Sunday, July 5, 2015

Cross-Training….Do I HAVE to?

I am NOT a gym rat. On a beautiful day, the last place you should look for me is anywhere with four walls and a roof. Air conditioning is for sissies, dumb bells are for meaty ex-football players and treadmills are reserved for the truly insane. I’ll stick to the trail, the sunshine and the suffocating humidity of summertime in RVA. Because I’m not a gym rat, that’s why.

Ok, so that’s how I used to feel about going to the gym and about Cross-training in general. Until last summer, and the moment of truth: the first bikini try-on of the season. I dug my triangle top and itty-bitty bottoms out of the drawer and shimmied into my summertime uniform, hoping for the best. I was greeted by my old friends, flappy arms and poky belly. What the heck, man?

At the time, I was averaging almost 40 miles a week out on the trail and was in the best cardiovascular shape of my life. So why did I still feel squishy, jiggly and not at ALL ready to strut my stuff at the pool? Why? Mainly, I flat-out refused to cross-train or strength-train, leaving my legs in great shape from all that running, but the rest of my body pretty neglected and flabby. Why did I consistently skip the cross-training? Mostly because it’s not that fun and partly because I’m ever–so-slightly addicted to running. If I’ve got an hour to spare and the weather is even remotely OK, you can bet I’m not going to spend that hour pumping iron or dancing in some dang Zumba class. You can find me in the woods. For sure.

 Unfortunately, as I’ve learned, running and only running doesn’t get you any closer to those Halle Berry arms you’ve always dreamed of. Not only that, throwing in a little cross-training can really spice up your routine, helping to prevent burnout and running-related injuries while strengthening muscles all over. Not to mention, (gasp!) it is pretty fun. Sometimes. Here are some of my favorite cross-training workouts; perfect for folks who would really rather be running, but who also enjoy looking fierce in a strappy tank top.

Cycling. Cycling is probably my favorite non-running workout. It’s a great low-impact choice for those days when you want to blast some calories but need a day off from pounding the pavement. Grab your mountain bike and head to the beginner-friendly trails at Pocahontas State Park or go for a neighborhood ride with the kiddos. Your bottom will probably not love that bike saddle, but your legs will thank you and your brain will love the change of pace and scenery.

Weight-lifting. Building muscles and toning your body all-over just makes you feel strong. Stronger as a runner and as a human. Whether you use your own body weight, free weights or circuit-training gym equipment, tossing a couple of these workouts into your weekly routine can make you a leaner, fitter athlete. Strengthening your leg muscles can make you less prone to annoying running injuries, and strengthening your upper body will make you look buff. So that’s a win-win.

Yoga. I love getting in a nice Yoga workout the day before a long run. It really gets the kinks out while promoting flexibility and strengthening those upper-body muscles that we runners tend to neglect. In our world of constant stimulation and multitasking, it’s a gift to be able to unplug for an hour to be calm and quiet, focused on your breath and on what’s going on in your body. That calmness usually stays with me for the whole day after a good Yoga session; plus, I typically have a more successful long run the next day if I take care of that Zen stuff ahead of time.

Swimming. For me, swimming is the toughest of all cross-training options. If I’m ever feeling like I’m in pretty awesome shape, I’ll hit the pool for a few laps and a large slice of humble pie. Usually within about 10 minutes, I’m hanging over the side of the pool, trying to catch my breath and even a sliver of my pride. Along with being one of the only major cardiovascular workouts that targets both the arms and legs, swimming is great for practicing breath control and recovering the day after your long run.

Group Exercise Classes. I enjoy my solo hours out on the trail, but a high-energy group-exercise class can be pretty sweet too. It’s nice to have someone else do all the work-out planning; all you have to do is show up and be ready to work hard and follow directions. Even I can do that. During each class, I almost always find a new exercise that I love and can incorporate into my solo workouts at home or at the gym.

Cross-training will probably always be a challenge for me; I sometimes have to talk myself into going to Cycle class or picking up those free-weights. A few times, I’ve been driving to the gym to get in some reps in the weight-room, only to veer off and end up at the park because the trails were calling my name. Yeah, probably just a mild running addiction. But, we’re all a work in progress, so here’s to trying to focus on cross-training at least a little; it is bathing suit-season, after all.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Stratford Hills 10k

So I'm obviously sort of partial to trail events, usually choosing to save my $ and skip road races altogether....However, even I can't deny when a road race really has it going on. This morning's 36th Annual Stratford Hills 10k in Richmond's South Side really had it going on. I ran this race a few years ago but haven't yet made it a tradition...I've been missing out! I won't skip this one again if I can help it...Here's why:
6 Groovy things about this 10k

1. It cost me $10. Doesn't get much better than that, folks.

2. Smaller is better. The more low-key the event, the more fun I have. This event has enough of a turnout to make it fun & challenging without the traffic and headaches that come with a larger event. There's enough of a crowd to offer a nice dose of that camaraderie stuff we runners love, without the fuss of wave starts or bag checks.

3. The James River. Dude, I really love that river. The course starts at the Stratford Hills Shopping center (plenty of parking, YAY!) and goes down towards the James through a neighborhood, along Riverside Drive for a nice out & back. I love running and hanging out anywhere near the river. It really is beautiful.

4. Fast & Flat...Until that last hill. What goes up must come down, and this race course is no exception. From the shopping center, we darted downhill to the river for about a mile before hitting the flat road to the turnaround and back. At about mile 5, the hill we flew down at the start was patiently waiting for our return. The last leg of the race ascended in that gradual, slow, painful sort of way that runners just love.

5. Richmond Rules. I love Richmond and I really dig the Richmond Road Runners Club. We are so lucky to have such an awesome club to call our own right here in RVA. This race was super well-organized and really fun, while showcasing the welcoming, easy-going vibe that Richmond is known for.

6. Prizes! So I didn't run fast enough to snag a sweet new hand-carved wooden winners plaque, but they gave away a few stellar door prizes, including one for Yours Truly! I hardly ever win anything, so this is actually a pretty huge deal. I snagged a sweet $50 gift card to the Positive Vibe CafĂ©, located right in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center.
Not being one to let it burn a hole in my pocket,
you know I'm gonna go spend that sucker ASAP.

Stratford Hills 10k, RVA, 5/24/15
Time- 50:19
Pace- 8:05/mi
Overall- 67/205
Age Group- 4th/13

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Huguenot Flatwater Park, The Secret Garden

Being a grown-up is hard. Being a parent is both amazing and impossible. All of a sudden, you're handed this tiny person and with a slap on the back (Good Luck!), you embark on the journey of parenthood. No one calls your references or runs a background check. Overnight and without any real preparation whatsoever, you're completely in charge of a tiny, precious human being. I remember leaving the hospital after Lucy was born, getting into the car and somehow expecting somebody to come barreling out of the front doors, yelling "Wait! There's a mistake! These people are NOT qualified to be parents!" Or something like that.

Ok, she's cute. Now what do we do?

Anyway, we've somehow managed to raise a pretty awesome person so far (jury's still out, she's not even 4 yet). Here's hoping she won't turn out to be a total snob, or worse, like someone who drives in the left lane of a 2-way highway, going under the speed limit for absolutely no reason other than to annoy everyone around her. Now that would be a bummer.

Anyway, being a parent can be really tough, especially when it comes to making major decisions for your child that she can't yet make for herself.

We're in the middle of that decision-making parental responsibility zone right now as we make decisions about school for our kiddo. Long story short, we are facing some choices that will likely not make a giant difference when she's 35, but seem pretty dang important right now. Kindergarten. We've been visiting schools, meeting with administrators and trying to navigate through the decision-making process for our future grade-schooler (and President of the United States, of course).

For me, my best thinking, praying and decision-making happens where most of the magic usually happens...out on the trail.
Old Westham Bridge, Huguenot Flatwater Park

This morning, I headed down to the river for some dirt therapy. I started on the trails at Huguenot Flatwater, then trotted along Riverside Drive to Pony Pasture. After looping around the main trail at PP I headed back to Flatwater, finishing up at around 5 miles. It was an especially beautiful Spring morning in RVA, and I couldn't help but feel like Mother Nature was plain showing off. It was that pretty. I needed some quiet time and the trail delivered. Big time.

If you've ever wondered what a real "Secret Garden," feels like, check this out.
Did I solve the world's problems in my hour on the trail? Of course not. Did I come to any major conclusions about the future of my kid's education? Not really. But, I did leave with a sense of that everything will be okay, that she'll probably go to college and that she'll definitely be a total jerk when she's 13 no matter where she goes to Kindergarten.

Hanging with my river rat at Pony Pasture

Gosh, I feel better.

Check out Huguenot Flatwater Park HERE

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Get Lost- Pony Pasture Park

Today's trail run was a shining example of why I LOVE trail running. I headed down to Pony Pasture Park, along the James River for a little exploring this morning, and I wasn't disappointed. Usually, when I head to the river, I run the Buttermilk/Northbank trail loop a little closer to the city. Today I wanted to keep it close to home and was in the mood to get lost. Well, a little lost, anyway...It would be pretty embarrassing to be late to pick up my kid from preschool because I was literally lost in the woods.

I count myself as a very lucky person when it comes to seasonal was one of the worst day for pollen so far, and I was able to get out and enjoy the park without suffering from the coughing, sneezing and itchy eyes that are plaguing so many Richmonders right now. That being said, it was pretty awesome to have the trails to myself this morning....Sorry, allergy sufferers...Ya'll hang in there  ;)

I parked at the main Pony Pasture area and noticed immediately that the river is RAGING right now. The James is over 9ft, with no river use allowed without a permit. I geared up for a wet, muddy run; the trails delivered. The main trail at Pony Pasture is a loop that comes in just under 2 miles. My plan was to hit that loop a couple of times and spend a little time exploring the cut-through trails that are a little rougher (and more interesting). About halfway through my first trek around the loop, I hit some ankle-deep water that covered the trail for about 25 yards or so. Keeping an eye out for snakes and critters along the side of the swampy trail, I was loving the mud and the cool water,
 because I'm a trail runner and we dig stuff like that.

Cut-through trail from Pony Pasture to the James.

After a couple of trips around the Pony Pasture loop, I decided to check out the trails at the adjacent James River flat-water area. Crossing the bridge that connects the two areas, I made mental notes about which direction I was heading and physical markers along the way. This would have been a pretty inconvenient time to get lost. My sense of direction is light-years better than it used to be, but that's not really saying much. The flat-water area was super fun. I hit a sweet little single-track trail that ran right along the river bank before heading back along a few cut-through trails, totally impressing myself with my navigational skills.

There's something magical about running on unfamiliar trails that surprise you and leave you wondering what's around the next turn. These trails are awesome because they are super flat/fast, they dart along by the river and the terrain is simply beautiful. Definitely not as challenging as Buttermilk or Northbank, but sometimes that's a good thing.

Pony Pasture Park, RVA. Doesn't get much prettier than this.
I know this area is super popular and crowded on nice weeked days, so getting the opportunity to explore solo was pretty amazing. I'll be back on those trails soon. Like tomorrow.

Click HERE to check out RichmondOutside's Pony Pasture page

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Shake it UP

Pre-dawn start, Holiday Lake 50k
Last weekend, I finished my 3rd 50k trail race at Holiday Lake State Park. Admittedly, it wasn't the most fun day I've ever had out on the trails. The night before the race, my usual excited pre-race jitters were strangely MIA. I wasn't nervous about the distance, just slightly dreading the 6:30AM start time. Although I was stoked to head out to Holiday Lake (its BEAUTIFUL!), I wasn't crazy pumped to actually run the race. Weird. At the start line, I got a little excited, mostly because it was my first pre-dawn race start and I knew an amazing sunrise was just around the corner.

I just felt off, and I knew it was going to be a tough day.

Beautiful sunrise over Holiday Lake, Appomattox VA

The race began and I settled in for what would be over 6 hours of trail running over some of the prettiest trails around. This is the stuff I love. But on that day, I didn't love it.

The course at Holiday Lake is long, topping out around 33 miles (hence the race title, Holiday Lake++), and it felt long. The lake is gorgeous, boasting sweet single-track, nice views and tons of wildlife. I knew I should be having a ball. But I found myself doing what I rarely do...counting down the miles until the finish. Waiting for the end. Not the excitement of the finish line, but the part when its over.
What's wrong with me today?!

The Holiday Lake 50k++ is an awesome event. Its beautiful, well organized, very well-marked and packed with wonderful volunteers and awesome aid stations (grilled cheese, YES!). It has a great reputation and is a staple in the VA Ultra-trail running scene. My bad day had nothing to do with the race itself and everything to do with my own mind and body. That 6:30AM start time may have contributed a little to my funk, but that's just because I was already sorta cranky.

One of the nice little hill-climbs @ Holiday Lake
I finished the race in one piece, coming in at 6hours, 11 minutes. I got to shake hands with race director David Horton, who has been organizing this annual event for 2 decades. I was honored to participate in this great race and bummed that I hadn't had a stronger day. I snagged my sweet finishers shirt and a snack and called it a day.

Logically, I know that this burnt-out feeling is probably self-inflicted. Signing up for my first 50k last December (Seashore 50k), then following it so closely by not one (Willis River 50k), but two more consecutive ultra-marathons was maybe a bad call. I'm sure plenty of seasoned ultra-runners pack in 3 races in 3 months; seasoned ultra-runner I am NOT. Maybe I should have entered the ultra-scene feet first instead of diving straight into the deep end. But, when tempted with just one more 50k, I was still having fun and surprisingly not injured, so I thought, "What the heck, I'm in." I didn't allow myself any recovery time between races, jumping back into my normal weekly mileage after each race. Rookie.

Surprisingly, I've avoided major bodily injury (which is really lucky, considering I'm a total klutz); my only injury seems to be in my brain. Suddenly, running ridiculously long distances isn't super appealing to me. Huh?! I'm sure I'll get the ultra-itch again soon, but for now, I need a new focus. So, I've decided to scale back my mileage, focus on cross-training, strength training and improving my performance at shorter distances. Running fast on single-track is my favorite, so I'm hanging up my Camelbak for a little while to focus more on speed, strength, having fun and looking good in my swimsuit. 

I'll be out at Pocahontas State Park for this year's Instant Classic Trail Races, but opting for the half-marathon distance instead of the full 26.2. My longer training runs are going to be slashed to around 10miles; short enough to go fast and not need to carry tons of fuel, but long enough to get a good sweat on and not feel like a total lard-ass.

My experience at Holiday Lake made it clear just how cozy I've gotten in my little trail-running comfort zone. Too cozy. A year ago, the marathon was the ultimate challenge. After one full marathon and 3 ultra-marathons, the next step up as far as ultra-running goes is a 50-miler. No friggin way. Let's just say that for now, I've conquered the longest running distance that I'm interested in.


What's next?Plunging myself out of my comfort zone again, I've set my sights on a Sprint Triathalon in June, NAYLOR'S BEACH. in Warsaw, which is about an hour east of Richmond. I'm not much of a cyclist (does Spin class count?), and my only swim training was when I was about 7, but how hard could it be?

Once I figure out how, exactly, one trains to complete 3 sports in the same day (the wardrobe changes alone are intimidating), I'll write about my training adventures here. Luckily, I've got a cousin and a brother who are both experienced triathletes, along with a hubby who happens to be a great road cyclist. The three of them can look forward giving out lots of free advice and holding my hand as I inevitably stumble along, trying to learn the ropes of two new sports. Of course, I'll still be hitting the trails around RVA and stirring up a little mischief along the way.
Time to go shopping for some sweet new goggles and a cheap bike. This is gonna be super easy.  

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Feels so good, feeling good again

I don't know about you, but I tend to be a completely helpless pain in the ass when I'm sick. Some people can power through, getting their to-do list checked off with little to no bitching and moaning. Not this gal. If I'm sick, you're probably gonna know about it. I might even ask you to go fetch me some socks and a Sprite.

I've been pretty lucky this cold and flu season so far. Last week, my number finally came up. I started feeling bad last Monday, and felt pretty crappy for almost a week (which is like a year in whimpy sick-person time). During my whiny and pitiful sick-week, I managed to trudge through a painful and sloooow 32 miles, leaving a nice little snot-trail along the way. After wasting $125 at the doctors office just so he could tell me, "It just has to run its course," and supplying my husband with enough germs for him to also fall victim to the bug, I'm BACK!

Today's run at Pocahontas was a breath of fresh air after a week of BLAH.

Qualla connector, Pocahontas State Park
It was a little drizzly/icy early this morning. I flipped on the news and almost had a panic attack as I saw a few school delays scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Dodged that bullet, school is ON. YES....time for a date with the dirt.

Its pretty funny to see the drastic difference in in the parking lot over at Pocahontas on a pretty day, versus a nasty weather day. If its a nice day, good luck finding somewhere to park. On a cold/ rainy day, you're lucky if you see a squirrel out on the trail, let alone another human. Todays weather provided ample parking and beautiful, fresh, muddy trails.

As I pulled into the lot, I noticed another lone runner gearing up for a trek and we started chatting. Turns out he was supposed to meet up with a running buddy, but his fair-weather partner bailed, leaving him to tackle his 3-hour run solo. Lame. 

Anyway, we ended up hitting the trails together; I was happy to score some company. One of my favorite things about trail runners is the instant kindred-spirit connection we share. I love any opportunity to swap stories and share some miles with someone who loves trail running as much as I do. We spent the next hour talking about races (turns out we've done a bunch of the same ones), laughing about funny shit that happens out on the trail and trading info about our favorite running routes.
Our trek took us from the Qualla lot down Fendley Station and around Beaver Lake before my new buddy Mike took off for the rest of his long run while I headed back toward the lot to finish up my much shorter route. I finished up on the mountain bike trails near Qualla Road, picking up the pace as I darted through the muddy single-track back to the (still empty) parking lot.

With the Holiday Lake 50k coming up this weekend, it felt SO good to feel good today. After a week of running while coughing, snotting and feeling AWFUL all-around, today's easy 5 1/2 miles were amazing.
I'm so grateful for my health, for good company and as always, for sweet trails.
Today's theme song- Robert Earl Keen, Feelin' Good Again

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Willis River 50k

The 2015 edition of the Willis River Trail race was slightly less eventful than last year, but just as memorable and way more fun. Check out last year's race report here, you'll see what I mean.

This was my second 50k, my first being just three weeks ago at Seashore.

The Willis River 35k/50k races are held at Bear Creek Lake State Park in Cumberland, VA. The route is pretty difficult, not because of elevation changes (although there are a few big hills), but because of numerous creek/river crossings and tricky footing the whole way. Sounds like fun to me!

Running a 50k is definitely a huge accomplishment, and to now have 2 under my belt feels pretty awesome. For this race, the weather was gorgeous, super sunny and ridiculously COLD.

Congratulations! Your body just ran over 31 miles! Way to go, Legs!

Here's a question.

What on EARTH was your brain doing that whole time?! 6+ hours is a LOT of quiet time. Every person is different and every race unique, but here's a little break-down of what went through this ultra-runner's brain during my second 50k trail race.

Mile 0. I've got the jitters. Am I wearing enough clothes? I think so. Should I wear my camelback? Nah, that's what aid stations are for. Should I shove my phone in my bra so I can have music? Eh, keep it simple. You got this. Damn, its cold.

1-3mi. Cold hands. My hands are cold. My hands are cold. Can NOT stop thinking about how cold my hands are. When I get home, I'm ordering new gloves.

Mile 5. Ok, I'm half-way to the half-way point of first part of the race. SO, almost there. Totally.

Mile 6.  Aid station 1. Yay, there's candy! Candy, candy, CANDY!

7-8mi. Try not to fall down. Everyone is falling down. The trail is covered in leaves, making it impossible to see roots, rocks or anything that will trip you and lead to a total face-plant. Pick up your feet, lady!

9-10 mi. Chatty chatty. Make new friends. Meet a chick who has chosen THIS race as her first race. EVER. Now that took some gusto. Conversation makes the miles go by quickly, trail runners are great at small-talk.

Mile 11. Aid station 2. YES! More candy! 35k turnaround. This is EASY!

Heading up the hill to the 35k turnaround, around mile 11
Mile 12. Crap, now I have to go back to the start, then run 10 more miles. This is NOT easy! Why didn't I bring music? I think I'm getting a blister. Ewwww

13-15mi. Didn't bring music. SO dumb. Start singing Whitney Houstons "I wanna dance with somebody" in my head. At least I think it was in my head. Wait, it totally might have been out loud.

16-18 mi. Help save fellow trail runners from impending doom. Catch up with a group of 6-7 runners who look on the verge of total panic. Luckily, I had actually been paying attention (for ONCE!), was able to back-track quickly, find the trail. Getting sort of lost is part of the experience. Welcome to trail running.

19-21mi. Feeling awesome. Resist the urge to sprint to the finish. You're not finished yet!

Feeling great @ 35k finish line

Mile 21+. 35k Finish. They ask if I'm done yet, FAT chance! I'm getting my money's worth on this one. Feeling pumped heading back out to tackle the final 10 miles, blister hurts, oh well! Pipe down, I got this.

Mile 22. A marathon really is far enough. Why, WHY am I doing this? Two 50k races in a 3-week period? You are SO dumb.

Mile 23. I think I'm lost. I'm pretty sure I'm totally lost. Haven't seen a white flag/marker thing for a while....oh, no. Why didn't I carry my own water? How long before dehydration sets in and I start hallucinating?

23-24mi. YAY! I'm NOT lost! I was on the right trail the whole time. Duh! Learn that there are only 3 chicks doing the 50k. We are BAD asses! Hmm...I know there's a super speedy lady way in front of me. Can't catch her. I'm in second. I wonder how far back the other chick is. I think I'll speed up a little. This IS a race, duh.

Mile 25. SPLAT! As I glance backwards (just a little), to see how far ahead of the other girl I am, my foot catches a root and BOOM! I'm in the dirt. I land like a water buffalo on top of a huge root; it smashes into my outer thigh and left arm as I topple to the ground. Oh SNAP, that hurt. I get up slowly, trying to figure out if I'm actually hurt or not. That's definitely gonna leave a mark, but looks like I'm alright.

Mile 26. Walking/hobbling. Wishing I'd brought my own water. Yep, there goes the other chick. Just got passed. SUPER! Decide to walk to the turnaround, this SUCKS!

Mile 27. 50k turnaround. Water, YES. Grab more candy, drink some Mountain Dew. Delicious. Feeling better, shake it off. Almost there.

28-29mi. Ok, I'm getting pretty tired.

30-31mi. Run with a couple of dudes whose chatter and jokes keep the mood light. I pick up the pace as the last mile unfolds, one hollers, "Finish strong!" as I pull away from them. I love trail runners.

50k #2- FINISHED! Another adventure complete. I LOVE this! So, I came in last place for the women, but still got a prize. You betcha!

Time: 6:30:14
Place (overall): 13/27
3rd/LAST for the women
All 3 of us gals finished in the top 50%. I'll call that a WIN!
Girls Rule.