running


Over the last few months I have had several people ask me various questions about running gear so I thought I’d make a list.  Because I like lists.

  • clothes: C9 by Champion, available at Target.  It is the equal of Under Armour in quality and effectiveness at sweat-wicking, but less than half the price.  Tank tops, shorts, running skirts, underwear…it’s all good.  You really cannot go wrong with this brand (it is regular Champion stuff, only available at Target for less than a sporting goods store).  They also usually have some semblance of pockets in the shorts/skirts, which for some reason is not as common in women’s clothing as men’s but a welcome addition.
  • sports bra: also C9 by Champion.  I am doing this one separate from clothing because it is nigh impossible to find a good sports bra.  These are sweat-wicking, comfortable, and SEAMLESS (on the bottom part).  Let me just say that from personal experience, chafing caused by a sports bra seam is particularly painful.  And seamless sports bras are extremely uncommon (or they were a year ago, anyway); these are affordable to boot.
  • socks: Balega.  Hands down, the best socks for running.  They are pricier than others but once you run with these you will never go back.  They have a lot of neat features but I would like to highlight their seamless toe box – if you are prone to blisters, or running distance, you want to do anything you can to reduce opportunities for blisters.
  • shoes: this one’s very personal, so I recommend checking out the Runner’s World shoe reviews and narrowing down ones that might work for you before heading out to a store to try them on.  I personally stick with New Balance in general because they come in widths and my feet are beyond narrow.  I actually have to rig up the lacing on narrow shoes to keep the heels from slipping.
  • watch/distance monitor: I used a Nike watch with foot pod which has since been discontinued.  It was ok for marathon training, but I bought it for strictly that purpose.  It has to be calibrated and then re-calibrated any time the battery dies, which happened a few times while I was training.  And it started getting wonky towards the end of training, so I’m glad I didn’t have my future running hopes pinned on it.  If I was buying any sort of distance monitoring system for long-term I would probably save up and buy Garmin.  They are basically the end-all of distance monitoring; they have very expensive GPS systems and also cheaper foot pod ones, but even those are still pricey.
  • tunes: I use ipod shuffle, which has worked fine, and I just use the normal cheapo earbuds that came with it.  No problems from rain or sweat dripping (A LOT of sweat).  I have nicer earphones which I use with my regular ipod so I was not too concerned about anything happening to those.  I can do a separate post about my playlist – which is excellent, if I do say so myself – if anyone so desires. 🙂
  • sunglasses: hingeless Maui JimsHere is the pair I have (they have 3 hingeless styles)…and yes, they are quite expensive.  I also use them as my everyday sunglasses.  Here is what I love about them:
  1. they fit my face.  I have a small face and sunglasses (or any glasses) always look too big for me.
  2. they are super, super lightweight.  I can’t even tell when I have them on, and they don’t pinch behind my ear or give me a headache, which is why I avoided sunglasses for so long.
  3. they don’t bounce around.  At all.
  4. they are polarized.
  5. they are saltwater proof.  They did this for seawater, but let me just say that if you are training for a marathon in the summer in Texas, any “equipment” you use will be coming into contact with enough sweat that this is a concern.
  • visor: I use a Nike one.  The main point is to keep sweat from running down into the eyes.  It’s lightweight and made out of a sweat-wicking, quick-drying fabric.
  • drink: my favorite is Gatorade Rain (I think they recently changed the name?) Lime.  But it has more sugar in it, which is why it tastes better.  Normal Gatorade is gross, in my opinion.  I did start using Gatorade Endurance Formula when I got into really high miles and did notice a difference (it has extra electrolytes), but it doesn’t taste good at all thanks to the extra salt.  Actually my real favorite is cold water, but it is not super smart to only drink water when you are running long distances.
  • snack: I like to stick with real food.  I hate those little gummy things even more than Gatorade.  Especially when they get all warm in your pocket…ugh.  I could puke just thinking about it.  Sometimes I could eat mini peanut butter-pretzel sandwiches, but really the best is cold orange slices.  So refreshing, and easily digested too.
  • after-run meal: eggs.  Egg-in-a-hole is what I always craved after a long run, and thankfully I have a husband who was sweet enough to make it for me while I was laying on the floor, unresponsive.  Actually I just craved eggs through my entire training; I could have eaten egg-in-a-hole for breakfast, an omelette for lunch, and quiche for dinner every day.  Unfortunately my husband does not care for quiche.  Anyway it turns out eggs have the best protein for your body, so egg-in-a-hole is actually a really great recovery food thanks to the combination of protein and carbs.
  • “recovery drink”: chocolate milk, for the protein/carb blend.  I could not drink this right after running, but usually I would finish running, cool down (or just sit down), munch on some orange slices, sip some water or Gatorade, and drive home…and usually by then chocolate milk did not sound so repulsive.  I could drink this while waiting for my egg-in-a-hole to be cooked, unless it was one of the days I walked in the door, dropped my stuff in the floor, and collapsed in the floor until egg-in-a-hole appeared.  But the remainder of the day was definitely better if I could manage to make chocolate milk prior to collapsing.  Consuming protein shortly after running helps your muscles recover, so you have less soreness and stiffness later.
  • training plan: made by FIRST (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training).  I LOVED this plan.  It is very doable, especially if you are injury-prone like me, but I definitely felt challenged every single day.  You can print out their plans for different goal distances here but if you are wanting to run a marathon I highly recommend also reading the book Run Less Run Faster, which explains the science behind the design of the program and also gives some very good (but very challenging) cross training workouts.
  • inspiration: run for something meaningful, like World Vision.  Being accountable to sponsors – not to mention the poor little kids in Africa who don’t have clean water to drink – is plenty of motivation when you don’t feel like running any more.  If you are interested in running a marathon but are intimidated, Nova did an hour-long program called Marathon Challenge.  They spent 9 months training a group of previously sedentary people and got them in shape to run the Boston Marathon.  It is quite good.  If I can do it, and those people can do it, anybody can do it.  It is a good place to start if you need some inspiration/motivation.
  • online resource: Runner’s World.  It is a treasure trove of information.

All in all, for a sport that really only requires one “special” piece of equipment (shoes), this can be a very expensive hobby.

I have been exercising fairly regularly since about 8th grade.  A year ago, I had just started training for a marathon, and six months ago I finished it – in the process, aggravating a recent knee injury to the point of being unable to walk.  Four weeks and a steroid shot later, I was on the road to recovery…except I moved to France, where there are stairs everywhere and few “accommodations” such as elevators or escalators.  The knee flared up pretty bad and I have been sidelined since.

But weeks months of therapy and at-home exercises have started to pay off.  On Saturday I was able to play ultimate – really play, not moseying around the field.  I mean I was clearly out of shape, but this time it was my lungs and heart holding me back, not my knee.  And today we joined a gym!  I was able to use an elliptical for 30 minutes and it feels so, so good to get my heart rate up, sweat a bit, clean up and…nothing.  No limping or sharp pains – I still have to go up and down stairs somewhat baby-ish, and I have a few more physical therapy sessions, but I am so happy to see progress!  I am particularly excited about the ellipticals, because I can get a good, weight-bearing cardio workout with little to no impact on my knee so I can get the rest of me back in shape without worrying about damaging it again.  Hooray!

Today I ran the Richmond marathon.  Actually I walked quite a bit, due to high humidity and associated breathing difficulty, “getting sick” yet again*, and a knee injury sustained earlier this week.  But I finished.

*Obviously my “bad shirt” theory didn’t pan out.  My slightly more scientific theory is that my body does not absorb well while in motion, and the sloshing creates motion sickness.

I had some really good ideas about how to blog about running a marathon.  One was to start with my lyrical inspiration (“Minuteman” by Stavesacre**, “I still believe, and baby I’ll fall or I’ll stand/BUT THIS TIME I FINISH, I FINISH“), and then put certain mile markers and then whatever I was listening to then.  But I listened to “Underdog” by Audio Adrenaline** for the first 10 miles, over and over and over.  And then I listened to some other things, like Skillet’s** “Invincible,” and by the time my shuffle produced “Pressing On” by Relient K** I was a few miles away from the finish and just kept playing that til I got to the finish.  So that would be pretty boring.

**Don’t judge me.  All Most of the good music was when I was in high school.

Or I could talk about what a surreal experience it was…and it was, and also a spiritual experience, but mostly it was an experiment in guts – could I do it?  I told myself to keep going until I found the finish line, and so I kept going when I couldn’t breathe, and when I threw up, and when my knee was in excruciating pain.  And that’s all there is to say about that.

So really, all there is to say is that I am so happy and proud that I finished.  I know I could have done really well had I the sort of fortune that would have left me injury-free but that’s not how my life goes, and so I really am thrilled to have accomplished something like this.  I was choking back tears of happiness as I crossed the finish line Rocky-style.

Special thanks to:
Lisa, for training for so many months with me (she had a great finish in Chicago, by the way); the accountability and encouragement given as a training partner and friend; and for giving me back a piece of myself by asking me to be a runner again.

Jake, for all the egg-in-a-hole made on so many Saturdays; for picking up the slack my complete exhaustion has caused the past 6 months; for walking with me all those miles; for letting me try again; for believing I could do it even before I did; and for telling me I didn’t have to finish but understanding that really, I did.

I have a little pod that attaches to my running shoe and calculates my pace and distance, and transmits this handy information to my running watch.  In order to ensure its accuracy it requires calibration on a measured distance, ie a track.  Since we are in a rural area there is no track nearby, nor even a school as far as I can tell.  So, thanks to Google, I located a high school including a track approximately 7.5 miles away.  That will make a lovely long run for my prep for the Richmond marathon, I thought cheerily to myself – 15 miles, 15.5 if you count the calibration.  Saturday afternoon I set out, and I should mention that rural Virginia is not a runner-friendly area as far as I can tell.  The roads are narrow, winding, have absolutely no shoulder, and plunge into deep ditches on either side.  I survived the first 7.5 miles, was pleased with my time, and located the high school.  Behind, I might add, about 3 million police cars.

I innocently began walking around, trying to find a place to sneak onto the track.  I mean, I did just run 7.5 miles so I could run 2 laps on the track.  That’s 4 – 5 minutes for me, not a lot to ask.  Unfortunately one of the police noticed me and strongly encouraged me to retreat to the sidewalk.  So I asked one of them if there was another track nearby.  “Ma’am I don’t know.”  OK, so is there a measured distance anywhere around?  “Ma’am I don’t know.”  Then they yelled at me for standing still on the sidewalk, I needed to keep moving.

I will stop here to mention that this is exactly, exactly my luck.  The one day of the year I need to use this school’s track and make the necessary arrangements in my life, not to mention running a 15 mile round trip, is also the one day of the year it is swarming with law enforcement.

I found a different policeman who directed me to a different track about a mile or mile-and-a-half away, so I headed off.  I found the track.  My watch’s calibration wouldn’t work.  This is also exactly, exactly my luck.  By this point I am THIRSTY, because part of Virginia’s plan of attack on runners includes a complete and total lack of water fountains.  I find a park.  I locate the one water fountain in the park.  The water fountain does not work.  I cannot think of anything but WATER because I am so thirsty (I had been running for close to 2 hours at this point).  I keep running back the way I came and pass a soccer park (I don’t know what else to call it – it is a large tract of land with about 30 soccer fields on it, nothing else).  Surely, I think, there will be water fountains aplenty in such a place.  I locate a building which has concessions (closed) and restrooms.  Hallelujah!  There are always water fountains near restrooms.  Except, apparently, in Virginia.  The water fountains had been ripped out (there used to be water fountains there, though) and a useful electrical outlet placed in their stead.

So I did what any truly thirsty person would do and drank out of the sink in the restroom.  Then I started back home, it got dark, I almost got hit a couple of times, I rolled my ankles a few times each falling into ditches on the side of the road trying to avoid getting hit, I went too far because it was so dark I couldn’t see my street, and by the time I got back I had accidentally run about 20 miles.

And who is responsible for all this mayhem and total inconvenience?  Sarah Palin.  She was having a rally, for whatever reason, at the high school where I needed to run.  Just my luck.  May the record show that the first time a politician directly influenced my life it was a complete inconvenience.

So I attempted the Chicago Marathon 2 days ago.  I ended up with a DNF.

I had some pretty bad foot pain (plantar fasciitis) which slowed me down, but the first half was still really fun – the crowds were great, and I had my name on my shirt so people were cheering for me.  Then around mile 14 I threw up, went to an aid station (“A lot of people aren’t used to running in the heat,” the doctor told me.  “I’m from Texas,” I said wryly, around a thermometer.  “Oh.  Well, you’re probably just overheated.”  “This thermometer says my temperature is 94.1.”  “Those thermometers aren’t very accurate.”), and then I kept going, then I threw up again at mile 18 and was forced off the course by the medical people.

I have only thrown up one other time while running – and I was wearing the same shirt, my World Vision jersey.  I noticed back in August that it did not wick sweat but just felt wet and slimy, so my theory is that it probably also does not breathe well and causes me to overheat.  It sounds like a strange theory, to blame digestive distress on a shirt, but that is the only thing that was the same.

And now, I HAVE TO FINISH.  So I will be running either the Richmond marathon next month, which is probably VERY HILLY, or the Dallas White Rock in December if I get to come back to the Dallas area for both my siblings’ graduations.  Ugh.  I wanted to be sleeping in on Saturdays, running merely for fun and fitness (and stress management), not so picky about what I eat and drink.  I wanted to stop taking all the supplements that keep my joints together and hold the inflammation down, to let my body rest and my injuries heal…but this morning I laced up my shoes again.  Because I am still in training.

Lisa and I ran 20 miles yesterday.

We survived.

Which is a good thing – a very, very good thing.  It is really thrilling to know you can ask your body to do something like that, and it will, and you will live to tell about it.  The problem is that a marathon is 26.2 miles.  And I, despite an excellent verbal score on the SAT, do not have the vocabulary to describe the utter exhaustion one’s legs feel after an endeavor of that magnitude, nor the excruciating pain in one’s feet – never mind trying to run with a case of plantar fasciitis.  So, I am very proud of this accomplishment and also more than a little concerned about running a full-blown marathon in 3 weeks.  I don’t know if I can do it, and there’s only one way to find out.

With the increased effort of the extra miles, you can’t take a lot of other stress while training for a marathon.  This isn’t a good time for extensive travel, changing jobs, moving your family…

Um…what about all of the above at once?

Oops.

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