Flying Pig training: The Hoth Half Marathon

This week, winter made its presence felt in Cincinnati in the most inconvenient way possible. The skies opened up and poured buckets of snow on the city nearly every morning just before rush hour, snarling traffic and causing people to post charming Photoshops of AT-ATs invading Over-the-Rhine.

And of course, I can't find any of those pictures now. (Via.)
During the brief breaks in-between snowfalls, temperatures plunged below 0, freezing the river and prompting a correspondent for Today to do a live broadcast from Covington as the city steamed in the background. School was cancelled every day of the week. People worked from home whenever possible.

But hey, that 14-mile run isn't going to destroy itself.

The worst snowfall of the week was scheduled for Saturday morning, when we normally do our long runs, so Fleet Feet arranged for a make-up run on Sunday. The sidewalks were completely impassable, so the store devised a route that wound through suburban neighborhoods where we wouldn't have to worry about running on the streets. (Mostly.)

And it turns out those suburban families had been busy that snowy week. A crowd of snowmen were hanging out in the front yards, ready to cheer us on.


This one had a mustache, so we had to give ourselves mustaches. Naturally.

Be the snowman. BE the snowman.

We're smiling because we're not thinking about the 12 miles we still have to run.

Thanks, snowmen! Your support pushed me to finish my 14-mile run ...

... which, since my longest run has been a half marathon, means I broke my distance record today. Not bad for a blizzard day, huh?


Flying Pig training: Hubris

"I ran 12 miles today."

"I'm training for the marathon."

I work those sentences and others like them into conversation whenever I can. I probably sound like the world's biggest ... is "douchenozzle" considered a curse word? Because I'm trying to keep it family friendly up in here.

Anyway. I'm starting to get a little worried that the people in my life will start to tire of me constantly talking about the douchenozzling marathon. And I keep meaning to pull back from talking about it so much. And then ... I don't.

Here are my reasons, as near as I can figure:

  • Running (and other exercise designed to help me run better) now makes up a significant portion of how I spend my waking hours, which also means it occupies a large percentage of my headspace. Literally everything seems to relate to the marathon. "Agent Carter is great; I wonder if Peggy ever considered running the marathon?" 
  • I am still a little in awe of the enormity of my goal. Repeating it out loud reinforces it to me.
  • If all goes to plan, these four months will be the only time in my life when I can say these things.
  • I am proud of my accomplishments and want others to know about them.

This last reason you might recognize as "bragging," as the editor of our local business newspaper did in a column last month where he advocates ridding the world of the 26.2 car decal. He attempts some self-deprecating humor by "bragging" about the accomplishments of various family members and then explaining that as much as we hate his bragging, that is how much he hates marathoners' bragging about their 26.2 in sticker form.

(Except I didn't hate it! His family sounds awesome and very dedicated to their various pursuits, and I'm happy that they've succeeded!) 

Perhaps there are some people for whom the marathon comes easy. I'm not one of those people. My marathon will be the result of nearly a year of mental and physical preparation. When the day comes, it will take me somewhere around six hours to complete the race. 

So you'd better believe that on the Monday after I cross the finish line, I will limp out to my car and slap that 26.2 onto the bumper. Heck, I might even buy a second sticker and save it for my next car.

All this training, all my time running, is building to this. It's not just bragging. It's part of who I am. And that's why I can't stop talking about it.


Flying Pig training: Eep.

Facing the beginning of marathon training last week, I had Thoughts on Twitter.

This weekend, I'll run 11 miles. We are fast approaching the "more miles than I've ever run at once in all my 10 years in the sport" mark.

Just keep going.


What you need for speed, part 2

In the last post I specified what a person needs to get started running (not much), what she needs to run a 5K (not much more), and what she needs to run long distances (mostly ways to conquer the psychological challenges before her).

That doesn't mean that if you decide you need more than that for your run, you're a bad person. I have found plenty of running stuff that isn't necessary, exactly, but that makes my run more pleasant. Without further ado, I present to you ...

What I need to run long distances:
  • Shoes from a specialty running shop. It's a little bit of a luxury, but I swear I can tell the difference between the Sauconys a professional has lovingly selected for my personal running style and the Adidas I cheaply selected from the clearance rack at DSW. When you're a distance runner, your feet are literally everything to you. Take care of them.
  • Knee braces. I need 'em on both legs, for pretty much anything longer than a mile. Sigh.
  • A complete and total ban on cotton. I've seen people go out for long distances wearing cotton T-shirts, so I know it can be done. I just don't know why anyone would bother when tech shirts are $12 at Target. When eliminating cotton from your wardrobe, don't forget ...
    • Socks. I've never bought sports socks with any cotton in them, so I don't know what it's like to run in cotton socks. I'm comfortable with that ignorance. 
    • Underwear. Yes, special performance underpants for running! I used to think it was a scam, but there really is no point in gearing up the rest of your body and having the layer closest to your skin still be made of soggy cotton.
  • A visor. When it's sunny, it keeps the sun off your face. When it's rainy, guess what? It keeps the rain off your face! Way better than sunglasses, which steam up and get spattered with sweat and sunscreen. Speaking of which ...
  • All the sunscreen. It's easy to forget that running long distances means spending hours in the sun - especially when your run begins before sunrise. I can't afford to forget. I buy a spray bottle of SPF 30 and just coat myself from head to toe.
  • RoadID. This is so simple - just a little metal tag with emergency contact information that attaches to my shoe. I don't carry my wallet with me on runs, so it's just nice to know that if there's an emergency out on the course, people will have the info they need to take care of me.
  • My phone. When I run solo, this is another "in case of emergency" thing - but I am also one of those annoying people who tracks her run with an app and then broadcasts it for the entire world to see. (Hmm, that might be a whole post in itself.) This is why I'm actually against the trend of larger "tab-phones" or "phone-lets" or whatever they're called - because I need for my phone to fit into ...
  • A fanny pack! The '80s are back, in slimline neoprene form. Sometimes I call it a "utility belt" to make myself feel like Batman instead of an eighth-grader in an Esprit T-shirt and jorts visiting Kings Island for the day. But let's not kid ourselves. It's a fanny pack.
  • NEW FOR 2014! My Pebble. When I found myself with $100 in Best Buy credit this year, I used it to buy this smart watch. It lets me view emails, texts, caller ID and more - but the real reason I wanted it is because it syncs up with RunKeeper to let me see my time, distance, and pace while I'm on my run. I love living in the future.
So to recap, here's my gear for a long run:

So much stuff!

But here's all you really need to get started:

Not much stuff at all!

Have fun out there!


What you need for speed*, part 1

*Your definition of "speed" may vary

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned gearing up for the Hudepohl 14K, and it made me think about all the stuff runners carry.

We live in a world of FitBits and fitness apps, and we are constantly sold the idea that if we don't own this or that specialty piece of performance equipment, we are Doing It Wrong.

So, based on my nearly 10 years of running experience, here are my thoughts on the gear you need to run.

What you need to start running:

  • Sneakers.
  • Some sort of pants that aren't jeans or work pants (sweat pants, yoga pants, leggings, whatever).
  • A T-shirt.
  • A sports bra (ladies).
  • Your hair in a ponytail (ladies, and certain men).

That's it. That is literally all you need to get started. That's all I had that first day nearly 10 years ago, when my dad and I met to run a minute and walk a minute. Don't be intimidated by your lack of custom-fit sneakers or specialty fabrics or "sports" earbuds. Just go out there and give it a try.

What you need to run a 5K:

Not much more than the above list, really. You'll probably want to get a little more specific than plain "sneakers," but just about anything from the "running" aisle of your local sporting goods store will work. You may also decide to invest in pants and a bra made of "technical" fabric, because cotton gets wet, heavy, and HOT very quickly.

What you need to run long distances (say, eight miles and up):

  • Distraction. Whether it's headphones or a buddy, you want something to keep your mind off of the fact that you're spending more than an hour constantly exerting yourself. I use a behind-the-head-style set of headphones so I can take them off and have them around my neck, and I choose the cheapest possible model so I don't feel bad about destroying them with heat and sweat.
  • Hydration. You gotta do it, even if it's a pain. Especially in the summer heat. You can plan your route around water fountains and vending machines. You can make your own water stops, like a marathoner I once knew who would stash bottles of Gatorade along his route. You can arrange for friends to meet you and deliver sweet, precious fluids. Or you can carry it with you, which is what I do now. I always thought that was more trouble than it was worth, but training in 90-degree weather this year made me a believer. Now, I strap a bottle of water to my hand and take a sip every half mile or so. The evening I bought it, I couldn't believe I was spending $26 on a water bottle. Now I can't believe I spent 10 years running without one.
  • Nourishment. Everyone has a different take on how often you should carb up when running. I do it every 4-5 miles, so I take 1 gel for training runs of 6 miles and up, and 2 for a half marathon. Your preferred type of energy delivery source will vary, and it might change as you gain experience. I used to swear by Sport Beans, but I prefer gel now because it's compact and I can eat it while running without worrying about silly things like chewing.
  • Lubrication. Gross, right? Sorry, running is kinda gross sometimes. Put that Body Glide all over your feet, including in between your toes, and anywhere else that might chafe. You'll learn as you go where your hot spots are.

Now, I don't mean to say that this is all you should need, and anything more is bloated self-indulgence. I myself have much more gear that I use, and I'll get into that next time. All I'm trying to say is that the entry point for running is a lot lower than you might think. Grab a buddy, go out there, and give it a try! You might enjoy yourself, and you will definitely be doing something better for yourself than sitting on the couch.


Columbus Marathon training: Soloin'

My training group meets twice a week; we're given a training program for the rest of the week that includes rest days (my favorite!), a few cross-training days (which I'm bad at actually doing, because hey, isn't life a cross-training exercise?), and one other "no, really, you need to run" day.

So on Thursdays, I run alone.

One recent afternoon, I found myself more alone than usual, having forgotten my headphones. (When I'm running solo, I like to listen to podcasts. It's actually one of the little details of running I love - I get to take large chunks of  time listening to my favorite shows and classify it as something good for me!) But on this day, it was not to be. So I set out for an "easy" four miles with only my breath and my thoughts.

This was the first time in a long time - possibly ever - that I'd run without someone to talk to or my headphones to keep me company. As I trotted along, I made up a little mental chant to keep myself focused:
Take it easy
Nice and slow
You can do it
Here we go!
And as I continued down the trail (a popular spot for running, walking, and biking), I noticed something that I'd never caught onto before in nearly 10 years of running. I realized that nearly every runner without headphones in would give me a smile of encouragement, and in many cases even say, "Good job!" I'd been on this trail many times before and never noticed this tendency for other runners to encourage strangers who happened to be on the same path as them. And indeed, the runners with headphones jogged by with no acknowledgement, still in their own worlds.

And it was then I realized that I was never truly alone on a run. Not as long as another runner was on the same path. I could choose to be alone with my headphones, or I could choose to wave and smile to everyone, but I've got the choice. I'm part of a community. I'm only as solo as I choose to be.


Hudepohl 14K: The Race that Knows Darn Well it's a Race

They call it "the race that thinks it's a party."


The Hudepohl 14K (a strange race distance created to honor a strange beer name) combines the city's brewing history with its love of running stupid-long distances, making it quite possibly the most Cincinnati race I've ever run. (Any old city can do a 5K with a beer theme; it takes a special kind of dedication to the art of running and drinking to do a 14K.) The course begins and ends at the Christian Moerlein Lager House, winding through the West End and Over-the-Rhine and highlighting with signs all the spots where historic breweries once stood. There's beer (of course) and music at the end. The finisher's medals double as bottle openers.

And it's 14 kilometers long. That's 8.7 miles.

8.7 miles is a heck of a distance. If this race really thinks it's a party, I think it's fooling itself.

So I prepared for it the way I would any long run. Proper clothing. Body Glide. I stuffed an energy gel into my pocket for Mile 4, hoping none of my fellow partiers would make fun of me for being a total buzzkill.

Turns out, nearly everyone else there was also treating it like a race.

Not a beer bong in sight.

One of the things I love about running is how it lets you explore neighborhoods in a new way. A street you've driven down a thousand times can look completely different when you're experiencing it on foot. (Take, for instance, that photo of the Museum Center above - we actually ran under the museum's driveway, through a tunnel I never knew existed.) And when the course is designed by someone else, you get to go down completely new streets! This course took me to parts of the city I might not otherwise have ever seen.

I would never have had any reason to visit this part
of OTR, as they apparently don't sell $11 hot dogs.

The other great thing about the Hudy 14K was the costumes. This race offers an unusual "tethered team" competition, which means you run literally tied to your teammates. Costumes are an element of this competition, so we saw girls in dirndls (it was Oktoberfest weekend, after all), breast cancer advocates using bras as their tethers, and this - hands down, my favorite team:

It also takes some real skill to run 8.7 miles tied so closely
to five other people. So this is impressive on a few different levels.

So I ended up having a great time at the race, and by taking it seriously and treating it like a race, I also had a great race time. And in the end, we found the party after all.

There you are!


Columbus Marathon Training: The Hills

An open letter to the residents of Benchmark and Berryhill lanes:

We apologize for getting all up in your business during rush hour.

Goin' uphill like whoa.

If it makes you feel any better, we don't like running up and down your streets over and over any more than you do.

We promise.

It's just that you happen to live in the hilliest neighborhood within running distance of Fleet Feet, and our trainers are sadistic that way. (Or they want us to be prepared. Whichever.)

Almost ... done!

We didn't even know Blue Ash had hills. (And frankly, we were OK with that ignorance.)

Anyway, hopefully we didn't bug you too much. We tried to stay in single file and not dart out in front of cars or anything. Feel free to help yourself to a cup of water or lemony electrolyte drink from our fluid station before we head on home.

The Runners


Columbus Marathon training: I'll get there

"The downhill feels almost like cheating, doesn't it?"

It was a 90-degree day in July, and my marathon training group was struggling. The woman matching pace with me was supposed to be on a run-walk program, but on that Tuesday, we were all on a run-walk program.

"Yeah," I wheezed, letting gravity take over and allowing myself to speed a little down the hill.

Running in a group is all about letting go. "Find Your Happy Pace," say the shirts from Garmin, and I tend to agree with that. If your friend can't match your pace, you will do more harm than good slowing yourself down. Just go. Run at your pace. Celebrate with your friend when she crosses the finish line.

It's a philosophy I always followed with my running friends - which is why I was always the last to complete a training run. But none of those friends are training for a fall race - which is why I joined a group to train for the Columbus Half Marathon.

The group meets at my neighborhood running shop and provides pace leaders to run as fast (or as slow) as you need to keep up with your training. When I run with my pace group, I've been finishing near the middle of the pack - the first time I've ever been faster than anyone I was running with.

I've been doing this for nine years. This is the first year I've attempted to improve my speed, and I'm surprised by how difficult it is. My body settles into the comfortable motions of running a 12-minute mile, and when I gently suggest that perhaps we go for 11 minutes today, oh, the complaining that ensues!

But that day, on a surprisingly hilly suburban street, I found after a few minutes of chat with my new friend that I was pulling ahead.

"I can't keep up with this pace," she told me as she dropped back and started to walk. "I'll get there one day."

I half-turned my head and called back to her, "Hey, I'm not at the pace I want to be either! I keep telling myself the same thing! I'll get there."

It's true for my workout, and as I kept chugging down the hill, I realized that it was probably true of my life too.

I'm not quite where I want to be.

But if I keep running, eventually I'll get there.


KHome: The price is right

My house hunt was ... interesting. I wanted something small and cheap, in one of a few nice neighborhoods. Basement a must. Garage a plus.

I thought I had an advantage because I didn't need the suburban-standard three bedrooms and two bathrooms. As it turned out, buyers are willing to make all sorts of concessions when the price is right - particularly if the buyer is an investor who doesn't actually plan on living in the house. I became used to discovering a new house, calling the agent, and discovering it already had an offer on it. I once made an appointment to put in an offer on a house, only to have the agent cancel the day of the meeting because an investor had offered cash.

So, on the day a little house in Kenwood appeared in my search results for an oddly low price, I was pessimistic. I called the agent and asked, essentially, what was wrong with it.

And the answer was: nothing, really. Just a very small house, a foreclosure, a possible foundation crack.

I am unafraid of foundation cracks, when the price is right. I made an appointment for the next day.

My parents met me at the little house, and we walked through with the agent, growing more and more surprised by the minute that the price was so low. It was in better shape than houses I had been prepared to offer twice the money for.

Really, we asked the agent, what's wrong with the house?

The agent showed us the cracked cinder block in the basement (ha! A vertical crack means nothing! Nothing!) and said because it was a Fannie Mae house, investors were prohibited from bidding for two weeks. Since I would be an owner-occupant, I had the advantage - for once. But, he said, of course a cash offer would strengthen my position ...

My parents and I practically trampled each other rushing to the bank so we could move some money around for me to make an offer. Within two days, I was under contract. And two months later, I closed on the little two-bedroom cottage/bungalow/whatever real-estate word for "itty-bitty house" is trendy now.

I bought a house! I was a homeowner!

... But what was I going to do with it?