed souls who has a few extra days in the house.  Because of this change of schedule, I can go running in the morning instead of the evening, when I may be meeting up with family or friends.  I can also squeeze in a race with many charities sponsoring Turkey Trots, Santa Runs, and  New Years Races.

2.  All things in moderation:  Homemade pierogies and paska are hallmarks at my grandmother's dinner table for the holidays.  The sheer amount of butter, while artery-clogging, tastes so good.  With any amazingly delectable but no-so-healthy food, allow yourself to enjoy it, but only take a little at a time.  I know when I sit down at the table and the aromas hit me, my eyes definitely become larger than my stomach.

3.  Park and walk: Between Black Friday and December 26, we will be spending lots of time going in and out of stores first buying our sweetie that pillow she has been begging for (true story) and returning the sweater that would never see the light of day again if it were kept.  When out shopping, consider parking at the end of the lot and getting some extra walking in.  Not only will you build bigger calves and biceps by carrying your purchases to the back of the lot, but you can also have a slightly easier time avoiding the traffic jams that inevitably happen in front of stores.

4.  Invest in your health:  As runners, we spend a plethora of hours online drooling over the newest apparel and gadgets constantly being released.  This holiday season when the sales are going crazy, consider adding some running gear to your letter to Santa.  Particularly if the is something for the warmer months of the year, it will give you someone to look forward to wearing once the weather shifts.  And, you know, if anyone would like to get me the Garmin Forerunner 25, I'd be totally cool with that.

5.  Make a recovery plan:  In the end, while we do try our hardest to keep things to the norm during the holidays, it's entirely realistic to assume we will not necessarily remain on track.  As a result, consider making a game plan for what you will do once the holidays are over.  Plan out your runs, peruse some training plans, and maybe even sign up for an early spring race.  In formulating your plan prior to the holidays, you will be more likely to avoid the danger of delaying the return to normalcy and routine.

To you and your families, have a blessed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year!

Happy running!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Running Nostalgia

I am always amazed at the sheer amount of running resources that exist on the web.  On a regular basis, I am finding blogs, websites, and news stories that capture every aspect of the running experience.  In some ways then, I shouldn't have been surprised when I came across the website Athlinks.

I was reading through a blog involving the author mentioning her total number of runs according to Athlinks.  Not entirely sure what the blogger was referencing, I did a quick Google search for the website and, lo and behold, discovered a resource that claimed to have records from most races dating back to the beginning of online postings.  My curiosity engaged leading me to search for myself in the database.  When the list appeared, I was suddenly facing a glimpse into my running past.  Names and dates of races from fifteen years ago materialized.  I saw the recurrence of some races I had partaken year after year while others were one-time deals.  My times also reflected my tendency even now to not necessarily be a consistent runner.  I even noticed the summer going into my sophomore year of college when I did a race each of the four summer months.  Hard to believe that was almost ten years ago!

In seeing the various race names, I proceeded to do some searches to identify if any of them still occurred.  Since most of the racing I do is usually sponsored by local organizations, the results came back varied.  While some races have come and gone, others continue to go strong.  In seeing these latter races, I am considering participating in them again just to see how things have changed and what has remained the same.

I would say seeing what my running history had been was enjoyable and brought about a little nostalgia regarding times long past.  But, as is always good in life, I look to what more records I can add into Athlinks and continue my joy of a sport that started many years ago.

Happy running!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Five Dogs You Meet In Running

I was out for a nice easy run and was thinking what topics about which I could write some new blog posts.  However, my concentration would occasionally be broken as I would hear the growls and barks of the various dogs along my route.  That's when it hit me - I should write a posts about dogs!  While I do not own a dog myself for a variety of reasons, I do enjoy these lovable friends and encounter a surprising number along my usual runs.  As a result, I have compiled a list of categories into which each canine one meets while running could be classified. So I encourage you, consider the different kings of dogs you encounter when you head on your next run!

The Sentinel
Our first type of four-legged friend is what I like to label the "sentinel."  This dog can often be characterized as older, but still attentive to the world around him.  He'll be the one sitting on the porch or laying in the yard as you run by.  As long as you remain off his territory, he will let you pass by without making a sound.  However, he will be keeping an eye on your lest you dare trespass where you are not welcome.

The Greeter
Our second type of dog I have lovingly named the "greeter," which I chose in favor over other less savory titles.  The moment you near this dog's kingdom, he will do his best to make sure you know you have been noticed and will not let you forget that until you are far out of sight.  He's like the usher who will not relent until you have taken a seat in the pew no matter how much you want to stand in the back.  I would say this dog is the one met most by runners and it's clearly because we are clearly having so much fun running that they are jealous.

The Ninja
The third canine is given the distinct honor of being recognized as the "ninja."  When in stealth mode, this dog has the capability to sneak up to his fence and bark the moment you are least expecting it.  Several runners could consider attempting hurdles due to the amount of jump resulting from being startled.  But like any great ninja, the moment you no longer hear him and give a look over your shoulder to see why he has stopped, you discover he has vanished.

The fourth furry acquaintance is well known by all of us - yes, I am speaking about THAT dog.  No run down your normal routes would be complete without encountering him.  You can identify his bark from a mile away and and time perfectly the moment he will come out to visit with you while you stride past his invisible fence.  This dog serves as a staple that while the seasons change, holidays come and go, and time moves on, some things will always remain the same.

The Companion
The last and my favorite dog encountered while running is the "companion."  This canine shows a level of focus and determination as he trots along-side his owner with a comfortable ease.  The dog may give you an acknowledging glance, but he will continue on the path set ahead of him.  This canine knows that he is out on the roads and trails in order to support his owner who trains hard, but is never alone.

Disclaimer:  While dogs are great friends, we runners must also express a healthy suspicion around them for our own safety and well-being.  The Humane Society has great information on staying safe when encountering dogs.

Happy running!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Clean Air Dash 5K

Sometimes runners do things sign up for a 5K on a whim.  Whelp, yours truly did exactly that during a moment of weakness last weekend.  While only having gotten back into the routine of running after some recovery time from my half-marathon, I thought, "I did 5Ks all the time!  How hard can this be?"  Well, let's just say there was a learning curve.

Leading up the race, I knew the weather was going to be on the chilly side.  I had done a couple runs during the week and became accustomed to using the zipper of my hoodie to control by body temperature.  I had all planned out what clothing to wear and had a vague idea of what time I could realistically accomplish the distance based off of my half-marathon time.  The morning of the race, I got in my car after packing all possibly necessary amenities and was off.  After getting lost for a short period of time due to not knowing the area where the race was hosted, I did finally find a place to park (any race close to the city = street parking).  When I stepped out of my car, the air didn't feel as cool as I expected to which I figured I could get away with just wearing my tech hoodie.

I made my way a few blocks over to the registration table to pick up my race packet, shirt, and (surprise!) a drawstring bag.  I love when I get useful swag from races!  Anyway, I began my warm-up, but oddly couldn't seem to get my muscles engaged.  It didn't matter if I jogged for a bit, performed some dynamic stretches or just stretched statically.  While I was mentally ready for the race, my legs just didn't seem to want to work.

The time finally came to line up for the race and I positioned myself toward the middle since I try to not go out too strong.  The gun when off and the race began!...or it would have if the course had been wide enough to accommodate the number of runners participating.  During parts of the 3.1 miles, I found myself having to slow down or squeeze past in very narrow spaces.  At the same time, my shins began to ache (as they usually do when I push too hard too fast) making my light steps become much heavier.  The entire race, I felt that any endurance I may have claimed to have was abandoning me.  As a result of the build-up of all this physical pain and mental frustration, the finish line was a welcome sight.

The time I had was an improvement from what I had run during my half-marathon a month before, but it was a few minutes off from what I was able to do in high school and college.  Though disappointed, I keep reminding myself that I have to recognize what my capabilities are now and not what they had once been.  In time, I hope to return to the pace I was able to run, but to rush it will only lead to injury.  I have also become a firm believer in the "runner's high, because what I have found is that the longer I run, the faster I go.  Even during my normal runs, I feel my best when I reach mile 3 or 4.  Maybe this is a sign I should consider taking part in longer racers....

I'm now setting my sights on a Turkey Trot at the end of November and a Christmas-themed race in December.  Maybe my body will be more in tune with those events - we shall see!

Happy running!

Find my full review of the race on BibRave.