February 27, 2014

Surprise, I'm running a 50 miler this weekend.

As I write this, I'm losing the time I need to pack for my race on Saturday. Turns out that even if you sign up for a race on a total whim and don't train for it, you still have to do practical things like pack to travel to the race. It can't be all slacking off up until race start.

My plan is to finish, emphasis on finish, the Mississippi 50 trail race this Saturday. I have been running consistently, but not as consistently as a 50-mile race requires. About a month (or more ago), I ran for about 4 hours on a trail (more than I planned that day because we went on a hunt for a lost phone, which we miraculously found in a ditch of leaves!), and this past weekend, I did two double-digit days in a row and felt fine afterwards. So I feel confident that I can finish, but there will probably be pain. Lots of pain. Especially during the last 20 miles.

But I have a solid playlist and a lot of Birmingham buddies who will be there, so I'm hoping that those things will feed my soul up to the finish line.

I've really been trying to focus on getting enough rest this week. With one 3 a.m. bedtime on Monday night, it started out rough, but I think I got in bed before midnight the rest of the week. Honestly, that's pretty huge for me, so yay.

Some other updates, as I've been out of the blogosphere lately.

You guys helped me raise $565 for Mitchell's Place. Every dollar counts, and I felt privileged to be in the first year of Mercedes Marathon fundraising for Mitchell's Place. I skipped the actual race because of the funeral, but it felt good to participate in some way still. It's my all-time favorite weekend in Birmingham.

I've also been going crazy on some yoga to test out my new mat. It was a great deal from The Clymb, but I am a little disappointed that it isn't more grippy. My hands slid a ton in hot yoga class, but I'm not sure if that wouldn't be the case with any other mat in hot yoga. Thank Ashtanga for towels. Anyone else tried this brand of yoga mat?

A successful purchase in the same order was these shoes, OTBT clogs. Where the most comfortable clog meets picnic basket. 

About to roam this weekend, but I'll have to use the trail shoes instead. We had a group shoe breaking in. Well, except for that well-loved shoe on the right. 

And do you have this guy in your town? The guy who wears the giant pack on the stair master. Who is he? Why does he do this? And why can't I ever remember to go up and ask him when I'm done running? I always plan to but forget because run brain.

What is the longest distance you would run on a whim? Well, I'll have to say 50 after this weekend. I wouldn't have guessed that before now. 

What's the weirdest thing you've seen at the gym lately? My personal favorite is treadmill dancers. I wish there were more of those! They make everything more fun.

Your go-to treadmill channel? HGTV house shows for the win. But our life is an episode of House Hunters right now, so at least I have an excuse. 

February 22, 2014

Smile because it happened

Just breath. That's been my mantra through the last week.

For me to move on with writing anything else on this blog, I know I have to verbalize our recent heartbreak. I don't often share day-to-day struggles (other than the frequent I accidentally peed my pants in a race or my foot is injured for the 500th time) on this blog, but for me there are some things that are so large that moving past them is impossible without some expression. Those same Mt. Everest events in my life have a way of making me feel completely inadequate in articulating my most basic thoughts and feelings. But this is my attempt. It's not everything, but it's something. And it's a start.

Last Wednesday morning, after a long battle with cancer, my mother-in-law passed away at home with her family. My sisters-in-law spent months and more months tending to her as her health declined so that she could spend her last days at home, where she wanted to be in the end. Knowing that she is now free from the pain that plagued her last months eased some of our sadness. But not much.

Skeeter and her dog Doodle.

Her obituary gives you some of the stats in her life, but it doesn't even begin to tell the story of how dedicated she was to her children and grandchildren and any child within her care radius, how she fostered the earth and animals on her farm, how her never-ending to-do list would make things like the Great Wall of China and the Nile River seem short, and how her leave-no-thrift-store-unturned philosophy on bargain hunting would stretch every dollar until it hollered. She was strong, determined, independent, unpretentious, smart, loving, disciplined, and fair. She did things, lots of things. Big things like designing and building a house and small things like reading story after story to an interested grandchild. 

There was nothing that I could mention to her that she didn't have some idea of how to do or at least how to start. I could have said, "I wish I could build a pyramid like the Egyptians," and before the sun set that day, she would have already started helping me to dig rocks from around the farm to start the foundation. She was there after every birth of my children (and I think most if not all of her other grandchildren). She never made a big deal about it, never mentioned what she was sacrificing to be there. She would just pack up her stuff and get there every time, and once there, she would immediately set into motion doing whatever job she saw was most needed.

The family at the farm in KY, July 2012.  

When we recently saw this picture of the hospital stay with my second son's birth (he's 8 now), my husband and I turned to each other confused and asked, "How was she there already?" We weren't in the hospital long at all, and we lived 10 hours away from her. Remember, she just did stuff.

In the hospital after Enoch's birth.

And if you were watching a video of her working, you might think it was in slow motion. Like my brother-in-law expressed in the eulogy at her funeral, she was the tortoise against the hares of the world. Slow and steady, but she just never stopped working.

Enoch and Skeeter working on the farm.

She also didn't let past disappointments and trials define her. Her mother died when she was very young, and she battled cancer multiple times through the years. But in the 13 years I've known her, I never heard her talk about either of those things negatively, or even at all. She just pulled up her boot straps and kept pushing along, which is why I dedicated my Road ID mantra to her. Keep moving forward.

Photo courtesy of my husband and the farm where he grew up.

My one practical tip from all of this is how strengthening breath can be (here's an article if you want to read more about that). It sustains our lives and is absolutely essential in efficient running, and this week, it helped me move through the hard things. Driving up the long farm driveway thinking about how when we walk into the house Skeeter won't be there, deep breath. Before saying a prayer for peace with my kids in the car to help us prepare for walking into the funeral home, deep breath. After seeing my son and his sweet cousin with arms around each other's shoulders and silent tears streaming down their faces, deep breath. Listening to all of the grandkids sing at the funeral service, deep breath. Walking away from the grave site, deep breath. And now as I write this post, deep breath.

Grandpa and Enoch.

We'll still have sadness and emptiness where she filled our lives, but we know for certain what she would have done. She would have kept working, planning, pushing along, and finding happiness, so that's what we'll do too. 

Skeeter and Amory.

February 12, 2014

How to make a PR playlist

When I pick out music for running/race playlists, I base it all on feel. Did I almost end up in one of those awkward youtube videos of people dancing on their treadmills because of a song? Then it goes on the playlist. Did the melody make me feel like I was floating through a run that normally makes me want to vomit? Get it on there. Did the song make me laugh out loud while I was listening to it or make me smile so hard while I was running by myself in the woods that I would have been embarrassed for even an anonymous deer to see my giddiness? Download that business ASAP.

Lately I've been making playlists for my aqua classes at the gym, and I've tried to step away from the whatever-I-want attitude to a more science-based approach. The Aquatics Exercise Association (yes, that's a thing) says that the music for water exercise should be 125-150 beats per minute (bpm). So I followed that recommendation for my classes, and it worked. By "it worked," I mean that no one openly complained or tried to trip me with a pool noodle because they hated the music.

That got me thinking that maybe I should do the same thing with my running music -- you know, insert some science and numbers in there, and see what happens.

Step 1: Match your desired speed with the bpm.

Here's a chart to get you started.

I'm specifically thinking about my hometown half marathon (Mercedes) this weekend and whether or not I want to make it a fun run or a PR run. In order to PR, I need to see 1:3? on my watch or about 7:33/min per mile, making my magic playlist number 174-175 bpm. So I need 1:39 of 174ish bpm music. 

At first I tried searching out the bpm of the songs I liked already, and they were all over the place. Happy by Pharrell Williams is only 160 bpm, not enough. One Step Closer by Linkin Park is an even lower 95. What? Obviously, I know nothing about music because I would not have guessed that at all. 

So I switched to a new method. 

Step 2: Find songs in your bpm range on jog.fm.

There is a search option for songs based on bpm. The hard part of this option is not really knowing many of these songs beforehand, but I listened through them and actually came up with a playlist of songs that really resonated with me.

Step 3: Add those songs to your new butt-kicking playlist. 

And here's what I came up with. 

1:39 half marathon or 174/175 bpm playlist
(this is literally the title of the playlist on my phone)
(nothing like an uber-creative playlist title to get you pumped at the start line)

1. Kyoto by Shrillex
2. Footloose by Kenny Loggins
3. Hotwax by Beck
4. Broken Bricks by White Stripes
5. Burn by Ellie Goulding
6. Let's Go Surfing by The Drums 
7. Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden
8. Sugar Mama by Deep Dark Woods
9. Bring It On by Daddy Yankee
10. Kingdom Come by Jay Z
11. Out Here Grindin' by DJ Khaled
12. I Wanna by All-American Rejects
13. The Famous Polka by They Might Be Giants
14. A-Punk by Vampire Weekend
15. Hot Cookin' by G. Love
16. Miracle Drug by A.C. Newman
17. Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan
18. Get Ur Freak On by Eels
19. Who You Are by Pearl Jam
20. Keep On Running by UK Subs
21. The End. by My Chemical Romance
22. Still Ill by The Smiths
23. Such Great Heights by The Postal Service
24. Go! (club Mix) by Tones on Tail
25. Hot Tottie by Usher
26. The End of the Line by The Offspring
27. Rolling by Soul Coughing
28. Smiley Faces by Gnarls Barkley 
29. Encore by Eminem

Step 4: PR your heart out!

And that's it! Let's see if I actually stick to any kind of plan for Mercedes this weekend. The biggest temptation is to just have fun and take lots of pictures with my brother along the course, especially considering how boringly serious I was during this race last year. I'm going to wait until that morning to decide how I feel. Plus I think I'm going to throw Happy back into the mix because I love that song so much and am confident that no matter what bpm it is, I will run happier when I hear it. 

What method do you use to create your playlists?

Music helps us run faster: true or false?

Favorite speed work song right now?

February 10, 2014

Sochi, I hope you rock the Olympics

It only took one little bazillion dollar opening ceremony for my to fall in love with the Sochi Olympics.

Olympic onion dome circus perfection.

I had to sit down and write this post immediately after watching those opening ceremonies because I cannot believe that is the same place that I lived for four months back in 1999. Then I started looking back through my pictures and never finished this post because I was too busy blowing dust off of boxes as I pulled them out of their dark, usually untouched corner of the storage room.

When I was in Sochi, it was a quaint little beach town with a small train station, an unalarming number of stray dogs, some outdoor gardens for entertainment, an uncrowded beach, and matching uncrowded streets. What I remember most is the people there. They were your small-town, vacation-town folks. You know the kind, right? Think really laid back Floridians. These people were creative and fun and happy. But this was one of the first places I lived in Russia, so there is a possibility that I never really understood them, because of my shoddy Russian skills at the time, enough to know if they were unhappy. But they felt happy, and I usually put a high amount of trust in my feelings so I'll stick with that assessment.

Here's a sample of what I found in that dusty box. A look at the Sochi (and me) of 1999.

At the Sochi beach. All clothes stolen from my brother and dad.

Sochi mountains.

Sochi Mountains!!

Sochi mountains!!!!!

Even though this is a beach town, it is obvious to me why they were able to host the winter Olympics. Just look at those mountains! These pics were taken in the summer, so they were a long way from snow then. There is obviously an amazing range of elevation in the area with those mountains not far (we took an hour-long bus ride from Sochi to the mountains) from the beach. 

And while I was looking back, I found some more pictures from when I lived in Moscow, and once you post one set of 15-year-old pictures, it's hard to stop yourself from posting more. 

This was right in the middle of the Spice Girls era, so the shoes. I'm actually the same height as that girl in non-platform-shoe life. 

More in Red Square. What was I looking at over there?

My favorite part of living in Moscow was living with a generous host family. Here are some pictures of us working at their dacha, a cabin in the country where you can have a garden.


My Russian host-family brother.

Brother and dad from my host family.

My little brother (that's what I still call my host family's son) is now an adult living in the United States. Fifteen years makes a huge difference.

Now that my reminiscing is done, I will say that I was nervous after the first technical failure of the opening ceremonies, especially after reading article after article about how crappy the facilities were in Sochi.

But it took me about two minutes of their amazingly choreographed history of Russia to forget about that first mishap. I was entranced by the ballet version of War and Peace and every other part.

And here's my synopsis: who cares if a few things mess up along the way? So they spent a bajillion dollars (numbers not exact) on winter Olympics in a beach town. My fingers are crossed that they are able to continue to use this infrastructure for many years to come to draw people to Russia. Also, yes, Russia has plenty of political issues, but that doesn't mean that 144 million people living there are the political problem. Basically, what I'm saying is, I love the Russian people. Some individually, but also as a whole. I respect their history and their journey, and I hope for the best for them. I enthusiastically want the Sochi Olympics to be a win for them.

So as I continue to watch the Olympics, of course I'll be cheering for my home team, but I'll also be rooting for Russia, and not just in the medal-sense.

But one last thing, from a runner's perspective why did they pair the tiny lady with the giant man for the torch running, other than for reasons such as they've done amazing things in their life? Like an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras, that unmatched stride was uncomfortable to watch.


And congrats to Lindsay (entry #275), who won the Yak Pak giveaway. I've already messaged her directly. For all of you fellow bloggers out there who haven't tried Rafflecopter yet, do it! It made this my easiest-to-host giveaway ever. Sometimes I'm an old fart and don't want to try new things (remember when my husband tried to upgrade my phone for Christmas -- turns out that was actually a great idea too), but take it from this change-curmudgeon that this is worth it.


What's your favorite winter Olympic event?

Have you ever attended an Olympic event? I lived in Utah when the winter games were there, and we saw some hockey because it was hosted near us. Looking back, I should have gone to more! But I was a poor student at the time and didn't realize how dumb it was to not make the sacrifice to go to more.

How many hours have you spent absorbed in the Olympics so far? No comment.

February 3, 2014

Yak Pak review and giveaway!

Alert: if you have an aversion to cool stuff, like fully stocked 90% off racks at Target and breakfast in bed every day for life, look away now. Otherwise, please proceed to this Yak Pak review and giveaway. 

My Yak Pak arrived on my doorstep one rainy day, and I was more than ready to get out of the house and use it for all the fun things, like snacks for play dates, hauling sweaty runner gear, and maybe even a musical instrument or two. Kazoo, anyone? But then my daughter saw it and immediately begged to have it. Does she have a cool backpack already? Yes. Does she think this one is cooler? Yes. 

And guess what that tells me. I've still got it. And by it, I mean the ability to impress anyone under that age of 11. That's why I try so hard to outrun kids in that age group at races. They need role models!

For real, I love that Yak Pak is not afraid to use bright colors that appeal to adults and kids, but I love even more that they make high quality products. Nothing is more annoying than when your Spiderman backpack's zipper falls off two weeks after school starts. Yak Pak is built with sturdy materials to stand the test of time and child abuse, which means abuse by children not to them. Probably should reword that but going to let it stay so you guys know that nothing gets left out of these blog posts. All of my most genius moments are right here on these virtual pages. 

See, no bedazzling to catch on your sweater, but you still won't get bored with their bright prints. 

And just when I was convinced that my favorite color was orange, I realized that there might be a new contender. Currently stockpiling: anything turquoise. 

I stole this pack back from my daughter to take with me on my Snowpocalypse 2014 mission to retrieve my son from school, four hours after they officially closed for the day. I fit several jackets and hats inside with plenty of room for more. 

Mission accomplished! My son was warm for the hike home, which ended in a round of hot chocolate for all involved. 

Yak Pak doesn't just make backpacks. They make lunch bags, totes, purses, and even some electronics (stylish of course), stools, boxes, luggage, and more. Based on the quality and fun of this product, I would trust this brand to try more. 

Do you want a chance to try Yak Pak for yourself? These guys do.

You can find Yak Pak to purchase online or at a retailer near you. They're also on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Pinterest

Or even better WIN A YAK PAK!

Yak Pak is offering one reader a chance to pick one of their products to try, and I'm hosting my very first Rafflecopter giveaway to pick the winner. So far so good. Setting it up was a piece of cake. Here's to hoping this saves me a lot of time counting entries in excel spreadsheets.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

February 2, 2014

Vegan bean dip and vegan purses: one of those is made up.

Drop your foam rolling or callus removing right now and get on pinterest to pin this vegan 5 layer bean dip recipe. I didn't take a picture because I was too busy stuffing my face, but here's one from her site.

The Lean Clean Eating Machine

I didn't even know that vegan sour cream existed (spoiler: it's ground up cashews with lemon and vinegar), but now I want to make it my only food group. I already loved cashew butter, so there was a solid chance that I would become totally obsessed with this. Now I just need to try and find cheaper cashews with which to make this. Anyone know of that magical place (maybe rainbow unicorns also live there)? Costco, can you help me out?

We also made this healthier version of Reese's Cups. Will definitely satisfy a craving for the real deal when you're trying to avoid refined sugar. These are made with peanut butter, honey, and unsweetened chocolate. We just rolled ours into balls to make it easier than trying to cut out shapes. I think the fact that I skipped over making the dessert into a shape before consuming takes me down a notch or two on the awesome mom scale. Especially because it was recommended right there in the recipe. But I did let me kids help and subsequently smear chocolate in their hair. So that balances out the points lost.

Somehow the week of snow turned into the week of gluttony, where I ate all the things. And I felt no regret, although I was more crabby to my family at all the times. I'm waiting for my Girl Scout cookies to get here so that I can return to better eating after making those my breakfast, lunch and dinner one day. I'm not sure yet if I'm joking or not. 

Quick, look back up to the part of the post where I mentioned making healthy snacks for the Super Bowl watching. Now back to me. Now look down here at my exercise.

Sunday: none. Resting.

Monday: none. I was feeling another rest day, so I took it.

Tuesday: none. Although I did get in lots of unclocked hiking to get my kids from school. Somehow it was our middle child who got left at school the longest on the day we got snowed in (they called off school at 11:30, and we made it there finally at 3:30). Classic middle child problem: you are the only kid who gets stranded at school.

Wednesday: none. Again, unless you count the hill repeats with sledding, which I do. But I'm not really sure how many we did, so I can't put it on Runkeeper.

Thursday: 12-mile snow run (counting it as a trail run because of the similar difficulty) with my trail buddies Sally and Mindy. I needed this run so badly after being cooped up with no running for four days. In my mind, I could afford Sunday and Monday rest days, but I was planning to hit it hard after that. Then life happened, and I ended up with four rest days on accident. Moral of this story: get in your workouts at your first opportunity because the later opportunities might slip away before you get to them.

Oh, and snow running when your town does not function in snow is perfection. It's just you and some buds in the middle of the deserted streets, only occasionally having to worry about Duck Dynasty passing you on an ATV or a weary person placing floorboard mats under their tires trying to unstick their car from a ditch. And I forgot how bright snow is! Reminder to self: wear sunglasses when snow running.

Friday: 5.5 miles and strength training with my gym buddies. Because our street was still frozen over and my husband was home from work, I got to literally run to the gym. I even ran back a library book on my way and was feeling so urban. The gym is only a mile away, but you might remember from this post that we have no crosswalks for major roads. So it is a little sketchy to run the mile to the gym. Sadly.

Saturday: 14.5 miles, group run. We opted to meet early with the Birmingham Track Club group at the Trak Shak, where they are so nice to let us in to stay warm before the run.

This is just a fraction of the folks there that morning. My buddy Lara, front and center, was trying to hit a 9:00/mile pace for her marathon training. We actually came pretty close, Coach Alex (this is a test to see if he is reading this). 

It's hard to believe that just two days before this run we were stuck at our house because of an ice storm. Look at that sunshine! And dysfunctional water fountains make getting a drink just as challenging as running double digits. 

After the run, the track club president met folks to hand out the new 1200 Mile Club jackets. New, cooler jackets this year! And even though I already earned my jacket last year (you get a free jacket your first year and patches in subsequent years), I decided to buy this new one that fits a little better. Plus it was really warm, and I was cold after the run (despite the sun).

Do you think it's a vegan design? I'm just asking because I saw this bag online that mentioned "vegan design" as one of its attributes. Did vegans design it? Do only plants use it? Do you pay for it with lettuce? Please explain to me what the heck that means!

What is vegan design? Bonus points for most creative answer. 

Favorite Super Bowl snack? We also had some really great Wisconsin craft root beer

Have you missed any runs because of weather lately? Hoping that that doesn't happen again soon! Or at least I now know which shoes to wear if it does. 

Would you rather have to hike five miles uphill in your dress shoes during an ice storm to get home or have to watch that boring Super Bowl over again? 

February 1, 2014

From meh to love: Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 2

This is my ode (minus any lyricalness) to my Salomon S-Lab Fellcross 2 kicks. When I first brought these shoes out of the box in September, I wasn't so sure I would love them.

Fresh out of the box.

Here are some of my original Fellcross thoughts that I wrote down in the fall:

When I first took these out of the box, they reminded me of soccer cleats, and that's also how the fit felt to me. More fitted through the midsole and even into the toes. Also the lugs were larger and more defined than I am used to with my trail shoes.
Things I liked: even though they have a somewhat lower profile (not much cushion), I didn't feel rocks jabbing my foot underneath as I have in other low profile shoes. The toe guard is solid, giving lots of protection to the front of the foot. I also like that they are light and not bulky. They hug the foot well through the midsole giving your foot plenty of stability. Excellent traction.
Things I didn't like: I wish these had a little more room around the toe. I only tested them on shorter runs (10 miles or less) because I would be very nervous to use these on a longer run than that for fear of lost toenails from cramped toes. I liked the toe guard in general, but sometimes when I kicked a rock accidentally, my foot got a huge bounceback because the toe guard was so stiff and solid.
And the laces [Quicklaces] are the laces. You either hate it or love it. I personally don't find them any easier or harder than regular laces. I usually have to fidget with the laces to get the pocket on the shoe tongue to come far enough out to actually stuff the laces. But I never have untying problems with these, ever.
Salomon is a classic in the hiking and trail running brand. In my experience Salomon doesn't focus as much on comfort as they do on making a sturdy shoe that will last a long time. My opinion is the same after this test.

Wow, a few months and some trail runs through the more extreme elements can make a huge difference. We've had a rainy winter in Alabama, and even though I swore above that I would be too nervous to wear these on double-digit runs (for fear of blistering), that's exactly what I did when the trails were muddy. I knew these had better-than-any-other-shoe traction, which outweighed comfort at that moment. So while sloshing around with these in the mud for many trail miles, I confirmed that they perform like a boss in the mud. This was already my assumption, so that wasn't exactly new. What was new is how I learned that these drain water like a boss's boss. I have had some disappointing shoe drainage issues in the past, but the Fellcrosses got me through several wet, muddy, currently-dumping-rain trail runs with no blisters and no water log. I was so impressed with the drainage of these shoes that I am now nervous to not wear these on a rainy run.

Rainy-day race was the perfect playground for my Fellcrosses.

And the fear of blisters because of a smaller toe box has so far been unwarranted. On my double-digit runs, I haven't experienced any blistering. I would say my foot is medium-wide. For example, the Saucony Kinvaras are too narrow for my foot. The Felcrosses are more form-fitting than some of my other trail shoes, but the uppers are also flexible and breathable enough to prevent blistering.

But the final piece of the S-Lab Fellcross puzzle came for me this weekend when I ran in the snow with these. We did a snow run through the neighborhood --12 miles of snow and some concrete and some ice and some grass. It was a really unique experience for us Alabamians who don't usually get to run in snow, and it was even cooler to get a trail-run-like experience by stepping out my front door and taking off through my snowy neighborhood. Because people were avoiding driving, the snowy streets were more clear for running straight up the middle, and we passed more walkers than cars on our run.

Snow run!

I wore these Salomons because I knew they would have a firm grip on the snow. They kept me completely upright in the slippery conditions, although I still tried to avoid large patches of ice. They feel like a soccer cleat when running on concrete, not surprising, but it was a good trade for the solidity they gave me through the snow.

What does this teach me? Not all shoes are best in all conditions. These will definitely be my go-to rain and snow trail shoes, but I will still probably look for a cushier shoe in dry conditions.

And these shoes are not cheap, but they will last. That is a point that I maintain from my initial review of these. You may not like something else about your Salomons, but they will outlast any other trail shoe you own. Built to last.

Have you ever had a shoe that you learned to love more with time? 

Or the opposite, that you thought you loved then later were disappointed? 

What's your favorite rain shoe for trails (or roads)?

Salomon sent me the S-Lab Fellcross 2 as part of the Salomon Insider Program, used to collect runner feedback on shoes. 
I'm writing this long after I submitted my official review directly to Salomon. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and Salomon did not request that I post a review online.