Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Prepping for Ragnar

At the end of summer, I put three races on my fall/winter calendar to end the year. While there were some minor changes and additions to that original schedule, the main events have stayed the same, and now my final big race of 2019 is on the horizon.
Last time I ran a Ragnar relay race was in 2014. That race was a traditional Ragnar, where our team of twelve runners split into two vans and covered the 200 miles between Miami and Key West over 24 hours.

This time, I'll be running the Florida Trail relay. Ragnar trail races are camping races, so our team of eight (World's Okayest Running Team) will set up camp at the Alafia River State Park just south of Tampa. We'll each run three legs totaling about 16 miles.
The park's trails are made for mountain bikes and built on old phosphate mines, so they are actually hilly. My legs are quaking at the thought! If you're skeptical, have a look:
Running the bridge isn't going to be much of a comparison, but I just keep reminding myself that Matt and I ran the trails on Orcas Island and I really enjoyed that, and the elevation and distance is fairly comparable.
Reading the loop descriptions has me feeling completely daunted, but I'm equally excited to take on a challenge and try something new! Our start time is 12pm and I am the third leg, so I think I'll be running my hardest loop in daylight.

I really hope my legs can handle it!

We are expecting a cold front next week, too, so that's good news!
PERFECT race weather!
The logistics of Ragnar are a little overwhelming to figure out, but that's part of the challenge. I'm weirdly looking forward to packing and getting everything situated! I'm not generally a very organized person, but this kind of planning is right up my alley.

Leading up for Ragnar, I have one more race on my calendar. Matt and I will be running the ALSO Youth Turkey Trot again this year on Thanksgiving.
We love running this race because it benefits such a wonderful cause. This year is the 10th Anniversary and will be the fourth time we've run it.

I hope everyone has a restful Thanksgiving. I appreciate all the warm sentiments regarding my last post. My grandma's funeral was beautiful and so special; she was treated to some well-deserved pomp and circumstance and it was wonderful to see her honored in that way.

This year, I'm more thankful than ever for my family.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Running and Grief

Late in the week leading up to the Fort Lauderdale half Matt and I ran, my grandma was moved into hospice. She'd been sick for awhile but had just recently discontinued treatment. I had seen her just the previous weekend with my mom and brother. My uncle told my mom, who told us, that she probably wouldn't last through Monday.

It wasn't a surprise. She'd been battling illness and age; I had made that trip up to see her knowing it would probably be the last time.

None of that made it any easier.

I ran with my phone on Do Not Disturb, aware I might get a text from my mom mid-race and wanting to avoid that possibility. I debated writing her name on my arm for the race, but chose not to. She surfaced in my mind around mile 4, randomly and without any conscious thought or meaning attached. Just Grandma, Grandma, think of Grandma.

As it was, that text I was dreading but kind of expected came about thirty minutes after we finished. Grandma passed right around the time Matt and I crossed the finish line.

She was 90. She was a veteran who died Veterans Day weekend, and for some reason I just keep thinking about that.
Despite having a chance to see her recently, and despite having fair warning, this is still hard.

Death is hard on the living.

Matt and I fly out for her funeral this week. I am not someone who can run while grieving. My grief manifests as numbness punctuated by moments of uncontrollable weeping. Neither of those states is conducive to running. My mind and body want to remain shut down; running makes me feel vulnerable. It brings emotions to the surface. I tend to feel emotionally swamped when I run while sad.
Grandma and her six kids. I love this photo for many reasons, but especially because my mom looks exactly like I did at that age.
Grandma, Grandpa, the six kids + my dad
So, I canceled my runs last week. I took a full week off. I went through the motions of work. I depended on my friends and Matt to get me through, and they really did. I took four days for bereavement this week, and then we have a week for Thanksgiving, and by the time I'm back at work I hope I'll feel a little more with it.

My grandma and I didn't see eye-to-eye on some things, but I know she loved me. I really believe she waited to let go until after she'd seen all her people one last time, and that's why she declined so quickly after our visit. I have photos and heirlooms and recipes and a million warm memories to remember her by.
At my bat mitzvah in 1999.
The first time she met Matt, after we got engaged.
Sometimes it's the littlest things, too. Like, she taught me how to turn a shirt right-side-out when folding laundry in one quick flip to save time. She wasn't Jewish, but she remembered to send me flowers every Passover for our seder. She and grandpa would call and sing happy birthday every year, finishing the song with their own special flair (and am I glad I saved those last couple voicemails or what?!). She always kept M&Ms in a crystal bowl, which absolutely made them taste better. She was a nurse and worked with my grandpa, who was a dentist, and when I was a kid and she let me name the teddy bear young patients held for comfort during cleanings. I still have him today.
As a kid, I loved miniatures and coveted a little ceramic ring box she had. Apparently I asked her once, "Grandma, when you pass, can I have that?" I don't remember this story, but she told it to me the day before my wedding, when she gave me that box and the ring inside, along with a handkerchief I wore in my bodice as my "something old."
My wedding was the last time they visited us in Florida.
Grandma didn't "get" the whole running thing, but she always asked about my races when we talked. She didn't get it, like she probably didn't get a lot of things about me and my generation in general, but she loved me, and she was interested in what made me happy. She only ever wanted me to be happy.

I was lucky to have her for as long as I did, and lucky to have a grandma so full of genuine love.
Nothing about death is easy, but I am taking comfort in the fact that, even if we didn't feel ready to lose her, she was ready to go. I know that now her pain has ended and her legacy will live on.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Cleveland Clinic FL 13.1 Fort Lauderdale Half Marathon Relay

Before I even get into the recap of this race, I need to rant a little. I may be spoiled, but most of the races I've run have been organized to perfection and go smoothly. While Matt and I had fun at our relay this weekend, I have a few gripes I need to get out of the way.

Bear in mind, this race is in its 13th year, so it's ridiculous for these kinds of mistakes to still be a problem. Now, I went back on the website and it appears that the organizers are using now and website-related issues are fixed, but I still want to mention them because they made life frustrating.

Sign Up: I began trying to sign up for the relay option back in July. The webpage is supposed to have a spot, upon choosing the "2-person relay" option, to join an existing team or create one. This part of the signup process was missing until last month. By that time, the price had increased. I wrote to the race organizer and the website tech support at least a half-dozen times before it was fixed. At that point, the organizer did give me a discount code so I could sign up with the original cost, but the fact that it was so impossible to get in touch with him and get this simple mistake fixed was irritating.

Packet Pickup: Pickup was in a small running store where there was a single table, staffed by three people. With a race this size, a larger venue, multiple days for pickup, or multiple tables should be the norm. Also, Matt and I waited in a line that literally wrapped around the store only to be told that relay runners needed to speak to a different person at the table, so we had to get into a second line and wait again. A sign indicating a separate line for relay runners would have been a simple way to avoid this frustration and confusion.

Logistics: The race website says relay runners wear a clip they can attach to a belt and hand that off at the checkpoint. I knew going in we'd be running with a baton instead, but only because Kristina warned me ahead of time. Why is this information not updated on their website?

Race Start: I'll get to this in more detail, but the starting corral was ridiculously narrow and we started 6 minutes late because the drawbridge was up. The drawbridge raises every quarter-hour and three-quarter hour; the schedule is posted. The race organizers should have changed our start time to account for that, or at the very least told us why we were delayed as we all stood in the corral. No one ever got on the mic to say, "Oh hey, the bridge is up, please be patient!" Is communication so much to ask for?

All that said, the race itself was a success and I'm so glad Matt agreed to run it with me. So, on to the recap!

[I've included Matt's parts of the recap in italics.]

Our plan for the race was simple: I would run the first half because I don't handle sun and heat as well as Matt. I would keep a conservative pace of 10:00. I felt confident in tackling the bridge twice. Matt would take the second half of the race, making up for lost time with a goal pace of 8:10. We'd finish together. (Duh.)
On Sunday morning, Matt and I got up around 4:30am. Oden has bought a new townhouse, and we were staying with him as is our usual plan for Fort Lauderdale races. Luckily his new place is close to the old place; just as convenient, and actually on this race's route.

After getting dressed, making coffee, and using the bathroom 100 times, we drove the ten minutes to the new Las Olas parking garage.

We arrived an hour before the start and got prime parking. This race was the first I planned to run fasting. I brought a Gu with me just in case, but I didn't plan to eat ahead of time. I had some black coffee in the car and chased it with some water.
We had plenty of time to walk to the start, use the bathroom, and stretch. It was windy and cool (like...74 degrees, almost chilly!) and the sun wasn't up yet. The announcer let us know when we had 30, 20, 15, and 10 minutes before the start. I got into the corral with about 5 minutes to spare.

It was incredibly narrow and crowded; I don't think I've ever been in a corral that took up only one side of the road for nearly 700 runners.
The start was delayed; despite being reminded to get into the corral multiple times, we ended up starting at 6:21 instead of 6:15 because the drawbridge was up. I can be flexible when it comes to delays, but I didn't appreciate being herded into the corral and then not being updated with the reason for the wait.
When it was finally time to go, I felt ready!

My goal pace was 10:00; I was treating this race as a training run for Ragnar, not as a goal race in and of itself. I wasn't planning to push it too hard.

My route took me immediately over the East Las Olas Bridge, then down into Victoria Park. I was prepared to run the bridge twice, but was a little less prepared for the rolling hills along parts of the route.
Although we did go through some neighborhoods, most of the race was very pretty!

After Ali crossed the start line and disappeared from view, I walked to the car to put our things away and put on sunscreen. Then I went to the exchange point. It was completely unmarked (more disorganization) but there was a timing mat so I figured it was the halfway point. At first there weren't very many people there.

I was tracking Ali and knew I'd have at least an hour from the time she left, so when I got hungry I walked to a CVS across the street and bought a donut.

Admittedly, my legs felt pretty heavy and tired for the first couple miles. Around mile 2.8 I ran right past Oden's place, where he was waiting to cheer. I called out, "Almost at three miles!" and he called back, "Alright, looking good!"

Oden texted me when Ali ran by his house. I was also tracking her on Find Friends, so I knew when she'd be close.
Around mile 3 I finally started to loosen up. I was getting hungry, but didn't really want to eat anything.

I got to see other hand-offs while I waited, including the Paraguay team that came in first in our division. I saw another guy who spent a lot of time looking for his partner, slowing down and even running backwards, but couldn't find them, and so he just kept the baton and kept on running!

Being off the beach, I had a bit of a breeze but nothing major or distracting. I got some welcome drizzle around mile 4.
This photographer was right at the top of the bridge. Such a mean spot for photos!
I started to struggle a bit at mile 5, but by then I knew I was almost done. As I turned back onto Las Olas, I found myself facing a headwind as I ran back up the bridge. This was the hardest part of the race. I managed to talk myself out of walking the bridge.

By the time I hit 6.25 miles, I was feeling great. I caught sight of Matt's bright pink hat as I neared mile 6.5 and put on a burst of speed. I raised the baton in the air, grinning. I handed it off to him and said, "Good luck, have fun!" and off he went.
Right on target! I couldn't be happier!
Finally, I saw Ali. I took the baton and was on my way. 

Not five minutes after seeing Matt, Oden met me. He had ridden his bike over to see us finish. We hung out for the hour or so it took Matt to get back to us. During that time, the wind picked up and it poured for awhile. Then it stopped and got sunny again. Ah, Florida.
About a mile in, I got poured on. That's when I noticed my wet shoelaces coming undone and realized I had never tightened them before we started, so I stopped to tighten both of them, but I didn't lose much time. I passed five or six other runners with batons.

The rain came and went. At times the wind felt helpful, but there were also times I had to put my head down and power through it.
At the turn-around point, I felt tightness in my hip, and I was forced to slow down a little. For a brief moment I thought I might have to walk, but I'm used to powering through discomfort in paddling and the tightness worked itself out as I kept going and I was able to pick up my speed again.

Then I started paying attention to what mile I was at. I saw the sign for "mile 12" (mile 5 for me) and mile 12 seemed to last FOREVER. Finally, I saw Ali and Oden back where I'd left her, and I waved her ahead, wanting her to jump into the race. I expected her to be a lot closer to the finish line, like near the last corner where you turn in, but she was about a quarter mile out.
Matt tracks his races in km.

I was worried she wouldn't be able to keep up the pace I was going, especially because I usually like to finish strong and empty the tank. I shouldn't have worried, because after an hour of rest, she was able to keep up! 
I hopped in next to Matt, feeling totally refreshed and ready for a final sprint.
I was grinning like a dork the entire time. As we turned the final corner, Matt held out the baton. I took hold, and we crossed the finish line together.
It felt really special and fun to finish a race together. I love sharing running with Matt and this was the first event of its kind for both of us. I really enjoyed the team aspect and the relay itself; I liked only having to run 6.5 miles and sharing the victory.
After we finished, we checked our results; we'd placed third in our division! We waited around for an hour because we thought we'd win a plaque, but it turns out only the first place relay teams in each division get anything. Oh, well.
Once we checked the official results, we saw that actually we'd placed 2nd! This half was clearly the fastest of my life.
4th relay of 18, 2nd in our division!
After heading back to Oden's to clean up, we went to brunch at the usual place after a Fort Lauderdale race, then hung out until it was time to head home.
Over all, I enjoyed this race. The lack of communication was frustrating, but maybe that's a moot point for future years considering the new signup website.

We may not repeat this once, but if I can find another half marathon relay to do together, I think I'll try to talk Matt into it!


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Gear Review: Noxgear Tracer360

I bought my (and Matt's) Tracer360 with my own money and I'm not an ambassador or anything, but they're having a sale right now so I highly recommend you jump on that!

For months I’ve been seeing the Noxgear Tracer 360 on my various social media timelines. It never felt like a running accessory I really wanted or needed; I’ve been running when the sun is up (because I haven’t been running in the mornings) and I always run on sidewalked roads flanked by streetlights.
But a few weeks ago there was a sale and a friend gave me an ambassador code and I made what was partially an impulse-buy, partially a result of months of exposure. Those ambassadors know how to get in your head!
The first time I wore it, I was a little shocked to find how much I immediately loved it. Fit and ease-of-use aside (we’ll get there), the biggest check in the pro column for this nifty light-up harness is the peace of mind it gave me! I hadn’t realized the low-level anxiety and stress running in the evenings was having on me until I was free of it.
The Tracer 360 made me feel immediately safer. It put my mind at ease. I didn’t feel invincible, but I felt noticeable.
At one point on that first run, a couple of cyclists caught up with me as I waited at a crosswalk and asked me where I had gotten it, praising how safe I was.
Another time I wore it, I passed an elderly man who was out for a walk. He told me, “I could see you coming!” I called back over my shoulder, “That’s the point!”
I wore it in the rain in Tennessee and it worked perfectly!
The Tracer 360 is lightweight and barely noticeable, especially if you’re used to wearing a sportsbra. The band is comfortable and snug, but not compressive. It stays in place. I can easily reach the on/off button mid-run. While I had no problem adjusting the straps/tubing so they don’t flop or hit my arms while I run, Matt did have some trouble with his. He found that by looping the excess tubing into the band, he eliminates the wayward straps and everything is still comfortable.
I've worn the Tracer360 over a variety of layers, and Matt has tried it topless. He approves.
Overall, I’m really happy with this purchase. It was something I got on a whim, thinking I’d take advantage of a sale, and now can’t imagine how I ever ran without it. It’s become an immediate staple.
The last thing to note here is the longevity. I’ve only had my Tracer 360 for a few weeks, but I’ve heard from multiple friends that theirs have lasted upward of five years.
The price may be daunting, but the peace of mind and increased safety is priceless. Noxgear has sales fairly frequently, too, so you can be on the lookout. I highly recommend snapping up a vest if you tend to run at dusk or before dawn. I can’t believe it took me so long to get onboard.