December 16, 2014

My Ultimate Runner Wish List & Chocolate-Covered Balance Bar Giveaway!

If you've waited until now to find a gift for your favorite runner, then you need help! But you still have five days to order online to get your gifts in time for Christmas. So here's a list to get your think tank thinking and your online ordering fingers typing. Also, scroll to the bottom for a chance to win a chocolate-covered present for your running buddy/significant other/child/sibling/self.

And now for a grand list title.

Runner Wish List 
Ok, not grand at all, but very practical, like some of these gifts.

1. Carbo-Pro For those of us who are nutritionally challenged during long-distance running, this drink powder could be the solution. I would know for sure if I had already tried it, but I haven't. BUT according to the testimonies of runners I trust, this drink works.
CARBO-PRO (3.0 lbs) is a nonsweet (neutral flavor) glucose polymer, derived through a patented process that consists of D-glucose units linked primarly by alpha-1-4 bonds, having a Dextrose Equivalency of less than 16 (high molecular weight). It is a white free flowing powder prepared by hydrolysis of grains (corn/barley/rice). Its highly safe for direct human consumption.
Most important factor here: tasteless, which is what you need to mix in with all the other tastes of running food. Sometimes the only thing you can stand is zero flavor, especially if you've been overloading with gels (guilty!).

2. Salomon Skin Lab Hydro 5 I'm finally ready to admit that my simple little Camelbak 50oz pack isn't the best for ultra running. While it's a-okay for shorter runs, I tend to get chafing from all of the bouncing of the pack on anything longer than 15 miles. Enter the Salomon Skin Lab. It's supposed to fit like a second skin. It's a pricey one, but I'm hoping it would last forever.

3. Itunes Gift Card Yes to music! It's the magic running serum that makes hard work seem easier. Even if you are against it for safety reasons, try it with just a single earbud.

And here's my new favorite love song from my husband (meaning he sent it to me, not that he wrote it) that I could also add to my trail running playlist. Trail running works well with chill songs that end with a bang.

Seriously listen to this song.

And today is our 14th anniversary! I love that dude so much!

4. Suunto Ambit 2 I can't justify buying a new GPS watch yet because my Garmin still technically functions, but I am jealous of the accuracy and long battery life of the Suuntos. This one is going to put you in the hole for at least $200, so save your pennies.

5. Wazzie Wool Baselayer Just going to put it out there that if you click on that link, you will see my picture at the bottom of the page. 

This one. 

Oiselle has been having a ton of holiday sales, so you can probably score free shipping and some percents off. Pretty much this is my shirt crush right now. I want it to always be clean and available, and I am not embarrassed to be seen in it three days in a row.

And for my Birmingham folks, Trak Shak is now carrying Oiselle!! Excited enough for quadruple exclamation points!!!!

6. Sparkly Soul Headband This is a company that I discovered at the Savannah Marathon expo, and I bought a couple of headbands on the spot. The bands are my new favorite because they are 100% stretch instead of having just one part of the headband that is elastic. They stay in place perfect too because of the velvet underside. And rainbow. 

Rainbow sparkly soul -- taming wild, unbrushed hair everywhere.

And they shared a discount code with us for 15% off from 12/16-12/23. Use the code YOMOMMA at checkout on

7. Buff Infinity Scarf My very cool niece was wearing this at our Thanksgiving reunion, and now my one scarf goal in life is to be just like her.

Not my niece, but the Buff scarf in question.

7. Blue Swiftwick Twelve Socks Another Savannah Marathon find, except I didn't buy them that day. Still dreaming about them. My black ones just like this have been my good luck race socks for about four years, and they are still fully functional. These socks are worth the 25 bucks. If I average out my cost per wear, I have paid about a fourth of a cent for each wearing.

Obsessed with this color. 

Free shipping at today!

7. 1Hour Break Still my favorite new sleep aid discovery this year. Using kava kava root as its base, this spray helps lessen anxiety and increase quality sleep.

8. Hal Koerner's Field Guide to Ultrarunning For those times when you just need to nerd out on running. Which is all the time.

And I also want to read this book, less for nerdiness, more for inspiration: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

9. Zion 100 Race Entry You'll probably see this on the 2015 and 2016 list as well. But for real, one day.

Who wouldn't want to run here?

And earn one of these. Best 100 belt buckles in existence.

10. Chocolate-covered anything and everything! This present can come today since it's the blessed combination of my wedding anniversary and National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day. Why do we even need any other holidays?

And to celebrate 14 years of love and 36 years of chocolate eating, I have a Chocolate Mint Cookie Balance Bars Giveaway for you!

First, this is one of my favorite food combos to begin with. Any other Thin Mint fans out there?

Get your carbs and protein on for optimal recovery after a hard workout. These bars give you a healthy version of your Thin Mint fix. And you don't have to wait desperately for a troop to sell them in front of your grocery store. Order a box here

Or you can win a box here!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

December 12, 2014

Tranquility Lake 50K 2014

This was officially supposed to be my last race of the year. Well, you know how that goes. Since then I signed up to be on my friend's 5K team, Jingle Bell 5K to support arthritis research. Basically it's impossible to skip out on a good cause with great people. So this "final" race report of the year will now be the final race race report of the year. Clear as miso soup, right? What I mean is that with the black lung I've had this week, Saturday will be a 5K fun run, probably fun walk, so not much racing going down. Plus, supposedly I'm on a running break right now. That break has definitely equaled lower mileage overall, and I haven't felt bad at all for not running while I was sick this week. But it also didn't keep me from jumping in to help pace my friend during the second half of her first marathon last weekend (more to come on how awesome she did).

But at Tranquility Lake 50K, my plan was to push, push, push. Knowing it would be my last big effort going for a while, I wanted to test myself. Especially after a kind of cruddy summer of running with more bonks during races than I care to remember. Again (like I've said for the mazillionth time) that near-death race experience I had back at Run for Kids scared the Hokas off of me. But with the weather cooling down, I was ready to take another shot at running as hard as I could. 

Of course that started with the proper pre-race prep. Exhibit A: pigtails before bed. That saves a step in the morning if I'm going to go with racing hair buns. Exhibit B: bird earrings. You know what they say in Portlandia, put a bird on it! So I did.

Nighttime hair prep: sleep-in pigtails.

Also, I didn't miss the park exit while driving to the race which gave me at least 20 extra minutes to gab and snap pictures with folks before the race. (that was a joke for Bob)

Love the trail running family.

Resolute Runners at Tranquility Lake.

Course: There were some changes from last year's course, according to the race director, but I couldn't tell you what those were from my poor memory. Also, I went at this course time-piece free. No watch to track the course, but I will tell you that I split it up into three parts in my mind.

1) The yellow-white connector climb to Peavine Falls parking lot. The hill is killer (600ft in less than a mile), but if you can make it up, you will enjoy the ridge. This mental segment ends in a manned aid station.

Happy to be at the end of section one. Photo by Tony F.

2) The long stretch of rolling trail (blue trail). Not really enough consistent incline that you can justify a hike, but it feels like it will never end. By far the longest feeling segment, although in actual miles, I believe it is only 5.

Elevation profile from Southeastern Trail Runs.

3) The sharp left turn that takes you downhill and about four miles to the finish. This part has enough variance and enough downhill that it goes quickly. And of course looking forward to seeing the finish line doesn't hurt. There is an unmanned water stop 2.5 miles from the finish -- a little dash of hope. When you see the lake, you now know you are almost home free. This was by far my favorite segment of the three.

Finishing segment one. Thank you, aid station volunteers! Photo by Tony F.

My race: My basic strategy was to go out hard and stay hard for as long as I could. I personally like to have a balance of fun and competitiveness in running, but you sometimes have to buckle down and get strict with yourself on what the point of race day is. Like for instance, when the start gun went off (which was literally a gun and caused me to literally scream out loud) I was just chit chatting with my friend, all la de da. Not really the kind of start you have if you are serious about a race. So I had some catching up to do. 

I knew if I didn't get to a certain point on the little section of road we have at the start that I would get caught up in a wave of hiking sooner than I needed to hike on some segments on the single track. So I ran too fast from the start for sure. That continued as I passed a couple of people on the ridge and just kept pushing myself to do more. This is only about six miles into a 50K, so I knew it wasn't smart to push myself as hard as I was. But guess what. I did it anyway. Because why the heck not, ya know. I had nothing to lose. 

For a long portion of the race, I ran with my friend Jake (pictured above at the aid station), who I normally don't run with during races because he is faster than me. In talking to him, I figured out why, because he was trying to run a smart, conservative race and was also running a half marathon the next day. When he said "smart and conservative," I laughed and told him that I was basically doing the opposite of that, running too fast and stupid. Fast and loose, just like my daughter drives the gold cart at the grandparents' farm in KY. The loose part came in the second half when my form was all out of whack and droopy. 

I came around the first loop in about 2:40. Another 15 and some change miles to go. Luckily, at this point I still felt good muscle-fatigue-wise, but I was having a little knee pain. I took the Aleve that I packed in my drop bag and took off for the second loop. 

On top of running stupid, my other big plan of the day was to eat all the food all the time. So I did. Plus, I tried to take in whole foods every chance I got at aid stations. Because of the upset-stomach-itis I got from gels at the Birmingham Stage Race, I want to start eating more whole foods during ultras. Bananas were my friend at this race. Lots of bananas. Also, I packed Honey Stingers and Shot Blox to take in conjunction with the Hammer Gels that I knew they would have at the race.

My legs still had go in them until I got to that long rolling middle section of the course, and for just a minute, I thought my legs were toast, that I was gonna have to put them in a backpack and roll down the rest of the trail instead of run. But I took a walk break and ate some more food and jogged it out for a bit. Then WHABAM my legs got back in the action of running.

At that low point in the race I was all alone in the woods, which in my opinion is a great time to be by yourself. Sometimes you need a little time alone to talk yourself into doing the thing that your body doesn't want to do but that you know it is capable of doing. And if you are on your own, you can have that conversation at your own pace and not get distracted by what everyone else is doing. And when you're alone in the woods, you're alone. With the twists and turns of the trails, even someone two minutes ahead of you might as well be a continent away as far as you know. It's cathartic. You can stop if you want, you can cry if you want, you can sing if you want. And it's up to you to convince yourself that you have the power to finish, and finish strong. As much as I love being around people, I love being alone in the woods. 

In the end, this race boiled down to taking in enough nutrition, good weather (although the second loop got a little toasty in the 60s), and starting hard and hanging on until the finish. Also, I ran the road marathon two weeks before, which I swear is really effective training for ultras. Especially when you get to the end and need the confidence that your legs can handle a beating for about 30 miles. Mental rounding also helps. You know, 26.2 rounds up to 30 and 31 rounds down to 30, so a marathon and a 50K are basically the exact same thing, plus or minus a yellow-white connector or two. Vagueness helps me when I need to convince my legs to keep moving.

David Tosch and me.

And it worked on this day. Finish time 6:02:54, a 12+-minute PR over last year's race on this course (with a slight course change) and good enough for first place for the women. The Southeastern Trail Series team put together great awards for this race too -- $150 Salomon gift card and a cool glass plaque (five points if you can spot it in the pic above). 

Always great sharing the trails with these strong ladies. Two of them ran a 100 miler a few weeks before this race!

Race provides: In the swag department, you'll get a long sleeve tech shirt with your bib pickup. At the aid stations, you can expect to find a good mix of foods like bananas, oranges, sandwiches, chips, gummies, Hammer gels, Coke, Heed, water, salt pills, and more. At race finish, all runners receive a medal. Along with awards for the top finishers, they held a raffle for another $100 gift certificate that can be used at Mountain High Outfitters

Overall: Run this race if you are hoping for a course with varied terrain and typically mild temps. You'll see water at the lake and cross water without (usually) having to get your feet wet. The toughest climb is 600ft. in less than a mile, and the rest of the course varies enough to keep things interesting. Leaves will be in the middle of turning, so expect it to be beautiful but to also have some extra terrain challenge with freshly fallen leaves on the trails. And the volunteers are fabulous at all of the races in this series. Bonus tip: the race directors trade race entries for volunteer hours. Also, this whole series is built on the concept of training you to run your first 50K. So if you start in the beginning, it's a perfect progression to hitting your ultra marathon goal.

Good news: We are currently putting together a training group for next year's series. I'll have more details to share soon, and I'm really looking forward to helping even more folks reach their goal of running an ultra! Nothing beats kicking up dirt in the woods. 

December 3, 2014

Negative splitting a race: Savannah Marathon 2014

Cheers to the race that I do every year, the Savannah Marathon. Except this year, I was left feeling a little hollow about running it because I had no big goal. Last year, I got to pace my friend through her first marathon there, and going back and running it all by myself with no friends or goals in site just felt sad. 

On the road to Savannah with my daughter. Girls road trip!

I had been training for the 50K distance on the trails, so the marathon mileage would fit into my plan. But how was I going to make those four hours pass pleasantly? Yes, it is a race full of folks, but running with a friend sometimes spoils things for you. Running a solo race just isn't as fun after running the same race already with friends.

So I thought and I thought and I stewed and stewed. Or kind of just ignored it until a few days before the race. What is something I've never done in a marathon before? Well, lots of things, but one standout was the negative split. My natural inclination is to go out too hard and sufferfest the end of a race. So I decided to try and play this race smart. Having not done much (or any) road marathon training, I knew that I wasn't going to set any records out there. While trails and trail running are amazing for a million other reasons, leg turnover in road racing is not one of them. Usually. 

Welcome to Savannah! Always a sunny race. Sometimes a little too sunny.

So I picked a conservative time goal: just under four hours. Then I picked a conservative first-half pace goal: 9:05/mile. Then at the half, I would try and gradually pick things up. 

Travel: We left Friday morning (instead of later in the day) this year, and that worked out so much better for the six-hour drive! The traffic wasn't slow going on the way there, and the packet pickup lines moved much faster. The expo itself still felt crowded, but nothing we couldn't easily navigate.

Welcoming us to the expo.

The past few years, Brooks has hooked up this expo with a lot of fun games for the kids, but this year just fell flat. There was a photo booth that was broken and a crap ton of merchandise for sale, but other than that, just nothing. So we scooted past the entry rather quickly.

My daughter and I.

We found a couple of other booths that were entertaining for children. The founder of Skirt Sports was there, and now I love them because of how sweet she was to my daughter. That's one down-to-earth friendly CEO right there! And my daughter was so embarrassed by my picture taking that she couldn't even look at the camera.

She also won some magnificent foldable glasses. This pretty much sets her for life in the Best Sunglasses Ever department.

And there was this awesome piece of attire that I was within a centimeter of buying. Restraint, restraint, restraint.

Somehow this was a surprisingly good drink. I have never blended collard greens before, although I love them cooked the traditional southern style. 

Swiftwick has new colors!! I'm sure this is old news to some of you, but I hadn't seen these blue ones before. And currently I am adding them to my Christmas list. 

Overall the expo was fine, but I have to go back to being disappointed by the Brooks booth this year. That's the problem with making things awesome. If you go back to average, people notice. 

Gear: I dusted off this old thing and charged it. It's been a while since I have used a Garmin to measure splits in a long race. It was engaging and a little obsessive at the same time. Part of me enjoyed the change of running completely by feel to running by Garmin split time, but that left me looking at my watch every two seconds, which has major drawbacks. 

Pre-race meal: We ended up picking up a quick bite at the Kayak Kafe, and I couldn't be happier about it. The pulled pork and pineapple tacos were the perfect blend of savory, spicy, and sweet, and they met my requirements of no pre-race gluten, not too much meat, and a little bit of veggies to keep the pipes moving.

Bella says the mac and cheese was pretty tasty too.

Race day: I had high hopes for cool temps, but we still got into the 70s by the end of the race. And without any shade on the Truman Parkway, you really feel those 70s. 

Course map.

The race start was crowded as usual, so I made sure to meet all of my bathroom needs before I left the house. Luckily it never takes us long to drive and get dropped off at the start.

Crowds and beautiful oak trees.

Amazingly, I was able to find several of my friends who were there that day. Diane and her niece (below) ran the half together. It was her niece's first half, and bonus, Diane set a 20+-minute personal record. Fireball for sure!

Me, Diane, Tierison

Somehow I was then able to spot my other local running buddies, Ekke and Mary Scott, in my corral. Even though we were in the same corral, they were planning to run much faster than me, so I scooted to the very back of the corral. Note to self: starting in the back of a corral is awesome. Lots of (or at least more) space to maneuver and less chance of getting caught up in someone else's pace.

Ekke, me, Mary Scott

The sky was just settling into daylight after the sunrise, making the first couple of miles just gorgeous.

As usual, my favorite part of this race was running through Savannah State, and the worst was Truman Parkway. I swore to myself on the way out that I would nail the Truman Parkway section on the way back, but that's the exact point where my legs started to fail me. Unfortunately.

My race: Everything was going superb for the first half. My breathing felt rhythmic, my pace felt like a glide. Then at the halfway point, I picked things up a bit, trying to keep all of the miles sub-9. Not a huge pickup, but a pickup. This worked until I got to the last few miles, and my legs just revolted. Luckily, I didn't cramp or anything that would necessitate walking, but my legs were leadish. No matter what I tried, they just didn't seem to speed up. So my pace slowed by about :30/mile at the end. 

The timing mats don't measure your half split, but at 13, I was at 1:57:27 and 3:56:55 at the finish. If I was running a 9:00 pace, that would add about :54 seconds to be at 13.1. So 1:58:21, still estimating here. Putting me about 12 seconds away from an even split. All estimated times! But that's definitely the closest I've ever come to a negative split, so I'll take it. And in my defense, in the finish chute, I bent down (sloooowly, because that's how marathon legs do it) to pick up someone's dropped water bottle. That's probably at least 15 seconds right there, so boom, back to a negative split, at least in my rationalizing mind. 

I was so dang happy to be finished with the number crunching and the pain at the end of the race. My legs were toast, telling me that I had pushed myself. 

And what happens when you see a giant pile of ice at the end of a race? You want to sit on it. The drink guys probably didn't think this was very funny. Get your sweaty butt off of our fresh ice!

Thanks for the ice seat!

Post race: The entertainment was Phillip Phillips who I happen to love, but I was so sore and out of it that I didn't even rush the stage as I had originally planned. Also, because his performance ended at 12, I only had an hour to try and breath normally, eat all the snacks, lie down on the ground unconscious, wrap up in a foil blanket, air out the pee smell from my shorts, roll around in the grass to try and propel myself to standing, and THEN rush the stage. An hour is just not enough time. 

At some point after his performance, I could muster standing, and we walked down the block to meet one of my Oiselle interweb friends, who nailed her race. Thanks for giving me a place to sit down and recover my legs even longer. Much needed!

I look like a giant next to her tiny-ness.

Post-race food: If you want a burger after your Savannah Marathon, definitely head to Green Truck. It was super amazingly delicious with homemade ketchup even. The only negative is that it is extremely packed, so I ordered mine to go.

Prepare for messy hands though. Somebody get that lady a wet wipe, por favor.

Swag: The shirts for me were meh this year. Not a huge fan of white or the design. But I liked the state outline on them. And they are the familiar Brooks fit, which I like. 

These are all the things we picked up at the expo. Not even sure how that sticker slipped in there. My daughter? 

This year's medals. Kind of cheesy design with the swooshy music, but sure, OK. But they are sturdy as usual, and I like how the ribbon attaches, leaving it wide. 

And even better than the race, I got to spend some time with this awesome lady, who is of course growing up way too fast like kids tend to do. 

And I just found out this week that I have another friend who needs help completing her first marathon in Memphis this weekend. Any of y'all going to be there? This is pretty much my favorite thing in the world to do is help people finish their first marathon (or first anything -- except meth and other illegal stuff like that).

What keeps you motivated during a race? 

Any big goals for your upcoming races?