Thursday, December 31, 2015

2016: 5 Running Goals to Meet

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.  Being the first Friday of the month, fitness is the theme for this week.

With the new year beginning today, now is always a good time as any to work on setting some running goals for 2016.  While the unwritten goal of last year was just to get on the roads and trails again, this time around I am making some more concrete plans for what I want to accomplish.  So here are the five things that will make 2016 a great year for running.

1.  12 in 12 - The plan has been put into motion to run a race a month throughout the next year.  Some of these events will be for time while others are going to be just for fun.  Either way, taking part in them will be a blast (check out my 2016 race list)!

2.  Strength Training - While I would rather just spend more time running, I've come to accept that I need to spend time building muscle and flexibility in other ways.  I have started the habit of planking each night before bed, but would also like to take some time a few days a week to use exercises like squats and lunges to work my legs and core.  Time to make myself not look so scrawny!

3.  First Marathon - A year from now, I would like to have completed my first marathon.  Due to how my schedule tends to look from teaching, the summer is a perfect time to train and be ready for a fall race.  I am still in the process of deciding which one to do, since there are a number in the area.

4.  Increase Days of Running - For years, I was able to run five or six days a week without overly major injury issues or exhaustion.  However, this has not been the case lately.  I would like to get back to that trend instead of only three or four days.  Even easy runs make me feel productive and accomplished.

5.  Become a Running Group Regular - So far my attendance at group runs has been minimal.  With the new year, I want to participate in my local running club's meet-ups, especially on weekends when I have the time and little excuse to not do so.  The running community has begun to grow in the area, and I really want to be a part of it!

So what are your 2016 running goals?

Happy running and happy New Year!

2015 - The Year of the Great Return

Only a few hours remains in 2015 and, after some perusing through Twitter, realized that I had not taken the time to place into writing my random thoughts on how the year had progressed. In reflecting on the ups and downs of these past 365 days, I would say things have gone really well. In liking the number five and tending to be a more positive person than negative, I figure below I'll give three ways in which the year has been great and two situations that I wish were different, but alas, were what they were.

The Heights
1. The first way in which this year was great is that I returned to running after taking several years off. While the aches and pains to restarting the sport were pretty evident, the days when my runs allowed me to slip into the groove and just go were amazing. My stress went down, my health improved, and I had a hobby that was good for me (and made me more bearable those around me!).

2. The second accomplishment that I am really proud of is completing my first half marathon. When in high school and college, I am not sure I would have ever considered taking on this distance. However, in having survived it, I'm ready to not only tackle 13.1 again, but strive for the full 26.2.

3. Finally, this year, specifically these past few weeks, has allowed me the opportunity to connect with one of my best friends over running. In not having too many friends who find taking on the miles enjoyable, having someone with whom to share stories and even go with on a run has been really great. I'm looking forward to this continuing into the new year!

The Depths
1. When I consider the negatives from this year past, not too much comes to mind. The first challenge that I faced in the three months leading up to my half marathon was a knee injury that I couldn't shake. I wonder at times if I had been able to push myself harder if I could have done even better.

2. My other downside to the year that has set in in the last few weeks is my nemesis returning - shin splints. The pain I thought was long in my past has shown its ugly head. When I was planning on spending the end of the year increasing the number of days I run, I have instead found myself sidelined for the week with my ice pack serving as my faithful companion. Maybe after this time of rest I can get back into things in 2016.

Like I said, overall the year has been great and I'm looking forward to an even better 2016.  Running is a blessing in my life and I am glad to experience it.  I end this year with a special amount of gratitude for that.

Happy running and to a wonderful 2016!

Friday, December 25, 2015

5 Favorite Holiday Gifts

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.  In having a "Free Week" as the theme and Christmas being the mass consumption of my time recently, I figured I'd wait until today to share the top five running items I received for the holiday.

As runners, we all know how hard of a hit our bank accounts can take when we go on a gear shopping spree.  This is especially true if you're just starting into or returning to the sport.  As a result, when people asked what I wanted for Christmas, my running wardrobe was the first thing that came to mind.  Below are the top five gifts that I gratefully received today and can't wait to put into use soon!

1.  Running socks - I currently own six pairs of running socks meaning I spent at least one day a week doing laundry so I had something to wear for my runs.  Between the various gifts from relatives, I now have twice as many pairs (including one that color coordinates with my shoes!).

2.  Tech shirts - Tech shirts make such a difference compared to cotton apparel.  However, like socks, I only had a few shirts and found myself always hoping to find one more in the drawer.  I now have a few to choose from and a runner can never have too many shirts!

3.  Amazon gift card - As someone who tends to be indecisive...a lot, I tend to go back and forth when it comes to purchasing specific running accessories.  I've been perusing various hydration systems, but can't seem to pick the one I want (suggestions welcome!).  Thus, the gift card gives me the flexibility to get the item I want when I finally decide.

4.  Swedish fish - I LOVE Swedish fish!  As a result of my in-laws knowing us well, my wife and I got 5 of the large bags of these delectable chewies.  Besides just enjoying them whenever, these come into play for running in serving as energy chews.  While I have not tried it out yet, I plan to on my next long run.

5.  Memory foam pillow - Running after a great night's sleep can make a huge difference between an okay run and a perfect run.  My new pillow (which my wife bought at an amazing discount!) will make for some better night's rest and awesome runs during the day.

What was your favorite running gift you received?

Happy running and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2015

5 Favorite Winter Activities

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 winter activities.

Let me begin by admitting that I am not a fan of winter - not even my January birthday can redeem the season.  However, I like to be a pretty positive person and try to find the good that helps take care of the cold winter months.  So once those cold fronts start moving through, these are the five activities I like to enjoy while the weather outside is frightful.

Phipps Conservatory Light Show - Started a few years ago due to the invitation of a friend, each winter my wife and I pay a visit to Phipps Conservatory for their Winter Flower and Light Show.  The rooms throughout the conservatory are decked out in holiday cheer with seasonal plants and lights galore.  And with the show running for a few months, getting in a few visits is always a great opportunity.

Overly's Country Christmas - Compared to Phipps, Overly's is more of a car light show and holiday village.  With admission going toward various charities, participating in the holiday event gives one the feeling of giving back while enjoying Christmas.  After driving past the light displays, families have the chance to walk through the small village of stores and sights, including a talking Christmas tree.  This event appeals to all ages, including kids from 1 to 92.

Sleeping in on Snow Days - When the weather turns bad or unbelievably cold, the phone call that makes the chilliness endurable is the alert that a snow day has been called.  Usually after getting the message, I turn off my alarm and fall right back to sleep.  In feeling more rested and only having to go outside enough to shovel the drive way, when we get back to school I'm ready jump back into things.

Sipping Hot Chocolate and Reading - As the snow swirls outside, nothing fits the mood better than drinking hot chocolate and curling up with a good book or magazine.  Comfort and coziness make for such a peaceful day that is often needed amidst the craziness of life.

Running - Nothing gives a sense of accomplishment or gets you crazy looks from neighbors than running in the winter weather.  Bundling up and hitting the road challenges you mentally and physically.  However, once finished, the day feels more complete and productive.

What is your favorite winter activity?

Happy running!

Jingle Bell 5K

At some races, everything just clicks and all comes together.  This feeling of harmony was with me during my half-marathon, but has been absent from my last two 5Ks.  At each race I somehow felt out-of-sorts and just couldn't seem to get myself in the right mindset to run well.  The tides seem to have changed with my most recent run in the Jingle Bell 5K.

Leading up to this race, I was anxious for a number of reasons.  First, my shins have not been nice to me (nor I to them) making any run painful and frustrating.  I actually made the decision a few weeks ago to ditch the training plan I had formulated, even though I was very careful when planning it to not do too much, too fast, too soon.  I had also switched to a routine of constantly icing my legs, performing lower-leg exercises and only running in grassy areas.  This healing method worked surprisingly well, but I knew I hadn't run more than 3 miles only at a slow pace in the time leading up to the race and my shins tended to seize up when I pushed too hard.

In addition to this physical challenge, a scheduling conflict also developed.  In October, I had agreed to attend a retreat with my students that was planned for the week before Thanksgiving.  Well, due to some unforeseen (but positive) circumstances, the retreat was moved to the weekend of the race.  While I knew I could leave a little early race morning, the bigger concern came from knowing that I would most likely be lacking a good night's sleep and good nutrition.  Although I didn't want to sacrifice sleep, I also care deeply about my students and knew that sometimes they just needed time to talk and it would require me to stay up late.

I spent some time thinking about the challenges this race would present me to the point of considering not showing up.  However, in having already paid to participate, my checkbook convinced me to do it regardless.  I figured that, if nothing else, I could take the race easy and just enjoy myself.

On the Wednesday before the race, my wife picked up my packet and swag, since she drives past the running store that was hosting the pick-up.  Getting the race goodies improved my hopes for the run, since I not only got a long-sleeved shirt, but also a collapsible water bottle and it was all inside a reusable thermal bag.  It apparently only takes the little things to improve my mood!

I had to pack all my running attire I would need for the race, since I was planning on getting in a short run during the retreat and would be going directly to the race Sunday morning.  I got in my last run before the race Friday morning while everyone was still asleep.  However, during this easy run, I did feel pretty good considering how little shut-eye I had gotten and my legs weren't doing too poorly (though my Garmin was another story - it had my pace and mileage way off).  Maybe the race would have the same prospect!

When the morning of the race rolled around, I was definitely tired, but feeling okay.  I got all attired up, said my good-byes and made my way to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.  As has become my custom, I like to use a portion of the trail to warm up before heading to the race, since I tend to feel awkward doing my stretches and dynamic exercises with other people around (introvert problems!).  I took my warm-up nice and easy with special attention given to remaining on the grass that bordered the trail.  Besides just some tightness, I felt pretty good.  However, the true test would come shortly in that the majority of the course was on pavement and I wasn't sure what would happen when I pushed myself to go faster.

The moment of truth arrived as I lined up in the 8 minute pace area while shaking my arms and legs to keep them loose.  The buzzer sounded and we were off!  Trying my best to practice good form, I got myself into an even rhythm and just kept putting one leg in front of the other.  Something amazing happened during the race - my shins didn't hurt!  I moved along the course at a great pace constantly driving myself to catch up the next person in front of me.  Looking down at my watch at one point, the thought occurred to me: I could actually break 22 minutes.  While my legs were tiring, I kept moving and my revelation came true - final time was 21:45!  I was exhausted, but also exhilarated in finally returning to the times I had gotten in high school and college.

Even with circumstances surrounding the race not the greatest, I was able to PR and be reminded why I enjoy spending hours on the roads and trails.  The results of the Jingle Bell Run have energized me for my next race - the Frigid 5 Miler.  I also have my eyes set on a new goal - sub-21:00 a 5K.

Happy Running!

You can read my full race review at Bibrave.

Friday, December 4, 2015

5 Dream Racecations

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 dream vacations, which I am adjusting slightly to be more focused on racecations I would like to take.

Like most runners, I have participated in local runs and had a great experience with them.  However, a small part of us always dreams of going a little further away to some exotic and exciting place and joining in a race that just matches our personality so well.  We develop race bucket lists based on these desires knowing that the reality of actually accomplishing them would be unlikely at best.  Wanting to experience both the new place and run while at it has created this new concept of "racecations."  In considering where I would like to go and what I would like to race, below is my top five dream racecations.

1.  Star Wars Half Marathon - I will be the first to admit it - I LOVE Star Wars!  Ever since I was little, the movies (specifically the original trilogy) have always been my favorite.  When I heard that Disney was hosting a race that combined both my favorite movies and running through the most magical place on earth, I was totally stoked.  Sadly, between the finances to accomplish this run and not really being able to take time off from teacher to go in the middle of April, this racecation will have to remain on my list until I'm closer to like 30 years.

2.  Avengers Half Marathon - In the various travels I have done, the furthest west I have ever ventured has been Arizona.  Yet, a place I would always like to go some day is California and pay a visit to Disney Land.  And if I'm going to be at that park, how could I pass up the opportunity to appease my superhero-loving self and run in the Avengers Half Marathon?  Now if only I had Captain America's build....

3.  Big Sur Half Marathon - Every picture I have seen of the West Coast presents it as absolutely stunning.  And from what I can tell, many races seem to take advantage of this gorgeous landscape.  As an East Coaster, I would love to make it to the other side of the country to admire the Pacific while running the Big Sur Half Marathon.  From what I have heard about the race, it is on a vast number of runners' bucket list and I figure I might as well add it to mine.  Running while hearing the crashing of the sea sounds so soothing and enjoyable.

4.  Boston Half Marathon - I first heard about the Boston Half Marathon when I was speaking to another runner this past summer.  In the other runner being someone who has never done a full marathon, he told me that the experience of at least running on the same course as the famous race was really exciting.  And with Boston not being that far away (my wife has gone there by train), I would like to see this famous and historic city.  Maybe when things align, I'll finally get that chance!

5.  Dublin Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon - I couldn't have a list of dream racecations without including an international experience.  When my wife and I were planning our honeymoon, Ireland had been in the discussion right up until we made plans (decided to go with Rome instead).  Consequently, I still want to visit the birth place of my great-grandparents.  While there, I would like to make it to Dublin and run my first Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon.  The Rock 'n' Roll series always sounds like a great time, so why not do it internationally.

So that is my top five racecations I would love to take,  What is one of your dream racecations?

Happy running!